Back in the day, class toppers were mostly bespectacled geeks, who did nothing else but mug up the text books, at least they were in my school with the exception of my brother, but today’s toppers are a refreshing bunch, who defy that stereotype. And, the world ICSE topper, with 99.5 per cent, Rohan Sampath fits the new-age definition perfectly.
Standing tall at 6-feet 3-inches with spiked hair, Rohan quashes all images of the topper typecast of being just a bookworm. Barring the specs, he appears just like any other ‘normal’ kid, with school life cramped with sports, extra-curricular activities, facebook and class work.
Although his packed calendar did worry his mom Sandhya, making her wonder if his involvement in multiple activities like debates and sports would impact his studies in the final year, it did, on the contrary, help him stand in good stead and work as a great stress buster.
His achievements, in fact, are bound to put pressure on his younger brother Karan, who is currently in Grade 5, but that’s something Rohan is adamant of not allowing. “His (Karan) teachers have been telling him that, but I’ve been telling them not to. And my parents have promised not to put any pressure on him.” And, he’s hopeful that the eight-year gap between the siblings would help ease the pressure.
Karan does understand the impact of what his brother has achieved after he witnessed two standing ovations for him at the special assembly at Dubai Modern High to honour his achievements.
Despite having emerged the topper and bagged admission at the prestigious Stanford University, Rohan is still daunted by what profession to pursue. “It’s a tough question, tougher than the exams. Board exams have right answers, and this has no right answer.”
But what he’s clear about is his intention to “do something that will make a difference in the world. At Stanford I haven’t decided what I am going to major in, but it could either be engineering and then I could take up a line of entrepreneurship, which the Silicon Valley is famous for, or do something with economics and then go into the United Nations.”
Although the Sampath household was expecting nothing less than 96 per cent, they never imagined that Rohan will emerge the topper with a swooping 99.5 per cent, and a world record at that. “He had scored 99 per cent in the prelims, which is said to be tougher than the board exams, so I was expecting 98 per cent,” reveals his mom.
Once the number flashed on the laptop, Rohan describes that there was a long smell of silence, which was broken by the ring of his mobile, which has since been ringing incessantly. “Karan broke into a dance and was shouting ‘Annah (big brother) got three 100s’,” recollects Sandhya.
Rohan, on the other hand, was calm. “It was more of disbelief than anything else. It only started to sink in after an hour. And the disbelief turned into elation.”
His mother confesses that she didn’t feel anything special. “I just congratulated him and moved on. Honestly, I was more elated when he got through to Stanford and the euphoria lasted for 3-4 days. But when we found out that he also stood first, then the feeling was different. Then it started sinking in and I started feeling truly blessed.”
Sandhya has been busy, ever since her son won the honour, attending calls on his behalf. “I’m more like his secretary now,” she quips. And, now that Rohan is a mini celebrity, which he’s embarrassed to acknowledge but one which he embraces humbly, he’s been tackling interviews like a pro. “I have always been spontaneous, so I’ve been OK.”
His friends have had mixed responses to his achievement, with “some friends calling me ‘crazy’... some a ‘legend’, with many insisting I set up a treat fund because they want one every day.”
Although the real celebration is far from over, with Rohan insisting that it will be done once the fuss dies down, he did go to Kamat’s for a mini treat. But there’s one special trip, to the Himalayas, that he’s currently planning with his cousins in India. “It’s tough to find a date that’s convenient for all.”
His mother chips in that she’s yet to gift him something special for his achievement. “He has been topping the school throughout, but he has never asked for anything. Even when he topped the 10th boards, which was a record high in 25 years, I was at a loss at what to buy him. He is a very simple guy.
”The credit for his success, Rohan insists, must go to his parents who “created the right attitude to study. My dad used to take me for sports coaching and it influenced my personality. They’ve always pushed me to believe that it’s important to do well in studies and extra-curricular activities”.
Since being declared the topper, Rohan has given a pep talk to his fellow juniors in school. “I spoke, first exclusively to Grade 12 students and, then to the entire Grade 11 and 12, about how to cope with the stress, and how time management is crucial.”
Elaborating on his strategy, which didn’t involve following a timetable, he says, “You have to strike a balance between your studies and other activities. You have to be motivated to study. Otherwise you can’t focus. It’s more like, I’m going to spend an hour playing with Karan (his younger bro) or hit the gym, because that’s going to keep me fresh, and then I can come back to the books.”
During the study holidays, he would put in 4 hours of work, and a lot more, days before the exam. “I usually study the best after 11pm, so if there was something I didn’t understand, I would tackle it then.” And, he’s of the rare breed who, resisted peer pressure, and didn’t take up extra coaching as he felt his school teachers were brilliant.
Apart from being president of the school debating society and the school house captain, Rohan also invested time in comics and Indian politics. “I love Indian politics,” informs Rohan, who spends every evening watching TimesNow news channel that is anchored by his favourite journalist Arnab Goswami. In fact, his mom recalls how, back in 2009, Rohan spent hours analysing political reports during the Indian Lok Sabha polls and attempted to predict the winners in his own exit poll that he claims went “horribly wrong”.