Photo by Praveesh Palakeel on Unsplash
Sumi was the youngest daughter of Mr Sharma, a clerk in a government office in Mandya. Mandya is a small city about 45kms from Mysore and about 100 km from Bangalore in Karnataka in India. Sumi was in class 10th, and her elder sister, Radha, was in 12th class. Sumi was more intelligent and hardworking, whereas Radha was average in her studies and had no intention to continue studying after her board exams. Sumi was good in her studies and consistently scored good grades.
Sumi had big dreams. She wanted to be an IAS officer. The IAS is a competitive exam and takes a lot of hard work and focused studies to crack it.
Mrs Sharma was a cancer survivor. She is dependent on the girls for household chores and cooking. Both the girls would get up at 5 am cook meals for the day, clean the house, complete all work and then rush to school at 8 am.
The Sharma’s had a small house close to the busy market square. Since the school was not very far from their home, both the girls would cycle to school.
The elder Radha was very talkative and fond of watching television.
Sumi was an introvert and loved solitude. It was difficult for her to find any quiet place in the house. Radha would always keep the television, or the radio switched on while working in the kitchen.
The house was surrounded by neighbours who had dogs that relentlessly kept barking throughout the day. The cacophony of the marketplace and noisy neighbourhood forced Sumi to take refuge in a private library for her studies. Sumi was very sensitive to noise. Even when it was her turn to cook meals, she would close the kitchen door to shut out all the surrounding sounds.
My friend Mary owned a private library in Mandya and had a good collection of books, magazines and daily newspapers. It was in a quiet locality. Sumi met her and discussed her problem with Mary. Sensing Sumi’s earnestness, Mary offered to help her. She allowed Sumi to use the library for studying during the evening hours, free of cost. In return, Sumi would help Mary run a few small errands and help her with a few chores. Sumi’s silent nature and hardworking attitude had impressed my friend Mary to no end. In a short time, Mary had become very fond of Sumi.
Her school years glided away, and it was time for Sumi to try for college admission. She passed her school board exams with flying colours and won a scholarship for further studies. Sumi wanted to join a college in Bangalore. Mr Sharma was concerned about her safety, and the fact that Sumi and her sister had never stayed away from their parents added to his worry.
Sumi took admission to an Arts college in Bangalore. Since she needed solitude, she would spend hours in the library reading and preparing for the IAS exam after college.
Sumi managed to stay away from all the distractions that girls her age can get addicted to while staying in the hostel. Since her parents could not afford to give her a smartphone, laptop or any other gadget, she had no presence on social media. This proved to be a boon for Sumi as she spent all her waking hours studying. During weekends she would visit her parents. She had just one goal in life. To become an IAS officer and make her parents proud.
While Sumi was in her second year of college, her mother relapsed from cancer and had to be admitted to the hospital. Sumi had to let go of her classes and travel to Mandya to help Radha and her father look after Mrs Sharma. While she attended to her mother in the hospital, she would carry her books and sit and study next to her mother’s bed. When her mother recovered a little, she was discharged from the hospital. Sumi then went back to Bangalore but continued to visit Mandya every weekend. She was very close to her mother and found it emotionally challenging to be away from her home while her mother was bedridden.
She was worried that she had not fully prepared for the upcoming UPSC exam and may not be able to sail through. Her mother’s cancer worsened, and doctors gave her three more months. Her father insisted that Sumi move back to Mandya, and he would arrange to get her admission to one of the colleges. Luckily her college principal was a kind-hearted soul, and with his help, Sumi was able to get a transfer to another college in Mandya.
Unfortunately for Sumi, her mother passed away a week before her UPSC exam. It was a difficult moment for the family. The two girls were inconsolable. Sumi found it very difficult to cope with this loss. She would visit Mary in the library. Mary encouraged her to appear for the exam. Sumi had prepared for this exam from the time she left school, and therefore there was a good chance that she would be successful. She cracked the exam. Her father was ecstatic and did not stop praising his daughter’s intelligence and determination. It was the first time in many days Sumi had smiled. Her name appeared in the local newspaper, and her friends, relatives, school, and college classmates poured in congratulatory notes. The only thing she felt terrible about was that her mother was not alive to see and celebrate her success.
I met Sumi last year after the pandemic. She had completed her studies and became an IAS officer, and her first posting was in Bangalore. Sumi was still the same shy, introverted girl who loved to work in isolation. She rarely socialised, and her house reflected her love for solitude. Her home had bookshelves neatly stacked with books. Sumi very neatly did up her reading corner and working space. Her job involved travelling to different places in the state, and she loved it.
Sumi was always a lonely achiever.
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