Varun Baranwal was born in the small town of Boisar in Palghar district of Maharashtra, always dreamt of becoming a doctor. His father, who ran a cycle repair shop, worked hard to give a good life to Varun and his sister.
But in March 2006, just four days after Varun’s 10th Board exams, his father had a heart attack and passed away.
In spite of the cycle repair shop had been going well, the hospital bills left Varun’s family in huge debt. His older sister was a teacher but her salary and tuition were not enough to pay off the loans and fulfill the family’s daily needs as well.
So Varun had to make the hard decision of stopping his own education and carrying on his father’s business.
He started working in the shop and resigned himself to his fate. But then, the results for Class 10 were declared. Varun had got the second highest marks in his town.
His friends and teachers were happy for him and wished him success in the future.
“One of my friends came to congratulate me and asked me what I was going to do next as I did so well in the 10 Class. His question made me sad. I did not have an answer,” says Varun.
At this point, his mother intervened. “It was decided that my mother would run the shop and I would study. So I got a form from the nearest college but the admission fees were Rs. 10,000, which we did not have. So I dropped the plan again,” he says.
A few days later, when Varun was working in his shop, Dr. Kampli, who had treated his father before he passed away, stopped by and asked Varun about his future plans. Varun told him that he had quit his studies due to financial constraints.
In an instant, says Varun, Dr. Kampli pulled out Rs. 10,000 from his pocket and asked Varun to go get his college admission done
The next two years were really difficult for Varun. Although he now had the opportunity to follow his dreams, the minimal fees of Rs. 650 per month for his college was also difficult for his family to afford. Varun worked hard. He would wake up early, attend college, take tuitions to earn some money in the afternoons, and help his mother at night with the accounts at the shop. After that, he would study till he was exhausted and fall off to sleep.
However, it was still a struggle to pay the college fees every month. When his teachers learnt of this, they pooled in money and paid the fees for him.
After Class 12, it was time for Varun to follow his passion and enroll in medical college. But since this too was expensive, he decided to prepare for engineering instead. The family got together all it had saved, sold the piece of ancestral land it possessed and paid the fees for Varun’s first year of engineering.
As always, Varun topped in the first semester at MIT College, Pune. Now, he could apply for a scholarship. However, the application and approval process was so complicated that it took almost his entire second year to get through it.
“I used to teach my classmates. There were six friends from Afghanistan who had a tough time understanding the education pattern here. And then there was a classmate who had to visit Germany for his sports activities and could attend very few classes. So, I helped them. These friends and my teachers paid my fees for the second year of engineering,” recalls Varun.
The scholarship took care of the third year and final year fees. In 2012, when Varun was in his final year, he received a job offer from a multinational company – Deloitte. Life was going to get on track finally. Varun was supposed to be happy as in a year’s time he would be able to put an end to all the struggles his family had been through.
But Varun’s life had taken a different turn. He happened to attend Anna Hazare’s movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill and the anti-corruption fight moved him.
Now, he did not want to solve just his family’s problems by doing a private job but wanted to solve bigger problems faced by society by joining the administration.
In June 2012, Varun graduated from engineering college. He had six months to join Deloitte and he decided to make use of those six months to prepare for the UPSC exams. His roommate Bhushan introduced him to a coaching class where he worked as faculty and helped him prepare for his exams.
But once again, as he struggled to buy books in order to prepare for UPSC, help came from the most unexpected quarters. An elderly person he had once met on a train journey was involved with an NGO called Hope. The NGO helped Varun get the books he needed to study.
Varun Baranwal finally secured an All India rank of 32 in the 2014 UPSC exams, after an eight-year-long struggle to get an education that many of us take for granted.
Varun Baranwal is now posted as the Assistant Collector in Himmatnagar, Gujarat. His struggle and determination to get an education in the face of all odds are an inspiration to many.