For the painfully shy Shitikanth, topping the fiercely competitive IIT entrance exam has been akin to wearing a crown of thorns.
Ever since the results were declared, the bespectacled 18-year-old's life has been turned upside down. So much so that he fled his house in Patna and arrived here on Monday a little past midnight to escape the line of politicians, touts, coaching class tutors and other opportunists who have given him no rest since the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) declared him the topper on May 30.
Unable to deal with the badgering and cajoling "please endorse our class", "please appear in this ad", please be the chief guest" the reticent teenager did the only thing he could think of to retain his sanity. He cut and ran. Sitting in a faculty room on the TIFR campus in Mankhurd, Shitikanth refused to lift his eyes from the book in front of him.
"My house is no longer the normal place I lived in all these years," he said helplessly.
After landing in the city, Shitikanth, who is preparing for the International Physics Olympiad in Vietnam, phoned his mentor Professor Vijay Singh, and asked if he could arrange some accommodation for him. Like the other four students who are representing India in the Olympiad, Shitikanth was scheduled to arrive in Mumbai only in the first week of July.
He put his "unscheduled" arrival in the city down to "too many disturbances" back home. "He's keen on bringing back the gold medal for the country this year," said Singh.
Shitikanth's father told Prof Singh, the national co-ordinator for the Science Olympiad, that politicians had given them no peace, phoning and landing up at their house on Exhibition Road in Patna.
"A political party wants to give him an award, some other local politician wants to felicitate him," his father told Singh, who taught at IIT-Kanpur before joining the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research's Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mankhurd.
Shitikanth said that representatives from two or three coaching classes even landed up on his doorstep. "They wanted me to allow them to use my name for their advertisements," said the soft-spoken topper who has chosen to study at IIT-Kanpur. His endorsement was made even more desirable by the fact that he had topped all the exams conducted in the run-up to the IIT-JEE. Even before the results, several coaching classes had their eye on the boy, said a coaching class owner from Mumbai.