Eyes on the Top

Barely five months into this world,Shrishti Tiwari was callously described by a doctor as “probably mentally retarded’’.

Written by Milind Ghatwai | New Delhi | Published: June 2, 2013 7:37:32 pm

Shrishti Tiwari beats visual impairment to top Class XII exams in MP

Barely five months into this world,Shrishti Tiwari was callously described by a doctor as “probably mentally retarded’’. Seventeen years later,the doctor’s conjecture has been disproved by Shrishti herself. Despite her visual impairment,she has topped the Arts stream in the Class XII examination of the Madhya Pradesh education board,scoring 481 out of 500 marks. Two years ago,Shrishti was felicitated by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for scoring the highest marks among differently-abled students in the state in Class X.

At her maternal grandparents’ sprawling bungalow in Damoh,a town 260 km from Bhopal,it’s a festive atmosphere,with her parents,uncles and neighbours celebrating Shrishti’s achievement.

“We were shocked to learn that she was born with cataract,and with only 5-7 per cent vision in the left eye. All the doctors and reputed hospitals we have visited so far say that only a miracle can correct her vision,’’ says her mother Sunita,who is slowly coming to terms with her daughter’s feat.

But Shrishti does not feel deprived because of her congenital cataract or the dozen surgeries she has had to endure because of it. “When you are deficient in something,God compensates for it by giving you something extra,’’ she says. She utters this philosophical thought with the effervescence of a 17-year-old. Her tough journey,though,belies her bubbliness.

Shrishti’s parents were based in Bhopal,but because of her father’s transferable job,they decided to leave her in the custody of her maternal grandfather in Damoh,where there were many relatives to take care of her.

She gave her exams orally till Class VIII,after which she had to “write” the papers,which means she dictated the answers to another student (according to board rules,someone a year junior) to write for her. “It was difficult. I had to convey everything — from full stop to comma to changing the paragraphs,” she says. Though differently-abled students get an extra half-hour to write an exam,Shrishti feels more time should be slotted as “we have to think,dictate and ensure that the answer is written the way we want’’.

She was once tricked by a writer,who had to leave early and said that the paper had no more questions. “I felt bad because I knew the answers to the following questions,’’ she says wistfully of one of the rare occasions she cursed her disability. “I could do nothing.”

But Shrishti coordinated well with her writer this time,Gaurav Dubey,a Class XI science student,which reflected in her scores: 99 marks each in Economics and Geography,97 in History and 94 in Political Science. She says she could have scored more than 92 in English but for a few spelling mistakes. “I specifically told him to spell don as d-o-n,but he confused it with d-a-w-n in an essay on corruption,’’ she says.

It helps that she has a large family to take care of her. Her grandfather,a retired government college teacher,helped her prepare essays on issues like population,poverty and corruption. Her two uncles,one a doctor and another a schoolteacher,would write her notes,read them to her,and help her memorise them. For six adults in the Damoh house,Shrishti is the only child and got all the attention and encouragement. Her father,a manager with District Industries Center,Mandideep,attributes Shrishti’s success to “team work’’ and the “Damoh unit”.

Her family always stood by her,especially during the initial years when she appeared to be dejected by her medical condition. “We would tell her that no one gets everything in life,so don’t lose heart,’’ says her mother,admitting that she never voiced in front of Shrishti her concerns about her future.

They also try to provide her a change from her routine. Every trip to hospitals in Chennai or Hyderabad or Mumbai is accompanied by visits to tourist places to make her feel better and divert her attention. “I occasionally regret that I can’t study on my own and have to depend on others for even moving out of the house,” says Shrishti,who has also developed glaucoma that requires use of eye drops at regular intervals.

She does use mobile phones,but the gadgets that are an intrinsic part of her life are an image magnifier that lets her read for just 20 minutes at a stretch,and a sound recorder she uses for studies. In the examination hall,she uses a special watch that reads out the time at the press of a button. She can’t read the caller’s name without using the magnifier but she has set different ring tones for different callers.

She likes listening to inspirational songs,she says,but doesn’t watch TV much as that strains her eyes. Shrishti wanted to study science but had to drop the idea because it involves figures and laboratory visits,so she settled for arts. Shrishti now wants to become an IAS officer,and dreams of travelling to the US.

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