My struggles to get a degree
By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 95, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi
Foreword by Venkat
Some fires when ignited can never be doused be it floods or rain. Uncle ji’s sweet story of earning a degree and a post-graduate degree in his 90s is testament of just that. It is poignant to see how priorities that brought him early into employment came at the price of delaying education and the same became a cause to delay progress in career (at the needed times). At a time when most would find earning a degree as irrelevant – post retirement – uncle still persevered and found his happiness of achieving what he was keen to complete in his 20s! A beautiful story indeed to fuel the fire in us to learn and succeed.
The author (my uncle) is from Coimbatore. Has been living in Delhi throughout life. He was employed with the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and retired as Director in 1986.
Experience the amazing journey of Mr. C.I. Sivasubramanian through life and the crowning glory of a seemingly elusive degree!
My struggles to get a degree
It is a long story.
When I was in school-going age, my father reduced my age by two years in the hope that his son would be able to appear for the ICS exam in time (by age 20). It was common practice those days in the absence of birth certificates, etc. It so happened that his son couldn’t even become a graduate let alone pass the ICS exam!
When I passed the Intermediate exam from Coimbatore Arts College and was looking forward to joining a degree course in nearby Trichy town or Madras City (there was no degree course in Coimbatore then) my mother asked me to give up the idea and take up employment. She had valid reasons, one my father was sick and retired by then and I could not possibly leave them alone and go out of station. Two, my father’s pension was not sufficient to make both ends meet. So I gave up the idea of pursuing my degree course and joined the nearby Agriculture Institute as a Field man.
Life was going on smooth, my father was getting treatment, my two siblings joined school and I was happy to be employed. But then my mother also got sick and within a few weeks left us for God’s abode. My aunt from nearby Perur came to help us in the kitchen.
But one day, all of a sudden, my sister-in-law (brother’s wife) arrived from Delhi and asked us to pack our bags and leave bag and baggage for Delhi where my brother was employed! I was perplexed. How could I take my sick father (he was suffering from paralytic stroke) on a long journey to Delhi, give up my employment and cut short my siblings’ education! But then my sister-in-law was persuasive and managed to take all of us to Delhi on a hot day in July 1946.
I joined as a Clerk in the Ministry of Commerce – Government would not offer me a better grade as I was not a graduate. My siblings joined Madrasi Education Association (MEA) school and my father began to receive treatment from a local doctor.
In the course of time I passed the Federal Public Service Exam (FPSC) for Clerks and became a permanent Clerk. The Assistants grade exam followed next year but I was ineligible being a non-graduate. But then, by some stroke of luck, the Government relaxed the rule and permitted non-graduates to appear if they were permanent clerks. I was lucky. I appeared and passed the exam.
But another hurdle came up. The Departments of Commerce and Works and Housing were combined and the resultant huge Ministry had to shed some staff and the axe fell on me being the junior-most employee.. But again luck favored me. By this time the results of the Assistants grade exam came and I became senior to all those who had not passed the Assistants grade exam and thus escaped the axe. I was lucky again.
In this context I reflected why I did not try to join the Camp College Delhi, or any other educational institution to obtain a degree. Then I recalled that on our way to Delhi we stopped over in Madras for a day or so when my father’s friend visited us. He was a physiognomist (a face reader). When I told him I was going to pursue my degree in Delhi he said flatly NO I wouldn’t, but I would pursue my employment only. This prediction probably worked on my psychology and prevented me from joining any institution to complete my degree.
In the course of time I became a Section officer. The bugbear of graduation had disappeared by then. Or did it? No, it continued to haunt me. Read on.
I was sent to Bangkok to participate in a Conference conducted by the Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the organizers, happy with my performance, offered me a permanent job in ESCAP. I was elated! But then my jubilation became short-lived as they withdrew the offer when they saw my biodata and found out that I was not a graduate! Thus, obstacles after obstacles were placed in my way, being a non-graduate. Life went on this way until I retired from service in 1986. In 2013 my wife fell ill. She had a stroke and had to be taken care of closely. She remained bedbound for 5 years. I was by her side.
One day, the physiotherapist attending on her, said he had taken up a course at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and wanted to leave early. I casually asked him if I also could join and he checked up and said yes. Thus, I enrolled myself for a degree course in that University. And three years on I became a graduate! I was so happy that I became a graduate. My children egged me on to pursue the post-graduate course as well. So, I joined the M.A. course and completed it in the next two years. It was thus that I became a postgraduate at the age of 93!
By C.I. Sivasubramanian