The cowherd who learnt to read and operate computers
In an ongoing series, we bring you 30 stories of struggle, survival and success to inspire you. Here's the story of a committed young boy, who believed he had a better future in store!
Had you met Ramesh in September 2007, you'd have noticed the fear in his eyes.
He was an outsider. He had come to Bangalore for the first time in his life.
For the first two-and-a-half days in Bangalore, he never spoke to anyone. He sat in a corner in a room and asked everyone to leave him alone.
Ramesh was a cowherd. He had never ever been to school.
He didn't know to write his name in any language. His life was all about his buffaloes. His brothers and sisters were studying something -- and they were able to read and write.
He would stare at them blankly whenever they were reading books or singing songs. The only songs he knew were the ones that his mother had taught him.
Image: (Left) Ramesh when he was a cowherd and (right) now, as an inspiring young professional
Ramesh's mother did not believe in miracles
Ramesh's father used to drink quite often when Ramesh was a kid.
Having seven children and looking after all of them -- as a manual labourer it isn't easy even in a village.
Ramesh's mother's routine was to see her children off to the farm in the morning and come back in the evening. She wasn't one who believed in miracles.
Ramesh's biggest dream was to become a hero -- which he saw sometimes in movies. He thought that heroes in movies had special gifts. They drove bikes and cars. They were powerful and could scare away goons. He could think of no other dream that would be worthy of dreaming.
Ramesh's parents, when he was born, had thought that he was born dead. He hadn't moved for quite some time or cried. Hence, they'd assumed that he wasn't going to see the world at all.
Somehow, he was found to be alive -- just before being cremated as a still-born. Knowing this story had made Ramesh tough -- from childhood.
Image: Image for representation only
In 2007, he couldn't pronounce his name properly
At the interview for the training
It was in 2007 June that I'd met Ramesh for the first time.
He looked like everyone else whose roots are well entrenched in a village.
Gruff, slightly afraid, conscious and not very forthcoming at all. I asked him to say "My name is Ramesh."
He couldn't pronounce it properly. He tried for half an hour and couldn't say it properly.
I was confused as to whether to select him for the training.
I asked him to sit in a corner of the interview room and practise.
After about two hours, when all the interviews were over, we asked him to leave. He stood up, stretched his hands for a handshake and said, "My name is Ramesh. 'Tenk' you."
Me and my colleagues made up our mind to select him!
Image: Oct 2007: Clear, determined and focussed, Ramesh started learning. As training progressed he also started speaking confidently within a group
He did not know how to use the toilet
Beginning of Ramesh's transformation
In the first few days of the training, Ramesh found it extremely difficult to learn alphabets.
P's and Q's would look the same to him.
He would also find it difficult to remember all the keys on the keyboard. He constantly had headache.
One day, he got lost in a bus in Bangalore -- with no money.
He didn't know how to use toilets -- since he always used the open grounds as his toilet. He didn't know how to shake hands because he had never done it.
Ramesh was scared -- of touching a computer, of talking to people, of travelling on a bus, of studying with girls.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
He started sharing his previous struggles in his life with his friends
Ramesh and his friends
However, Ramesh was determined and clear about his goals. Slowly, Ramesh started learning.
He had nine more people with him -- Megharaj, Chandru, Hemanna, Chandana, Divyashree, Jayaraj, Uttam, Neelamma and Raghavendra to accompany him on this journey.
Ramesh and his nine colleagues had set out to do something that was considered impossible in their villages. Two of them, Neelamma and Raghavendra, ped out in the initial stages.
However, the other eight, including Ramesh, started learning together. In the first few days, there were many instances when they would be petrified with a few things during the training.
One day, as I was entering the training room, Megharaj's computer screen had turned upside down. Megharaj was trembling with fear.
When I asked how this had happened none of them wanted to really answer that. Somehow, after some coaxing, I figured out that Megharaj had accidentally pressed some buttons on the keyboard.
And they had concluded that they have messed up the machine. The fear of the unknown was to be seen to be believed.
Ramesh found it difficult even to speak in English in the beginning.
Reading and writing looked extremely difficult. Slowly, as he got used to the new language and the environment, he became more and more comfortable to speak in English.
He also started speaking confidently with his friends. Slowly, he started sharing his previous struggles in his life with his friends.
Image: Ramesh with his group of friends
Once he learnt how to Google, it became his best friend
What made him tick?
Ramesh was interested in drama -- he slowly started acting out drama and songs with his friends. He also became confident enough to start acting out simple sentences in English as well.
As he became more confident, he started using the computers, slowly started opening the Internet.
Once he learnt how to Google, it became his best friend.
He tried to search everything in Google, though in the beginning he would only understand what was in pictures.
For Ramesh and his friends, reading small paragraphs and trying to understand them became an obsession. They started reading stories, newspaper articles.
Slowly, they started interacting with strangers -- by speaking a few sentences in English. They started becoming more and more confident as they spoke more and more. Slowly, the confidence was building.
Image: Image for representation purpose only
Photographs: Rediff Archives
Ramesh addressed a group for the first time
Taking the centre stage
Ramesh's first test came after about five months of training.
This was a 'Show and Tell Session'.
Ramesh was supposed to showcase what he had learnt to a group of dignitaries who were eager to know how Ramesh and his colleagues had fared.
Ramesh practised the whole night before the session.
He had practised every word he was supposed to speak.
Ramesh came out trumps -- he truly stood there and spoke -- for the first time on stage and in English -- this was the beginning of a new future -- where he started believing that he might just be able to stand up and become something in his life.
Photographs: Rediff Archives
His dream is to empower thousands more like him
Ramesh, after about six months of training, went back to his home for his brother's wedding.
His mother, who hadn't seen him for over six months, couldn't recognise him.
She had to be shown his identity card where his earlier photo was printed to truly believe that it was her son, Ramesh!
Ramesh's first 'job'!
After his training, Ramesh could type at 60 words per minute - he was 'employed' and started his first job! This was something he could not have even dreamed of before.
On CNN IBN -- National TV
Recently, Ramesh bought home a new television set -- to help the people at his home watch him on television.
Ramesh was seen on TV sharing the stage with the likes of people like Asha Bhosle, Anil Kumble, and so on -- who were surprised and excited to hear about Ramesh's story.
Industrialist Mukesh Ambani, asked him at the end of Ramesh's speech – "How did you learn all this so fast?!"
Ramesh, an inspiration!
Ramesh is now like a torchbearer -- who brings hopes to the lives of many more people like him in his village.
And there, a lot of people, including people who have much more formal education than him, look up to him!
His dream is to empower thousands more like him!
Image: Seen here at the CNN-IBN show where he recounts his tale with Mukesh Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries