The beige curvature of the hearing aid clutching his ear lobe bears a faint blue seal that states that the hearing aid has been given by the Tamil Nadu government free-of-cost. His eyes keenly read the lips to grasp what is being said.
D. Mariappan, of Bedarahalli Government High School, has scored 375 out of 400 marks. His 85 per cent hearing impairment and his poverty paled in front of his scores – a centum in Math, 90 in Tamil, 95 in social science, and 90 in science.
But, Mariappan has one grouse – that he could not write all five papers. His teachers made him avail the GO that allows students with disability to skip a language paper.
The school went the extra mile to get a medical certificate to help him avail the concession.
Mariappan had refused fearing his total score would fall on a par with average score, until his teachers convinced him. “He was complaining about it till this morning,” laughs Narayanan, his maternal uncle, who gave the written consent to the school.
“He wouldn’t wear his hearing aid fearing taunts,” says headmistress K. Kala. But nobody teased him. “Every once in a while, we had to check if his hearing aid was switched off, or if he had removed the cell to test his ability to compete without any aid,” says Meenakshi, Tamil teacher.
Five years ago, the school pointed out the option of a special school for Mariappan. But, the boy, who had fared well in the government primary school in Bedarahalli up to class five, was determined to continue there. So, the teachers learnt to teach using signs and paid him special care.
The weekend special coaching was dedicated to one subject every week.
A significant portion was revisited for Mariappan. “He would first ask his friends for help with a math problem, and only then would he come to me. He would be distressed when he couldn’t comprehend something,” says Poovathi, math teacher.
The story of Mariappan is equally a story of other heroes. The boy’s maternal uncle Narayanan and his 28-year-old wife Poornima have been the single point of support for the boy, apart from his school.
“Mariappan and his two siblings grew up in our house,” says Narayanan, a mechanic, who now has three children of his own to support.
Today, Mariappan continues to live with his uncle, while his diploma-educated elder brother employed in shifts in Hosur and mother live nearby in a rented house. The boy’s father, an alcoholic, died a year ago.
Even as Mariappan was being celebrated by local media at the Collectorate here, his mother Parvathi was toiling away at some construction site in Dharmapuri and is yet to know of her son’s feat. “She left home in the morning. When she returns home after 7 pm, we’ll tell her,” says Narayanan. “He shares his dreams with me. He wants to become a doctor and treat his own disability first,” says his aunt Poornima.
Just as he reluctantly posed for the camera, Mariappan wondered if the spotlight was more on account of his marks or his disability.