Two weeks ago, a Class 12 student reached her exam centre all prepared to earn a good grade, only to find students streaming out having finished writing their paper.
To her horror, she realised she had misread the timetable. Panicked and sobbing, she called the state government's board-exam helpline (2789-3756).
"She was inconsolable," says child counsellor and school teacher Jayant Ghadge, 42.
"I asked to speak to her father, who was with her. He was equally distraught."
Eventually, as the shock wore off, both father and daughter began to calm down.
"I told them that this happened to about 1,000 students across the state every year," says Ghadge.
"I urged them to forget about the missed exam and focus on giving the exam in October."
On such days, Ghadge returns home feeling good about his day. Other days, he continues to worry about a trouble child's call, and often makes follow-up calls to check on them.
For about six weeks each year for the past four years, Ghadge has been manning phones at the government helpline, serving rotational shifts when called upon by the state, which picks its counsellors from among the trained experts on the staff in government and government-aided schools.
His day starts at 6am, with a 30-minute workout, a prayer session and a breakfast of milk and poha or upma prepared by his wife, Pratibha, also a teacher. During breakfast, he chats with his two sons.
At 9.45am, he leaves the family's 1,000-sq-ft chawl home in Thane and rides his motorcycle to the government secondary school 15 minutes away where he teaches math and science.
At school, he takes care of administration work and conducts two classes before the 1 pm lunch break, when he has his tiffin of roti-sabzi.
Then he rides his bike an hour to the helpline office in Vashi, where he and another teacher make up the second shift. In these months, he earns about Rs. 4,000 a month in conveyance expenses, in addition to his teacher's salary of Rs. 44,000.
At the call centre, he immediately starts attending to phone calls.
Many students and parents call to confirm timetables or ask what to do if they have lost or damaged their hall tickets. These calls are also diligently attended by the counsellors.
Then there are the 'crazy days', when most of the calls are about the same issue. One such occasion was the day of this year's Class 12 physics paper, when the helpline received a total of 900 calls.
"People were calling and making threats, demanding a re-exam because the paper was too tough," says Ghadge.
"Some even demanded the name and phone number of the paper-setter so they could call and curse him."
Ghadge and other counsellors patiently asked them to focus on their next papers instead.
At 4pm, Ghadge takes a 10-minute tea break.
"These moments of quiet time are blissful. They allow me to relax from the stress and exhaustion of talking continuously on the phone."
At 7pm, his five-hour counselling shift done, it's time to head home for a prayer session followed by a family dinner of bhakri-sabzi. Bedtime is 11pm.
"A year ago, when my elder son entered Class 10, we decided to get rid of our TV," says Ghadge.
"I was not worried about his exams. He is a disciplined boy. We just decided there were better things to do with our time."
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