How I got myself admitted to school
I was born in a slum called Sultan Puri of West Delhi. My father was a laborer, waiting in lines to get labor work, carrying weight, pulling rickshaw. My mother worked in a factory that sorted plastic collected from garbage. We, a family of six lived in a small rented room that was close to size of master bathroom’s here in US. There was no restroom or bathroom. There were public open restrooms 20–30 minutes of walk from the home. There was no personal water supply. I had to wait in long lines for my turn to collect water from public water tap. On good days we had 2 meals and bad we didn’t have any food. Good meals would mostly be boiled potatoes, or white rice or chapati, or bread. I remember days when we brothers and sisters fought over a piece of bread or chapati. I found pieces of bread hidden in clothes by siblings they saved for themselves. Buying sapreta (no fat) milk for 50 paise so we could all have tea to swallow bread with. I was a happy kid, but every time I will look at my dad’s helpless face when he is thinking about how he is going to provide us next meal used to bring sadness to me.
The surroundings were full of crime, noise, abusive people. Small boys carrying knives, beatings, killings happen openly in front of the crowds and you can’t do much and just watch.
I have seen as young as 2 year old girls being raped in neighborhood, in laws and husband burning their daughter-in-laws/wives alive for money/dowry. In those public restrooms I have seen girls raped and thrown away. Burnt bodies trashed. I have seen dead bodies hanging on trees as walking to school.It smelled everywhere, we didn’t have electricity, we couldn’t afford to pay for it.
I used to worry a lot when my father wouldn’t return home after its dark. I would start wandering around to look for him. I felt more scared of losing him than getting myself in a bad situation at night. He used to wear dhoti kurta, and carried a gamchha(thin cotton scarf) and always kept a brick tied in it, in case he came across criminals.
There was no motivation around to do anything good but plenty to do wrong. My dad used to tell me and all my siblings that the only way to get out of this situation is by going to school and be educated. And I remember asking my dad all the time “When will I be able to go to school?” I started asking him that, when I was a little younger than 4 years old. I remember because I used to stand in front of the school and ask teachers, when I can go to school, and teacher would say, when you will be 5 years old and me asking my father almost every day, how long before I become 5 years old, that took more than a year because I had to see one admission session pass and I couldn’t get in. I felt desperate to be in school and start studying because I hated living in that area.
When the admission session came again, my father was out of town for labor job. He couldn’t afford to miss any work he got. I went to school by myself to get admission, the teacher said, I need to bring a guardian/adult. I went back and asked an old lady if she would help me get admission in school. The schools were free, I didn’t need any money to get admission.
I got admission!!!
First day of school — Teacher asked me, why am I barefoot? I answered, I don’t have any footwear. Then she asked where are my pants? I was wearing a very long shirt, that was given to me by a neighbor, it was of their son’s who might be 12–13 years old at that time. I told, I am wearing a nicker underneath, its not visible.
That was one of the first happiest days I remember from my life. The school didn’t have desk or chairs, we sat on floor. But it was still an amazing feeling because I knew that the journey to get out of slum started that day.
Unfortunately none of my siblings got motivated enough with my father’s words to go to school. You can imagine, how life turned out for them. I will continue with that in next post.