My village was a few kilometers from a town. We used to go to the village in a bullock cart. On the other side of the road, I used to see children going to the missionary English medium school.
No such attractive attire. No shoes. Conversing in English was an unthinkable proposition. We were not born with a silver spoon to afford such an education. These self-satisfying explanations by my siblings never convinced me.
The images of these children created a burning desire in me to study in the same English medium school. Fortunately, my parents were also keen on sending me to an English medium school though it was relatively beyond their means at that point in time.
My parents were ready to sacrifice for us. But, they were only worried whether I could cope up. But, those images instilled in me not just a desire but a challenging spirit.
In course of time, I too joined the same school, similarly dressed and, of course, conversing in English with my friends while walking on the road. The images that agitated me had become part of my own daily routine.
The images real or even photographs or visuals can be transformative. An image can make us to think differently and drive us to making an emotional move. Images can propel us into action provided we are deeply impacted by them.
In seventh standard, one of my classmates joined a premier school in Hyderabad. I was much more intelligent. Yet, why should I remain in this school? Why can’t I too go to Hyderabad to study in such a school?
These thoughts flooded my mind, even though I was too young to comprehend the cost of education. My father gently replied such an education that too in a city was just not possible for a middle-class family of four children.
Why should education be a class preserve? How can a nation progress when only elitist sections of society can afford better education though they do not deserve so by merit? On that day, I felt annoyed over the economic and education system that perpetuates inequalities.
Till today, I believe in a philosophy that decries inequalities. Seeds of such thought were sown in me by that childhood image of my friend leaving for Hyderabad for his academics, although he was less than mediocre in intelligence.
However, the penchant to study in Hyderabad did not evaporate in me. I moved to the ‘dream’ city for my Intermediate.
Looking back, I am socially and economically better placed than the friend who was privileged at that point of time. I have seen many of my classmates getting derailed due to the lures of city lifestyle.
But, I steadfastly remained committed to academics, despite the high-profile surroundings. Yes, every encounter should inspire us. Good or bad experience, let’s not get dejected. Instead challenge the status quo to scale new heights and establish an individual identity.
When I was in ninth standard, the local legislator was the chief guest for Independence Day function in our school. After the flag hoisting ceremony, our headmaster introduced a group of toppers, including me, to the Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA).
We just had a lesson on Parliamentary democracy and learnt about bicameralism, Assembly, Legislative Council, etc. It was an exciting moment for me to interact with someone who sits in the legislature about which we studied only in textbooks.
The legislator was neither so knowledgeable nor articulate. The mischievous child in me made me to think why I can’t become a much better legislator than him. I only knew about theory of democracy and was ignorant of the electoral practicalities.
Yet, the desire remained within me. Four decades later in 2007, when I walked into the Legislative Council as a member of the house of elders, it was really a moment of joy and pride for having realised a childhood desire.
During our educational tour to Delhi, we were taken to Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, where IAS probationers are trained. We saw and interacted with young probationers. I was moved by their astounding achievement.
It stirred me to appear for Civil Services examinations. Even without much preparation I cleared prelims. Preparing for Mains, I started reading Glimpses of World History, Discovery of India, and many more inspiring books.
I read the writings of Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra, R S Sharma and Amartya Sen, etc. The depth of ideas inspired me so much that they made me to think that I should be a public intellectual rather than be part of the State bureaucracy. I do not know whether it was right or wrong.
But, it diverted my attention from the rigorous preparation which is expected of a civil services aspirant.
Yet, the images of Mussoorie academy did not leave me. Two decades later in my capacity as visiting faculty, I went to the same academy a couple of times to deliver lectures to IAS probationers!
Not that every image that firmly grappled my mind could prove to be a reality. There are many unfulfilled dreams. There are many more that remain as images. Everything will motivate us. We may not achieve all. But, the spirit is more important and that is depth and beauty of imagination.