Calcutta, Nov. 6: Angshuman Dalal goes to school, does his homework, spends time with his friends and has dreams to pursue.
This year, he scored 64 per cent in his Higher Secondary exams from Bidhanchandra Institute, Durgapur. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2002, the same year the factory in which his father was employed shut down. That Angshuman had his left leg amputated below the knee cannot stop him.
Today, at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence 2004, Angshuman found a Pakistani mother ' Parveen Quasim, better known as Ammi, the founder-principal of Karachi High School. The woman who is herself battling cancer has three daughters and wanted to sponsor an Indian son to 'complete' her family. She came to the function with a small contingent that held aloft a big banner: 'With Love from Pakistan.'
Ammi's voice shook as she spoke to the Science City audience about the Bonding Beyond Border element added to the awards: 'This is one of the greatest things that has happened. I cannot express my happiness. I hope the love continues and that things become better and better.'
Another woman who was overwhelmed by the 'achievements of the human spirit' that took centrestage was chief guest Sonia Gandhi. 'My heart is full,' she said as she came, saw and was conquered by stories of 'heroic courage, excellence and, above all, determination'.
The theme for the awards in its eighth year was Education is the Greatest Gift of All. 'That is something we must all give to at least one child around us, who would otherwise not have the chance,' said Neil 'Brien, chairman of The Telegraph Education Foundation.
Gopal Chandra Patra has given the greatest gift of all to many in the West Midnapore village of Baikunthapur. The primary school headmaster, now in the last stages of cancer, has created a model educational environment that saw him being inducted into The Telegraph Education Foundation Hall of Fame. One of his students who joined him on the stage that Patra was wheeled on to was Nurul bhai. The 78-year-old student of Class III embarked on a mission to educate himself three years ago, thanks to mastermoshai Patra.
From teachers at the end of the road to students who have barely found their feet, the awards function focused on champions of change and feted little bravehearts.
Like Purnima Pramanik. The student of Greenfields school was born spastic and mentally challenged. She has no father and her mother, an ayah, is single-handedly bringing up three daughters. Though Purnima can't get out of her wheelchair and has to struggle to move her fingers and hands, she is an embroidery ace. She can talk with some effort, but only grins and nods vigorously when asked about her work. As she did, when Sonia thanked her for the piece of embroidery that Purnima presented her.
'There is so much to learn from young people. They are so full of hope, energy and idealism, they are so free-spirited, they strive for excellence and to change things for the better,' said Sonia.
She was referring to the likes of Jamuna Kapadia. Jamuna has no father, no fixed home. She goes to school every morning at 5.30 am, works in three houses till evening and then, for three hours every night, studies by the light of a lamp-post on the pavement at Ballygunge Phari. There were so many more tales of triumph amid travails that Sonia just said: 'What can I say'
She summed up by quoting from a letter Rajiv Gandhi wrote to son Rahul when he was in boarding school: 'When you have to do something, you must do it in the best way possible.'