Though Prema Jayakumar’s father worked as a rickshaw driver in a hard-scrabble neighbourhood of Mumbai, he did what he could to ensure she and her siblings got the best education he could manage.
This week his efforts were rewarded. Of the 29,339 people across India who took the national chartered accountants’ examination, none scored more than 24-year-old Ms Jayakumar. “I am not educated, and that is why I wanted to ensure that my children are,” Ms Jayakumar’s father, Perumal, told reporters in Mumbai.
In a nation of 1.2 billion people and where everyone is constantly scrabbling for the means to get a lucky break, the examinations held by various colleges, institutions and professional bodies take on extraordinary significance.
For those whose parents can afford it, they usually involve hours of extra studying and cramming. Such is the demand for extra tuition that towns such as Kota, in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, have sprung up to cater solely for students looking to pass these examinations. The results of all these uniform tests are tallied nationally and the newspapers feverishly report the identity of various “toppers” in different fields.
As it was, Ms Jayakumar got no special help, other than parents dedicated to ensuring she and her siblings were not held back by their limited means. She also benefited from receiving a scholarship. Originally from Tamil Nadu in southern India, where he worked in a textile mill, Mr Jayakumar and his wife moved to India’s financial capital 20 years ago, where he found work as a rickshaw driver. Now he earns 15,000 rupees (£176) a month, and the family live in a one-room tenement apartment in the Malad district of the city.
Yet somehow the rickshaw driver, who himself dropped out of his studies at the age of 10, managed to send his daughter to school.
She studied first at the Nagindas Khandwala College and then the Mumbai University. This week, when her results were posted, it emerged she had scored 76 per cent. Her younger brother, Dhanraj, also passed the examination and is similarly poised to become a chartered accountant.
Ms Jayakumar said her parents had never unduly pressured her to study. However, her father had pointed out to her at an early age that getting a solid education was the route to a better, easier life. “I was sure I had passed the exam. I would have been happy with that result,” the 24-year-old student told The Hindu newspaper. “But the first rank was a big surprise.”
Now, Ms Jayakumar’s ambition is for her and her brother to get decent jobs to ensure her father can take things easy. It might even mean he can say goodbye to the rickshaw. Ms Jayakumar said: “We both can take care of our family very easily. It’s a matter of months now until I get a job.”