‘Poverty & Responsibility Guided Me’: Officer’s Incredible Viral Story Exemplifies the Power of Education
Nellayapan B, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the Nagaland Chief Minister, grew up in crushing poverty in a one-room house in a village in Kanniyakumari. Exemplifying the power of education, his inspiring story has won the Internet.
From 1980–85, all five children from the Baskaran family went to school in Lekshmipuram, Kanniyakumari, Tamil Nadu. They lived in a 250-square-foot house with a roof made of coconut leaves, along with their parents. At school, the two boys had to wear uniforms only once a week — a white shirt and pants. So dire was their condition that the older boy, Nellayapan, wore his father’s veshti instead of the pants.
Today, Nellayapan B has become a teacher through hard work and focus. He has achieved the position of Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the Chief Minister of Nagaland and is also the deputy director of school education in the state.
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In college life, Nellayapan had a busy schedule. He woke up at 4 am to help his parents at their snack/tea shop. After returning from college, he worked at the shop till 11 pm.
Originally from a small village in the southernmost part of India, he moved to the Northeastern state in search of a better life for his family. And he succeeded in his goals. Today, he lives in a 2,000-square-foot, four-bedroom house. He also supported his three younger siblings’ education and marriage, making his parents’ lives comfortable. He credits all his achievements to his education.
“My father made sure that he gave all of us a good education. He went to great lengths to educate us and managed to pay all our fees by borrowing money and mortgaging jewellery. Three of my siblings are postgraduates and one has completed her doctorate. All of us are in good positions thanks to my father’s insistence on getting us educated,” says Nellayapan to The Better India.
From humble beginnings to deputy director
In 1990, Nellayapan had just completed an MSc in physics. His older sister was getting married, for which his parents, who ran a tea/snack stall, had to borrow money from others.
“I remember the time before my sister’s wedding. People refused to lend money. My parents managed the required money with great difficulty. Till the last minute, the moneylenders kept us hanging. I felt so insulted. That’s when I resolved to achieve something big in life, so my parents would never have to face such a situation again,” says the 55-year-old.
Nellayapan’s college senior, who was working in Nagaland, apprised him about the opportunities there. And the then 23-year-old left for Nagaland with Rs 2,000 in his pocket and big dreams in his eyes.
“It took me four days to reach Nagaland. My parents couldn’t afford the train ticket. My mother had to pawn her last piece of jewellery — her nose ring — which got us Rs 2,000. I remember the bank manager’s expression when he saw the nose ring, knowing we had no other choice. I felt helpless,” he recalls adding that the amount helped him with food and lodging for a few days.
In 1991, he started his career as a private school teacher in Nagaland with a salary of Rs 1,000 per month. He shares that this money wasn’t enough to cover his expenses as he sent some money back home too. “I had to pay Rs 700 per month for electricity and rent. How could I survive on just Rs 300?” he adds.
“I started taking tuition for school students to supplement my income. I used to tutor from 6 am to 10 am, then attend school until 4 pm, and return to tutor again until 6 pm. That’s how I managed for the first six years in private service,” explains the teacher.
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This was also the time when Nagaland was facing insurgency issues. But the teacher didn’t let that hinder his progress.
In 1996, Nellayapan got a job as a postgraduate teacher in physics at the Government Higher Secondary School in Dimapur. In 1999, he got married and remembers how they then put an asbestos roof on their house. “The burden of responsibility is often a blessing. I had to move up,” he shares.
Later, he went on to become the school principal in 2012 and continued working there till 2017. Then, in 2018, he was appointed as the assistant director at the Directorate of School Education in Nagaland, and in 2022, he was promoted to the role of deputy director.
A trailblazer in education
When COVID hit the nation, Nagaland was one of the first states to embrace online education and was even recognised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Education (OECD).
In April 2020, the Directorate of School Education rolled out a tele/online education programme through which education was offered through TV (Doordarshan, Kohima) and radio (All India Radio, Kohima). In May 2020, they also offered educational content through a YouTube channel. This programme was led by C Shanavas — principal director of school education — and supported by Nellayapan.
Heartiest congratulations to the awardees of Governor's Gold Medal and Governor's Commendation Certificate on the occasion of #74th_IndependenceDay. pic.twitter.com/qdEbUZl7OP— Neiphiu Rio (@Neiphiu_Rio) August 15, 2020
“Many hilly areas in the state face network issues. So we ironed out a plan that would reach every student, irrespective of network. We were also the first state to conduct online exams for students from Classes 5–12,” says Nellayapan, who was awarded the Governor’s commendation certificate for his efforts.
Working with IAS officers like Shanavas was also a big motivation for Nellayapan. “I have had the privilege of working with many IAS officers. They are an inspiration for me and I wish to work like them,” adds the physics teacher.
Recognising his work and efforts towards improving education in the state, Nellayapan was made the OSD to Chief Minister, Nagaland in April 2023.
The road to here has not been an easy one for him, he shares. He has had to stay away from his family for more than three decades. He credits his wife for being a big reason for his success. “My wife is my rock. She supported me since the day we got married. She also helped my younger sister get married. Today, my wife is a successful executive in the private sector,” adds Nellayapan.
In 2006, his wife and children moved to Trivandrum because of his wife’s job. He proudly mentions that his son is now a doctor, and his daughter is in Class 11.
Reminiscing the past, he adds, “I used to concentrate only on work because I had a lot of responsibility when I came here. I had to ensure that my siblings studied well and my parents didn’t have to borrow money. Poverty and responsibility guided me on the right path,” he adds.
Nellayapan has a message to all young people: “There is no substitute for hard work. You might get the reward late, but keep at it. Hustle for a better tomorrow with focus. You will be rewarded for your efforts. Just work hard and don’t let your mind get diverted.”
Back in the day, many people helped his father with the loans. Even though his parents don’t require his assistance now, this government officer is a strong believer in karma. Today, he supports six students in their education. “God has blessed me; I have to pass on the help to those who need it,” he says.
Edited by Pranita Bhat
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