Since her childhood, Delhi-based Ritika Pal has dreamt of being a doctor — a cancer specialist, to be precise. “I lost my nani (grandmother) to cancer when I was little. It broke my heart to see the disease claim her life, and we lost a loving member of the family,” she tells The Better India.
But even as Ritika, a student of Sarvodya Kanya Vidyalaya, Molarband, worked hard in school to achieve her goal, life’s realities stood firmly in the way. Belonging to a low-income household, where her father worked in an embroidery factory and her mother was a homemaker, leading a “comfortable life” had always been a struggle.
A long road to success
“I have two younger siblings, and my family has always struggled to make ends meet. Unlike other students in my class, we could never afford private coaching classes,” says the 19-year-old, whose family of five live in a two-room accommodation in Badarpur.
Ritika says that this gap became even more evident and adversely impacted her studies during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I was preparing for the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) examination, and would occasionally take help from my classmates and borrow their notes for studies. However, once the lockdown came in, movement was restricted. I turned to my cousins for help in chemistry and physics, but they couldn’t help me with biology, as no one had studied the subject in our family,” she recalls.
Ritika says that she was confident about studying for other subjects by herself, but needed help with biology.
“I knew that videos uploaded by experts on YouTube could help me clear concepts and increase my level of understanding on the subject. But my father could not afford a smartphone,” she adds.
Things worsened when her father lost his job due to the pandemic. While her parents were immensely understanding of the difficulty their daughter was facing, they did not have the financial means to support her. “Because my parents had always prioritised our education, they decided to sell my mother’s jewellery, which she had saved for my wedding day, to buy a smartphone and a few books,” Ritika says.
She adds that the incident was overwhelming, as she realised the magnitude of the sacrifice her mother was making. “On one hand, we were unable to buy daily supplies, and on the other, my mother was giving her all so that we could continue our studies. When I scored 98 per cent in Class 12, my parents were motivated to keep investing in our education. My mother said, ‘We will buy the jewellery back when you start earning’,” Ritika says.
Today, all of these hardships seem worth it to the parents when they see how their child has secured 3,032 ranks by scoring 500 marks in the NEET exams. “I am confident I will be able to secure a seat in a medical college during the counselling sessions, which will begin by November end,” she says.
“The smartphone turned out to be a useful tool to access YouTube and take lessons. I studied hard to ensure my parents’ sacrifice is justified. Our financial condition has improved after my father bagged another job recently,” she says.
Ritika is also conducting private coaching for school students to offer financial support to her family. “My father is working hard to save money for my graduation, and I want to do my bit to add to the savings. I am sure I will make my parents proud in the coming years and buy back the jewellery we lost,” she adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu