At the age of 10, Ojas Maheshwari harboured a dream — of getting into IIT Bombay. Cut to eight years later, he is well on his way to getting admission in the institution in the first round itself.
Ojas secured an All-India Rank (AIR) of 26 in the JEE Advanced 2022 exam. He is also the topper in the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) category, as well as the first PwD with such a good general ranking in JEE Advanced.
The Andheri resident says he never really considered his hearing loss an impairment, choosing to focus on his studies instead. All he aimed for was a general rank, and not one in the PwD category, says his proud mother Pooja.
“He was very clear about one thing — that he wanted a general rank. He always said that the PwD seat is mine, but I will prove myself in the general category as well. He worked towards this vision since he was very young. Nobody will say that he got in through a quota,” says the happy mother.
A childhood full of Olympiads
It was sometime when her son was between the ages of six and seven that Pooja first realised something was amiss.
“I noticed that he couldn’t hear the doorbell or when I called him from behind. But he was such a smart boy that he learned to lip-read. Therefore, no one at his school noticed. We went to the doctor and were told that he has 66% hearing loss,” says Pooja.
Due to Ojas’s adaptability, his parents decided that they would enable and equip him to lead a normal life.
“For a year after the diagnosis, we were in a dilemma about how his life would be. We kept thinking. But Ojas’s attitude made us realise that he deserved the world, and we decided to give it to him. We just had to fill the 34 per cent gap, and he has done wonders,” she adds.
Being an Olympiad teacher, Pooja saw her son’s love for maths and science from a young age. She says he couldn’t keep himself away from books on the two subjects. She started honing his talent and made him participate in Olympiad competitions when he was eight. Ojas kept excelling.
“He started with small Olympiads and quickly moved on to state-level competitions. He won several gold medals, scholarships, and government grants, and came first in Maharashtra in the Homi Bhabha Exam. He participated in International Olympiads and came in the Top 10 in chemistry, physics, and astronomy,” says the proud mother.
Ojas says that IIT was his dream and really a “no-brainer” for him.
“Thanks to my parents realising my inclination, participating in Olympiads really gave my education a boost. I had a passion for maths and science, and the automatic route for me was IIT,” says Ojas.
Since Class 5, he worked with that singular goal in mind.
He scored 97.8% both in his Class 10 and 12 examinations. He was coached by his mother till Class 8. For JEE Advanced, he joined Narayana Institute in Class 11, which has a junior college.
While all was going well for the IIT aspirant, when the pandemic hit in 2020, new challenges cropped up. This occurred just as his JEE classes were to begin. However, like every other hurdle in life, Ojas crossed this one too.
Owing to internet issues and the malfunctioning of his hearing aids, online classes posed a problem for him.
“While Narayana started online classes very soon, even before others, hearing the classes online was a bit of a challenge for Ojas. He sometimes couldn’t hear properly, or his hearing aid would stop working. We were also worried that so much computer exposure shouldn’t cause further damage. We requested the institute to resume offline classes soon, which they did especially for Ojas and a few other students,” says Pooja.
‘Never lose hope’
But offline classes amid COVID-19 meant that teachers and students would have to wear masks. Speaking with masks on muffles our sound, causing problems for children like Ojas.
“I faced difficulty when offline classes resumed. I couldn’t lip-read what the teachers were saying. I also found it hard to hear them due to the masks. It caused a huge communication gap,” he recalls.
Pooja says the institute took a special interest in the boy due to his potential. The teachers were patient and repeated sentences if required.
The topper also credits his parents for supporting him.
“I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my parents,” he says.
When offline classes resumed, the Maheshwaris were residing in Dadar, and Ojas had to commute by train daily to Andheri for the classes. He would leave home by 6 am and return only by 10 pm. To help him further, they shifted their residence to Andheri.
“The commute and full-day classes were becoming too hectic. Also, sometimes his hearing aid would stop working in the middle of a class. We would then have to rush a spare one. To provide him moral support, we decided to shift to Andheri,” says Pooja.
In fact, while being supportive of her son, she has also ensured that he is self-sufficient and confident. She has equipped him with life skills so that he can live and function on his own.
“When he was initially diagnosed, I was very disturbed. I used to wonder how he would manage walking alone if he is unable to hear honking or sounds. But I made myself strong and decided to raise him to be a confident child who can manage in all situations. He has been travelling all over Mumbai in local trains since he was in Class 7. In fact, he was travelling alone by train for his classes too,” says Pooja.
Ojas says his parents’ support kept him motivated. And all his efforts bore fruit on 11 September, as the JEE Advanced 2022 results were announced.
At the time, the Maheshwaris were at the Narayana Educational Institute in Hyderabad. They were confident their son would do well, and when they were proven right, they had tears in their eyes, Pooja says.
“I had been waiting for this moment for a very long time,” says Ojas.
Ojas also shared what worked for him during the JEE Advanced preparation:
He says he started rigorous preparation for the exam in April 2020 itself. He would study for almost 12-14 hours per day. He says that good sleep is important.
- Make short notes: The rank-holder says that one should develop a habit of making short notes. This helps in subjects with big chapters that one can’t revise easily. “The syllabus for JEE advanced is quite vast. If you make notes, you’ll be able to cover the syllabus in a short span of time.”
- Focus on all subjects: Ojas focused on his weak subject, Inorganic Chemistry, as much as he did on maths. “I made detailed notes for inorganic chemistry. I revised these notes on a daily basis. This especially helped in reactions and exceptions in the subject.”
- Have a daily plan: Having a timetable is of paramount importance. “Thanks to my institute, we had a daily plan. We had regular tests and knew how much portion was to be completed each week,” says Ojas.
- Study with your peer group: The pandemic has shown us the importance of offline interactions. It’s the same for education too, feels the teenager. “A peer group is very important for studies. When you are around your friends, you face healthy competition. You can also learn different methods of solving problems,” says Ojas.
- Never lose hope: “Always have faith in yourself. Know that you are capable enough to do this. The road ahead will be good with a little hope,” smiles the topper.
- Don’t sacrifice on sleep: Despite studying for 12-14 hours a day, Ojas always managed a good night’s sleep. He slept by 9.30-10 pm and would wake up by 4.30-5 am. He feels that sleep should not be sacrificed.
- Have some stress-buster: While the Andheri resident switched off his mobile a few months before the exams, and is not on social media, he found other ways to cool himself down. His favourite activity was playing football for an hour at college, which helped him relax.
- Stay motivated: “I have been self-motivated since my childhood. I knew I was going to achieve my dream, come what may. I think a burning desire is required to clear an exam as tough as JEE Advanced,” says Ojas.
Edited by Divya Sethu, Images Courtesy Pooja Maheshwari