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