Forty-eight-year-old Tushar Parekh likens himself to Mahavir Singh Phogat, the Haryana wrestler whose life inspired Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal.
Unlike the Olympics wrestling coach, Parekh has only one daughter but like Phogat he coached her to win medals for the country.
Parekh’s daughter, Twinkle, fulfilled his wish a year after the 2010 Commonwealth Games in which Phogat’s daughter Geeta won a gold medal for the country. Twinkle won a silver medal for India in International Biology Olympiad held in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2011.
That’s where the similarities end.
Twinkle didn’t become a celebrity overnight like Geeta and her younger sister Babita, who won the gold medal in 2014 Commonwealth Games and inspired a popular Bollywood blockbuster. Despite winning a medal for India at the science Olympiad, the young scientist remained unsung.
The International Science Olympiads are a group of worldwide annual competitions in various areas of science. The competitions are designed for the 4-6 best high school students from each participating country selected through national Olympiads.
Parekh is pained by the country’s discrimination between the Olympians and Olympiads. The electronics engineer from Rajkot in Gujarat, who gave up his job to coach young scientists like Twinkle for international Olympiads, is asking the country to respect Olympiad winners the same way as it worships Olympic medal winners.
It’s been five years since Twinkle, a meritorious student throughout, won a medal for India.
- Separate committee for mentoring students for international olympiads
- Train teachers to help students prepare for national, international olympiads
- National awards for students performing at the international level
- PM, President meet international olympiads winners
- Ensure they are felicitated to motivate them to take up science as a career and so that people know about them
- Automatic admissions to olympiad winners in top universities, cash awards, tuition waiver and media spotlight
When she was in Class 8, Narendra Modi, then the Gujarat chief minister felicitated her in Gandhi Nagar for being selected to go to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) - America’s space agency. A year after that, she went to Smith College in the United States for four weeks for a science and engineering programme.
In 2012, Twinkle qualified for both Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and country’s top medical college, Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). She chose medicine and graduated from AIIMS securing the second rank in overall MBBS results in December 2016.
In 2014, Prime Minister Modi gave her a gold medal in physiology in the second year of her MBBS course.
In October last year, he shot off a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office to request PM Modi to speak about these gifted children, who win the country laurels at the eight international Olympiads, in his Mann Ki Baat address so that the country gets to know about them.
After the Indian squad returned the International Junior Science Olympiad in Indonesia in December 2016 with 5 gold and a silver medal, the best that any of the 48 participating countries got, Parekh downloaded the PMO app on his mobile phone and repeated his request.
“I requested the PM to spare some time to meet these young bright minds – they need motivation,” Parekh said.
In his letter to the PM, he introduced himself as a mentor to students, who have achieved a lot at the various national and international platforms in the field of academics, for over 20 years.
Parekh pointed out that “the government spent a huge amount of money on training athletes … But the young minds, who are country’s future scientists, engineers or doctors, struggle on their own … They bring glory to the nation but get nothing from the government.”
Even a bronze medal in the Olympics gets athletes cash awards from different state governments but the Olympiad stars get nothing, he said.
“There are eight Olympiads that India participates in and wins, on an average, two gold medals every year, but no one talks about these little geniuses,” Parekh rued in the letter.