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28-year-old’s journey from Mumbai slum to US university, via JNU

For Sarita Mali, who had grown up in a slum in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar and studied in a municipal school there, life has had challenges, however, she also believes she has had many opportunities.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: May 13, 2022 10:53:56 am
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), University of California, Hindi literature, Delhi news, Delhi city news, New Delhi, India news, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsSarita is set to pursue a PhD in Hindi Literature

Sarita Mali (28) had worked every day from her middle school till the completion of her under-graduation, assisting her father in his trade of selling flower garlands on the streets of Mumbai. After her master’s from Jawaharlal Nehru University, she is now set to pursue a PhD in Hindi Literature from the University of California Santa Barbara.

For Mali, who had grown up in a slum in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar and studied in a municipal school there, life has had challenges, however, she also believes she has had many opportunities. She calls her entry into JNU a “turning point”, something for which she had prepared for three years.

“I had decided to come to JNU in class XII itself. I had gone to my grandmother’s house and it was my cousin’s dream to study there and he was preparing for it then. My uncle told my mother she should send me to JNU too. He had said whoever goes to JNU, leaves as ‘somebody’. That stayed in my mind. I didn’t know what JNU was, but what was in my mind was that I wanted to be ‘somebody’. I started studying for the entrance exam in my BA first year and prepared for it for the next three years. I got the last OBC seat, and that was the biggest turning point of my life,” she said.

Until she left her home to join JNU for MA in Hindi Literature, she had been creating garlands for many hours daily. “My father used to take the local train every day to the flower market in Parel, and the family would sit together and create garlands for four to five hours. Then he would sell them at signals  in the morning. During festivals, we had to work more. I had started this in class 5 or 6. Back then, I used to help him sell as well, but once I reached class 9, I was making garlands,” Mali said.

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Her research area for her PhD is ‘Subaltern Women’s Writings During The Bhakti Period’. Once the idea of considering doing her PhD abroad was planted in her mind, she spent months pursuing her options. Through the tricky terrain of selecting the programme and wading through paperwork, she said she was lucky to have a stellar support system of friends and teachers.

“I have a friend named Ashutosh currently doing his master’s in China. When I was discussing my PhD topic with him, he planted the idea in my mind that my topic is good and I should check the work done on this in academia outside India. I did some research on around 100 universities. I shortlisted professors, mailed them, mass mailed in fact , and I got a good response from the US,” she said.

“I had discovered my interest and passion in Hindi literature from a very young age. I hadn’t thought rationally about the decision to study Hindi, it was my passion,” she said.

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