It was no mean task juggling studies and serving tea to customers at the shop run by his mother. Rahul Das (24), however, took the challenges in his stride and managed to do both. His hard work has finally paid off as the tea seller from Assam's Bajali district secured a seat at AIIMS-Delhi, having cleared NEET exam in the first attempt.
The journey wasn't an easy one. Das and his brother were raised by their mother, who was left alone to fend for herself and two sons by her husband some 11 years ago. Poverty forced Das to quit his studies after Class 12, but he did not give up on the dream to become a doctor. Das said he would find time to study in between serving customers at his mother's shop in Patacharkuchi Chowk area of the district.
"I have seen my mother toil hard for us. We couldn't afford a helper at the shop. Since school, I made it a point to help her in some way or the other... I made tea and sold it, too. And as and when it was possible, I would sit down to study at the shop," he explained. In 2015, he had cleared the higher secondary examination, and left studies for want of money.
However, his zeal for higher education prompted Das to join the Central Institute of Petrochemicals Engineering & Technology (CIPET), two years later, to pursue a diploma in plastic engineering. Das passed with a distinction (85 per cent marks) after three years and started work at a multi-national company in Guwahati as a 'quality engineer' in October 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There was no job satisfaction at all... I always wanted to be a doctor. One of my cousins is a dental surgeon and he happened to be my inspiration. I decided to leave my job and begin preparations for NEET with whatever resources were available online as I had no money to buy books," he told PTI as customers lined up outside his shop to have a cup of piping hot tea.
Das, who has a burn injury on one of his hands, candidly said that he bagged the 12,068th position in NEET, but his Scheduled Caste (SC) and Person with Disabilities (PWD) certificates helped him get through AIIMS. Summing up the conversation with PTI, the 24-year-old expressed gratitude to all those who have helped them financially or by other means during the family's hour of need.
"Maa's shop sits on land owned by Mantu Kumar Sharma, who has a big hardware shop at Patacharkuchi Chowk. But he never took rent from us. In fact, he has now booked my tickets to Delhi.
"We reside on the campus surrounding district Deputy Commissioner Bharat Bhushan Dev Choudhury's residence. He has helped us in several ways. Assam minister Ranjeet Kumar Dass visited our shop two days ago and handed over Rs 10,000 to me for immediate needs," he narrated. Dev Choudhury, when contacted, told PTI that the family lives on the campus of his ancestral home in Patacharkuchi, and he never charged rent for it.
"We are very proud of Rahul because he is the first from Bajali district to get a seat at AIIMS, New Delhi," the deputy commisioner said. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had on Friday announced that all education expenses of Das will be borne by the state government, Devchowdhury added. Das is looking forward to a bright future in the national capital, where he would be spending the next few years pursuing medical education. His session is set to begin from June.