He was a dark horse but did not know that for many years. The first time it happened when he was in the 8th standard and won the athletic junior championship in the school. You may as well say that the school standards were low.
The second time it happened in the same year when he successfully passed the board exam in Hindi for the third language. He just began learning Hindi at the beginning of the 8th class. Considering he hailed from Tamilnadu, which was not in favor of the three- language formula, it was not a bad performance at all. Later in life, the Hindi that he had learned would come handy.
Yet again in the 10th standard, he surprised himself and all in the class. He jointly topped the Board exam for social sciences.
In the 11th he took part in a Tamil play in inter-school competition and his school won the first prize and they were felicitated in a fancy hotel that he ever dreamt of stepping into.
There was a math teacher and with him, there was an ongoing irritant between them. He never liked the teacher repeatedly announcing in class that Arvind, Jayant, Ramanand, etc were IIT material while he was good enough to do a BSc only. So, when the school inspection happened, he leg pulled the teacher down. As if this was not enough, he made it to the IIT, one of the two boys, from the school and went cycling a distance to inform the Math teacher and he also assured him that he did not copy any of the paper. In any case, it was impossible to copy during IIT entrance tests. However, he does not remember what the reaction of the teacher was and that has remained his only regret.
So, there he was, the boy nicknamed Shivu, born into a Tamil Brahmin family; whose parents did not study beyond school; was brought up with a diet of vegetarian with the only exception being egg beaten with milk as a concession to the poor eater of a younger brother. The constant refrain that those days to a boy was “nalla paddi (study well) and pass and get a good job. He was on his way to do that having joined IIT, Kharagpur.
Somehow his mind was inclined towards things that were rural. Also, as the name suggests, he was not interested in things material and his needs were not too many. So, his parents never had trouble bringing him up. With IIT in his pocket, he was relieved and escaped the tension of college applications and being rejected. He wasn’t scholarly but he scored a decent 77% and that became more or less his benchmark. In IIT too his overall percentage was around 75.
When he reached the IIT and entered his room allotted the first thing he did was to remove the sacred thread and hang it up. His father had a religious bent of mind but he did not force it on him. Though on time, he underwent the sacred thread ceremony. Till he removed the sacred thread he diligently but mechanically chanted the mantra that was whispered to him in his ears by the priest without the meaning being told. He felt the hallowed portal of the IIT itself was scared enough.
“His first two years he wasted
Did nothing worthy to be noted.”
Except that he took to playing basketball and in the evening hours anybody could see potting around. Again, not that he was tall or fleet-footed, but he seemed to understand his limitation and trained himself to shoot from a distance. In the third year when he was shortlisted for the basketball team and later selected into the team he once again underscored his penchant for becoming a dark horse. There was his moment of pride when he wore the IIT sports jacket and went for participation in the Inter-IIT meet for the next three years.
He turned the tides in his third year. A little more serious effort saw him go beyond 60% for the first time in the 5th semester exam. He revived his chess playing and he took the hostel to win gold in the inter-hostel tournament. That got him respect among his peers. In the 6th semester, he topped his class of 30 as he entered the agriculture engineering department. His reputation was already established and the professors in the department liked him. That reputation saw him through for the next two years and overall, he ended up with a decent score of 73.6 in the IIT.
His penchant for becoming a dark horse didn’t leave him as he passed out as the best all-rounder from the department. In his final year he was nicknamed as Captain as he became one for the hostel basketball team and the title was apt if not for his skill but for the passion, he brought to the game and the hostel was runners-up in the competition.
As was his won't, he was looking for something rural to do beyond IIT. What it was he did not know until he saw the brochure of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA). The brochure assured him a post-graduate degree in rural management, plus an assured job and as if that was not enough a scholarship more or less adequate to take care of oneself. His mind was made up then and then but it also involved a competitive entrance exam and interview.
He got a job too as a fall- back option. But in the end, he got selected into the two- year program at IRMA. There he was yet again a dark horse. Never applied for any foreign university, never gave TOEFL or GRE but set on life looking for rural pastures for he was a dark horse at his heart. There he was
“Became an engineer, not of the IIT mold
But engineered his life as best as he could.”
He passed out of IRMA and went on to complete 35+ years of work in the rural development sector and became dark horse a few times. A tale that would be told at a different time.