Around this time three years ago, Sheetal Gaekwad had just passed her SSC examinations and the only thing on her mind was securing admission to a good junior college in the Commerce stream.
As for her parents, a college admission for their polio-afflicted daughter was the last thing on their mind.
Sheetal's father, Shantaram Gaekwad, was worried about her safety.
"But I did not budge from my decision. It had to be college and nothing else. Finally, they relented," says Sheetal. Of course, the family takes all possible precautions.
Sheetal's mother helps her down six flights of stairs from their home and walks her to the rickshaw stand. A landline telephone, which was an unthinkable luxury in the modest Gaekwad home, has been installed for Sheetal's benefit.
"What if she is done early with college? She shouldn't have to wait at the rickshaw stand for a long time. She can call me up any time to pick her up," says her mother.
Now starting her second year at the Mulund College of Commerce, Sheetal has settled into a comfortable routine. And her experiences through school are evidence that she adjusts remarkably well to change.
Sheetal was just three-years-old and living in her native village in Raigad when she was afflicted by polio. As the condition of her legs worsened, the family moved to Mumbai and rented a house near Mulund, so she could have access to better medical facilities.
Sheetal's condition never improved but she was lucky to find a school that she grew to like a lot. She still shares a close relationship with the principal and teachers of the Jidd Special School, Thane, which she attended till class VII.
"I loved going to that school. My teachers encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, in spite of my disability," she says. So she enthusiastically participated in many activities, including singing, theatre and even dance.
"Sheetal is a bright girl and I am proud that she is smoothly making her way through college as well," says Shyamashree Bhonsle, principal, Jidd Special School.
After she switched schools in class VIII (the special school had classes only till class VII), it took some time to adjust to a ‘normal' school.
"I had to work harder as the syllabus was tougher and studies were taken more seriously," says Sheetal, who managed to cope well and earn a decent score in her SSC exams.
Now 19, Sheetal has learned to ignore her disability and face life cheerful ly. Travelling alone is a big risk that she has to overcome everyday and it gets tougher in the monsoon, but you'll never hear her complain.
"I try not to get bogged down whenever I fall or hurt myself. So what if I fall? Everybody falls and gets hurt at some point," she says.
The recent power crisis brought additional problems for Sheetal. The loadshedding meant that the college elevator did not work, and she could not travel up or down the college floors.
"My lectures got over early once and I was stuck on the second floor because of the power cut.
A supervisor, who'd come to college for an exam, carried me down. I don't even know her name. But I'm thankful for people like her who go out of their way to help me," she says.
And while she always accepts such help with gratitude, Sheetal ultimately wants to be completely independent, one step at a time. And the first step, for now, is a commerce degree.