The Telegraph
Thursday , May 22 , 2014
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Stories of courage score over ICSE marks

- How three teens fought sudden illness, crippling condition and an accident to write test

Girls outperforming boys in Bengal in yet another exam could be as much a piece of headline statistic from ICSE 2014 as 97.79 per cent of the 28,272 candidates clearing the test.

What the results won’t tell you is what Gunjan Agarwal, Hafiz Ahmed and Sayantani Paul went through just to appear for their first board examination.

If one wrote most of her papers from a hospital bed, another had to hire an ambulance to take him out of home for the first time in two years so that he wouldn’t miss the exam. A third student battled a crippling fall that kept her away from school for months, but not the exam hall.

Metro speaks to the teenaged trio whose triumph goes beyond the marks they scored.

Gunjan Agarwal, 15
Mahadevi Birla Shishu Vihar

By the time Gunjan Agarwal was admitted to a private nursing home on Elgin Road three days before ICSE, she had been running a temperature of 104-105 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 days. Doctors diagnosed a gland infection in the neck that had led to septicaemia.

The 15-year-old wrote four papers from her hospital bed and scored 77.4 per cent. “I couldn’t write myself because of channels in both hands. For maths, dictating answers to a writer was difficult because I needed to calculate,” she said.

While Gunjan was discharged from hospital after the maths paper, it wasn’t the end of her ordeal. A couple of days later, the fever was back. “On March 17, the eve of her physics paper, she was bedridden throughout,” brother Jitesh recounted.

At 8 the next morning, Gunjan asked her mother to fetch her uniform. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Jitesh said.

After the physics paper, Gunjan was admitted to a nursing home closer to home in Belur. Arranging for a writer this time proved difficult, so she decided to go to school for each paper with her doctor’s “special permission”. After writing her exam, she would return to hospital. “I would feel very tired but I kept telling myself it’s just a couple of more papers,” she said.

On March 28, after writing her last paper, Gunjan left for Hyderabad for a month and a half of treatment.

Hafiz Ahmed, 17
Seventh Day Adventist School

Hafiz Ahmed wasn’t sure he would be able to appear for ICSE even a week before the exam started. He hadn’t stepped out of his fourth-floor apartment for two years because of muscular dystrophy, a condition that made it impossible for him to walk, let alone go down the building’s rickety staircase. “I had hoped there would be some arrangement for me to write the exam from home but the rules did not allow it. So I decided to go to the exam hall myself,” Hafiz said.

He scored 62 per cent.

Hafiz had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was two. A genetic disease, muscular dystrophy makes a person’s muscular mass irregular in thickness and weak, according to doctors. “It mostly affects the shoulder and hip muscles. It’s a progressive disease and is usually diagnosed by muscle biopsy and electromyography,” said neurosurgeon L.N. Tripathi.

Hafiz attended school till Class VII but his attendance dropped as his medical condition progressed. He wrote his school exams in classes IX and X from home.

For ICSE, Hafiz’s parents arranged for an ambulance that would take him to school. In the exam hall, Hafiz willed himself to balance himself against a desk and sit for two hours to write. “There was a time when we thought he might not be able to continue his studies but he wouldn’t give up,” mother Ismat said. Hafiz’s next goal is to study commerce. His score of 88 in economics decided the choice of subject.

Sayantani Paul, 16
Calcutta Girls’ High School

Sayantani Paul became paralytic in January 2011 after injuring her spinal cord in a nasty fall, but her father Sanat refused to get her a wheelchair. “I feared that if she got used to it (a wheelchair), she would not be able to come out of it,” he said of his decision.

Sanat pinned his hopes on physiotherapy to help his daughter regain her mobility and trusted her determination to see her through school.

Sayantani, who still doesn’t have sensation in her ankles and feet, aggregated 76.8 per cent in ICSE. “I had to do it on my own. What happened was an accident, the onus was on me to try and start walking again,” she said on Wednesday.

In 2011, Sayantani went to school only to write an exam. “My daughter was very upset initially because she couldn’t go to school. But once she realised that life couldn’t continue like this, she tried hard to get back to a normal life,” father Sanat said.

Although she had to miss classes regularly, skipping a year never occurred to Sayantani. “My friends would have gone ahead of me. I didn’t want that to happen,” she said.

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