Sunshine story: 24-year-old scholar's story from Kurla to Virginia

Updated: Aug 15, 2019, 07:45 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

24-year-old nanotech scholar from city shanty recalls being raised in poverty by single mother and how he overcame all of life's challenges as he prepares to fly to the US today

Jaykumar Vaidya with mother Nalini Vaidya at Gauri Shankar Chawl in Kurla West. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Jaykumar Vaidya with mother Nalini Vaidya at Gauri Shankar Chawl in Kurla West. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

From surviving on half a vada pav to becoming a research fellow at USA's University of Virginia, 24-year-old Jaykumar Vaidya has his dream come true. The Kurla resident is all set to pursue a fully-sponsored five-year PhD programme in Nanotechnology in Virginia after having struggled for bread, butter, and education all his life.

The young research scholar, who began doing odd jobs at the age of 11, was raised by a single mother, Nalini Vaidya, 54. He will begin his journey towards "turning India into a superpower" in the field of Micro and Nano Technology today when he boards the flight to the USA. Vaidya, who had completed his initial education with the help of scholarships, pursued his graduation in electronic engineering with interest-free financial assistance from a few charitable trusts in Mumbai, including the Indian Development Foundation (IDF).

This helped him at times when banks refused to lend educational loans owing to his mother's poor source of income and lack of assets or bank guarantors. Dr Narayan Iyer, CEO of the IDF said that Vaidya was providing hope and inspiration to many children like him. "Despite his socio-economic background, he could accomplish his dreams. We wish him success in every walk of life," he said. The youngster became a fellow at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) after his graduation and worked as a research fellow for three years before securing his ticket to pursuing Nanotechnology research at the University of Virginia, where he will be paid a monthly stipend of USD 2,000. "Barring USD 500 for hostel and petty expenses, I will send the remaining money to my mother," said Vaidya who has also repaid the interest-free loans the trusts had lent him for his degree course.

Jaykumar Vaidya with his mother Nalini Vaidya at their Kurla residence
Jaykumar Vaidya with his mother Nalini Vaidya at their Kurla residence

Vaidya, who grew up in an 8X10 sq feet house in Kurla after his father "disowned his mother," has roots in Gujarat. "There were times when I was barred from writing my school examinations as my mother could not afford to pay the fees of R300-700 on time. Our financial situation was so bad we would both survive on a single vada pav at times. To save cooking gas, my mother would make extra chapattis to last for three to four days," recalled Vaidya who began working at electronic shops since he was in Std VI.

His mother, earning R8,000 per month in a packaging firm until 2002, had assumed Vaidya would quit studies after Std X and start working. "But I was determined to study further and she continued to support me. I was fortunate to get admission at the K J Somaiya College of Engineering and could complete my engineering with financial support and scholarships," said the youth who also interned at the L&T for two months before joining TIFR where he was paid a monthly stipend of R30,000 "which was a big sum for me and my mother."

Life changed at TIFR

"I was fortunate to work closely with my mentor professor Mandar Deshmukh who became my research advisor and has been my support system. He is a very ambitious scientist and it was amazing for me to delve into nanotechnology research with his help," said Vaidya who published two research papers on Nanotechnology in international journals. "Jaykumar is an extremely hardworking and enthusiastic person. I wish him great success. This is the new India, being built by one person at a time," said Dr Deshmukh of the Department of Condensed Matter and Material Science (DCMP&MS), TIFR. "My mother cannot believe that I am flying to the USA for my future research funded by the US government. I believe that it was only possible because of the guidance and support I received from many people in my journey," said an emotional Vaidya, who had also taken up the task of being an international tutor.

New life beckons

Jaykumar will be taking the American Airlines from Mumbai airport on August 15 to Heathrow from where he will proceed to Virginia. "I am the first in our family to sit in an aircraft. I am already excited. I have bought a mobile phone worth R5,000 for my mother so that I can stay in touch with her on Whatsapp video call," he said, adding, "My mother will come to the airport to drop me; she has never seen an airport in her life." "I am happy that he could reach this level. None of our family members are as educated as Jay and I am confident that he will be able to achieve his dream. I wish my son all the best for his future," said his proud mother.

What next?

With a research-based job in the USA after his PhD, Vaidya is "determined to be a billionaire." He wants "to make India the superpower destination in Nano and Microtechnology" and intends launching a large set up in India for it. Before he boards his flight to success, Vaidya also has a piece of advice for his fellow dreamers. "Success is a journey and not an instance; it tests your consistency. You must never give up. If you fail a million times, continue to have hope for the next day that might be different. Be optimistic, hopeful and focused in whatever you do."

No. of years Vaidya will spend as a research fellow at the University of Virginia

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