A Day in the Life of a Girl in Chennai, India

Keerthi Jayaraman, 10th Grade
Kent Place School, Summit, New Jersey

Chennai is a bustling city in Tamil Nadu, in the southern part of India. The population of 6.4 million includes people from all walks of life, including housemaids and multimillionaires. It was eye-opening to see how some children had absolutely no resources to foster their potential, while others had more than enough to pursue their interests and passions. This experience truly made me grateful for the opportunities I have.

Perspective is key when considering the life a young girl whose family is in the lower socioeconomic status of the society in India. From an outsider’s perspective, one may think that such a young girl has a hard and undesirable life. However, from the perspective of Jayshree, a 12-year-old girl living in the poorer parts of Chennai, it is all she has ever known.

Interviewing Jayshree allowed me to see the world through her eyes. Her mother is a housemaid and her father is a driver. Collectively, their income is about $138 a month. Some of us probably spend that much on a pair of shoes or drinks at Starbucks. It was an enlightening experience to learn about her daily life.

Sixth standard/grade is hard for most people, so imagine how hard it must be for this young girl. Through Jayshree’s eyes, you are able to see what it is like for her. This interview was conducted in Tamil (language spoken in Tamil Nadu) and translated into English.

6:30 - 7:30 a.m.

What do you do after you wake up?
I wash my face and brush my hair. Then I put on a bindi (a typical red dot worn by Hindu women on the center of the forehead) and change my clothes.

What do you usually have for breakfast?
Idli (Indian rice cake) and dosa (Indian lentil pancake) with sambar (tomato and lentil curry).

7:30 - 8:45 a.m.

When do you go to school?
I go on a crowded school bus that takes me to school. The trip is an hour long at least. Sometimes when there is heavy traffic, it takes about an hour and a half.

Is your school co-ed?

What is the ratio of boys to girls in your school?
In my grade [section] there are 23 boys and 21 girls.

How many kids are in your class?
Forty-four students are in my section of sixth standard.

Is your classroom big enough to accommodate 44 kids?
No, not really. It is cramped and it gets very uncomfortable during the hotter months.

8:45 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

What classes do you take at school?
English, Social Studies, Math, Science, Tamil, Basics of Health, Computers, and Drawing.

What are your favorite classes?
Drawing and Computers.

Why do you like these classes more than the others?
Because in these classes, we actually do things, like drawing or playing on the one computer in the class. In the other classes, the teacher lectures most of the time and we just listen. Sometimes, we copy the things she writes on the board. This gets boring and repetitive.

Do you play sports at school? If so, what sports?
We have PE class and I enjoy all of the games we play.

What do you usually have for lunch?
I usually have dosa or idli, but I like dosa more.  

What do you do at lunch?
Lunch is only half an hour, so there’s only enough time to eat and go back.

3:30 - 4:45 p.m.

What time does school end?

What do you do after school ends?
I go home.

Are there any extracurricular activities after school at your school?

4:45 - 8:00 p.m.

What time do you get back home?

What do you do once you get home?
First, I wash my face and legs, then I eat a snack. Then, I start my homework and once I finish, I watch TV.

8:00 - 8:30 p.m.

What time do you eat dinner?

What do you do after dinner?
I watch some TV and go to sleep.

What time do you go to bed?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Why do you want to become a doctor?
I want to help the poor people and offer free services.

Do you play with your friends after school?
Sometimes. My parents prefer me to stay inside or close to my house.

What do you and your family do for fun or on weekends?
We like going to the movies. During religious holidays, we go to the temple.

As a 6th-grader, Jayshree has already developed a work ethic and has created aspirations for herself. As a 6th-grader, I was not sure about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had the luxury of having my parents drive me to school and pick me up after school ended. I was only motivated to study when my teacher announced she would be giving stickers to students who got 100%. My one aspiration was to finish The Hunger Games series. I took part in many after-school activities and extracurricular activities. Comparing my life to hers is eye-opening. Things that I take for granted, like taking a shower every day, and being able to wear clean clothes every day are luxuries for Jayshree (because of an acute water shortage where she lives). However, we were similar because our parents value education and are willing to do anything to ensure our academic success and we are both thankful for our loving families. Things that I view as adversities for her, Jayshree does not; she just looks at it as being a part of life and takes it in her stride. Jayshree is a happy and confident young girl who is willing to work hard to achieve her dreams.