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.
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.
Twitter handle – @gomtimehta1