By Shyam Pandharipande
Nagpur : Ten days after making the grade, Vinod's eyes still well up every time his illiterate father talks to visitors or telephone callers about his son's hard won success in clearing the Indian civil services exam.
Every time the retired unskilled labourer Janardan praises his son – an MBBS doctor who will now be an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer – for his perseverance and toil, the grateful son says his success is nothing compared to the backbreaking labour his father put in all his life to educate his sons.
With his parents in their thatched house in village Visapur near Chandrapur, 160 km from here, Vinod Bahade recalls all his yesteryears – in the Zilla Parishad school in his village, then the Navoday Vidyalaya in Talodhi Balapur nearby, and then the junior college in the bigger colliery township of Ballarpur.
"As I pored over my books in dim lantern light every night, my father would say he would do anything to see me become a doctor or an engineer. I wondered where he was going to bring the money from for my education," Vinod reminisced.
"When I actually passed my school exam with marks enough to secure admission to a medical college, my father, who was a labourer in BILT (Ballarpur Industries Ltd) sought voluntary retirement and reserved his Provident Fund for my education," Vinod told IANS with an unmistakable lump in his throat.
Even while studying medicine, Vinod did not entirely give up the idea of becoming an IAS officer (that he had toyed with while in junior college) though he thought he could serve the society as a doctor as well.
"But the stark poverty and backwardness I saw as an intern in the rural hospital in Narkhed (in Nagpur district) and as a medical officer in Jimalgatta, an inaccessible tribal village in Gadchiroli district, firmed up my resolve to operate on a larger canvass. I started preparing for the civil services exam," he said.
Vinod passed the prelims and mains in the very first attempt in 2004 but lost out by a whisker in the personal interview.
In the second attempt, which he could take only after another stint as an medical officer, he failed again but persevering still, he had yet another go at it – and was through this time.
Gratefully acknowledging the valuable guidance he received from the P.N. Rajbhoj Institute for IAS Coaching, run by a retired bureaucrat Mumshilal Gautam in Nagpur, and the government IAS coaching centre in Mumbai, both meant for poor and backward class students, Vinod says the time has come to repay the debt.
No less inspiring is the story of Madhavi Khode-Chavare, another backward class student who has stood first from Maharashtra and 29th in the national list. She too took the medical education route to IAS and, like Vinod Bahade, it was a quest for a lager canvass that goaded her too to the civil services exam.
Daughter of a junior forest officer supporting a family of five, Madhavi took to medical education only in deference to her parents' insistence. "But the health illiteracy and poverty that I saw in the village primary health centre where I served as an intern left me disturbed," Madhavi told IANS.
"I thought I could do precious little as a doctor in terms of making a difference," she added, echoing the thoughts of Vinod.
Married to a doctor by that time, Madhavi confided in her husband who encouraged her to follow her heart and gave her stellar support as she left her job and prepared for the IAS.
A poor farmer's son looking after his widowed mother, Suresh Chavare, now a plastic surgeon in Nagpur's Central India Institute of Medical Sciences (CIIMS), took up a job in a New Delhi hospital as his wife Madhavi joined an IAS coaching centre there.
"He bought me as many books as needed but not a single shirt for himself during the three years I was preparing for the exam," Madavi said, recalling how they would make do with one meal at a time instead of two, living in a small rented room in Delhi.
(Shyam Pandharipande can be contacted at [email protected])