[AI] Making it to MIT against odds

yogesh dubey yogeshdubey14 at gmail.com
Tue Jun 15 12:28:06 EDT 2010

Bolla Srikanth, a visually-challenged boy, is currently pursuing his
Bachelor of Sciences at the varsity, says YOGENDRA KALAVALAPALLI


Winner: Bolla Srikanth in conversation with National Trust Chairperson
Poonam Natarajan during the inaugural function of Abilities Mela 2010
in Secunderabad.

Bolla Srikanth was barely few years old when many in his community
counselled his parents to abandon him. The pressure was heavy on his
illiterate parents,
a farmer father and housewife mother, but they never yielded. Had they
heeded their advice, the world would have been minus one inspiring
story today.

>From a small village Sitaramapuram near Machlipatnam town in Krishna
district, this visually-challenged boy has made it to the portals of
the prestigious
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. The 18-year-old is
currently pursuing his Bachelor of Sciences in Brain and Cognitive
Science, Business Management
and Computer Science at the varsity.

“Though they are illiterate, both of them, they had strong will to get
me educated. This inspired me,” he says. Shortly after, about 13 years
ago, an uncle
of his enrolled him in Devnar School for the Blind in Hyderabad, and
life took a different spin for Srikanth.

“I didn't know anything when I joined school. I was like a rural
introvert. I learned everything, I picked up English. I joined
community service. Now,
I have occupied a place in the society where people are respecting
me,” he says, “It has been a long journey.”

>From being a “rural introvert”, Srikanth went on to secure 92 per cent
in the Class 10 Board Examinations and was a two-time recipient of
Pratibha Awards
given by the Andhra Pradesh State government for students who excel in
public examinations every year.

He also received a citation for outstanding community service as Youth
Leader in Lead India 2020 from former President APJ Abdul Kalam and
was a national
chess player playing against the likes of Koneru Humpy.

Intermediate was next and he wanted to take up Maths, Physics,
Chemistry (MPC) stream to be eligible to study engineering. But a
disinclined officialdom
was not encouraging. “When I visited the offices for the first time,
they said get away from here. Even an IAS officer was not able to
realise the potential
of blind persons,” he recollects.

“After a lot of trouble,” Srikanth finally managed to enrol himself
for MPC stream at a private college, a good three months after the
classes began. He
went on to secure an aggregate percentage of 93 at the end of two years.

Challenges persisted still. “When I wanted to prepare for IIT, one
coaching centre told me straightaway I was not fit to join them.”
Another top institute
in the country did not even bother to respond to his application. “I
didn't even get my hall ticket. I was not even allowed to write AIEEE.
But, I was
not disturbed because I was focussed on my goal and I wanted to study Sciences.”

Guided by his mentors Swarnalatha, teacher at Devnar School for the
Blind and G. Ravishankar, a software consultant in the US, Srikanth
realised his ambition
of studying at MIT. “Only 120 seats are open for international
students for which students from 70 countries in the world fight,” he
says proudly of his
admission that came with a US $49,000 scholarship.

“My mentor Swarnalatha was like a backbone to me in whatever I did so
far. She has worked harder than me.” She was by his side throughout:
fighting for
him, managing his study expenses, recording material for him to study
easily and even lodging him in her house during initial days of his

Mr. Ravishankar, whom Srikanth met during an international conference
at Indian School of Business, helped him apply to different
universities abroad. “Because
I was a special student, we had to fill up some special forms. He also
worked really hard with me for six months. Even now he is in contact
and helps me
with whatever I want.”

Persons with disabilities, he says, suffer from lack of exposure and
lack of opportunities. “You have to see where you stand in the
society, not as a visually-challenged
person but as a human being.” He sings paeans about U.S. “The
University is very helpful. They have so many resources. People don't
show sympathy there.
In fact they provide you opportunities.” He has already finished two
semesters at the university (scoring 5/5 GPA) and currently is
interning with GE in

Srikanth is keen on entrepreneurship and plans to launch a software
firm after his course where he wants to give opportunities to rural
youth. “My life
ambition is to become the president of India,” he declares. Given the
flak he has received so far and the grit with which he has overcome
them all, don't
dismiss him. Not yet, not so fast!

skipe yogesh-dubey

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