He was a real nowhere man/ Sitting in his nowhere land/ Making all his nowhere plans -- till he found a saviour in seven women who lived next door. Ashutosh Rai is hardly a man at 10, but the rest of the Beatle’s classic could well have been sung for him.
After his father, who ran an imitation jewellery shop, died in 2010, the boy, then just seven years old, stared at a bleak future since his mother Sunita’s salary as a cleaner in a local hospital wasn’t enough to sustain his schooling.
After their landlord threw them out, the family moved into a one-room shanty in a slum with his mother and grandmother Ratna.
But just as they were about to give up hope, luck finally smiled. Ashutosh’s grandmother Ratna (55) would sit outside a nearby factory everyday in the hope of some work. One day the owner of the factory, Archana Panchmukh, noticed her and asked why she sat here the whole day. After hearing her story she visited their home. “When I saw Ashutosh, I knew just how hardworking and serious he was about his studies. I realised it would be a shame if such a child didn’t get a chance to pursue his dreams,” Archana told SUNDAY MiD DAY.
Ashutosh’s mother Sunita, too, recalled those terrible days. “We lived on rent and the agreement expired the day his father died of cancer. The owner asked to vacate the house since he thought we would not be able to pay the rent. We moved into a slum but moved after a year as the area was frequented by anti-social elements. I was scared for Ashutosh who was so vulnerable at the time. My mother also started working when my husband was bed ridden. I worked as a maid before landing the job in the hospital,” she said.
Then, as she says, “God happened.” “Archana Panchmukh came to us like a lifeline. Every year since 2010 she would look for a sponsor, someone who would help keep my child in school. She told me to work hard to earn a living to look after the family’s other needs while she made sure Ashutosh received his education,” she recalled. “I first changed his school and put him in a good school. He deserves the best. The first year I paid his fee with the help of my family members and for the next two years, a good friend chipped in.”
Soon, Archana’s neighbours, who met the little boy, were bowled over by his dedication to studies. “Ashutosh knew his mother didn’t earn much so he never cried or demanded anything. His just kept saying he wants to study hard and hold a good job one day. He goes to school in the morning at 7am and comes home at 1pm. After that he goes for tuitions too,” said one of the residents of the society who has also contributed to funding his studies.
This week, all it took was one meeting and a few minutes for the money to be raised. Society members Priti Mohta, Deepali Inamdar, Shobha Shetty, Raghavan, Dimple Kapoor and Prafulla opened their purse strings within minutes and raised the required amount.
And what does the boy at the centre of all the attention have to say? “I want to study hard, get a good job and buy a good home for my mother and grandmother. Maybe a car one day so she doesn’t have to walk miles just to make sure I get a decent meal,” says the 10-year-old, sounding more like a grown up man. And the sun continues to shine on the Rai family.