‘We are family’: BHS custodian Praneshwar Chandra reflects

You can see Praneshwar Chandra on the first floor of the C-Building every day after school, where he’s worked as a custodian for the past nine years.


You can see Praneshwar Chandra on the first floor of the C-Building every day after school, where he’s worked as a custodian for the past nine years. Room to room, Chandra goes down the hall with his cleaning cart, taking care of the environment where hundreds of Berkeley High School students learn daily.

Chandra, who is of Indian descent, was born in Fiji. He has a great deal of love for his home country and gives it glowing recommendations all across the board. “Everything is organic in Fiji,” Chandra boasted. His father owned a sugarcane plantation there, but when they could not plant sugar, they relied on farming cattle for their income. 

Whatever money they made went a long way in Fiji. With the country’s lack of property tax, the hard work of one person could provide for all of Chandra’s seven person family. “Life in Fiji is very smooth,” Chandra said, “not like here.” 

Chandra emigrated to America nearly 15 years ago at the age of 40, with his wife and son. He came to this country for its promise of a good life for him and his family. Chandra’s sister was already here before he made the move over the Pacific. “She told me America is good, and I’ve been here, and I like it,” Chandra said, “American lives are fast …  Everything is big.”

Despite the promises of prosperity, Chandra found that the cost of living in the United States could be overwhelming. “(If) you haven’t got the money. You cannot survive here. That is my experience,” Chandra said. 

So, Chandra took it upon himself to “eat less and work hard” to provide for his family. Besides his custodial work, Chandra does other jobs during the weekend, like construction and landscaping, for extra money whenever he comes across an opportunity. Thanks to his labor, Chandra bought a house for himself, his wife, and his son who serves in the U.S. military.

When he isn’t working, Chandra likes to travel. He’s visited a number of locations including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and of course his home country of Fiji. “If you’re going to go anywhere and the people … take care of you, you’re going to love it,” Chandra said. Each nation he visits boasts uniquely beautiful scenes and welcoming people, but Fiji always remains a special place for him.

Before working at BHS, Chandra served as a substitute custodian at John Muir Elementary. Many of the students Chandra saw as children at John Muir Elementary reappear at BHS. Chandra said that he doesn’t always remember them when they first say hello, because of how much they’ve grown, but once they mention John Muir Elementary, the memories come back.

After nearly a decade at BHS, Chandra has seen teachers and students alike come and go. One would imagine that the work of cleaning up after hundreds of teenagers brings with it a share of hassle, but Chandra is patient with the activities of BHS students.  “I cannot blame (them) … They are kids now,” Chandra said. But at the same time, Chandra also finds BHS students to be a little bit extra. Actions like graffiti or breaking things in the restrooms make Chandra wonder, “If they’re going to destroy it, then how are they going to use it?” He believes that “we are family” at BHS, and that students should take better care to respect the environment and faculty that provide for them everyday.

Chandra said that his experience in school was very different than that of an average BHS student. “We haven’t got a shoe, we haven’t got a bag, nothing. We (were) poor,” he said. After school he would go to work on a farm. With all the upgrades and freedoms accessible, Chandra encourages students to “try to use (them) and go up and up.”