This year may have shown the best results for Karnataka's class 12 students, with girls outperforming boys yet again this year, but it's a different kind of victory for 17-year-old Shalini A.
As the Science topper celebrated her 99.1 percent score in north Bengaluru, a few kilometres away this Mariyappanapalya resident quietly toiled away working as a domestic help in at least eight part-time jobs, and as a cleaner at an office. During her time off, she tended to her sick father, finished housework, and studied for her upcoming exams.
On Monday, she scored 84.8 percent in the science stream. Now, she's preparing for the Common Entrance Test, a competitive exam for admissions in medical, dental and engineering courses in professional colleges in India.
A Difficult Road
Shalini's journey has been fraught with struggles early on. She has changed her medium of instruction thrice already — she started in a Tamil medium school, moved to Kannada, and then started learning in English just a couple of years back.
She told Bangalore Mirror that her father has been bed-ridden since she was seven years old, after he fell off a building. While he has regained some movement now, he is still restricted to staying at home.
For years, her mother worked as a domestic help in several houses so she could provide for Shalini and her younger brother. But early this year, her brother was diagnosed with third stage blood cancer, dealing a serious blow to the already-strained family circumstances.
The responsibility came on young Shalini's shoulders to help her mother cope with the new setback. While the two divided time between Shalini's brother at hospital and her father at home — Shalini always with a book in her hands — she also had to take over all of her mother's part-time jobs.
"If I had not put in so much time in the hospital, I might have scored better," she told the Mirror. "But my brother is more important to me than marks."
An Impossible Schedule
Every morning, the teenager wakes up at 4.30 am to complete household chores before she has to rush off to five houses in the neighbourhood to water plants and draw 'Rangoli' (auspicious floor patterns) in front of the houses.
By 6 am, it is time for her to head to an office, where she scrubs the floors and the bathrooms before the staff comes to work. At 7.30 am, it's time for her to wash clothes at another house.
By 9 am, when she's home, she has time to study for the CET for the next three and a half hours, all the time keeping an eye on any other work that needs to be done in her own house. She then goes to work at two more houses, comes back at 4.30 pm, and studies till 6 pm.
She works for the rest of the evening in different houses, returning at night to study till about midnight. The next day, it's the same all over again.
The remarkable teenager said she is happy to support her family, and doesn't mind the hard work. Her next goal is to crack the CET and get into a good college, and spoke in praise of her teachers who have helped her along the way.