As a child, Reeta Namdev wanted to be a doctor, a teacher, or join the military. These were professions that would give her a position of authority, allow her to command. As a visually impaired girl growing up in a small village in Uttar Pradesh’s Mahoba district, getting people to listen to her seemed an insurmountable challenge.
Today, 28-year-old Namdev is an assistant professor in Hindi at Bhagini Nivedita College, a girls’ institution under Delhi University. Five days a week and in 16 class sessions, around 50 students in a classroom listen in rapt attention to her lectures on Tulsidas’ poetry and the other classics. She rents a one-bedroom barsati (terrace apartment) in Delhi’s Najafgarh area, a half-hour commute from her college.
Photograph: Priyanka Parashar / Mint
Namdev’s parents were landless farmers. She is one of five children—two boys and three girls. Though her parents had no education themselves, they were keen on educating their children. But they could only afford to send their sons to school.
This was when Namdev staged the first of her many silent struggles. When she was eight, she went on a hunger strike to cajole her parents to take her to Delhi. With help from family and friends, they enrolled her in a special school for the visually impaired. She has lived by herself in special hostels ever since.
After her BA from Delhi’s Indraprastha College, Namdev got a special scholarship that the NGO Udayan Care has instituted for girls from underprivileged backgrounds. The scholarship partly funded her MA and MPhil, and helped her with study materials such as a laptop equipped with screen-reading software for the visually impaired. Namdev now does practically everything—including filing her students’ attendance and test results—on her personal laptop. Even without the scholarship, she says, she would have somehow scrounged funds to study further.
“My expenses are greater than that of a sighted person,” she is quick to point out. Braille books, tape recorders and translation fees add up. Namdev supported her personal expenses through college by giving tuitions.
Her future plans include getting a doctorate, but that’s perfunctory. “It is something I have to do to get ahead as a professor in the university system,” she says. “I don’t count that as one of my life goals.”
These goals are as yet undefined, but she is convinced of their grandeur.
When she started her job last August, she called her parents to live with her. She also supports a 6-year-old niece whom she has enrolled in a school nearby. But Namdev isn’t satisfied with what she has.
Snapping her laptop shut as she stands up to get photographed, she smiles, and says, “Dissatisfaction got me where I am today.”
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