A photograph in The Hindu led to officials tracking down and enrolling 12-year-old gymnastics enthusiast from Chintadripet

As E. Nandakumar sits with his new textbooks outside his modest house on a congested lane in Chintadripet, curious neighbours come to enquire about which school he has suddenly joined in January.

Nandakumar, who dropped out in class VI has not held pen to paper, or glanced into a textbook, for at least a year, says his mother E. Vasantha, who works as a domestic help. “He is only interested in that gym,” she says beaming. She means, gymnastics, which her son has been training in and winning prizes in for the past three years. “The officials have assured that he can still continue to pursue gymnastics and take part in competitions,” she said.

Following the publication of a photograph in The Hindu on Monday, January 28, in which Nandakumar is seen peddling a fish cart, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan officials traced the 12-year-old and enrolled him at a non-residential special training centre in DRBCC School, Chintadripet, an official press release said.

Nandakumar arrived home on Tuesday evening with a bagful of text and notebooks and said he has been promised a new uniform soon. When asked about why he dropped out, he only says that he will go to school regularly from now on. Vasantha pitches in, and says that he studied until class VI in a private school nearby. But, after the school shut down, and he was shifted to another school, he has not been interested.

“Initially, I nagged him to go, but then I let him be,” she says. adding, “My employers helped me pay the school fees for my younger daughter because my husband, who is construction worker, has been unemployed for close to six months.”

However, she affirms that Nandakumar diligently attends his gymnastics practise on Marina Beach each morning between 5 a.m. and 7. 30 p.m. “I barely remember English letters, but Tamil is my favourite subject,” the boy says. He is wearing a t-shirt with ‘Nandu’ written on it. “I play cricket every weekend in the Gopalapuram ground. The team made this t-shirt for me,” he says. He says that on the day the photograph was taken, he was carrying chairs, and insists that he was just ‘helping a friend’, and was not paid.

An SSA official said that Nandakumar has been enrolled in a bridge course for three months, and that he would be inducted into a formal school in the coming academic year.

Senthil Kumar, his gymnastics trainer says that Nandakumar is the best gymnast in his troupe. Senthil says that he finishes his class early in the morning so that children may attend school, but confesses that there are a few others in the troupe who have dropped out too.

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