The Story of SKILL Foundation — 12
The birth of a new baby was a big event for everyone in my family. Most of the guests that had gathered to mourn the passing away of my mother collected again to join in the celebrations just two months later. Many of the elderly ladies that had come at my marriage, nearly a year ago, continued to take care of my ailing mother and thereafter of my wife in the family way. Due to the hubbub, our sense of loss was lessened. It was the direct benefit flowing from my mother’s trait of taking care of others.
But I was so preoccupied with filling up the forms etc. for the Civil Services that I virtually ignored the momentous event of coming of Goddess Lakshmi in the form of my daughter in my life. Today in retrospect, my heart goes out to my wife for not sharing her pain and trouble, as also the excitement of my wife and other family members, as much as I should have. More so, when I realise that, since the coming of my daughter, I have never looked back. At times to outsiders I may have appeared selfish and preoccupied with only myself. But I was so focussed on what I wanted to get that I did not spare any time for other matters. This is a positive trait of mine which has carried me along all my life. It is also an important message that forms a refrain of my teaching the life skills to the students of SKILL Foundation. One small incident that I relate to every batch of SF students may not be out of place here:
It was the month of July of 1962. I returned home after an absorbing game of cricket with my friends in the Patna Secretariat ground. My father was sitting on the veranda with quite a grim look on his face. I wanted to slip in quietly when he called me and asked where I had been. On getting my answer he asked me what exactly I wanted to do in my life. I told him I want to become a Mechanical Engineer. Then he gave a piece of advice which I have never forgotten. He told me that admissions to Engineering colleges were made on the basis of marks obtained in the school final. Since my exams were just 5–6 months away I must study hard and do nothing else. Whatever I want I must try to be the best in it. If I want to become a cricketer I must try to be like Polly Umrigar. If I want to become an engineer I must try to become the best. I carried out this advice to such an extent that since that day, I did nothing but study for my school finals.
And this is what I advise my students at SKILL Foundation to do. Absenteeism and irregular attendance of the students is a chronic problem faced at SKILL Foundation. Given the background from which they come, they are required to assist the parents in household work as also in the agricultural operations. So at the smallest pretext they are kept away from school. Though I understand their need, I keep on persistently goading them to be punctual and regular in their class.
Study I did. I studied for the School finals day and night and neglected everything else. So much so that my mother used to get worried about my health and entreat me to go to sleep. Sometimes my food would get cold lying on the table. I had no coach ever to guide me. So sometimes solving a problem would take days and when I got the correct answer I would jump in excitement and hug my mother. I had a peculiar habit of changing my posture while reattempting a problem. At times I would be found trying to solve a problem, lying flat on my stomach on the table with the books and copies on the chair! Unlike the present day educated mothers, I can never recall my mother ever coaxing me to study. Whenever I lifted my eyes from the studies I would find my mother sitting quietly and knitting or staring at me with obvious concern for my welfare.
During this period itself, my Mausi (my mother’s youngest cousin) was getting married. Their house was about a furlong away from our house. My mother was so excited that for nearly a month she would spend most of her time there. There was no cooking at our house and everyone went to my Nana’s place for food. I flatly refused to go at all even for a minute and my mother had to either come and cook for me or carry my food from my nana’s place. When on the day of the marriage I went there I was beset with taunts from Nana and others regarding my selfish concern with my studies, because I had not bothered to join in any of the long drawn festivities. Later, everyone including my Nana appreciated my exceptional performance in the School Finals. I was mighty pleased when my Mama, who was my age, told me that he is often chided for not studying as much as I had done!
I took the books of my sister who had just completed her Intermediate Science of Patna University and solved each and every problem of the Physics, Chemistry and Maths. I was not only well prepared for the School Finals but this study carried me through the IIT admission test as well as the first few years at BIT Sindri.
To come back to the narrative, I returned to Bokaro as soon as possible after the celebrations for the birth of my daughter. For the Civil Services Exams too, I was totally determined to repeat the efforts that I had made for my School Exams. But in the working and living conditions at Bokaro, it was near impossible to do so. Moreover, in mid-August I received an order deputing all the engineers of the Steel Melting Shop to the Blast Furnace with immediate effect. The then PM, Mrs Indira Gandhi was scheduled to inaugurate it sometime by end of September. So no leave whatsoever was permitted. I felt so cornered that I risked my valuable job and ran away that very evening. I did not consult anybody. I simply made an application for two days casual leave and deserted my job. I told the truth to my wife but to my father I could not tell the truth. I told a lie that I had taken leave for two months for preparing for the exams. Later when my pay stopped coming and two or three letters were received asking me to report back for duties or face termination of services, my father guessed the whole situation. But he preferred to keep mum.
For the next two months or so I studied with complete focus. The occasional official letters from BSL did disconcert me. I could not afford to lose my job. But the support of my wife reassured me in my resolve. She stood by me all along. Since I was without pay, I was not even able to give her any money for her daily needs. She would sit by my side during the long hours of study just like my mother had done during my school finals. How my wife managed god knows! She worked as hard as I did and never complained.
Instead of the science subjects that I had studied in school and college I had chosen European History, British History and British Constitutional History as my optional subjects for the Civil Services exams. As usual my extensive reading of out of curriculum books came handy. I examined the syllabus and past ten years patterns of questions thoroughly. So I was able to guess quite accurately a set of 10–15 questions that would come, of which I would have to answer five. One compulsory question every year was filling up the geographic locations of important historical developments in a given outline map. My wife would trace out hundreds of copies of blank outline maps of the continents and countries for me to practice filling up. This helped me handle the compulsory question easily. Answers for the remaining four I prepared from various books and memorized them. So I was able to answer the questions easily. Even after getting good marks in the exams, I have no false notion of any knowledge or understanding of the subjects. Knowing a subject and doing well in the exams are two different propositions. At least, this was the case during those days in the so hyped competitive exams in the present Indian Education system. By sharing this experience with my students at SF, I tell them the tricks of getting good marks in the exams, This is what the present system requires for giving them employment, especially in the government sector.
Getting into government job is the greatest dream of these under privileged children, inspite of the myriads of opportunities opening up in the private sector. For this, today what is required of the students is speed; speed not only with machines and gadgets but also in mental activities to follow the pace of the machines. The intelligence tests are designed to measure the speed of their mind. Participants have to think much faster than people did 40–50 years ago. Slow thinkers are really handicapped in getting employment or in making a living. It requires a mind trained to work in a high gear. That’s the reason why SKILL Foundation lays emphasis on making the underprivileged children adept with all modern gadgets especially in the field of communication. These are not available to them either at home or in the low end schools that they go to. That is also the reason why SF encourages peer learning, to match the speed of their minds. Learn while you teach and teach while you learn!
Re-joining my job at Bokaro after nearly two and a half months of unauthorised leave surprisingly presented no difficulty. The last communication from my boss was so stern that I at once decided to forgo the higher papers for the IAS and IFS, scheduled after nearly a fortnight. When my Superintending Engineer learnt that I was appearing for the Civil Services and not sick, he was not angry at all. Rather, he chided me for leaving the higher papers. By then it was quite late. Although I did return for the exams a few days before, I knew that it was a mere formality. As a result, I was quite content with what the Indian Revenue Service had to offer and never craved for the Indian Administrative Service which was then considered the best by one and all.
My success in the written exams for the Civil services was a foregone conclusion for me. I immediately applied myself to getting through in the personality test to be held at Allahabad in about a month’s time in the first week of April 1972. In the changed scenario for me at Bokaro, I was allowed one month’s leave immediately. I used it fruitfully for apprising myself fully with what they would expect from me in the Interview. For this, one meeting with a very old retired Inspector General of Police helped me a lot. I was referred to him by my father in law who was in the Police and had worked under him. I found him waiting for me fully dressed in suit and tie in his sprawling drawing room. Fortunately I had also put on a tie unwillingly on specific direction of my father in law. The old officer grilled me thoroughly. On being asked why I wanted to join the Civil Service, since I had a good job as an Engineer, I told him that I want to serve the nation. He pointed out that engineers too serve the nation. He specifically directed me not to bluff the Selection Board. He said that it consists of more than half a dozen grey-haired like him who can see through any such artificial reply.
How thrilled and grateful I was when I was asked this very question at Allahabad! I told them that my employment in BSL was still on contract and described to them frankly the working and living conditions there. I told them that I want to join the Civil Service for a better an assured career. This impressed them so much that thereafter they only discussed Bokaro. And this was my home ground. They asked me to describe what I had done in last one week at BSL. I began reeling out whatever I had done ever at BSL. I came out very satisfied with the Interview.
I was not at all surprised when I received the appointment letter, in June 1973. I was to report at the National Academy of Direct Taxes, Nagpur anytime between19th to 25th November, 1973. Thus a new chapter in my life began.
Meanwhile my newly born daughter tumbled into the second year of her life in the care of her mother, without getting any attention from me.
To be continued………