Born at 5.05 am in New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on May 11, 2000, Aastha Arora, 11, was officially declared India’s one billionth baby. After the flashbulbs died a few months after her birth, all the Class-6 student at Kamal International School is left with is her scrapbook, a fixed deposit of Rs 2 lakh and a dream of becoming an airhostess.
“I was in pain and barely paid attention to the doctors at Safdarjung Hospital telling me my baby could be the country’s billionth person. I did not understand what the hullabaloo was about till important people started landing up in my ward soon after her birth,” says Anjana Arora, wrapping her arms around her daughter in their house in Najafgarh’s Hira Park Colony.
“We were across all television channels that morning, which made my mother make a frantic call from Ajmer asking whether I had delivered a normal child or a miracle baby,” says Anjana, with a nostalgic smile. Her husband Ashok Arora has a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of their daughter.
“Look at this photograph, I am merely a day old here,” says Aastha, pointing to a photo in the scrapbook. “The lady holding me in her arms, in this other picture, was a minister,” she says with great pride.
“My friends in school still tease me, calling me the country’s billionth baby. I know I’m special,” she says .
The family has little more than memories to fall back on as most people have not delivered on the promises made. Aastha’s older brother Mayank is a student in class 10, and for the Aroras, funding their education is a struggle.
“I was promised a job and free education, healthcare and rail travel was promised for Aastha, but none of the promises were fulfilled. All I got was a fixed deposit from the Confederation of Indian Industries and Punjab National Bank of Rs 2 lakh through the UN Population Fund. Since rate of interest on fixed deposits is very low, it won’t amount to much by the time she turns 18,” said Ashok, who is a helper at a local provision store.
Astha wants to work and make “lots of money”, but is not quite sure how. “Airhostess. Or tourism and ticketing. One of my cousins has done a course and tells me they earn good money,” she said. After a brief pause, she adds, “or maybe a painter.”
Whatever her final choice of career, she clearly doesn’t plan to wait for the government to deliver on its promises. Her self-relience is just what India needs to build on its young population.