On February 24, the day of the state board Class 12 Marathi paper, Anil Ghade, a counsellor for the SSC board helpline was sitting in the cabin of the board’s Vashi building. When the phone rang at 11.45 am and he answered, all he could hear through the receiver was distressed sobbing.
A student, calling from a railway station, had mistaken the time of her exam, and was nearly an hour late for her paper. “She was crying so much, she couldn’t talk, all I was thinking was, how do I get her out of the station,” said Gadhe.
“It was a dangerous situation, she could have done anything,” he added. Gadhe guided the girl to the nearest exam centre and arranged for her to write her exam there.
For Gadhe and his two colleagues, the 42-day exam period was marked by thousands of calls from students and parents, ranging from the distressed to the banal.
On Tuesday last week the helpline received its last three calls and closed for this exam season, dispersing its volunteers to their regular teaching and counselling jobs in schools.
From student romances to lapses in concentration, it’s a free-ranging spectrum of themes that the counsellors had to deal with, while on leave from their regular jobs, and they cherished every moment of it.
“The most exciting experiences were when we would get calls from centres about cases of cheating and we would dispatch our squads to those places,” said Madhukar Ahire gleefully.
The helpline became operational for the first time in 2008 and is operated for the March and October exams. Gadhe, Ahire, and their colleague V Deshmukh did not get paid for working for the helpline, but the pleasure of guiding students through the tricky exam period is thrilling enough they said.
“It makes me very happy to be able to help students, it’s a social service,” said Ahire. And some times it becomes less of a service and blossoms into a friendship.
“There were students who would call us every few days to talk, and then after the exams ended they called to thank us to say they were grateful for having helped them through the tough times,” said Ahire.