Growing up, Aravind Sigadala had to make do on a barely-filled stomach on even the best of days. Hunger, however, took a back seat to the fire that raged in his belly for education.
Poor, but armed with education, he came to Bangalore barefoot from Sigadala forest area of Koppa village in southwestern Karnataka's Chikmagalur district 21 years ago. Education put the best of shoes on his feet in due course.
Married and owner of a house in Bangalore, Aravind, 42, now heads the warehouse of pharmaceutical company Strides Arcolab Limited.
He remembers all the struggles and one particularly painful moment that shaped his life. "One day, I overheard my father telling my mother he had met the local MLA to seek money to help me pursue my BCom. The MLA had given my father R200 and asked him not to show his face again."
Aravind never took money from his father, Ramachandra Rao, again and took up an accountant's job at a monthly salary of Rs. 200 to fund his education. Rao, a farmer, had barely managed to support his son, who "always passed in first class", till college. Aravind's lower and primary education did not involve fees, but he had to walk 10km through a forest to school.
The eldest of four siblings, Aravind did his pre-university (Class 12) in even more trying circumstances at Hariharapura, about 5 km from his village. "That was the time when my siblings and I collected fruits from the forest and sold them for 25 paise or 50 paise," he said.
Battling poverty, he completed his BCom from a college in Shimoga and "just got on a bus to Bangalore".
After working for six months as a helper to a cook who took catering contracts for marriages, he got a job in a pharmaceutical company.
The salary was low, but he rose through the ranks in eight years before landing an executive rank in his present company.
"My siblings and I struggled, but it pales in comparison to my father's hard work to educate us," he said.
Aravind's father is proud of his success, but still nurses the pain that his son could not pursue higher studies, choosing instead to reduce his burden by taking up a job.
Venkataramana Adiga, Aravind's Kannada teacher in high school, said his student's determination had helped him succeed. "He is a nice boy and struggled a lot to achieve his education. I am very happy for him."
Aravind's son Vidyadhar studies in Class 1 in Bangalore. The boy will probably not face the same difficult questions at every step in his life that his father grappled with and answered successfully.