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Saturday, October 05, 2019

Kinjal Chouhan

It was June 2014, a month when usually engineering admissions take place in full swing. During admission period, every day we come across lot of people enquiring about the possibility of admission in various courses.

That day, as I was sitting in my cabin, I heard someone asking my permission "May I come in, sir?"
I turned my head and looked towards the door. A  girl was standing at the door. As I told her to come in, she came in but I could see that she was little scared. Dressed in a simple faded kurta pajama she was hardly five feet tall.  

“Yes, How can I help you?” I asked her.
"Sir, can I get admission in  Electronics diploma?" She asked in Hindi
I asked about her education.
"I have done my twelfth," she said.
"What was your percentage in 12th?"
"56 percent," she replied in hardly audible voice. She probably was not very sure of getting admission with this percentage.
" What's your name?" I asked.
She had not mentioned her name at the beginning.
"Kinjal Chouhan," she said.
"Kinjal, you will get admission to this course"
"Will I really get it Sir?" She asked in disbelief. It seemed that she did not believe my words.
"Yes, you will" I said. For the first time I saw a smile on her face.
"Thank you Sir " she said.
"Has anyone come with you?" I asked.
"My father has come " she said with a little hesitation.
"Could you please ask him to come inside? " 
She went outside and for next two-three minutes I could hear her  telling her father to come inside . Seems at first he was reluctant but  finally came in.

He was almost of her height, shoulders bent, very thin. I told them to sit down.
"What do you do?" I asked.
He waited for some time before answering.  "I work in Railways."
"What do you do in Railways?"
"Technician's job," he replied. Somewhere I thought he was not speaking the truth.
"How much salary do you get?" I asked.  At the time of admission, I usually assess parent's financial status so that I can give information about various scholarships, freeships, and other options to those who have financial difficulties.
He waited for some time before answering my questions and then said "Sir, you must be aware how much salary does the technician get."
From his reply, I could realise that he was hiding something. So I didn't ask him any further. But Kinjal seemed pretty honest to me.
"Okay, you complete the admission formalities," I said.

Kinjal thanked me two-three times, and she left my cabin along with  her father.
When she left, I called my admission in-charge and told her about Kinjal and her father. At first glance, the father seemed to be hiding something.

Kinjal started attending regular classes. One thing I always noticed that Kinjal was not like other girls in her class. She would sit quietly, not mixing with the other girls in the classroom. She had very limited set of clothes. Her handwriting was nice but she would not answer any of the questions asked in the classroom. Her voice was so low that the girl sitting next to her could hardly hear. But she would always complete given assignments on time.

As per our usual practice, I assigned a mentor, our maths teacher for Kinjal. I asked her to pay special attention to Kinjal. I always insist on good communication skills and ask my students to work hard to learn the art of communication. Here, Kinjal didn't have the confidence to speak in front of people. After some days her mentor got to know her family background.

Her mother died when she was in school. After her mother passed away, her father shifted to Mumbai from Gujarat and stayed at her sister's house in Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai. Her father had no permanent job. He was alcoholic and would take up some odd job intermittently. He had some psychological issue as well. At times he would be beaten up by people due to his misbehavior under the influence of alcohol or bad mental state.  Kinjal had to do all the housework. On the way home from college Kinjal was doing bookbinding work till 9 pm which would pay her meager twenty rupees per hour! Then she would go home, prepare dinner, do other chores. Only after all these things she could study or complete her assignments. In spite of all these problems she never missed single day in college or any of her assignment deadlines. 
Now I understood the reason why she would speak in such a low voice. Under such difficult circumstances and extreme poverty, it was impossible that she would ever have been allowed to even speak or express her opinion at home.I started paying attention to how I can build her confidence and help her to speak confidently

When everyone from my staff realized her situation, they also started paying more attention to her. Until now, she had never handled a computer. Due to her background, it was not possible. We made available a college laptop for her but she used it only in the college. She was not sure of its safety if he took it home. After realising that she was not eating during the lunch break, one of my colleagues brought tiffin for her regularly. In the first year during  Diwali, her maths teacher gave her dress materials for sewing some new dresses. For many days, when the teacher did not see Kinjal in a new dress, she asked her why she was not wearing her new dress. The answer from Kinjal really made all of us think, she said "Madam, it's a new dress.. how can I wear it?"

The fifth semester consists of an internship for 6 months in a company. We got her internship in a company where she would get Rs. 5,000 a month as a stipend and get the opportunity to work on the latest technology. We were sure of her ability to learn. Our aim was to make sure that she would get more time to study. After college hours, she was spending all her time in doing job and housework. The stipend really helped her to take care of a lot of things.
Once in a  month we send one faculty to visit the industries where students take up internships.  In the fifth semester, when one of our lecturers went to the company where Kinjal was doing her internship, she sent me a photograph from there with the message saying , "Look at the Kinjal in this pic, she's smiling!" Before that we rarely saw smile on her face.  The company provided her good environment to learn. The director of the company, a renowned electronics designer was our industry mentor too. He equally helped her with the same spirit that we had.

Kinjal did a great job in the company. The girl who rarely used computer before was building user interfaces for applications based on 32 bit microcontroller using xojo software tool. Later in the eighth semester, she  interned at the same company. During this one-year internship, she not only gained valuable experience in the industry but also earned stipend which could take care of her entire college fees.

After her diploma, due to her experience during her internship, she was offered a job in another company, but she did not accept the job as she was planning to move to Gujarat again. Later she cancelled her plan to move to Gujrat and started working in a renowned engineering college in Mumbai.

Even though Kinjal is not regularly in touch, whenever we come across any such student going through difficult times, we often tell her about Kinja! It was a story of hardship, struggle, perseverance and faith. 

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