Updated: September 29, 2021 10:20:11 am
While pursuing graduation in Arts from Pune’s Fergusson College, Pooja Ashok Kadam started losing her eyesight. By the time she appeared for her UPSC examination, she had lost 75 per cent of vision in both her eyes due to a rare retinal disease.
Despite the heavy odds, Pooja (28) never lost sight of her goal — clearing the UPSC exam to become an IAS officer in order to uplift the lives of rural women.
Last week, Pooja achieved what she long desired and cleared the examination in her fifth attempt, securing 577th rank out of some 700 successful candidates.
A resident of Taka village in Ausa taluka of Latur district, Pooja has been living in Hadapsar area of Pune since Class XII. After the results were announced on Friday, Pooja returned to her native village only to find herself immersed in a sea of well-wishers, admirers and journalists.
Pooja did her post-graduation in Political Science from Indira Gandhi National Open University. She studied up to Class X in Keshavraj Vidyalaya, Latur and studied Classes XI and XII in Dayanand College, Latur.
“Around 2014, when I was pursuing graduation from Fergusson College, I started losing vision in my eyes. After 2015, it became worse. Initially, I was finding it difficult to see at night. In the daytime too, it was becoming a struggle to spot people or things clearly. Reading and writing had become a task in itself,” Pooja said.
Pooja is the youngest among the four sisters, who are highly-educated and well-settled in life. Their father is a retired school teacher while their mother is a housewife.
The Kadam family took their daughter to several doctors and got her the treatment they advised. “I spent hours going to doctors who said it was a rare disease which happens to one in one lakh people. I kept taking medical treatment. However, there was no improvement in my eyesight. It kept falling regularly. Now, I am left only with around 25 per cent vision in my eyes,” she said, adding that her only hope to regain her eyesight remains with UK doctors.
“We have been told by doctors in the country that the UK offers treatment for my condition. I hope I will get a chance to go to the UK and improve my vision,” she said.
However, her loss of vision never came in the path to realise her dream. “I didn’t understand why it had to happen to me? I was cursing fate and was depressed. Yoga, especially Vipassana, helped me change my outlook and infused a sense of determination in me. I then decided to put in all my might to achieve my goal. And I am glad I was able to do that with full support from my family. I have three sisters and they have been my pillars of strength,” she said.
Her four failed attempts had also rattled Pooja. “Of the four attempts, I had once reached the interview stage but still could not make it. There were several hurdles but I was not the one to easily give up. I made a fifth attempt and it was a moment of high five for me,” she said.
It was her maternal uncle Satish Patil and cousin Manoj Kadam who kept her motivated and encouraged her to appear for UPSC examinations. “My uncle and cousin knew about my deep-seated urge to work to improve the lives of the rural folks, particularly women,” she said.
Pooja also owes it to Saathi Group in Fergusson College and a WhatsApp group run by Mahesh Bhagwat which helped her crack the UPSC examination. “Bhagwat sir runs a WhatsApp group to guide UPSC aspirants. There are IAS and IPS officers who are a part of the group. This group was my source of strength and helped me increase my knowledge and information. The Saathi Group of Fergusson College, set up for the visually-impaired, trained me to use laptops when I was losing my eyesight,” Pooja said.
Speaking about her goal to help the rural folks, she said, “Urban women are better placed than rural womenfolk. Urban women have lots of opportunities, avenues and platforms available for their growth. Unfortunately, this is not the case for rural women. Many of them are married off at early ages. They are not even allowed to complete their education. This is what I intend to change. I want to bring rural women into the mainstream of public life, encourage them to go for higher studies, help them in developing leadership qualities and find career opportunities for them. This will give me a sense of fulfilment.”
Pooja says she admires Bollywood actor Amir Khan a lot. “The kind of work Aamir Khan has done through the Paani Foundation is incredible. He has been a source of inspiration for me. Like him, I want to do something to ensure adequate water to rural folks, especially for farming purposes,” she said.
As a government official, she would like to develop her own governance model. “I want to integrate three aspects — analysis of human nature, spirituality and administration — and come up with my own governance model,” she said.
Since her return to her native village, Pooja has been attending felicitation functions and gatherings held in her honour. Be it local villagers, politicians or social activists, they have all been either converging at her residence in the village or inviting her to functions. She was also taken around the village in a procession. “I am completely stumped by the enthusiasm among the people. Probably, they are overwhelmed with joy as I am the first from the taluka to clear the UPSC exam. I have no complaints. With respect and a sense of gratitude, I am acknowledging best wishes and blessings that are coming my way. I will certainly live up to the expectations of the people,” Pooja said.
Meanwhile, her father said, “All our daughters are highly-educated and I am proud of each one of them. All of them are from Marathi medium schools. I wanted them to learn their mother tongue which helps in understanding the concept. Two of my daughters are engineers and one is a doctor. I always desired the fourth one to become a district collector and she is in the right direction. But I would like to point out that I never forced Pooja to go for the UPSC examination. She always wanted to work for society and I am delighted she chose the right path.”
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