There was a celebratory air in my home in Kolkata today. As I chatted with ma and baba this morning, right after “tora kemon achish?” (how are you all), I was informed Khushi’s report card is out and she has done very well in school. I saw baba’s face on the camera grinning from ear to ear, while I heard ma’s proud voice in the background, “She got double A in all subjects, A+ in just one.” By baba’s side, with a lovely gap toothed smile stood 7 year old Khushi, looking at me through the computer. My usual Thursday morning suddenly became festive.
She is a 7 year old little girl. Her successful report card for one semester may not seem worth celebrating to some. However, when one knows the relentlessness of her mother to ensure that Khushi receives quality education despite all the obstacles that is thrown in their path, one can not help but doff one’s hat in respect. Khushi’s mother, Breshpati, barely knows Bengali alphabets. She can not read. Once she had Khushi seven years ago, she made a resolution that her child will have every opportunity to education and resources that she lacked. She was employed as a maid early on in childhood so her two brothers could attend school. Her daughter, she vowed, would have a different life. Hearing the hope in her voice as she held her new born in her arms, I enlisted myself as a soldier beside her to help achieve her dreams for her daughter. The real work was done by her mother. Breshpati worked in people’s houses as a domestic help for livelihood yet ensured that her day afforded enough time for her to take Khushi to her tutor’s house for lessons or to her dance class or to her drawing class. Khushi’s birth in a financially strapped family was not going to take away opportunities from her – that was her mother’s promise.
Schooling during Covid has been especially challenging. Schools went online. It took Breshpati and my parents quite an effort to understand the technology. Little Khushi figured out how to attend classes before her grown ups did though. She attended school from our living room, neatly attired in her school uniform and did her homework with the help of her tutor, a lovely young woman who also comes from an impoverished family, and with the help of my mother.
Every morning she sits next to baba as he reads the Bengali newspaper and tries to sound out the difficult words along with him. He helps her with the words if she stumbles. Ma makes sure her penmanship is good and her grammar is perfect. When we video chat with them, they proudly summon her to greet us in English. She asks us, “How are you?” And my parents marvel at her lovely English pronunciation. She recites for us sometimes and dances too. She loves performing and is a natural in front of canera. The adopted grandparents look on with unabashed pride.
When I heard about her good result, I asked my parents to buy her a gift to celebrate her success. Her mother chimed in, “No didi, don’t give her anything. Let us see how she does in her final exams.” We compromised on a chocolate bar while promising a bigger celebration after her final report card, which I believe will be equally good.
I am not sure what is in store for this little girl. Education is not the top priority in the neighborhood she lives in. Girls marry young and become young mothers. Her mother, however, talks of endless possibilities for her daughter. She tells her child she can become anything in life, just get an education. She lays out the only path available to Khushi that will be her ticket out of poverty. My parents and my family here are cheerleaders and supporters.
That little girl is surrounded by love and support. That may just be enough to see her through. She and her mother fill me up with hope.