I am Vidya Salunke.

I am from Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, and I came to Mumbai after I got married. I live here in a one-room chawl with my husband, our two children, my mother-in-law, my husband’s sister and her son. For the most part, we are happy here. I came from a village and this city and this place has become my home. I have many friends here who have become like family to us.

But as our children are growing up, life is getting harder. I worry that my son will fall into bad company and I worry about my daughter’s safety. We live by the sea and every monsoon season we are warned to leave the slum as there is a danger of being flooded or swept away. We have four common water taps shared between 35 families and we get water from 4pm to 8pm, so I have to make sure I fill enough water for 24 hours every day. I want more for my children than this place.

Before the pandemic, I used to work as a part-time cook in a few houses nearby, and my husband had a job with a diamond trading company. We had a decent income and were one of the fortunate few in our chawl. The coronavirus pandemic was very hard for us because buildings suddenly did not allow outside staff and I lost my fixed income and, at the same time, my husband was also laid off from his job along with 89 others almost overnight, with no warning. To make ends meet, I started selling spices and taking orders to make and deliver food and snacks, and I started doing housework - cleaning, dusting, sweeping - which I have never done before for money, and my husband got a job as a food delivery person. My husband and I decided to be positive and say: “so what if we lost our jobs, we have to do anything and everything, put our egos down and take whatever work we are getting to earn whatever we can.”

We know that hard work is the only way out of this place, and that there is no other short cut. What we need to make our life better are not handouts, but basic job and food security. When my husband lost his job of 23 years, we had absolutely no protection, and we could not get government food rations because we were counted in a slightly higher income classification than the poorest because we had been in jobs. For some time, I was worried about how we will survive from one day to the next.

From banks we would like to have ways of making savings. I have kept aside money for my infant daughter, and my mother-in-law has also saved money, but we hardly get any interest on that. For children and seniors in particular, we need options that allow us to preserve and grow our savings so that eventually we can find a way out of this slum.

Secondly, it would be good to have loans to help us meet the costs of a quality education. It is very important to me that my children study in good schools as that is the only way out of this place for them, and with limited government education options, we are dependent on private schools. Before my husband was laid off, we were able, with help from a few charities, to afford to place our son in a good school that taught in English. But when our incomes suddenly stopped earlier this year, the school did not waive its fees, even a little, and told us that if we didn’t pay, they would not let him sit for his exams. I was not able to get loans from any banks so had no other option but to go to local money lenders at really high interest rates, because I want my son to study and to do something better with his life.

I hope that I can continue my children’s education and can send both to college. Especially my young daughter. In our community, daughters are married off by 14. But my daughter is very bright, and I know she will be able to make something of herself, and she is not destined to be a housewife with kids by the time she is 18. If I do not earn enough for her, my family cannot take on the burden of her education and may force me to marry her off. But if I earn enough, and can pay for her studies myself, I can stand up to them and let her study and do what she wants.

Eventually, I dream of buying a house in a good locality where my kids can play in peace. My son studies in a good school, and sometimes he feels bad because he lives in a chawl and his classmates all lives in nice apartment buildings. I would also like to give my son the sports equipment and training, as he is very talented and keen on sports.

Ultimately, all I really want is to give my children the best of everything, a better life than we can even dream of.

Vidya Salunke
Mumbai, India

Next Chapter