2011 Personal Statements – Hands Speak LouderJanuary 31, 2011
Hands Speak Louder
Untouchably rough hands and calloused palms with skin as thick as soles are what everyone in my family shares. Weathered first in the hot sun and then hardened by physical work on rough roads and dry fields, our heels are cracked and caked with mud. Sweat, dust and grime cover the three of us from head to toe. For my parents, this is an everyday routine. To me, this is the first day at work, at the age of nearly five. My palms, unlike my parents, are tender and burn with blisters that have burst from just a few days of rough physical labor. Thorns and stones pierce the soles of my feet that never had felt the comfort of footwear, as we trudge hurriedly homeward.
My home, like all homes in this section of the village, is made of mud walls and a thatched roof that leaks in more places than can be counted. The floor, as tradition requires it, is hardened clay with a layer of cow dung on it. We use oil lamps and kitchen fires to light our home as the Government has yet to look towards this village. My mother has no option but to go halfway through the village to fetch water from the public well and, more often than not, has to wait for about half an hour in line for her turn. Toilets are unheard of.
These are the conditions of life in the village I was born in. My village is situated in Karnataka, very close to the border of Andhra Pradesh. My parents are known as ‘coolies’ — workers who do low paid jobs like laying roads and cables, breaking stones in quarries, and uprooting bushes to clear fields for farming. Until the age of five it had not been possible for me to keep moving with them because I was weak and would fall sick often. For this reason, I had been left in the care of my grandmother. But, when I turned five, my parents took me with them for work. All of us work from seven in the morning until six in the evening. The only break we get is an hour in the afternoon for lunch. Since my parents had to move every fortnight in search of work, our only places of shelter from the rains and cold nights were empty storage sheds or tents we built on the roadside or in vacant lots.
I probably would have been working as a coolie for the rest of my life if it were not for Shanti Bhavan. One day, in 1997, a new blue jeep drove up to a village near Mulbagal. One of my uncles was living there. He suggested getting me screened for Shanti Bhavan. Fortunately, my parents and I were visiting my uncle that day, and I was screened in the jeep along with several other children. Among them, my classmate Abilash and I were selected. My parents were hesitant to send me to a boarding school in a place that no one knew about, especially because I had just begun to live, work with, and get to know them. However, they did not want me to become a coolie like them.
At that time I did not know what a better and cleaner life could be like. Shanti Bhavan was not like anything I had seen or heard about. Every experience was new and exciting. We sat at tables for meals — something I had only seen at the weddings of rich families in our village. So many new books surrounded me; the only book I had seen before was a pile of papers, tattered and dirty, tied by a string, belonging to one of the “higher caste” children in my village. At Shanti Bhavan, we wore clothes that were better than anything I had observed at the village festival once a year. The clothes I had at home were threadbare in several places with missing buttons on the shirts, and small, ill-fitting shorts. This was the first time I had ever used a toilet; at home we had to go into the fields or the forest. Shanti Bhavan was clean everywhere and, for the first time in my life, I stepped on ground that was not mud, thorns or stones, but instead tiles, cobblestones and grass.
Now, I am in the twelfth grade and studying for my ISC Board Examination in March. It is the second biggest milestone in my life after the tenth grade ICSE Board Examination. I have chosen to major in accountancy, commerce and economics, along with compulsory subjects — English and environmental education. Economics has captured my interest without my realization; what I had found monotonous last year has proven to be of great interest now. Accountancy constantly challenges me; in college, I want to major in accounts and economics. I want to be able to do Chartered Accounting, as well as Financial Consulting. I am sure that these subjects will provide the opportunities that I seek.
In my early childhood, I was the only one in the family who lived without my parents, and as a result, I was the target of teasing and bullying by my uncles, cousins and other children of the village. They thought that I would end up like my parents. I decided that I would work hard and do well in life and prove them wrong. The challenge that I undertook at five was re-enforced at thirteen when I lost my mother to an illness that I had not known anything about. My father gave me the choice of living with him or with his first wife’s children; I chose the latter.
While I was at Shanti Bhavan, my brothers were working hard back in the village and were able to uplift their standard of living, despite not having a father to support their family. When someone from our village initiated a mineral drinking water processing factory in Bangalore, my brothers joined in as drivers for transporting the twenty-liter water cans. Now, they have two autos of their own, and live a moderately comfortable life. Every day they load the water cans into autos and deliver them to customers.
When I go home for the holidays, I work alongside my brothers because I enjoy hard work and get satisfaction from a job well done. This work also reminds me of my origin, the village I came from, and the hardships we had to fight, as well as the love, affection and education I get from Shanti Bhavan. I want to help both the future children of Shanti Bhavan, as well as my brothers. Shanti Bhavan offers us the opportunity to improve our lives as we want – something that no one ever presented to the poor in India. I want to help this cause, beginning with my family and then spreading this opportunity to others in my community and outside. I want to do for others what Shanti Bhavan has done for me.
I see my brothers’ rough hands and palms filled with calluses, earned from hard work. They stare up at you, bold and proud. My hands also reveal similar signatures from my childhood. They are part of me as much as the education and love I have received from Shanti Bhavan. They make me proud that though I had come from a very poor background, yet I have transformed my life and future for the better through good education. I am glad that I had seen and experienced poverty. With the global perspective I now have, my hands are well tuned to digging ditches as well as writing this essay.
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Meet the rest of the Shanti Bhavan Class of 2011.