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Making of an Indian success story

The children, had gathered at a city auditorium over the weekend to meet one of their own - Sarathbabu, popularly known as the guy who refused a Rs.850,000 corporate job to start a venture of his own.

india Updated: Aug 29, 2006 13:50 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

The 2,000 children gathered were all from very poor families, but all excel in studies and dream to make it big one day.

The children, in the age group 12 to 15, had gathered at a city auditorium over the weekend to meet one of their own - Sarathbabu, popularly known as the guy who refused a Rs.850,000 corporate job to start a venture of his own.

They were brought together by the Ullas Trust, set up by the IT giant Polaris, at an annual workshop the trust organises for its beneficiaries. All the children, from economically strained homes, have received scholarships from the trust for academic excellence. They are from corporation schools, 196 in Chennai and 112 schools from 29 districts.

Polaris Chairman Arun Jain, speaking at the event, named half a dozen contemporary role models who have risen high despite their poor backgrounds.

"Two thousand success stories are sitting here," he told the children, when asked "Is there a secret formula to success?"

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, from a poor family in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu, of course, topped the list of role models.

The children had many questions and dreams of becoming Kalpana Chawlas, and to answer them on stage was E. Sarathbabu, the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad graduate from Chennai who hogged the headlines this year for his vision.

Completely unassuming, dressed in a white shirt and blue trousers, a smile on his lips, speaking in a low voice, Sarathbabu told them his life story - "which is the life story of every poor Indian student in thousands of towns and villages across India today".

Addressing the kids as "brothers and sisters", he said: "My story is the story of many an Indian kid today."

Sarathbabu's mother sold idlis on Chennai's streets to bring up her five children. She had to get water before sunrise from a distant tap. One of her sons died when he was in Class 12. The second son dropped out of school after Class 10.

Sarathbabu studied in King's Matriculation school in suburban Madipakkam. "When I went to Class 10, I began binding books. Each brought me a profit of Rs.4 or 5," the young man recalled. "There was no alarm clock to wake me up to study. It used to be so cold in the middle of the night that I would just get up."

There would be no electricity in the neighbourhood. "I tried to study as much as possible in daylight. I learned to adjust." Sarath finally finished school and went to Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, to study engineering. "I was unwell six months before the CAT (Common Admission Test) examination. It is a tough exam, only 2,000 students are taken in through the exam in institutions of excellence."

"Many said I should not attempt the CAT that year, but I thought if I can succeed it will help me change my life."

After getting a B.E. degree, Sarathbabu worked with the Chennai-based Polaris company for a while before he went to IIM-A, India's most famous business school, to get a Masters of Business Administration degree.

Like all young people, Sarathbabu likes films and was part of a college dance group. He loves the BMW bike he rides. But he does not support the "violence" advocated in films like "Rang De Basanti". His role model is Mahatma Gandhi, says the 27-year-old.

He also has a take on caste-based reservations: "It should be available only to first generation students, only then will the benefits of the quota percolate to the most discriminated against."

Instead of running after a fancy corporate job or going abroad, Sarathbabu has decided to begin a start-up food brand, and has provided jobs to 40 people already.

'Foodking' has one outlet in Ahmedabad and the company supplies branded idlies to three corporate houses in Ahmedabad, among then Drapan Academy and his Alma Mater, IIM itself.

By the end of 2006, the young man plans to bring his company to Chennai too and to Kolkata. His brother and girl friend help him in his work.

"My mother does not want to leave Madipakkam and go anywhere else," he smiles, that is reason enough to bring his business to the city that has been his home turf.

"It does not cost money to dream," he tells the children. "I am one among you. If you believe you can, definitely you will," says this Ullas Trust mentor.

First Published: Aug 29, 2006 13:50 IST