Sangita Dutta with mother Soma at their single-room home off Rashbehari Avenue on Friday. Picture by Anup Bhattacharya
Sangita Dutta swears by Feluda, draws a blank on Chhota Bheem, lives in a single-room house without power or water supply on Nakuleshwar Bhattacharjee Road off Rashbehari Avenue and studies under a lamp post near her mother’s evening tea stall.
The 15-year-old scored 81 per cent in Madhyamik this year and feels she could have done better with some more marks in the second language paper, that is English.
She came first in her school, Lake School for Girls, near Deshapriya Park with a grand total of 567 marks. She scored 92 in life science, 90 in mathematics, 85 in history, 80 in physical science, 80 in geography, 80 in Bengali and 60 in English.
Sangita is least bothered with the odds surrounding her life. “It has been like this since I started going to school. I have never studied under a light bulb at home. I am used to studying under candlelight at home and the yellow vapour lamps on the street outside my house. They don’t bother me at all. Just the heat becomes unbearable at times in the morning,” she says.
Though mathematics is her favourite subject, she aspires to be a doctor and treat her sick and jobless father who often gets confined to bed for long durations inside the family’s crumbling 8ft by 10ft house.
“I know it’s a tough climb to become a doctor but it has been a hard life so far. I am ready to face any challenges. I am already preparing for the joint entrance examination.”
A late riser, Sangita generally gets up at 9am and rushes to school. In the evening, she helps her mother set up the tea-and-snacks stall. She hangs about the stall, mostly studying under the street light and helping mother Soma when needed, until they close shop. She stays awake till 3am, studying.
The family does not have a bed. Soma and Sangita sleep on the floor inside the room while father Abhijit occupies a narrow strip between the door and the room.
“She used to get up early to study under sunlight but we don’t get enough sun since our house is in an alley and surrounded by big buildings. So she changed her schedule and started studying at night,” says Soma, who works as a domestic help in the neighbourhood during the day.
Sangita’s mark sheet reflects her mother’s sacrifices and the back-breaking chores she does to keep the family afloat.
A Class IV dropout, Soma has ensured that her daughter’s education is never compromised. “We do not spend money on expensive clothes and food. Whatever money I can arrange I spend it on my daughter’s education.”
Soma earns around Rs 5,000 a month from the tea stall and Rs 1,500 from doing household chores in the neighbourhood.
She “tries” to stay awake with the daughter engrossed in her studies, waving a handheld fan in the summer heat.
Kind-hearted souls in the locality had given old exercise books, pencils and pens to Sangita but the money for schoolbooks and the private tutor’s monthly fee of Rs 1,200 came from her mother’s heard-earned income.
Unlike most children of her age, Sangita is not a “television person”. The family doesn’t have one and, hence, her source of entertainment is an old transistor radio and storybooks — mostly Feluda, Byomkesh Bakshi and other detective heroes — from the school library.
“I keep wondering how Chhota Bheem and Oggy would be like when my peers discuss them in school. I can’t keep up with their chit-chat and soon lose interest. I firmly believe that the stories I read make much more sense. The lack of a television set at home has helped me concentrate more on my studies,” she says.