'I didn't want anyone's pity'
Forgive me, my English is very poor,” says 17-yearold Shalini Arnugam. But for someone who has gone from a Tamil-medium to a Kannada-medium school, and is in an English-medium engineering college – Bengaluru-based Shalini has caught up pretty well.
She was the school topper in class 10 and scored 84.8 per cent in class 12. But while students took breaks from their exam routine, Shalini shuttled between houses, doing household chores to keep her family afloat.
Shalini’s father, who used to paint hoardings, has been bed-ridden for over a decade after he fell off a building. Her mother began working as a domestic help. But they were hit by another tragedy:
Shalini’s brother was diagnosed with blood cancer earlier this year, just before her class 12 exams.
Immediately after the exams ended, Shalini took over her mother’s part-time jobs, while her mother stayed with her brother at the hospital.
Shalini wakes up at 4:30am – finishes chores at home, draws rangolis at five different houses, scrubs floors, washes utensils and clothes – her day passes by in a haze, with college classes in between. She studies late into the night, sitting at the entrance of her house and reading in the orange of the streetlamps. “Tuitions cost no less than ` 60,000 a year. We don’t have that kind of money. But there's no point brooding over that.”
Despite the setbacks, Shalini never thought of giving up her studies. “Everyone around me was from ICSE, CBSE schools. They would talk in perfect English. I was from a Tamil-medium government school. But gradually I realised, now that I have joined college, I have to study.”
Shalini’s mother never asked her to give up studying despite their financial problems. “Maybe because I was juggling work and my studies. But she's been a huge moral support,” says Shalini.
Eventually Shalini made friends in college. But she didn’t let anyone know about her struggles: “I didn’t want their pity.”
Shalini did well in the Common Entrance Test (for admissions in medical, dental and engineering courses) and got herself a seat in REVA University, Bangalore, where she's studying BTech.
But right now she has another pressing matter to think about. “My brother is at the end of his third course of chemotherapy. They'll soon start with the fourth. Let’s see how we manage in the times to come.”
She still hopes to do a Masters abroad, though she’s also considering the civil services. “I’ve made it this far with others’ help, so I too want to help those who’ve been struggling in life.”