Would you take up a newspaper boy job just to pursue reading? Would you want to study hard being surrounded by seven siblings, an undereducated mother and an alcoholic father? And after managing to scrape through these hardships to earn a job paying Rs 3 lakhs a month, would you give it up to become a bureaucrat?
Starting from a young age by distributing newspapers at every doorstep in Keelkattalai, Chennai, to completing an engineering degree, this Indian Forest Services (IFS) officer has done it all. Currently undergoing training as a probationary officer in Dungarpur Forest Division in Rajasthan, P Balamurugan describes his life as an “adventure”.
Ask him his decision to give up a job in a multinational company to settle for a modest salaried government job, he says, “I don’t feel bad about it. I am the sixth sibling in the family with five sisters and two brothers. Our alcoholic father never took care of us. It is only because of my mother that I am at a good position today,” says the 31-year-old.
My mother, my educator
Balamurugan says that his mother, Palaniammal, a 10 standard pass student, always insisted on them studying. “My mother always says, ‘I have ruined my life by not completing my studies. You all should learn to stand on your feet’,” he adds.
Around 1994, his father abandoned his family. With weakening financial conditions, supported only by his mother and maternal uncle to make ends meet, Balamurugan recalls their struggles every step of the way.
Their mother sold her jewellery to buy a 4,800 sq ft of land in the outskirts of Chennai. The family lived in a thatched-roof house with two rooms. A strong proponent of putting education first, his mother, in 1997-98, sold 1,200 sq ft of land for Rs 1.25 lakh to continue her children’s education.
“I approached a newspaper vendor one day requesting to allow reading a Tamil newspaper. He asked me to pay Rs 90 for a monthly subscription. I admitted to having no money but he offered me a job and promised to pay Rs 300,” Balamurugan recalls.
And so, when he was in the fourth standard, he started distributing newspapers. “I paid him at the end of each month. Learning about the incident, my teachers started sharing magazines and other reading material with me,” he says, adding the school sometimes waived off the fees or allowed delayed payments of the tuition fees.
Struggling through the years, the IFS officer says at times the family slept hungry, but never without studying.
The officer graduated as an electronics and communication engineer from Madras Institute of Technology in 2011. He even got placed through campus recruitment in Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
By 2012, the economic condition of the family improved after the eldest sister got a job and Balamurugan started earning too. The family started living in a permanent house with five rooms.
Governments can bring change
But it was during his stint with TCS that a life-changing incident took place.
“It was 2013 when a politically powerful person tried to encroach on our land. Once the land was encroached, we would get only ten feet of space to enter our house. I never believed the police could help with this,” Balamurugan says.
Around the same time, Balamurugan came across a news story about a dynamic IAS lady officer heading the Tamil Nadu chief minister cell to resolve complaints. “I just filed a complaint during a lunch break at the office and forgot about it. About 45 days later, officials from the civic body visited and demanded the documents and, after assessing the credentials, an order was issued to all the government agencies to ensure no encroachment takes place on the land,” Balamurugan says.
That incident made him realise the power of good governance. “In the same year, I got an opportunity to move to Australia for work. But by that time, I had decided to give civil services a try,” Balamurguan says, adding that he took the opportunity to travel to the Land Down Under for work only to save money in dollars.
The IFS officer adds that the money he saved enabled him to survive for a couple of years to prepare for the examinations. “In 2015, after I felt confident about my savings, I quit and returned to India. I did not clear the examinations or rounds for the next three years. In 2018, I finally cleared the examination in IFS cadre and got inducted in 2019,” Balamurugan says.
He says that he does not have any regrets. “Working in Australia I also realised there is so much needed to change and improve our country. I feel it is the right time to be a part of the system to bring about an efficient change.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)