Translated this from the original Marathi to English so that it reaches a wider audience as this story needs to be told.
Hi, I am Dr. Rajendra Bharud. I was born in Samode Village in Sakri Taluka. A Bhil tribal. My father had passed away before I was born and there was no man of the house, so to speak. We were steeped in poverty. There was no money even to take photographs and so till date I don’t know how my father looked. No land, no property. We used to live in a hut made of sugarcane leaves.
But Maay (mom) was made of sterner stuff and never sat brooding over our condition. She had two sons to take care of and so she started working towards that. She started making liquor from flowers and selling it. Men used to come to our hut and consume the liquor. She later told me that, as an infant, sometimes when I cried she used to give me a couple of drops of the same liquor so that I would sleep off. Cos it was business time and she didn’t want to disturb the customers. As I grew up, I started running errands to get peanuts or such snacks for the customers.
Maay was a determined woman and she ensured that both of us went to school. I used to go to the zilla parishad school and though I had no pens or books (no money to buy) I enjoyed studying. We were the first kids from our tribe/village to go to school and nobody gave education any importance.
Once, during exams I was studying and a customer asked me to get him some peanuts and I bluntly refused. He laughed at me saying ‘as if you are gonna be a doctor or engineer’. I was hurt. But Maay retorted telling him that I will. Maay’s confidence gave me a certain will and determination to pursue studying and I decided to give it all I can.
Later on I got admission for CBSE in another school, in Akkalkuva taluka, 150 kms away from our village and I had to move there for further studies. Maay had come to drop me and both of us cried a lot as she bid me goodbye when going back home.
Being on my own was difficult but I realised that I should not waste this opportunity. That gave me more determination to make it good, made me study harder and that resulted in me getting 97% in 12th. I got admission in Mumbai’s G S Medical college on merit and received several scholarships. That took care of my education and hostel fees and Maay used to send me some money for my sundry expenses. She continued her liquor business as that was the only source of income for us.
As studies continued, I also decided to appear for UPSC exams and so in the final year of MBBS, I was studying for 2 exams even as my internship was on. As far as Maay was concerned, she knew I was studying to become a doctor. She had no idea about anything else. What is UPSC, or why one gives that exam, how it will help etc was all beyond her small world. I wanted to be a collector and she didn’t know about even the local officials like a tehsildar.
Finally as the year ended, I had my MBBS degree in one hand and the results of having cracked the UPSC in the other hand. And as I came back home to our small village, quite a few important people had come to welcome me home. Political leaders, the district collector, local officials, all coming to congratulate me. Maay was non plussed and didn’t understand what had happened. I told her that I had become a doctor. She was really happy. I also told her that I would not be practicing medicine as I had also become a Collector now. She didn’t know what that was but realised that it was something big. In fact none of the villagers realised what it meant. Though all of them were happy that ‘our Raju’ has become big and some even congratulated me for becoming a conductor!
I am now posted in Nandurbar district as a District Collector and Maay is now with me. There’s a lot to do here as this is a fairly backward district with lots of adivasi and tribal population. And I look forward to building all the necessary infrastructure for their development.
A lot many times I am asked as to how I reached here in spite of all the hurdles in my path. Right from childhood it was a struggle. Eating twice a day was a big deal. Our toys were mango seeds or sticks. Swimming in the river and climbing the hills was how we spent the childhood. That made me physically and mentally strong. Who was with me? My strength – my Maay. And the locals, who were all equally poor. They too went hungry like us, they too played the same games. So the concept of being poor never really touched me.
Till I came to Mumbai for studies. The difference was stark. But I never envied the well off or cursed my luck. All I realised was that if my situation or condition had to change, I will have to do it myself. And I studied, excercised, studied. Yes, I missed a lot that normal kids or teenagers get in life, but I prefer to look at what I have got now.
A Bhil tribal boy, Rajendra Bharud, an IAS officer at the age of 31, first from the tribe, my village, my area. Today I have everything that I could have dreamed of.
And most importantly, after seeing me rise from the small village to this position has created an awareness among my people of what they can do or achieve. That itself is a huge reward.
Interviewed by Madhuri Pethkar.
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