Sunday, June 06, 2004

A man out of this world

Here is a profile I wrote recently for the paper:

If he were married, Sheoram Yadav’s grandchildren could have taught him his school lessons today. Almost 70 years old, Sheoram has been struggling without a break since 1969 to clear the secondary school exam. He claims that his slow handwriting betrays him each time. “It has always been like this for me,” Sheoram says.

But others nearby inform that he concentrates too much on the one subject that fails him that he trips on another the next time. In 1995, he had made it but for mathematics. “I failed in it in my supplementary paper. It is one subject I dread,” he adds.

However, his determination seems to have only strengthened with each failed attempt. “I want to pass on my own, without adopting any unfair means or asking the authorities for grace,” says Sheoram, who appears as a private candidate from the Government Higher Secondary School in Tasing village.

Till he makes it, Sheoram has vowed to remain a bachelor. “You can’t study after marriage,” he says. Instead, it is squalor and solitude that keep him company. Having sold off most of his land to finance his studies, he lives in a dilapidated haveli. He has leased out his remaining land and has a few cattle to support him. If you ask him why he is so obdurate, he will reply, “It is education that distinguishes animals from humans.”

But time seems to be running out for Sheoram, a resident of Khori village in the Alwar district. Despite his imposing frame, he is frail with a voice that quivers and eyes that incessantly water. Hard of hearing, speaking to him means yelling into his ears and, at times, still failing. He comes across as a quirky character, one that would dovetail with ease in Malgudi Days.

Some claim that he is a celebrity of the Behror tehsil but closer home he is a laughing stock of the villagers. “We have asked him so many times to give up but like a senseless person he doesn’t,” says Shriram Yadav, one of his distant cousins. His study-cum-bedroom is dingy and dusty. Filled with rat-eaten and pale books, an oil lamp hangs by his bedside. He spends most of his day studying his updated set of books, reading newspapers and strolling in the village.

His results are due in another few weeks and villagers are hoping, like before, that he will finally make it. They prod him to throw a party if he does but Sheoram quips, “The government should finance my party because I have spent so much trying to pass the exam.” Sheoram claims that he spends nearly Rs 400 annually to achieve his elusive dream. He isn’t too optimistic of clearing the hurdle even this time but his grit is intact. “If I lose my courage, I would rather die,” he says.


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