Ramesh Gholap, known as Ramu in his village Mahagoan in Barshi Taluka, Solapur district of Maharashtra, was a bright child. His father Gorakh Gholap ran a cycle repair shop, enough to provide an income for his family of four, but the business did not last long as his health suffered from constant drinking.
It was then that Ramu’s mother Vimal Gholap started selling bangles in nearby villages to support the family. And though Ramu’s left leg was affected by polio, he and his brother joined their mother in her little venture. Ramu and his brother would yell out loud, “Bangde ghya bangde (Buy bangles!),” and their mother would help the women try them on.
As Mahagaon had just one primary school, Ramu later went to stay in Barshi with his uncle to study further.
Ramu’s sincerity and dedication made him a star among his teachers. But, in the year 2005, when he was in Class 12 and his college model exams were going on, he got news of his father’s death. The bus fare from Barshi to Mahagaon was Rs.7 those days. And since he received a bus pass for the disabled, the fare for him was just Rs. 2. But Ramu did not even have that.
Just four days after his father’s death, Ramu had a chemistry model exam in his college. On his mother’s insistence he went and appeared for the exam but, after that, he skipped the other model exams. He did not even submit his journals. The final exam for Class 12 was just a month away when he received a letter from his teacher that he had scored 35 marks out of 40 in chemistry. The teacher wanted to meet him. With help and encouragement from his teacher, Ramu took his final exams and scored 88.5%.
Ramu chose to do D.Ed (Diploma in Education) in spite of scoring so well, because this was the cheapest course he could afford to do to get a job as a teacher and support his family. He completed his D.Ed and also pursued a graduate degree in Arts from an open university simultaneously. And finally, he was able to start working as a teacher in 2009. This was like a dream come true for his family. But, deep down, it was not what Ramu really wanted to do.
Ramu lived with his mother and brother in a small room provided by his aunt, who had got her two-room home through a government scheme called Indira Awas Yojna. He saw his mother making visit after visit to government offices to get a house for herself too under the same scheme, but she was turned away because her BPL (below poverty line) card wasn’t eligible.
Ramu was angry with the ration shop owner too, who sold kerosene in the black market instead of providing it to needy families like his.
He had already been through the frustration of seeing his father not get adequate attention when he was admitted for tuberculosis in a government hospital.
During his college days, Ramu had been a member of the student’s union and consequently had to go the tehsildar’s office often to get approval for various college issues. He saw the tehsildar as being the most influential and powerful government official he had ever come across. Ramu decided he wanted to become a tehsildar too in order to solve all the problems he and his family faced.
In September 2009, he took the first step towards his dream. Using the loan that his mother had taken from a self-help group in his village, Ramu went to Pune to prepare for the UPSC exam, taking a leave of six months from his job.
“I did not even know the meaning of MPSC and UPSC since I had always lived in small villages. I did not have money to take coaching classes either. So, the first thing I did was to meet one of the teachers of these coaching classes, just to understand if I was eligible to take the UPSC exam. The first teacher who met me was Mr. Atul Lande. I requested him to write down the answers to a few of my questions, like what is UPSC, can it be taken in Marathi, am I eligible for it, etc. And he told me there was nothing to stop me from taking the UPSC. It is only because of that one statement that I finally did it,” says Ramesh Gholap.
Ramu appeared for the UPSC exams in May 2010 but unfortunately didn’t make the cut. In the meantime, he had also formed a political party with the help of some friends in his village of Mahagaon to fight the local panchayat elections. His mother stood as a candidate for sarpanch. The mission of the party was simple – to come to power and help the distressed. On October 23, 2010, the results of the panchayat elections were out. Ramu terms this date as the biggest turning point of his life in his autobiography, Ithe Thambne Nahi (I Won’t Stop Here).
Ramu’s mother, Vimal Gholap lost the elections by a few votes but the loss did not break Ramu. Instead, it gave him the strength to stand up and fight back again against the system. On the same day, he announced in front of all the villagers that he was leaving the village and would come back only when he became a powerful officer.
After this, no one could stop Ramu. He left his job and cleared the State Institute of Administrative Careers (SIAC) exam – this gave him a hostel to stay in and a stipend as scholarship. He painted posters to take care of his expenditures. And finally, this son of illiterate parents, who studied in a zilla parishad school and by correspondence with open universities, cleared the UPSC examination with an all-India rank of 287, without any coaching.
In the next couple of months, the MPSC results were also out and this time Ramu broke all records. He topped the Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) exam in the year 2012, scoring the highest ever marks of 1,244 out of 1,800.
“Mala swatala shikta nahi aala pan porala khup shikwaycha asa tharwila hota…Aaj majha mulga itka motha sahib zalay he baghun khup anand hoto…pang fedala porane (I couldn’t get an education but I had decided that I would educate my sons. Today, my son has become such a big officer and that makes me so happy…. my boy has returned all my debts!),” says Vimal Gholap.
“Whenever I cancel the licence of a PDS shop owner who has been black marketing kerosene, I remember my days when I had to turn off the lantern for lack of kerosene. Whenever I help a widow, I remember my mother begging for a house or for her pension. Whenever I inspect a government hospital, I remember my father’s words when he had left drinking and just wanted better treatment. He would ask me to become a big man and take him to a private hospital. Whenever I help a poor child, I remember myself, I remember Ramu,” says Ramesh Gholap, IAS.