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How I got myself admitted to school!

Awarded the

“RodinStar” Post 

of the week!!

I was born in a slum called Sultan Puri in West Delhi. My father was a laborer, waiting in lines to get labor work, carrying weight, pulling rickshaws. My mother worked in a factory that sorted plastic collected from garbage. We, a family of six, lived in a small rented room that was close to the size of a master bathroom here in US.

There was no bathroom. There were open public toilets 20-30 minutes of walk away from home. There was no personal water supply. I had to wait in long lines for my turn to collect water from the public water tap. We didn’t have electricity, we just couldn’t afford to pay for it. And it smelled everywhere. 

On good days we had 2 meals and on bad days we didn’t have any food. Good meals would mostly be boiled potatoes or white rice or chapati, or bread. I remember days when we brothers and sisters fought over a piece of bread or chapati. I would find pieces of bread hidden in clothes by my siblings which they saved for themselves. We would buy sapreta (no fat) milk for 50 paise so we could all have tea to swallow the bread down.

I was a happy kid; but every time I looked at my dad’s helpless face when he was thinking about how he was going to provide us the next meal, it made me sad.

Circa 1987

The surroundings were full of crime, noise, abusive people. Small boys carrying knives, beatings, killings happened openly in front of the crowds and you couldn’t do much but just watch.

While growing up, I have seen as young as 2 year old girls being raped in the neighborhood, in-laws and husbands burning their daughters-in-law/wives alive for money/dowry. In those public toilets I have seen girls raped and thrown away. Burnt bodies trashed. I have seen dead bodies hanging from trees while walking to school. 

I used to worry a lot when my father wouldn’t return home after dark. I would start wandering around to look for him. I felt more scared of losing him than getting myself in a bad situation at night. He used to wear dhoti kurta and carried a gamchha (thin cotton scarf) and always kept a brick tied in it, in case he came across some criminal.

How to get out of the slums?

There was no motivation around to do anything good, but plenty to do wrong. My dad used to tell me and all my siblings that the only way to get out of this situation is by going to school and by being educated.

I remember asking my dad all the time, “When will I be able to go to school?” I started asking him that when I was a little younger than 4 years old. I remember because I used to stand in front of the school and ask teachers, “When can I go to school?”, and they would say, “When you turn 5 years old”. After that, almost every day, I would ask my father, “How long before I become 5 years old?” That took more than a year because I saw one admission session pass by and I couldn’t get in. I was desperate to be in school to start studying, because I hated living in that area. 

When the admission session came again, my father was out of town for a labor job. He couldn’t afford to miss any work he got. I went to school by myself to get admission and the teacher said I need to bring a guardian or an adult. I went back and asked an old lady if she would help me get admission in school. The schools were free, I didn’t need any money to be admitted.

I got admission!!!

On the first day of school teacher asked me, “Why are you barefoot?” I answered, “I don’t have any footwear”. Then she asked, “Where are your pants? I was wearing a very long shirt that was given to me by a neighbor – it belonged to their son who was around 12-13 years old at that time. I said, “I am wearing a knicker underneath, it’s not visible”.

That was one of the first happiest days of my life that I still remember. The school didn’t have desks or chairs – we sat on the floor. But it was still an amazing feeling because I knew that the journey to get out of the slums started that very day.

This is my dad. If he had never told me about importance of education, I would have not been where I am today. I will try to share more about my journey in another post. (Linked here)

I am a Software Engineer based in Austin, TX. Ruchit Garg introduced me to therodinhoods and encouraged me to share my story here.

First published on linkedin. 

Twitter handle – @gomtimehta1

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21 Comments

  1. dear dear gomti,

    last night when ruchit pinged me at 10pm i was wondering why he had shared your link with me. when i read your story, i got the goosebumps that refused to leave me! i can’t fathom what it would’ve been like growing up in sultan puri. i can’t imagine how traumatising it would’ve been for you to witness and experience everything you’ve gone through. i can’t pretend to say i understand, ‘coz i don’t.

    all i know is that you are safe and educated and in an awesome environment BECAUSE YOU BELIEVED EDUCATION WOULD SAVE YOU and it did! to me this is absolutely THE MOST INSPIRING STORY I HAVE COME ACROSS IN A LONG TIME!

    a big standing ovation on your courage and determination. I SALUTE YOU!

    thank you so so much for sharing your story with all of us on therodinhoods. i will look forward to more stories from your life. and we must do an interview soon!!

    god bless. stay safe. stay wonderful. 

  2. Hi Gomti,

    Years ago, I helped launch the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur awards in India. We did small ads that featured writeups on some of the winners which were published in the Economic Times. There was one winner who escaped from Nazi Germany ( he was a Jew) when he was 22 years old with a piece of gold hidden in his shoe. On reaching the US, he became a bottle washer in a chemicals factory, in spite of being a chemical engineer by training. Over the years, he taught himself English and rose from bottle washer to factory manager to owner and then also bought several other factories. His story gave me goosebumps when I thought about the odds he faced.

    Today, I read your story and wanted to bawl my heart out. Hats off to you for being able to overcome such odds and emerge an achiever. I really have no words to salute your grit and determination. If it’s okay by you would like to share your story with as many people as possible so that we all realise that it’s first and foremost the fire that burns within us that propels us to the stars. Cheers to you.

  3. Thanks a lot Asha. It was terrifying and there were times when It all seemed to much to fight with. Struggle gets harder when you are hungry. I have been truly blessed also with wonderful people who came along the way and gave little hand in the way they could, sometimes as little as a classmate bringing food from her home for me hiding from her own parents. Those little gestures of kindness along the way kept me going. I remember each and every person who helped me the way they could. Life was hard but beautiful at the same time because of those beautiful people.

  4. Hi Kaanchan, Thanks for your positive words. Please feel free to share. If this can make another person live through struggle of just one day, it worth.

  5. Gomti,

    Deepest respect for you, your family and all your efforts. I would definitely read this story many a times to remind myself what someone who has set their minds to can achieve. It’s totally inspiring and I not in one bit can ever relate to what all you have gone through and how successfully you have built your life from literally nothing. Thank you so very much for sharing it with all of us. I’m falling short of words to express what I’m actually feeling.
    Keep shining 🙂

  6. Super like

  7. Thanks for wonderful words Sunaina!

  8. Inspiring! 🙂

  9. hey gomti,

    i messed up the top of your post 🙂

    sowrie!!

  10. Wow!!!! Truly Inspiring.  

    I wonder how many lives got lost in the slum areas of India due to vote bank politics of Indian Leaders. But still, there are jewels like you who just refuse to lose & win by there pure will. 

    Thank you for sharing. 

  11. We need more men.. many many more men… like your dad Gomti.. It was easy for him to put you/siblings at work otherwise to earn some daily bread. 

    Clap Clap for him!

    I have a warehouse in Sultan Puri now and the crime situation has not much changed 🙂 not sure how long ago you visited that place last. Buggers even took away the door along with lock 😛 

  12. Thank you for messing it up!!! I am so flattered. You have been so nice.

  13. Many lives but there are 2 talented ones that I personally know. 2 girls named Kamla and Mamata. They would have made a difference in world if they were still alive. I saw them die while in middle school in high school, have cried seeing the tragedy of their life. I keep thinking if I knew a little bit of what was going on in their life, I would done something.

  14. Thanks for saying those words for my dad. I visit there almost every year. It has become worse than it is when it comes to crime. Few good families moved out the moment they got chance and more criminals keep moving in.

  15. Wow ! Read. Re- read.Speechess !

  16. Gomti, Amazing. Big salute to you. Just one request, I have feeling to read it more.. Could you write more on your journey from slum to USA…good samaritan; who helped you on the way…

  17. Thank you.

  18. Hi Deven,

    Thanks for reading my story. I have been fortunate to have met many many good samaritans on the way but there was one who changed my life completely, beyond I could ever imagine it to be. I will write about him. I have many people to thank before I got to meet the most beautiful soul who turned my life around. 

  19. Thank you

  20. Hi Gomti,

    Your’s is a truly amazing story. It made me realise that all is not lost for poor children in slums. The government education system also seems to be working for some, at least.

    It is story of hope and inspiration. Hope it will motivate some of us to see the slum children as humans..

    Looking forward to reading more about your perilous journey.

    Regards

    Narinder 

  21. Thank you Narinder!

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