Sathish cycles around his neighbourhood to deliver newspapers, and makes about Rs. 700 per month

For M. Sathish Kumar, waking up at four in the morning is the easiest thing to do. “I have been doing that every day, for the last six years,” he says, quickly counting with his fingers the number of years it has been since he was in class VII. Sathish has just joined the B.Com course at Guru Nanak College. He insists that I write down the stream — Accounting and Finance — and playfully peeps into my notepad to check if I actually did. With nearly 80 per cent in class XII, he saw this programme as a good foundation for his MBA dream.

However, unlike a majority of students his age, Sathish paid his first term college fees largely out of his own pocket rather than his parents’. The money comes at the cost of several years of early morning sleep sacrificed to deliver newspapers in the neighbourhood. His daily wage-earning father and domestic-help mother do their best so that Sathish and his younger sister can have a decent meal every day, but they are not in a position to see higher education as anything but luxury.

Sathish was eager. He had heard of executives — those dressed in ties and coats and doing very well for themselves — working for various companies. “I also want to become like them and decided to start saving. My school teacher and my father said I should start a bank account,” he says, about having let his small earnings accumulate to Rs. 15,000 in his Indian Bank account. “I used that money and a few thousands that my father put aside to pay the fees now.”

Day after day, the teenager is up before the sun and sets out on his early morning duty. Attired in grey track pants and a bright blue T-shirt, he looks like an athlete all set for his practice run in the morning. He cycles around his neighbourhood near Teynampet to deliver newspapers, and makes about Rs. 700 per month — a sum that takes him one tiny step closer to his lofty MBA dream. Sathish is also keen on equipping himself with a cost accounting degree. “Accountancy is my favourite subject,” he says.

He does not use his earnings for much else, except an occasional movie outing with friends. “I saw Nanban last,” he says, lowering his voice and smiling, as he fiddles with his stainless steel bracelet. But no one tells him he needs to be careful with his money. “I know that I am doing this because of my family’s circumstances. No point in spending the money carelessly.” In all these years, Sathish took just one break from work — a month’s time – to prepare for his board examinations.

“It’s not as if people don’t help. A couple of families that I deliver newspapers to were kind enough to buy me some books last year. But I do not want to depend on others too much. This way, I feel responsible for every penny I make,” he says, parting his hair neatly before he gets ready to cycle ahead. I ask him if I could take a picture and he is quick to say, “Photo? No, no. I don’t want.”

Now that Sathish is in college, his story makes for a good ‘against all odds’ tale that other students will be asked to draw inspiration from. He certainly deserves credit for this achievement. But, the bitter truth is that a basic right didn’t come easy for this young man. He had to labour just so that he could learn. The question we should, perhaps, ask is — why should he have to do that?

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