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The lorry driver's son who topped the civil services exam in Tamil Nadu

June 1, 2007
The 2006 competitive examinations for India's civil services is notable for the number of young people from non privileged backgrounds who feature in the merit list. Again, for the first time, none from India's elite metros appeared in the top ten.

Topping the Union Public Services Commission examination is Revu Muthyala Raju, a farmer's son and a member of the so-called Other Backward Classes, whose amazing story we will chronicle later in this special series. No less incredible are the stories of the other toppers. Like K Nandakumar, a lorry driver's son, whose success story we chronicle today.

Text: A Ganesh Nadar

There is, prima facie, something condescending about such headlines; an unstated presumption, almost, that a lorry driver's son topping a competitive exam is a freak show of sorts.

K Nandakumar's parents don't think so; they see their son not as some freak of nature, but as a young man who knew what he wanted, and went after it, surmounting obstacles as chance, and circumstance, threw them in his path.

"He was always a serious student," mother K Lakshmi says. "During school days he never used to go out to play. He used to go for tuitions from six to eight in the morning and again from five to eight in the evening. During exams, he studied till midnight and beyond. And in between, he was in school -- so there really was no time to play."

Amusement, as we know it, was limited to a weekend game of cricket, of the limited variety -- limited, in this case, not by the number of overs, but the amount of time Nandakumar could spare for such frivolity: exactly an hour a week.

Nandakumar's academic curve is typical of the no-pain, no-gain formulation that increasingly defines the Indian student. Up until the 12th standard, he studied in the Namakkal Government South School, an institution where the medium of instruction was Tamil.

With 1,018 marks out of a possible 1,200 in his Higher Secondary exams, he went to the Pollachi Mahalingam College for an engineering degree.

Economic constraints, and the feeling that he needed to pitch in to help his father run the household, led to a six-month stint with a private company in Coimbatore. During this period, he attempted to work days, then study nights -- but when work, and the resultant fatigue, began impacting on his studies, he quit to focus on the Indian Administrative Service exams.

Photograph, courtesy K Nandakumar's family

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