Prema Jayakumar’s story is echoed by thousands across the country, young people who have overcome poverty, social discrimination and even political strife to succeed. The Kashmiri youth from Kupwara who lost his father to the conflict but went on to become a doctor and clear the civil services examination in 2009, the son of the MNREGA worker who competed from Naxal-affected areas and qualified for the IITs last year. Such stories also show the gruelling Indian education system in a softer light — much of Prema’s education was funded by scholarships from the schools and the coaching institute she went to, hundreds of youth from BPL tribal families wrote the IIT entrance exams and the AIEEEs from a residential school-cum-coaching institute set up by the Chhattisgarh government.
The idea of aspiration has proved to be one of the most powerful binding forces in the country. In the process, it has acquired totemic qualities, garlic to the vampire of corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency and stultified politics. Stories such as Prema’s give substance to this idea, making it reassuringly real once again.