'I didn't want any­one's pity'

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Cover Story -

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.”


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