Her classmates, on an average, were about eight years older to her, but it was Sushma Verma, now 15, who cleared MSc (Microbiology) at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar (Central) University with flying colours when her fourth semester results were declared Saturday.
With Semester Grade Point Average (SGPAs) of 8, 8.25 and 9, she topped first, second and fourth semesters, respectively, missing out on first rank in third with her SGPA of 8.5, just .25 less than one of her classmates. “She is likely to top the course but we are waiting for the cumulative marks which will be available soon,” said Dr Naveen Kumar Arora, Head of Environmental Microbiology department at BBAU.
After having completed her BSc two years ago from Lucknow University at the tender age of 13, the latest feat perhaps makes Sushma the youngest post-graduate in the country.
What makes it even more special for her is that her father, Tej Bahadur, 51, was a daily-wage labourer till two years ago and the entire family lived in a dilapidated room — until help poured in. In order to help him support his daughter, BBAU Vice-Chancellor Dr R C Sobti appointed Bahadur, class eight pass, as an assistant supervisor (sanitation) at the university. The father-daughter duo would often travel to the university together.
“I now want to pursue PhD, perhaps in agricultural microbiology,” says the soft-spoken Sushma, sitting inside her home, which is on the outskirts of Lucknow in Bargawan area. Why agricultural microbiology? “I’m interested in this field, I was especially drawn to it when we had to do fieldwork in the fourth semester, or when we would have to do lab work such as isolate Rhizobium bacteria in roots of leguminous plants,” she explains.
“During our field visits, we realised that the soil in and around Lucknow is becoming more arid by the day, so I would like to try and find out a way to make the city greener,” she says.
However, it was happenstance that led her to MSc as at one point, Sushma wanted to be a doctor.
In 2005, just a little over 5 years old, Sushma was enrolled into Class IX at the UP Board-affiliated St Meera’s Inter College. Her mother Chhaya Devi says Sushma would study books belonging to her elder brother Shailendra, who himself had completed his BCA by the age of 14.
Two years later, in 2007, Sushma was recognised by the Limca Book of Records as the “youngest student” to pass class X when she was 7 years, 3 months and 28 days old.
But it took her three years to complete Class XII as she went to Japan upon an invitation “where she stood first in an IQ test comprising people up to 35 years of age,” says Bahadur. In 2010, after clearing Class XII and wanting to be a doctor and hoping “to give something back to the society,” Sushma sat for the Uttar Pradesh Combined Premedical Test (CPMT).
“I wasn’t expecting them to allow me to even sit for the examination but they did,” says Sushma. However, she was in for a rude shock when CSJM University, Kanpur, which had conducted the test, withheld her result. Officials refused to give any reason and Bahadur says their RTI applications went unanswered. “We were told that the minimum age for enrolling in MBBS is 17 years and that’s why the university may have withheld the results.”
While waiting to “grow older”, Sushma enrolled into BSc at Lucknow University and it was around this time that her interest in Botany began developing.
Two years later, when the time to enroll for MSc came, money became an issue. But as the news spread, help started pouring in. “The greatest help to us was from (Sulabh International founder) Bindeshwar Pathak,” says Bahadur. Pathak honoured Sushma at a programme in Lucknow and showered her with a laptop, desktop, a camera, mobile phone, apart from financial assistance. As an inspired Sushma spoke with unusual maturity at the ceremony, more than a few eyes grew moist.
“She was very sincere and hardworking. She joined us at the age of 13 and we wondered how she’d manage, but she coped really well,” says Dr Arora. “We never pressurised our children to study or for anything, we just let them be,” Sushma’s mother said.
The father, however, believes his three-year-old Ananya will be “the brightest among the three (children),” as Ananya shyly but fluently reads a “difficult” Hindi poem meant for Class VIII. The two daughters are also helping their “illiterate” mother. “I can read Hindi and English now,” Chhaya said.