Balalatha Mallavarapu was only a child when she lost her legs to Polio. Most of her childhood days comprised of visits to the doctor.

“Throughout the first half of my 40 years on this planet, the only question I asked both myself and God is ‘Why me?’” she recalls.

With each passing and failed visit to the doctor, it became clear to Balalatha that her condition would never improve.

“A very tiring affair to be honest, as all those visits would lead us to nothing but dead ends. This whole ordeal made me, in a manner of speaking, ‘a sad child’. I would only stay in my room all day and spend my time staring at the ceiling,” she shares.

Balalatha would keep to herself and spend most of her time in her room, yearning to play in the playground like her younger sister.

The school was no better, she was bullied and ill-treated. “My peers didn’t understand my condition and lacked sensitivity towards me. I remember being left alone because they believed I had a contagious disease,” she says.

She was also forced to be home-schooled many times as most schools were not disabled-friendly back then. By the time Balalatha reached Class 8, she was already battling depression when she decided to speak to her parents.

“As much as it would hurt, I had to ask them to give up on their expectation of a miracle. I asked them to stop the medication and accept the fact that, for polio, there is no cure, only prevention,” she shares.

Then, she recalls a point in her life when she had to choose between two roads — end her life or choose to become something meaningful. “And I choose the latter,” says Balalatha. She made it her life mission to become an IAS officer.

“I think the idea to pursue civil services came from a magazine that showed pictures of civil servants. My young adult self thought that if I could get a great rank and crack the paper, I could prove myself to society,” she recalls.

After several sleepless nights, in 2004, she finally cleared the UPSC CSE (and then again in 2016!). However, it took about two years for the Government to identify a suitable posting for her due to her disability.

Over those two years, Balalatha began mentoring students casually, discovering her passion for teaching and aspiring to pursue that career path. After serving in the Ministry of Defense for several years, in 2018, she decided to return home and become an educator by opening her own coaching centre.

“I returned to Hyderabad, and it has been 18 years of pure joy since. I have lost count of how many students I have taught so far. I teach around 2,000 to 3,000 students every year,” she says.

To reach rural students, Balalatha also has a YouTube channel in Telugu that can be accessed for free.