'I want to work and re­lieve my fam­ily of their fi­nan­cial bur­den'

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Cover Story -

Ber­nita Mon­dal can hear her par­ents snore in the next room. A sin­gle bead of sweat trick­les down her tem­ple and lands on her book. It's 2.30am. She's been sit­ting in the kitchen with­out a fan for two hours. Just then the bulb in the kitchen goes out. “Not again!" Ber­nita sighs. She lights a can­dle and goes back to her book. "Where was I? Yes, the work­ings of the mo­tor.”

Ber­nita prefers study­ing at night even if it means hav­ing to sit in the swel­ter­ing heat in the kitchen (which ad­joins the only room in the house). “I fan my­self while study­ing. And try and not think about any­thing. Do­ing well in the ex­ams is my top pri­or­ity,” says the 18-year-old stu­dent.

Ber­nita's fa­ther is an au­torick­shaw driver and her mother a home­maker. They moved out of a small town in West Ben­gal to set­tle in Ben­galuru when she was a lit­tle girl. “Both my par­ents are il­lit­er­ate. Per­haps that's why they've al­ways en­cour­aged me to study,” says Ber­nita.

Her ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents never had the where­withal to pay for her mother's ed­u­ca­tion. “My mother doesn't want me to suf­fer the same fate. I think she is liv­ing her dreams through me.”

Her fa­ther's in­come was just enough to see the fam­ily through till Ber­nita's high school. He used to do odd jobs at a res­tau­rant - cook­ing, clean­ing dishes, scrub­bing floors till he rented an auto. “To make more money, he would help carry peo­ple's lug­gage on the rail­way plat­form,” says Ber­nita's mother in bro­ken Hindi.

But as Ber­nita en­tered high school, her fees and the cost of books also in­creased. “It was get­ting very dif­fi­cult to man­age the cost of ed­u­ca­tion along with the house­hold ex­penses,” she says.

That's when one of the nuns from her Chris­tian school sug­gested they ap­proach an NGO called Vidya that funds chil­dren from un­der­priv­i­leged back­grounds. “Some­one from the NGO met my par­ents and af­ter they were con­vinced, Vidya agreed to pay half of my fee. They have been fund­ing me since then,” says Ber­nita.

Her hard work has paid off – Ber­nita scored 95 per cent in her class 12 ex­ams.

Ber­nita is in her first year of BTech. Her im­me­di­ate aim is to get the gold medal that is given to rank-hold­ers in her col­lege ev­ery se­mes­ter. Af­ter her en­gi­neer­ing course, Ber­nita hopes to go abroad for an MTech. “A schol­ar­ship would be great. But if I don't get one, I hope to get a job and re­lieve my fa­ther of the fam­ily's fi­nan­cial bur­den.”

Ber­nita pre­pares in ad­vance for her lessons next day. “I might not have money to take tu­itions but what I have is the abil­ity to work hard,” she says.

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