From Magic Bus participant to mentor, one Dharavi girl learns to be a leader

Photo by Abbey Marshall

Being born into a slum community in India as a female is not very promising of a hopeful future. 17-year-old Komal Narayankar has been surrounded by people her whole life telling her “no” because she will be nothing more than a housewife.

But Komal is determined to prove them wrong.

Komal joined Magic Bus eight years ago as an extremely shy child. Very quickly, she blossomed into an enthusiastic young woman thrilled about her future. She would show up to Magic Bus sessions ready to participate and learn something new.

“I love the guidance from my mentors,” Komal said. “They were always ready to help and motivate me to do well for myself and my community.”

When she graduated from the program, she took on the role of a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader to help other kids in her community, Dharavi. She sets an example that they too can aspire for more.

As a female, however, Komal faces significant obstacles from those around her — including some family members.

“My aunt used to ask why I joined Magic Bus because I was a girl and I was only going to be a housewife,” she said. “But my mom and dad supported me and stopped her.”

Komal seeks out families who don’t allow their daughters to attend Magic Bus sessions and counsels them on why they should let their girls play and learn.

“I always use my own family as an example,” she said. “My older sister never had Magic Bus, and she’s very shy and never leaves the house. But me, I am confident and fearless.”

Komal said she is lucky to have parents who are very supportive of her. Her father has always valued education. He was the top of his class in 10th grade, but could not continue his education in college because he couldn’t pay his tuition.

Her family is not wealthy by any means. All six of them sleep on the crowded floor of their home, which floods up to their knees during monsoon season. They do not have a tap and only have 10 minutes a day to fill up water from the community spout for their entire family.

Her father works as a day laborer only getting about four to five jobs a year, while her mother sells snacks on the local train. They pour all the money they save into Komal’s junior college fees.

“I always want to help her and never want her to stop pursuing her dreams,” her dad said, beaming over his daughter. “I am so proud of her.”

Komal is studying business at Chetna College in Bandra with the full support of her family and Magic Bus.

“My parents probably love Magic Bus more than I do,” Komal joked. “We are all really happy for what it’s done for me and for the kids here.”

Komal is on her way to completing college and landing a job in the formal sector in India, where she will hopefully be able to give back what her parents have given her.

Originally produced for Magic Bus.

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