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Merit awash in father’s toil

Suman Das, 19, first-year student at Nilratan Sirkar Medical College, sits in a corner of the bed, studying biochemistry for his exams. Brother Subir, 23, in his final year at Jadavpur University, is taking a break from his engineering texts. While mother Chandra cooks in the kitchen, father Shombhu washes clothes. Other people’s clothes.

The 47-year-old dhobi from Dharmatala Road, off Kasba, wakes up at six every morning, collects the clothes drying on the lines outside his house, irons them and then sets out on his rounds, cycling to areas like Picnic Garden, Jadavpur and Dhakuria with his bundle, delivering and picking up clothes from his customers. He returns home, washes the clothes, and only gets to bed at about 1 am. This has been his routine for over two decades. The reason — his sons’ education.

Elder son Subir will graduate with a degree in production engineering this year. At a campus interview of more than 400 candidates, he was one of eight selected for a job with Indian Oil Corporation. Suman, after ranking 52nd in his medical Joint Entrance Examination, decided to go in for medicine. Although not sure what he wants to specialise in, he is determined to become a doctor.

The two ex-students of Tiljala High School unanimously declare that they owe it all to their father, “who has given us everything we need”. Adds Subir: “We have always had support from our teachers and other students, too,” while his sibling nods shyly in agreement. The duo has been giving lessons to their mother, who has never been to school herself, but can now read and write “a little”.

“I had to stop studying after Class X and get a job, because we were poor. So, I decided that when I have children, I will make sure they get a proper education,” smiles Shombhu. Now, it’s the glow of parental pride that overshadows the tired lines on his face.

When earning Rs 75 a month as sales assistant at a laundry proved too little to support a family, he built up a loyal clientele in Picnic Garden by going from house to house, collecting clothes. The enterprising dhobi managed to buy a piece of land from a former client and move out of the cramped, one-room house where he lived with his extended family, “because I realised there were too many distractions for my sons to study properly”.

Despite paying the money for the land in instalments, he made “little additions, brick by brick, to my humble home”, all the while saving up for school, college and tuition fees. “But people have always been understanding. The principal of Tiljala High is very supportive. When I got tuition teachers for physics, chemistry and biology for my sons for their Higher Secondary exams, they charged Rs 100 instead of Rs 200, and told me that if I couldn’t afford it, they would do it for free,” says Shombhu.

Loyal clients pitched in with small acts of kindness, he says. Dr Nipendranath Chakraborty and wife Radharani have known Shombhu since his childhood, and even now, regularly drop in to see his two sons. The Chakraborty’s younger daughter used to help Subir and Suman with maths.

“He has never left anything lacking for his children,” says Radharani. “Good food is a must, because he believes you can’t exert the brain if you don’t have the right nutrition. Shombhu and Chandra have given up everything for their sons, and the two boys have not let them down.”

“My wife and I never go out, but we don’t mind. I don’t have a problem with hard work either. For as long as I am able, I will continue to provide the best for my sons,” Shombhu sums up.

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