Never underestimate the power of a dream that is propelled by someone’s fire in the belly. It can work wonders, like it did in the life of Balaguru, whose surreal life story is the stuff that scriptwriters churn out in tinsel town.
But Balaguru’s story is real, and more inspiring than any celluloid fare.
Chennai might have been a little too harsh on Balaguru, but it is from this city he prepared for his civil services.
As a 15-year-old, K Balaguru, son of a daily wage labourer, dreamt of becoming an IAS officer and he never allowed the dream to die, though he lived in a village, in a thatched hut, studied in a government school in Tamil medium, and could not join college due to family circumstances.
“Knowing the situation at home, I did not want to join college and be a burden to my family. So I decided to work and study.
“I also wanted my elder sister to be married and settled, before I started chasing my dream,” says Balaguru, 28, who cleared the tough UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) exam and made it to the IAS this year, in his fourth attempt.
After passing Class 12, he took up a job at Thiruthuraipoondi, about 300 km from his village in Karur district, that involved delivering furniture and household items to homes, and collecting the money in installments from the customers on daily or weekly basis, a business practice that is common in small towns and rural areas of Tamil Nadu.
The owner of the business was a distant relative. Balaguru stayed in a small room on the terrace of his owner’s house, along with few other co-workers. The owner provided them accommodation and food.
“We got no salary, instead the arrangement was that after 3-4 years, each of us would be given a separate territory and taken as partners in the business,” says Balaguru.
Balaguru has spent hours inside the government library in Chennai preparing for his civil services exam
He worked there from 2004 to 2008. Throughout this period one of his treasured possessions was the photocopy of an article, ‘How to become an IAS Officer,’ he had found in the Tamil edition of Malayala Manorama Yearbook
“I was waiting for the right opportunity to resume my studies and prepare for the civil service exam,” reveals Balaguru.
Right from his childhood he was fond of reading. He would read any book that he could lay his hands on. They never bought newspapers or magazines at home, but the local barber did, and he made use of the opportunity.
“I visited the barber shop every couple of weeks to collect the weekly supplement that came with the Tamil dailies. I took them back home for reading.
“Later, I found a barber shop near my school, where I went daily during the lunch break to read the papers. I also had my hair-cut there to develop friendly relations with the owner,” says Balaguru
Chennai's MTC (Metropolitan Transport Corporation) buses have ferried him to different libraries across the city
Balaguru’s thirst for knowledge made him listen to All India Radio programmes on his transistor radio. He was a regular listener to their current affairs broadcast and quiz programs.
In school, he earned a reputation as a well-read, well-informed student, and won the approval and love of his teachers.
Noticing his interest in general knowledge, a teacher suggested that he appear for the Tamil Nadu Rural Students Talent Search Exam, which was open for students whose family income was less than Rs. 1 lakh per annum.
He cleared the test while he was in Class Eight and received an annual scholarship of Rs. 1000 till he completed his schooling.
“It was a big morale booster for me. More than the money, which of course was a huge amount for me, it was the sense of accomplishment that I got when I walked home with the money that gave me more joy,” says Balaguru.
Balaguru stayed in a small room in Chennai paying a monthly rent of Rs.600
It not only gave him joy, but also the energy to drive him towards his goal. “By the time I was in Class Ten, my ambition was to become an IAS officer. I thought it was a course one had to study.
“It was only after I read the Malayala Manorama article during my 12th holidays, I understood the process involved in the selection,” he says.
After his sister’s marriage in 2007, he was ready to quit his job and start preparing for his IAS. The next year he took a settlement of Rs.1.60 lakh – which was paid to him in instalments – from his owner in Thiruthuraipoondi and packed his bags to Chennai.
“A friend invited me to stay with him for some time, but his roommates asked me to vacate the room after about a week. Only that morning I had registered for a correspondence course in BA (History).
“Desperate, I came out and started looking for a job. I saw a ‘wanted’ board that called for security guards. I joined the security agency because they provided free food and accommodation,” he says, candidly reminiscing his difficult days in the city not too long ago.
He was posted at Bilroth Hospital, where most of the days he was in charge of the lift. “It was a tough job. No one would respect a security guard,” he says, the pain in his voice quite apparent.
Since he worked in the night shift, he used the morning hours to visit the nearby government library, and registered for short-term courses in spoken English and basic computers.
A year later, he got a job as a helper in the pharmacy at Bilroth Hospital. “This job was more respectable, though the salary was lower and there was no free food or accommodation,” says Balaguru.
He found a small room with a thatched roof in a nearby slum for a monthly rent of Rs.600. He cooked his own food, went to work in the night, and prepared for his civil service exams in the daytime.
Balaguru sacrificed a cushy bank job to stay focused on his goal
In 2011, he got his bachelor’s degree in history and appeared for the UPSC exam for the first time. It was a failed attempt, but he cleared another competitive test and was selected for a clerical post in REPCO Bank.
“My salary would have been Rs.15,000 per month if I had taken up the job. I took a decision to sacrifice the job to focus on my IAS dream,” says Balaguru, who will be leaving for Mussoorie soon for his probationary training.
Four years and three attempts later, he has achieved his goal.
His determination, focus, and the training he received at various institutes like the All India Civil Services Coaching Centre and Manitha Naeyam IAS Academy played a key role in his success.
Balaguru’s story is bound to inspire countless others to dream on, till their dreams come true.