Vishnu Auti, Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, Aurangabad, distinctly remembers the conversation he had with his father in 1972.
While he was playing with sand and stones, his father, Haribhau put his hand over his tiny shoulders and said, “If you do not study well you will end up toiling under the sun like me. Become the person who sits under the shade, not a labourer.”
Although Haribhau said those words casually, on a sweltering afternoon at a construction site in Maharashtra’s Kumbharwadi village in Ahmednagar district, for Vishnu it became gospel truth.
By the time he turned 10, he realised life is possible without acute poverty, skipping meals, water scarcity and perpetual distress. He discovered a different life through television.
The tear-jerking journey of this income tax officer is also awe inspiring. But while he was more than willing to study to put an end to their strenuous life, the only question was how.
He tells The Better India how he gave his parents a better life and cracked one of India’s toughest competitive examinations.
‘Poverty Failed to Dampen Our Spirits’
Vishnu was born to Haribhau, who lost his eyesight while working, and Kailasabai, who is hearing impaired. They worked as wage labourers to provide meals to their three children and would often go without eating food for days. This took a toll on their health and physical exertion became more difficult with age.
There was no secondary school in the village that was plagued by a perpetual drought. Year after year, the parched village would lose crops due to water scarcity and this had a direct effect on Vishnu’s parents’ job. No crop meant no labour work.
Haribhau had lost his children, his first wife and father to a severe drought in 1972. A few months later, he remarried to Kailasabai, who gave birth to three children, at a time when the village had no drinking water, sufficient food supply and jobs.
Illiteracy and disability further aggravated the problem for the Auti family. Moreover, no one wanted to hire disabled labourers.
“My mother would mix a lot of water in flour and we had rotis with a side of salt. My parents would leave the house early morning to hunt for work and my eldest sister would keep our spirits up. If by lunchtime our parents didn’t return with food, my sister would tell stories to distract me from my hunger. It was during this time when my dad told me about the importance of education and that changed all our lives forever,” recalls Vishnu.
Even though there were problems and challenges in the house, Vishnu does not remember a day his parents crying, cursing their fate, or blaming the government for their sorry state of affairs.
Vishnu clung onto the hope that things would get better and decided to continue his studies after Class IV, even though the new school was 4 kilometres away in the neighbouring village of Karandi.
He studied in Marathi medium. And he recalls famines being a part of his school life. In order to lessen the troubles at home, Vishnu started collecting the fallen flour on the floor of a mill.
“There was a small mill that was on my way to school. While returning, I would stop by to request the owner to collect the flour on the floor. It did not matter if the flour had dust or pests, as long as it filled our stomachs. This was probably the first time I had brought some change in the house. I felt in charge and thought I could make things right,” says Vishnu.
Vishnu also started assisting villagers for various works like carrying bags at long distances for Rs 2-3, teaching his juniors and collecting leftover food items. While doing all this, he equally focussed on his studies.
The hard work bore fruit and he scored 79% in his Class 10 boards, a feat that was widely celebrated in the village. It was very rare for children to complete their schooling, let alone score distinction.
This proved to be the turning point in Vishnu’s life.
From A School Teacher to An Income Tax Officer
Realising the significance of education and the lack of it in his region, Vishnu went on to complete his D.Ed (Diploma in Education) and took up a teaching job in 1999. Though the school was 150 kilometres away from his village where his new bride lived along with his parents, the job paid well.
During this time, he learnt about the Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) examinations from his colleagues. Since the preparations required only widening his knowledge, Vishnu decided to attempt it. Plus, he thought if he became an officer, he would bring about changes at the grassroot level.
Alongside teaching, he started his preparations without any coaching and also pursued a BA from Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University. He relied on newspapers and purchased second-hand study material. Having discussions and exchanging notes with his colleagues also helped.
In 2010, Vishnu cracked the state services exam in his first attempt and got his first posting as Assistant Commission of Sales Tax in Jalgaon.
“I had never shed tears of joy but the results changed that. This is what my family meant when they said ‘hope dies last’. That day the entire village celebrated along with my family. I remember giving my son that same piece of advice my father had given me at the construction site. Life had come to a full circle,” says Vishnu.
But he was not done yet. He wanted to serve at the national level and thus began his preparations for the Union Public Service Commission in 2013.
This time again, he took no coaching and juggled his studies with his hectic job at the income tax office. Once again, Vishnu entered the phase where a book would always be by his side. He studied during lunch breaks, at night and early mornings as well.
However, this time around he was less nervous and afraid of the outcome. Even if he failed, he would still have a secured job. He cleared the examinations in his third attempt with an All India Rank of 1064 in 2016. Interestingly, in the same year, his son cleared his Class 10 boards with distinction.
Instead of treating the first two attempts as a failure, he took it as a learning curve. He made a list of the mistakes and worked on them for his third attempt. “I have beaten odds that were worse than this. My parents encouraged me and fueled my hopes. Their undaunting support is responsible for my success,” he says.
The next thing he knew, his face was plastered all over regional newspapers and on new channels.His rags-to-riches story and compelling journey suddenly gauged everyone’s attention.
In the last four years, Vishnu has travelled and worked in several offices. He has worked his way up with sheer hard work, grit and determination.
From a boy who collected fallen flour to an officer who now contributes towards India’s tax collection, Vishnu’s exceptional journey is a reminder to us that no matter what the circumstances are, scripting your destiny is possible.
Edited by Yoshita Rao