New Delhi: Vijay Majhi, 26, still remembers the first time he saw a tie. It was 1993-94 and he had just moved to Delhi with his family from their ancestral village in Odisha. “My father had enrolled me in a private school and the first day, I literally danced the entire way to school," he says. Majhi’s father was a plumber in south Delhi and money, he recalls, had always been a source of worry in their lives. It led to Majhi having to leave his “private" school within a year for a government school. “I used to have that one shirt which was to be worn in summers as well as winters. But as children you don’t care." Majhi also wants to dispel the notion that government schools are hubs of inefficiency. “There are always some teachers who are good, there are always students who are ambitious, but those stories never get told," he says.

Good grades in Class X got him admission in a Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), a central government school, which is when Majhi first came face to face with economic and attitudinal differences. “Everyone spoke fluent English, everyone! Also, my classmates used to regularly get pocket money, eat at the school cafeteria, give elaborate birthday treats. I would always make an excuse to get out of them," he recalls. It’s a practice he continued with even when pursuing his graduation in electronics from Delhi University’s Sri Venkateswara College. “I could never give birthday treats, so it was only right that I never enjoyed them also," says Majhi, who, when he once overheard his father tell his mother that no calls were coming for work, told her not to pack lunch for him as he didn’t feel hungry. “We were running out of flour at home. This was one way I could ensure that it lasted longer." Compromise has been a big part of his family’s life, but he also knows that times change. “Affluence is essentially resources. Today we might not have them, but tomorrow we probably will," he says.

For Majhi, education was always going to be his ticket to a better life, one in which he too would wear branded shoes and clothes, enjoy coffee at Starbucks and throw a rather lavish birthday party (his first) at an upscale restaurant in a Delhi mall. “I heard about IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) when in the KV. If you study engineering there, it could change your life. I figured we could build our own home in five years or so, since the pay package would be so good, but I couldn’t crack the exam," says Majhi.

Interestingly, his father had inculcated the dream of a white-collar job in his son through Hindi movies. “He would point to scenes in which a man sitting in an office would ring a bell for his peon to fetch him something, and he say ‘babu banna, beta (become an officer, son)’. You will have a cabin and people at your beck and call," he recalls.

Today Majhi works with a software firm after having done his postgraduation in informatics from Delhi University. With his first salary, he bought gold earrings for his mother, trousers for his father and shoes—Puma and Adidas—for himself. Why those two brands? “Because everyone in college wore them, while I wore local shoes," he grins.

Majhi’s family has continued to live in the same single room they had rented when they came to Delhi even though the area around them has changed drastically. “From waterlogging to buffalos lolling around, there are now developer flats there. Earlier there were only scooters, now Audis and BMWs are the norm," he says. His father continues to work as a plumber, but Majhi acknowledges that the hardship of his childhood is a thing of the past. “We recently purchased a refrigerator. It is always filled with juices and fruits," he adds. Today Majhi’s is one of 28.4 million households classed in a 2010 consumer survey as “high income", earning between 2-10 lakh a year. “My driving force in life is to improve my family’s financial health," says Majhi.

This is the fourth part in a series marking the 25th anniversary of India’s liberalization.

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