Make in Dharavi
This series of interviews portrays the economic life of Dharavi in Mumbai through the activities of its inhabitants.
Radha is a passionate tuition teacher, proud of her contribution to the education of many students in Dharavi. Climbing up the narrow steps into Radha’s brown walled home, you are greeted first by a small, eager Pomeranian dog, then by a butterscotch-spotted cat. With a great smile, she explains how she had taken both the animals from a friend. "Sweety", the dog, is two and a half years old and the “very, very wise” cat "Money" is four. The interaction began on a personal and warm topic and conveyed Radha’s maternal nature to me in an instant.
It is the same loving spirit that helps her become such a wonderful teacher to her students. She is proud of her service but humble in realizing that she only hones what is within the child already. She says that she started this job not to bring home income, but because she loves studying. Her in-laws strongly oppose her, and yet she is positive she will continue her work, and hopefully even grow the business. She does not need this income, she reiterates gently, her husband provides well for the household with his corporate day job. So what does she do with this additional income? Grinning contently, she shows me her gold plated jewellery collection. It is an investment, she quips.
Radha’s parents emphasized the importance of education. She completed the 10th grade with this very belief, and big dreams to become a doctor.
As a village girl, Radha’s parents emphasized the importance of education and how you can be anything you want if you focus on school. She completed the 10th grade with this very belief, and big dreams to become a doctor. Then, her mother passed away. She casually says that it was the death of her dreams as well; her academics suffered, and despite her breezy tone, it is evident that this is a sensitive topic, one that she speaks about as a pivotal moment in her life. In her caste, she explains, daughters have to be married within a year of their mother’s passing. And so, she could only finish her 12th standard before being married to her husband, and the father of her 3 sons. She speaks about her husband with great love and respect, repeatedly saying how supportive he has always been. When he saw her interest in studying, it was he who tutored her for 2 years after their youngest was born. He even stands by her when her in-laws try to shut down her practice.
She laughingly says that it’s the traditional worldview and that the jealousy of the mother-in-law is due to her lack education, which results in family problems. But beneath the laughter, there is a tiredness of it all, overwhelmed only by her strong desire to continue.
Apart from family quarrels, there is no other real issue in her business, save the location of her home, which is seated deep inside a small lane marked by an old seamstress’ workplace. Her students live close by, around 5-7 minutes away by foot. She has a morning batch from 9:30 -11:00 a.m. and a busier session in the evening batch from 7:00-9:00. She teaches all subjects, Maths, English, science, but her favourite is mathematics.
There are approximately 25 children in each batch, but she always teaches them individually and doesn’t use a whiteboard to avoid uniformity. It is because of the personal attention that her students succeed, she says. Additionally, she is also cheaper than other tuition services. Anywhere else classes are around ₹650, whilst hers are only ₹550. Even her children help her, and she proudly talks about how uniquely they approach teaching. Her expansion plans involve giving them additional classes to teach, but she is only scared that their own studies should not get too affected. Her eldest wants to be an engineer.
One student she has seen grow tremendously is Sujal. He joined her as a child performing poorly at municipal school, but a chat with his mother and a shift to private school changed that. At first, there was the doubt that he would not cope with the new high standards, but Radha made a personalized plan that taught him everything from the 1st-grade curriculum to the 8th grade. Now he just secured an A+ (78%) in his 8th-grade finals
When asked about why she advocates a private school education, she explains that municipal schools have teachers that are not very motivated.
When asked about why she advocates a private school education, she explains that municipal schools have teachers that are not very motivated. They sleep, teach only half the portion, and aren’t as invested in the kids as they should be. The grammar of kids from municipal schools is especially bad. Why are these problems there? Because they have no supervision, is her short answer.
As we find ourselves talking about the government and education, I can’t help but ask her what she thinks about the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan. Lightly, she states that she does not bother herself with politics much. She modestly expresses approval for Modi and demonetisation. However, she does not like Dharavi Redevelopment Plan due to the fact that it will give her a smaller room than the one she has. One government move she does personally engage with, however, is the new policy of re-examination. It is her belief that everyone should get a second chance.
*the name has been changed to respect the subject's privacy