Even amidst the jubilation last week, the 21-year-old civil engineering graduate and State topper from Anna University reflected on the nature of the education system he had endured
When he was 12 years old, R. Karthikeyan attempted to steal a book titled, ‘Science tells you why’ from his school library.
Bored with his textbooks and knowing his father, a farmer, would not be able to afford illustrated books, he had set his sights on the science book. But Karthikeyan was caught in the act by a teacher, who beat him hard, and ever since, Karthikeyan hated school.
Last week, the 21-year-old civil engineering graduate from Anna University, bagged the fifth all-India rank in UPSC’ s engineering services exam. Even amidst the jubilation, the State-topper reflected on the nature of the education system he had endured.
“Most schools are like jails where students are regularly beaten,” Karthikeyan said. “I studied hard in class XII so that I could get into a college that was not like my school,” he said, recalling his days in a school near Salem, famous for producing board rankers.
Karthikeyan, who hails from Kalasamuthiram, a village near Salem, grew up in an agricultural household that was entirely dependent on his father’s earnings.
“I was never interested in school. All I used to look forward to was running back home to accompany my father with milk to the village market,” he said.
Despite his lack of interest, it was his father’s almost instinctive skill in measurements that inspired Karthikeyan to pursue civil engineering. “My father studied only till class IX but he is an expert at calculations. Be it digging a well, or constructing a borewell, my father is always consulted in the village, and I would observe the way he would mentally chalk out measurements and instruct workers,” he said.
Another reason he chose civil engineering was because he wanted to work on sites instead of in an office.
Last year, around this time, Karthikeyan had fulfilled the “dream of his life” — getting into an IIT for a postgraduate course. But after three months of studying structural engineering at IIT-Madras, he realised he was losing interest in his studies.
“It felt like I was not learning anything new. Since I was not studying properly, my father thought I would ruin my prospects. He asked me to get a job in order to understand the value of money,” Karthikeyan said.
Luckily for him, a PSU’s offer came by and he willingly accepted it. “I was not anxious after quitting IIT. It was the thrill of making it to IIT that was important. After that, the experience of studying there matters only if you want to get into research or a get a job in a good company. And during my stint at IIT-M I realised that this was not what I wanted to do,” Karthikeyan said.
The topper is now clearly excited, mainly because he got to choose his zone of work in the Indian Engineering Services – railways. After training for a year, he hopes to become an assistant engineer and lead a team of gang-men.
“Other toppers have gone either for public work or border roads, but for me, the railways hold a special charm,” he said, recalling his rare train trips to Salem and Chennai. “Until last year, I always travelled in unreserved compartments. Travelling by AC was a dream for me, which I fulfilled when I got my first salary. I have a long journey ahead now,” he said.