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A double life

india Updated: Feb 11, 2009 00:58 IST
Lina Choudhury-Mahajan
Lina Choudhury-Mahajan
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Class 10


Name: Saraswati Balikoti


Day job: Domestic worker


Night school: Class 10, Canossa Convent in Mahim



For Saraswati, taking a break means not having to wake up early and sweep or cook for the family she works for. The 22-year-old domestic worker is working hard to juggle her job and her books as she prepares for her Class 12 board exams.

“It’s not easy,” says Saraswati, who lives in Mahim with the family she works for. “I can’t skip work so I get up by 6.30 am and put in two-and-a-half hours of study before my domestic chores start.”

Her family lives in Dharavi not far away, but this is the life she has known for 10 years.

“My mother works for the same family and I see her every day, so it’s not too bad,” says Saraswati, who starts work by 9 am and is in the kitchen cooking till 2.30 pm, after which she dresses for school.

She’s grateful she works for the family she does because they are flexible when it comes to her work schedule and she is allowed to swap duties with her mother. “Earlier I used to sweep, swab and do the utensils, but now I only cook,” she says. “My mom does the rest so I have more time to study.”

Her Rs 800 a month wages run her family’s home but this is not something Saraswati aspires to do for the rest of her life. “I will do my Class 12 by correspondence if I have to,” says the student, whose favourite subjects are algebra and science. Her fervent hope is to score “at least 70 per cent.” How will she reward herself? “I will go home to Dharavi for a few days.”

Name: Shaheen Qureshi
Day job: Fish seller
Night school: Class 10, Canossa Convent in Mahim

Shaheen’s biggest worry when she has a test in school is that she will give a customer the wrong change, or worse, the wrong fish. The reason? She can’t focus on selling fish when she has a test or an exam in school. “I worry too much,” admits 21-year-old Shaheen, who has been selling fish at the Wadala fish market in the day and going to school at night for 12 years. She wakes up at 5 am and leaves home with the rest of her family — all of who sit at separate stalls at the market — so she can reach by 7 am and arrange her fish at her stall.

She’s home by 2.30 pm, after which she changes and goes off to school in Mahim.

She makes about Rs 100 to Rs 200 a day, which goes to her mother, who after her father passed away, looks after Shaheen, her younger brother and two younger sisters on her own. Her dream is to keep studying and become a doctor one day. “My father died of a heart problem. I hope to be able to help people overcome that kind of disease.”

For now, her support system includes her teachers and her principal. “I couldn’t do this without them,” she says.

Class 12
Name: Bharat Raut
Day job: Gym instructor
Night school: Class 12, Milind Night College in Parel
Bharat Raut’s day starts at 4.30 am, when he wakes up to gets ready for the Dimension Fitness Centre, a gym near his house in Govandi, where he is an instructor. His shift, from 6 am to 2 pm, allows him to juggle two jobs — he is also an insurance agent.

When the day is done, Bharat makes his way to Parel, where he is studying for his Class 12 board exams. “I have two jobs, but there’s no harm in studying. It’s always better,” says the 22-year-old, adding that while his jobs leave him enough time to go to college, he also takes his books to the gym and studies in-between if he gets about half-an-hour of free time.

In fact, so addicted is he to his books that he is now fourth in his class and helps other students with their notes as well. “There’s a junior college next to my gym and a professor there helps me with accounts. So I have the advantage of that extra tuition and help my classmates if they need assistance,” says Bharat.

When exams come around, Bharat goes to the gym just for a few hours, so he can leave early to give his papers. The fitness instructor makes Rs 3,000 a month but plans to branch out into finance.

He contributes part of his salary to his household, which has nine members — his parents and seven siblings.

For now, he’s busy making trips to a library in Parel, where he can focus on his studies. “I just want to improve my future,” he says.


Name: Prachi Mali
Day job: Beautician
Night school: Class 12, Milind Night College in Parel

For 21-year-old Prachi, educating herself is her way of laying the foundation for a better life. An on-call beautician for five years, Prachi failed her Class 10 exams, but did not give up, she re-appeared, passed and decided to study further.

“Being a beautician is what I’ve always wanted to be and will continue, but an education can only better my chances at succeeding in life,” says Prachi, with a certainty belying her age.

The Mazgaon resident makes between Rs 5,000 and Rs 6,000 a month.

It would be more apt to call Prachi a smart entrepreneur, rather than a victim of circumstance. “My dad earns enough to support the family, so I don’t need to contribute to running the house,” says the Class 12 Commerce student, who is saving up to start her own parlour some day.

But that’s for later. She has stopped taking on clients for a month as is gearing up for the exams. “I sometimes sit in the library and study because it’s not conducive to study at home when everyone’s present,” says Prachi, whose night college in Parel starts at 6.45 pm and extends to 9.45 pm.

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