Sheer grit and determination can do wonders.And 23-year-old Pratish Datta,a visually challenged student from IIT-Kharagpur,knows all about it.He recently received the J C Bose Memorial Gold Medal for best academic performance in the two-year PG course in science from President Pranab Mukherjee.While this honour has been special,Datta has been a topper all his life.He tells Shobha John that if one tries,one can do anything;lack of sight is hardly an impediment

You did MSc in mathematics at IIT and are known to do complex mathematical calculations mentally.How is that possible

It goes back to my childhood.I lost vision in one eye at six months of age and had poor vision in the other.My parents felt that if I studied a lot,the pressure would damage this eye too.So my mother would read all my lessons to me and I would memorize them.Even maths sums were done mentally.I knew no other way to do it.Over time,practice made me perfect.I also manage to finish my exams in almost the same time as normal students.But a lot of higher mathematics is not just calculation but visualization too and I can handle that.Even Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler lost his vision in the last 17 years of his life.But he continued to do research.My mind is my eye now.

How did you cope with the loss of your eyesight

I was doing my second year at St Xaviers College in Kolkata in 2008 when I lost vision in my second eye.I was shocked to suddenly see a dark world but my parents and teachers stood by me.As I loved studies,I decided to concentrate on that.All my happiness is related to studies.Even when I came to IIT,there were many questions about whether I would be able to cope.But my faculty helped me with a competent scribe,which itself takes the load off students like me.Hes a computer operator here who understands mathematics symbols and has done presentations for various seminars.The dean of student affairs also helped me find accommodation within the campus.I also have nice friends,especially Fouzoul Atik who studied with me in MSc.He would sit beside me,dictate what was written on the board,take me from one class to another,xerox pages for mehe was very happy when I got the gold medal.

Was it difficult

to handle the pressure in IIT with this impairment Your mother seems to have sacrificed a lot.

As I was able to see in childhood,I understood maths symbols and could do well.But for many others,the fact that higher education books arent in Braille are a handicap.An attempt should be made to convert them so that others like me dont suffer.As for my mother,she has stood by me like a rock.Even when I said I wanted to study in IIT,she told me bravely,Go as far as you want,I will be with you. And she did.She left Kolkata where my father is a civil engineer and came to stay with me,an only child,here at Kharagpur.

What should education institutions do for the visually challenged

They should be generous towards them and help them as much as possible.Such students already start with a disadvantage and could do with a legup in life.Give them competent scribes and good scholarships.

What do you plan to do now

I want to do my PhD in cryptology and network security as its a field which is gaining importance and involves both maths and algebra.I want to continue doing research.

You seem to lead a normal life you use the mobile quite well and have a Facebook profile.How do you manage these

I have memorized the keys and functions of my mobile so I can use it effortlessly.I also have a computer screenreading software called JAWS which reads out whatever text there is on it.

Your Facebook profile shows you having varied interests,including football and cricket.

I used to play cricket when I could.Now I just hear the commentary.

It also mentions that you like chattingwithhotgirls.Doesthathappen often

(Laughs) Its not like that.I have got some popularity after the award but its not like I chat with many girls.I am particular.

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