I want to build bridges so that people can reside under it, drive cars on it: Ragini Bansal
“Home is where you have a proper house. My real home is in the village. I only reside here,” Bansal said, pointing at a yellow plastic sheet tent adjoining a drain.Updated: May 24, 2020 00:31 IST
Eleven-year-old Ragini Bansal was born in a shanty under an overbridge in the plush Gomti Nagar neighbourhood of Lucknow. She has spent all her life in the same slum and yet, she hesitates to call it her home.
“Home is where you have a proper house. My real home is in the village. I only reside here,” Bansal said, pointing at a yellow plastic sheet tent adjoining a drain. Four wooden poles hold up the sheet at each corner. On usual days, she would go out to play with other children living in the 25 tenements clustered under the Shaeedpath flyover, but for the last two months, she has been confined to the shanty because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“My mother says that corona will catch me if I go far from home,” she said, making a long face and pointing at her mother, Usha, 48, who works as a domestic help.
There is another modification to her daily routine. “Corona will not catch you if you maintain cleanliness. So all of us bathe twice every day,” she adds.
Bansal wears a light blue night suit over a pair of jeans given to her by the memsahib of one of the four houses where Usha worked when the pandemic hit. She has been unemployed for the past four months, which means her monthly income that ranged from Rs 6000 to Rs 8000 has dried up.
The youngest of 10 siblings, Bansal shares the space with four sisters and a brother.
At night, her elder sister ties her mother’s old saris to the wooden poles to give them some privacy. The saris are untied in the day. There is no electricity or running water and the residents use a nearby community bathroom, which scientists and urban planners worldwide argue puts city dwellers like Bansal and her neighbours at greater risk of transmission of Covid-19 infection.
Her family belongs to Sitapur district where they have a small farm. Her father Suresh Bansal, 51, a marginal farmer, and two elder brothers, live in Sitapur. The other three sisters are married and live in other districts of UP.
“We have a house with two rooms in Sitapur. I have gone there a few times, but I like to live here in Lucknow,” she says.
The pandemic that has infected at least 314 people in Lucknow also threatens to crush Bansal’s dreams.
A few months ago, her mother used to wake her up at six to get her ready for school. Bansal hated getting up early, but loved going to school — a private institution located about a kilometre away from her home. It was privilege that only she and her elder brother had.
“I like the school assembly and the school building. We even have two fans in our class and I love sitting below them,” she says.
She reveals another reason why she never missed school. “My mother takes my elder sisters with her to mop big houses. I don’t want to do that work, so I go to school,” she says.
But her education is now stalled. The school closed as soon as the national lockdown came into effect on March 25. Bansal’s and her brother’s fees amount to Rs 1050 monthly and her mother, struggling to feed her children, is uncertain if she will be able to fund her daughter’s education. The school has not provided online classes either.
Bansal is too poor to think of learning online but she has kept all her books neatly in her school bag that hangs from one of the poles. “I like English and Math,” she says, and offers to recite a poem to this reporter.
Despite the uncertainty around her schooling, Bansal is certain she will go back to school. The reason: She wants to build large bridges so that more people like her can live under them. “My elder brother once told me that engineers make these bridges, so I want to become an engineer. People will be able to live under the bridges I build and drive their vehicles over it,” she says.