THE CLASSROOM OF LIFE
They rose above their grim financial circumstances, overcame all sorts of odds and defied stereotypes to top exams, get into IIMs and even pursue a PhD at 15! Here are their incredible stories: of unrelenting struggle and hard work. Are you ready to be in
They’ve looked adversity in the eye and carved out their own destinies. Meet five indomitable young Indians who didn’t let tough times snuff out their dreams
SHIVA KUMAR NAGENDRA
'For years I slept at midnight and woke up at 4am'
Shiva Kumar Nagendra spots a man waiting outside the beautiful, white house. The sky is a brilliant shade of purple and a lone star dots the velvety morning sky.
“Should I or should I not?” There's a battle going on between his heart and his mind. “But you HAVE to do it!” His heart wins. And off walks 12-year-old Shiva towards the man in the white night suit, towards the moment that is going to change his life forever.
Shiva Kumar Nagendra’s parents had migrated to Bengaluru 25 years ago from Mysore. But his father, a truck driver, met with an accident that left him bed-ridden for almost three years. The family started facing financial problems. His mother took to making garlands so Shiva and his sister could sell them. But it wasn’t enough. “I started delivering newspapers. It was a morning job, so I could continue my studies,” says Shiva.
However, with time, expenses went up further. “I could’ve worked at a restaurant or as a mechanic. But I didn’t give in.”
One morning, he spotted a gentleman waiting for his newspaper. “I handed him his paper and asked if I could wash his car in the evening for some more money.” He agreed. So that evening, after washing his car, Shiva mustered up the courage to ask, “Sir, I need
` 15,000 to pay my school fees.” The man was taken aback. Shiva suggested the man visit his school, and deposit the money directly if he found any truth in Shiva’s case.
The next day, Krishna Veda Vysa visited Shiva’s school and discovered that he had always been a class topper. Convinced, he told Shiva, ‘I’ll take care of all your education expenses. Just focus on your studies and don’t quit!’
So Shiva carried on his daily grind along with his studies. But he was ambitious even at that age. He started a newspaper distribution agency, appeared for his class 10 exams and topped. He went on to get a seat at the Bangalore Institute of Technology (BIT) and was soon offered a job by Wipro.
“Vyas uncle, an entrepreneur, thought that taking up the job would get me a fixed salary, but it wouldn’t change my life.” He insisted Shiva pursue higher studies.
Shiva was in a fix. He didn’t know how to break the news to his parents. “When I told them that I planned to decline the offer, they pleaded with me to work at least for a few years.” Shiva tried to explain to them, how an IIM/ IAS student has far better career prospects. Eventually, his parents relented.
Shiva decided to take the Common Admission Test (CAT). Mr Vyasa got Shiva admitted to a tutorial centre. At this point, Shiva was balancing his engineering classes, his MBA preparation, and his fastexpanding newspaper agency.
The day the CAT results were due, Shiva was a nervous wreck. Though he had the Wipro job in hand, he wanted to walk through the gates of an IIM. And then, IIM Calcutta happened!
Initially he felt out of place. “It was competitive and difficult to match the students — many from the best colleges of the country.”
His background, however, had never been a matter of shame to Shiva. People at IIM respected where he came from and all that he had done to get where he had reached. He attributes his achievements not only to intelligence, but also hard work. “For years, I woke up at 4am and slept at midnight. I wasn't born with a silver spoon. I’ve worked hard for what I wanted.”
Shiva graduated from IIM this year and is working with a Bengaluru-based startup. Life, he says, will always try to knock you down. “It depends on how strong you are to get up and fight back.”
Two success stories: Shalini Arnugam, (far left) works as a domestic help and is also studying to be an engineer; Shiva Kumar used to sell newspapers before he got into IIM Calcutta