“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”
—– Read about Padma Karri as she writes. She is presently an Indian Foreign Service officer based in Egypt. BITS Pilani and PMRDF alumnus. An ardent fighter in life.
Being born in a society where man is all powerful, and where woman of the family who usually possess no power of her own but depend extensively on him drawing power through him, very early in my life I realized two things. One, having no father means not just being powerless but also having a helpless mother. Two, without the Man to introduce me and my family to the world, I very early took it on my shoulders to introduce the world to me and my family.
Other than my mother whose hand I held for initial support, and my loving brother who used to shield me from every little pain, I am fortunate enough to be born in a joint family and to have found a father figure in one of my uncles. My exposure to the world started with my own joint family, to its traditions, love, variedly thinking people and the family’s love for movies. Other than the nature, world to me is people, their thinking and their experiences and both my family world and movie world were just full of them which I made my teachers which can teach me to pave a path for the outer world.
Yet that wasn’t enough as my situation with all the external support seemed like a helping hand which was trying to keep you afloat without drowning in a well, but I wanted not just to float in the well but also to swim by myself and to build my own stepping stones to come out of it and see what is beyond the walls of the well. So I decided to leave my Mom and brother to just float and hang on there while I take my first stepping stone which was – education. When all other doors were closed to me, I found education still calling me. My early years of education introduced me to something called “India” which has deep roots, diverse cultures, ancestors who thought selflessly and a wonder in itself. I always wanted to see and learn from that India and that became one of the deeper motivations to get out of my well. And with a little effort every day, one day I found myself at the top of my state Andhra Pradesh in 12th.
This gave me the much needed push I needed in life and soon I landed up far away from my birth place in South of India to the west of India (BITS Pilani). My contact with the human world expanded from a handful to a few thousands on campus, and the experiences and talents they have amazed me. Also, that’s when I started exploring my other interests which I suppressed till then for the sake of laying my first stepping stones like reading, writing, interacting and other life skills. The image of me in a well also helped me gradually realize that there are many such people in many more wells out there and that I can help in my own way to lay their stepping stones too though never knew then how. As always I stepped on the closest stone reachable to me and I joined National Service Scheme and Rural Entrepreneurship Division in college. These helped me to see clearly that, there are more people who just drown in their own wells, or those who just keep floating for the want of a little support or a stepping stone to get out.
In no time, Engineering got over and I stepped into a technical and corporate world where my fingers started moving dexterously on my keyboard and hands held communication cards, mind tried to tell me how this contribution too is important for India but my heart kept telling me ‘you don’t belong here’. While I was still struggling to find out where I belong strolling on the streets of Bangalore, little did I expect a storm in my well back home which took away my brother forever and shook me deeply. The one person to whom I was close despite the distance, the one who shared my every happiness and who lent his shoulder always was suddenly no more. This pulled me back into the well. A free fall into it. When life was just settling for my family, this incident left us almost drowning but we mustered courage to move on. May be the long period of grief gave me the much needed pause in life to step back and think what I really want to do and then the calling to explore India was ringing loudly than ever before. I quit my corporate job with no other alternative at hand but with deep interest to learn about my country and I gave UPSC a thought which I had never given before hoping this could show me the way.
In this quest of mine, I stumbled upon Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament (LAMP) fellowship (Delhi) which gave a breakthrough to the engineer in me to explore the public policy and political facet of India. And then I worked with Foundation for Democratic Reforms (FDR Hyderabad) to understand more. The idea that Gandhi himself too took a year to understand India before jumping into handling its issues, appealed to me and I caught hold of every opportunity to do so. I went on a 15 day train journey across India on the Jagriti Yatra Express. I also pursued a course in public policy from Takshasila institute to hone my policy analytical skills further. I also started engaging with an NGO Gen Yuvaa in my hometown.
All these I have been pursuing along with UPSC preparation and by leaving my family in confusion as to what this girl is upto with her life and you very well know what every Indian parent wants from her girl child. Just then, I got through Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship (PMRDF) which posts the recruited fellows in backward and naxal affected districts of India. I was so happy, as such a field experience will help me get a more holistic view of India and its administrative system of which I aspired to be part of. In a few days from then, I found myself in Kalahandi, one of the most backward districts in India, which was notorious for its various problems. But the experience of working with tribals, living with them, crossing language barrier, trying to give them some hope and to act as a bridge between the administration and the people – all these taught me more than any academic institution ever could. There for the first time I have seen my imagination in reality, hundreds of wells in them, people with varied issues, different needs, with various geographical, administrative and social restrictions, waiting for a little push to build their own stepping stones. After seeing India through so many lenses I realized that all my interests coincide in the field of public policy either from within or outside government.
While still on field in that small place, I received the news that the World is your new well now. I was shocked initially and doubted myself, but as an Indian Foreign Service Officer trying to see India through the eyes of the world, and seeing the world to see what it can offer India is a huge platform with ample opportunities to learn and contribute. So far in my journey from Vizag (my hometown) to Egypt (my current posting) has been full of ups and downs, lows and highs, successes and failures, happy and sad moments, exciting and boring days, encouraging friends and discouraging people and many more. I am sure they all shall still be there in future, but just that I have done my part by learning to swim in the well of life, and I only know that no matter what, we should not drown and we should eye always for the next stepping stone. And wherever possible, one should extend a helping hand to someone till they learn to swim. Hopefully I will have many more exciting stories to share with you in future from my new journey.