Inspirational story about an ordinary village boy from India who grew up on a cashew farm. His parents were illiterate, he'd skip school, and there was little hope for his future ...
Until one day, something unimaginable happened (almost a miracle) that changed his whole life around. He ended up with a PhD, and his research on cashew farming and agriculture received global recognition.
I was the village bad boy in Gudewadi, Western Maharashtra, India. At least I was labelled that way because I had no interest in school or studies. I used bad language, hung around with other ‘bad’ boys, skipped school and ran through the fields. When I wasn’t playing, I’d help my parents on our cashew farm. Our cashew farm was like a big forest garden.
When a cashew apple fully ripens, it turns sticky and juicy. The fragrance is a mild cross between an overripe banana and jackfruit. The air is scented by cashew fruit, and if you follow your nose, it will eventually lead you to a tree heavy with fruit. At the end of each day, I’d sit with my grandmother. Together we’d talk and roast cashew kernels over the fire. She’d give me a few raw cashew nuts which I sold at local stores to make some money. I’d spend the money on eatables like lemon-flavoured chocolates, Parle-G biscuits, which I took with tea, mango- flavoured frooti, Pepsi, and famous brand chocolates like Kitkat.
Who’d want to go to school anyway? No one thought I would do anything worthwhile with my life. And I’d heard many people in our village talking, “Why bother going to school? These kids end up back on the farms anyway. He’ll never amount to anything.”
My mother visualised a different future. She was illiterate and knew the value of education to create a better life. When I refused to go to school, she beat me until I dressed and put on my shoes. She’d follow me right up to the door of the classroom and watch me enter.
This bad boy image troubled me. I didn’t believe I was a bad boy, and I didn’t want to be a bad boy. These thoughts stayed buzzing in my mind. They were always with me, like mosquito bugs buzzing around our cashew apples. By the time I entered the 12th standard, I had taken a good look at myself and realised the life I was creating …
My parents and teachers were disappointed with my average marks. I did not have any money. No one in the village gave me respect.
These realisations forced me to acknowledge that my mother was right - education was my only way out. I worked hard to finish my graduation in commerce. After I passed, I decided to apply for higher studies in university. But this village bad boy faced too many challenges.
Firstly, I had very limited money, and due to the costs involved, my parents didn’t want me to leave the village to stay in the city to study. In addition to that, my grades were poor. There was very little chance I’d gain admission to a university. Still, I took a chance and applied. Days went by, and nothing. I checked to see if my name was registered for admissions. No. I wasn’t admitted. Weeks went by. I continued to check. Still nothing. It looked like I would never lose my village bad boy image. Until a miracle happened ...
“It looked like I would never lose my village bad boy image. Until a miracle happened ... "
A miracle happened.
For one last time, I visited the university to check my status on the last day of admissions. Maybe, just maybe, I’d been admitted. I looked down the list, and there it was, “Parashram J. Patil.” Finally, I’d been admitted. Now, I had to come up with my fees to secure my place – and I only had that day to pay.
I did not have sufficient money. Neither did I know anyone in that new city. There was no way I could pay the admission fees. I flopped down on the seat outside the department head's cabin. Head held in my hands, I contained my tears, devastated that my dreams of higher education would finish there. Perhaps my teachers and the whole village were right. “I wouldn’t amount to anything.”
One of the office boys saw me sitting there sad. He stopped and asked, “What is wrong? Are you sick? What is the problem?” I told him everything. He told me to go into the office and meet the head of the department and explain my situation.
Hands sweating, legs shaking, I nervously entered Dr VS Patil’s office and sat down.
“What village did you say you were from?” Dr Patil asked.
“I’m coming from Gudewadi Village Sir.” I hoped he wouldn’t ask too much about my village. I was still trying to shake that bad boy image.
As soon as he heard the name of my village, Dr Patil stood up and called his officials and paid my admission fees. He explained he was also from the same region. He knew the difficulties I would have faced to reach this stage. My entry to Shivaji University, Kolhapur, was a miracle for me. From there onwards, things changed.
University was an ocean of new people, new thoughts, new life. Everyone had a purpose, and everyone had life goals. Being in that atmosphere forced me to think bigger, and I decided to pursue a PhD. Initially, no one was ready to accept me as a PhD student. However, with determination and after repeated requests, Prof. Dr S.S.Mahajan admitted me as his first PhD student.
There’s a saying, “Learn to build your house with the bricks others have thrown at you.” For my PhD, I chose the cashew nut as my subject. I saw and lived the hard work life of my illiterate mother and father. I recalled my time sitting with Grandma roasting cashew kernels. Cashew farms provided the main source of income for the villagers, but cashew farmers faced a lot of difficulties; their life was not easy. I wanted to improve their life and find better solutions for production. It was my destiny that the same cashew nut, which was instrumental to my bad boy image, would provide me with the opportunity to help my village.
Now my research receives global recognition. And even better than the global recognition, when I told my mother and father that I completed my PhD and later Post Doctorate, they were so happy. When they saw my photos in the paper, they showed them to the entire village. It was a proud moment; their village bad boy had made good.
With hard work, perseverance, and a never give up spirit, pure intentions like our village farmers are the guiding lamp for all those from the small villages who would like to do something great in their life. I share my story to help others not give up on their hopes, no matter what. Despite limited financial resources, the orthodox village mentality, the prevailing poor education system of villages, the agricultural bend, and the expectations to share the workload of the family, I believe that knowledge is the only way out of this vicious cycle.
I hope my story inspires you. Never give up your hope.
Meet Dr Parashram J. Patil
Dr Parashram Patil is an agricultural and natural resources economist and social scientist. He is a well-known international expert in the field of agriculture and natural resources economics. He has earned a Doctorate from Shivaji University, Kolhapur (Agro based Industry of India) and Post Doctorate from Savitribhai Phule University, Pune (Natural Resources Accounting).
Dr Patil is an NMML Fellow. He is presently working as a consultant/expert at various international organizations like the United Nations, Asian Development Bank, and the Government of India.
He has authored five books on Indian Agricultural and Forest Economy. And they are available on Amazon here.
Dr Parashram Patil has also created his YouTube channel on Agriculture Startups to inspire rural youth in farming with new opportunities. Find out more here: https://youtu.be/yNGtSowpFRA
* Feature photograph by Photograph by Mohd Aram, Unsplash