When you ask for school topper Kamatchi Sundaram at Presidency Higher Secondary School for Girls, a teacher excitedly replies, “Oh, she belongs to a family of toppers. Both her older sisters were very good students and board toppers.”

Her home in N.S.K. Nagar, in Anna Nagar, is a scene of jubilation. For her parents, Sundaram and Shanthi, who sell fruits and flowers on a pushcart near the bus stop, it was a rerun of the joy they had felt before. Their older daughters — Hema (19), who studies mechanical engineering at Anna University, and Usha (17), who pursues BCA in a private college — were also high-scoring students at the same school. And on Thursday, it was Kamatchi’s turn to make them proud.

“When my children were small, I used to bring them from school and make them study till evening near my flower stall. I want them to get jobs in offices, and not work like me in the sun,” says Shanthi, the mother.

Shanthi and her husband wake up at four every morning and go to Koyembedu to get fresh fruits and flowers. For many years, Sundaram sold onions in a cart, till he hurt his leg last year and was unable to work anymore. “We make just about Rs. 400 a day, and there is no business during monsoons. We couldn’t afford tuitions or many books for our children,” says Sundaram.

With centum in three subjects — commerce, business maths and accountancy — Kamatchi has an overall 96 per cent. “Kamatchi is the brightest of us all. But she is also lazy. I used to make sure she got up early every day and studied. She lost ten marks in economics. I am sure she could have done even better,” says elder sister Hema. The family lives in a one-room house which desperately needs renovation, but the members list at least four loans taken to educate the girls.

“We got a TV only last year. Our father is perpetually in debt. We want to repay all that and make sure our parents have a comfortable life ahead,” says Kamatchi.

The mother of the girls is the happiest. “My father would not let me go out alone, but I want my daughters to go fight the world. My oldest daughter is the only girl in a class of 68 boys, but it doesn’t make any difference to her because she really wanted to study mechanical engineering. Similarly, Kamatchi too will be successful someday.”

Those wishing to contribute to the family can call Hema, Kamatchi's elder sister on +918807192840