Through the foot-stomping, the pompom-waving, the deafening clapping, and the heartfelt cheers, joyfulness ran like an electric charge.
At the awards ceremony for the Hindustan Times Scholarship Programme 2012 at Shanmukhananda Hall in Sion on Friday, parents, teachers, and — most importantly, 50 proud and overjoyed students — thrilled to a panel discussion, a lively question-and-answer session afterwards, and one of the most unforgettable days of their lives.
Ali Afroz got the loudest cheer when he stepped on to the stage to receive his trophy. The visually-impaired student from DAV Public School, Nerul, was one of the winners. Afroz mistook his trophy for the microphone. Realising his error, he grinned, made a quick joke, picked up the mike and spoke confidently into it. “I feel pretty great having won this scholarship. I didn't think I would win it, but I did, and this has made me more confident than ever,” said the Class 6 student.
Parents did fist pumps and yelled, and as they sought to take pictures of their children receiving the award, elbowed professional photographers; school principals shed years and sternness as they cheered and hollered encouragement to their students; and an entire, packed auditorium turned into a carnival of celebration of a unique award that seeks to recognise — through unconventional means — the brightest talent Mumbai has to offer.
First, there was a panel discussion. Soumya Bhattacharya, author and editor of HT, Mumbai, moderated an entertaining and enlightening session of a panel constituting R Balki (director of the films Paa and Cheeni Kum); Amole Gupte (writer of the film Taare Zameen Par and actor); India's tennis legend, Leander Paes; and Arjun Vajpai, a special teenager, who, two years ago, became the youngest person to climb Mt Everest at the age of 16.
Applicants to the scholarship programme had to write an essay on what they wanted to be when they grew up. Bhattacharya posed the panel the same question. Besides, he asked the panelists to contrast their childhood ambitions to how things had actually turned out.
The lively audience asked some sharp questions during the question-and-answer session afterwards. “What if we follow our dreams and it does not work out,” a student asked.
“I would encourage you to have many dreams,” Paes said. “The world today recognises multi-faceted people, so if you can develop a few interests, one of them will work out for you.”
Paes also addressed more serious issues of giving up on your dreams when things are not working out. “There have been three instances in my life when I wanted to give up tennis. The first was when my parents told me they were going their own ways. I was 12 and training at the academy. I wanted to give up tennis even before I started it,” said Paes.
In the context, he also offered a real-life anecdote that could be a lesson to pushy parents. “When I was 19, the year after I won Junior Wimbledon and the Junior US Open, I entered the seniors' circuit. I travelled for eight months. I lost everything I played. I came home, I threw my racquets down, and said I never wanted to play again. My father locked the racquets away in a cupboard. Weeks went by. He never persuaded me to play. He said that I was his son, that he was proud of me, and that I could do what gave me the most pleasure. After nine weeks, I took my racquets out and started playing. I have never stopped.”
Following the discussion, winners from each of the categories — Classes 5 to 9 — were called on to the stage and handed a trophy. The applause would not stop.
The HT Scholarship Programme began in 2011, receiving more than 27,000 applications. This year, it has grown much bigger with 42,547 applications coming in from 275 city schools. Bhattacharya and Pravin Nair, deputy editor of HT, interviewed 150 shortlisted applicants and chose the winners.
“A programme such as this motivates children to work hard and write well. We look forward to sending in more students for the scholarship next year,” said Rehana Kazi, principal of Prime Academy, Marol.