‘I want to build bridges so that peo­ple can re­side un­der it, drive cars on it’

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - HTSPOTLIGH­T - Chan­dan Ku­mar letters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

My mother takes my el­der sis­ters with her to mop big houses. I don’t want to do that work, so I go to school... my mother says that corona will catch me if I go far from home RAGINI BANSAL , stu­dent

LUCKNOW: Eleven-year-old Ragini Bansal was born in a shanty un­der an over­bridge in the plush Gomti Na­gar neigh­bour­hood of Lucknow.

She has spent all her life in the same slum and yet, she hes­i­tates to call it her home.

“Home is where you have a proper house. My real home is in the vil­lage. I only re­side here,” Bansal said, point­ing at a yel­low plas­tic sheet tent ad­join­ing a drain.

Four wooden poles hold up the sheet at each cor­ner. On usual days, she would go out to play with other chil­dren liv­ing in the 25 ten­e­ments clus­tered un­der the Sha­heed­path fly­over, but for the last two months, she has been con­fined to the shanty be­cause of the Covid-19 pan­demic.

“My mother says that corona will catch me if I go far from home,” she said, mak­ing a long face and point­ing at her mother, Usha, 48, who works as a do­mes­tic help.

There is an­other mod­i­fi­ca­tion to her daily rou­tine. “Corona will not catch you if you main­tain clean­li­ness. So all of us bathe twice ev­ery day,” she adds.

Bansal wears a light blue night suit over a pair of jeans given to her by the mem­sahib of one of the four houses where Usha worked when the pan­demic hit. She has been un­em­ployed for the past four months, which means her monthly in­come that ranged from Rs 6000 to Rs 8000 has dried up.

The youngest of 10 sib­lings, Bansal shares the space with four sis­ters and a brother.

At night, her el­der sis­ter ties her mother’s old saris to the wooden poles to give them some pri­vacy. The saris are un­tied in the day.

There is no elec­tric­ity or run­ning wa­ter and the res­i­dents use a nearby com­mu­nity bath­room, which sci­en­tists and ur­ban plan­ners world­wide ar­gue puts city dwellers like Bansal and her neigh­bours at greater risk of trans­mis­sion of Covid-19 in­fec­tion.

Her fam­ily be­longs to Si­ta­pur dis­trict where they have a small farm. Her father Suresh Bansal, 51, a mar­ginal farmer, and two el­der broth­ers, live in Si­ta­pur. The other three sis­ters are mar­ried and live in other dis­tricts of UP.

“We have a house with two rooms in

Si­ta­pur. I have gone there a few times, but I like to live here in Lucknow,” she says.

The pan­demic that has in­fected at least 314 peo­ple in Lucknow also threat­ens to crush Bansal’s dreams.

A few months ago, her mother used to wake her up at six to get her ready for school. Bansal hated get­ting up early, but loved go­ing to school — a pri­vate in­sti­tu­tion lo­cated about a kilo­me­tre away from her home. It was priv­i­lege that only she and her el­der brother had.

“I like the school assem­bly and the school build­ing. We even have two fans in our class and I love sit­ting be­low them,” she says.

She re­veals an­other rea­son why she never missed school. “My mother takes my el­der sis­ters with her to mop big houses. I don’t want to do that work, so I go to school,” she says.

But her ed­u­ca­tion is now stalled. The school closed as soon as the na­tional lock­down came into ef­fect on March 25.

Bansal’s and her brother’s fees amount to Rs 1050 monthly and her mother, strug­gling to feed her chil­dren, is un­cer­tain if she will be able to fund her daugh­ter’s ed­u­ca­tion. The school has not pro­vided on­line classes ei­ther.

Bansal is too poor to think of learn­ing on­line but she has kept all her books neatly in her school bag that hangs from one of the poles. “I like English and Maths,” she says, and of­fers to re­cite a poem to this re­porter.

De­spite the uncer­tainty around her school­ing, Bansal is cer­tain she will go back to school. The rea­son: She wants to build large bridges so that more peo­ple like her can live un­der them. “My el­der brother once told me that en­gi­neers make th­ese bridges, so I want to be­come an en­gi­neer. Peo­ple will be able to live un­der the bridges I build and drive their ve­hi­cles over it,” she says.

The youngest of 10 sib­lings, Ragini Bansal lives un­der a fly­over in Lucknow with her mother, who works as a do­mes­tic help in the city. HT PHOTO

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