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Starved of light, full of grit

A solitary bulb glows inside a boat-like structure. Huddled under it are 25 students studying for Class 10 or Class 12 exams or engineering and management entrance tests.

mumbai Updated: Feb 21, 2010 01:17 IST
Kunal Patil

A solitary bulb glows inside a boat-like structure. Huddled under it are 25 students studying for Class 10 or Class 12 exams or engineering and management entrance tests.

Located at the entrance to the Sion fort, the Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru Udyan is an open-air study for students from the slums of Dharavi, Sion-Koliwada and Kurla.

Every day, from 8 am to 11 pm, these boys leave their shanties — where there are more people than square feet — and come to the garden to study. They cannot afford coaching classes and their parents are too busy making ends meet to fuss over them.

This garden, with its single tubelight in the watchman’s cabin, is all they have.

The days are warm, but they pass. As night descends, it is a battle with darkness and mosquitoes.

Most of the boys study in the light of the bulb, which they have connected to the tubelight in the watchman’s cabin.

There are those like Khurshid Khan who cannot study in a group. “I have to read aloud to remember,” says Khan, a Class 10 student. “The others get disturbed, so I sit in that corner.” ‘That corner’ has no lights. Khan uses the torch built into his cellphone.
The garden had a study room, but it started crumbling last year. Some students still sit on the roof of the shaky structure.

They recently contributed Rs 10 each and bought a lantern and six emergency lamps made in China. When the lamps run out of battery, they switch to candles. These compulsions have also sparked off some genius.

Engineering student Viren Kalyankar mounted a battery-operated LED light on a water bottle. The bottle acts like a stand he can place on any surface. “It cost me Rs 300,” Kalyankar says.

Further away, Vipin Agrahari is studying in the light of a torch jutting out of an iron pillar. “There’s a magnet at the base of the torch,” says Agrahari, who is studying for the All-India Engineering Entrance Exam. “I can stick it to any iron surface on the ceiling or a pillar and use it like a lamp.” Made in China, again.

The students created a forum and approached every public representative — from corporator to MP — asking for a tubelight in the garden.

Before the 2009 polls, many promises were made, but none fulfiled.

The garden shuts at 8 pm, but the boys stay back until 11. After that, the watchman switches off the light in his cabin. The bulb in the boat switches off too.

Books in hand, the boys jump over a wire mesh to head home. Their torches are still on, leading them along the dark pathway home.