Sunday, July 1, 2012



My father died when I was hardly five years old. He died young. Didn’t leave much savings for our mother. She had to bring up four young kids---two sons and two daughters. I was the youngest. She had to see we got at least some nutritious food, we were well educated and got a good job in life.

2.We lived in a three-room apartment, with a separate bath room, but with a common toilet which we had to share with two other families. From a young age, we were conscious of our poverty. We were never ashamed of it. We took our poverty in our stride.

3. I started going to school after our father’s death. My mother did not have to spend a single rupee on my primary and secondary education. I studied for nine years in the Ramakrishna Mission School on a merit scholarship.

4. I did not do very well in the school final examination. I got only about 70 per cent of the total marks. Despite this, I managed to get admission in the prestigious Loyola College, but I could not get a merit scholarship. My mother had to spend money from her savings for my college education.

5.To spare extra expenses for her on my college education, I used to walk to college every morning (about five kms).In the evenings, sometimes I used to come back home walking, sometimes by bus. I never spent much money on my clothes. I wore whatever my mother gave me---- which was just three dhotis and three shirts.

6.  I never felt ashamed of having to wear the same kind of dhoti and shirt every day. There were a few rich students in the college with me---- they used to come in their cars or motor-bikes and wear fancy dresses.

7. I never suffered from any complex. I moved on equal terms with them. They moved on equal terms with me. I did not notice their affluence. They did not notice my poverty. They would come to our house without any hesitation and eat with me the austere meals that my mother used to cook for us. I would go to their house without any complexes and eat the kind of food they ate.

8. They never flaunted their riches. I never fought shy of admitting our poverty.

9. I did not do too well in the college. I did a one-year journalism diploma course after leaving college and got a job in “The Indian Express” on a salary of Rs.100 per month. I managed to save enough money to study for the UPSC competitive examinations, sat for them and was selected for the Indian Police Service.

10. I was quite successful in my career and achieved all I wanted to achieve. It was not only because I was a good professional, but also because I was a balanced individual. Our poor mother and our poverty gave all of us a sense of balance and a determination  not to let our poverty come in the way of our achieving whatever we wanted to achieve. All of us did well in life.

11. I compare ourselves with the children of today from both poor and affluent families. What complexes they have! How ashamed they are of their inadequate economic circumstances! How they keep comparing themselves with children of affluent families and hold it against their parents for not being able to afford for them the same quality of life and education that affluent parents are able to afford for their children!

12. It becomes a matter of mental torture for the parents at the time of admission to universities. What drama in the house! What tantrums! What rude words to parents the like of which we never used to our parents!

13.Whose fault is this? Or is it a fault at all? We blame the universities and colleges. Rightly so. I will equally blame the parents and other elder members of the families for not inculcating in the children a realistic attitude to life----devoid of exaggerated expectations---- and a feeling  that not getting what they wanted is not a tragedy.

14. It is good to get admissions to prestigious and glamorous institutions. If they don’t, that will not be the end of the world. They can still move forward in life and achieve whatever they want to achieve with a right sense of balance and the right determination ( 1-7-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )


Karthick Sridharan said...

Real touching! Its true the Older Generation were more balanced in their thought Process! Though in your Generation you had the balanced people it all boils down to certain segment of People who could be like your Goodself! Last the Present Generation has been born and taught more on hyped Promises! Society as a whole has changed radically! Cant blame them either!

mohandoshi said...


A fantastic account of the trials and tribulations you faced and how you countered them. I felt that I should go on reading this account.

Yes, the current generation is very different from the earlier ones. They are more or less used to having everything served on the platter, while in our generation we had to slog it out for the smallest comfort. And you rightly said that we were comfortable in our poverty, not from an ideological view point but just as a way of life. We can hardly get to see that today. Times they are a changing.

Krishna Kacker said...

The values in life have changed.We worship money power and want quick results and that too without slogging for it and always in our favour.If not the fault lies with somebody else.Merit, what is that?Hard work,only the stupid do it.
This devaluation is not only among the children but the entire society.
The young even now are idealistic despite all this, but get demoralised and corrupted by what they see happening around them.
Dont know what has to be done to restore those old "victorian"values.

Poonam said...

It isn't just the children who have high expectations. It is the parents who set them up with fantastic aspirations,mostly unreal and which don't match the child's abilities or his inclinations.Besides, material success is the only yardstick by which we measure ourselves and others. The uniqueness of the individual is sacrificed and youngsters are all trying to be replicas of each other.

Hummingbird said...

A few days back, I came across this news item -‘You’re not special’ graduation speech sparks buzz" (Link -


McCullough makes a statement on parents who overdo it in a modern society focused on collecting achievements. "You've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped ... feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie." But he adds in a video on Wellesley Channel TV YouTube page, "You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. ... We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement."

McCullough's address does push students to recognize real achievement: "The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life is an achievement," and he encourages graduates "to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance."


Your article, as usual was good. It struck a chord as I used to walk too to Vivekananda College - though not long distance like you, but distance of one bus stop to save 10 paise (1986-89) as bus ticket cost was higher after crossing the stage and we get into the next slab.

The other point is everyone feels it is the end of their life if they don't get into the best institution (or whatever is perceived as the best). It is not so - as is observed from your life. All of us, cannot become Managing Directors or CFOs or CTOs etc. There will be some who will become and many who may not. It is not the end of life. Same is the case with children getting into prestigious institutions like IITs or IIMs or Law Schools..

Thanks again for a nice article. Warm regards.

- Dilip.

Esoteric said...

For once we agree,these are very dynamic times!

Cato Elder said...

I think this is disingenuous! The author has taken an exception and made it the rule, with respect to the way youngsters behave.
There are many of this generation who are struggling to survive and somehow make ends meet about the same way the author's family did.
Painting everyone with a broad stroke is just good writing material but rarely true.