Home » How “SHE” Became an IAS Officer by Surabhi Gautam at TEDxRGPV (Transcript)

How “SHE” Became an IAS Officer by Surabhi Gautam at TEDxRGPV (Transcript)

Surabhi Gautam

Here is the full transcript of IAS officer Surabhi Gautam’s TEDx Talk: How “SHE” Became an IAS Officer at TEDxRGPV conference. An alumni of RGPV, Surabhi Gautam was born in an orthodox village of Madhya Pradesh. She recently cleared UPSC Civil Services Exam securing All India Rank 50.

Listen to the MP3 audio: How SHE became an IAS officer by Surabhi Gautam at TEDxRGPV


Namaste! Today as you see me as a package of success when my bio says that I have cleared the top prestigious exams and interviews of India. My friends, let me tell you not more about my successes but more about my rejections, my failures and my determination, my willpower that made me to get those successes.

So my story starts from a small sleepy village of Madhya Pradesh with a population of barely thousand people, on the month of rainy August, a small girl was born in an orthodox Brahmin family — a family that was giant and joint with 30 plus members – it was not an event for them. There was nothing that worth celebrating happened that day when I was born, only two souls on earth were happy. Obviously, they were my parents, and for rest of them it was a normal affair.

Twenty-five years down the line, same girl, same village and the whole family was welcoming her with garlands, BANG BANG slogans like ‘gaon ki beti kaisi ho, Surabhi Gautam jaisi ho’ and what not. What made things to become so different for her?

My dear friends, let me tell you how things changed not only for me but also for my parents, how all the perspectives got changed slowly, slowly, steadily, steadily.

I was in a joint family. In a joint family, you know nobody gets – no children – no child gets a separate attention. So we all were treated equally. Life was OK. We were happy. I got admission in my village school. That was Hindi medium – Madhya Pradesh Board School.

In 5th class, something good happened with me that I remember till date. I got 100 out of 100 in my Mathematics paper. 5th class was a Board class. So my teacher called me and she said, “See, I have never seen anybody scoring full marks, that in Mathematics, that in Board exam. You have done this. So I think you are going to do something good in studies.” That was the day when I felt appreciated and recognized and I had given this clear message to universe that in future all I’m going to do is to be a studious girl, because with studies comes recognition. With studies will come appreciation for me. Otherwise in this family I’m not going to get this at all.

So I started to focus more on studies. But my heart — it always wanted to diversify. I wanted to do everything. I started to try my hand at painting, sketching, drawing. I started to do embroidery also. I was busy with my, you know, village priest and all the pujas and all the Ramayana ayojans and everything. And I was not noticing the pain — the pain that was creeping in my body.

I started to feel the pain in my joints and my elbow and every joint of my body. And after sometime I was bedridden. My parents took this decision with their meagre resources to take me there. We went there at a place called Jabalpur. And the doctor said that your daughter has this rheumatic fever. What happens in this disease is – there are viruses always present in air. Now and then they attack the body of children and they create pain. And when it becomes serious, what happens — they attack your heart and they disturb the semilunar valve. And in some cases, it leads to death also.

It was a shock for them. But then they asked that “What can be the possible treatment?”

As a treatment, doctor suggested that she should be given the dose of antibiotic and that antibiotic was penicillin. There is some problem with penicillin. What happens? As soon as it enters the body, it gets solidified when it comes in contact with air. So it was again a problem, because I had to be injected with penicillin in every 15 days. And not every MBBS doctor was ready to do this, because it can also lead to death in some cases. So in village, in every 15 days it was also difficult to get a skilled doctor to inject me with the confidence that I will not die.

Well, life was going OK, OK. There was a problem of electricity in my village. So I had to study in kerosene lamp. I had other problems. There was no tuition. School situation was also very bad.

Then the second best thing of my life happened. It was the 10th class result. My 10th results came and I again scored 100 out of 100 — this time not only in mathematics but also in science. And my percentage was good enough to place me in the state merit list. Well, I became a pseudo celebrity of my village. I was in news for quite a week and the newspaper interviewer came to me. And he started to ask me questions: how you did this? You know, this is a great achievement and all. And at last he asked one question: “Surabhi, what do you want to become when you grow up? You know, what is your career choice?”

Well, I was not knowing what a career is. All I was knowing that “OK, I am good at dancing, so I can be a dancer. I can be a singer too. I can paint also. But a career? I told him, “Sir, I do not — I cannot recall anything. I cannot answer this question to you.”

He said, “Come on, you have to answer this. You have got a place in merit list.”

Suddenly, a word flashed in my mind out of nowhere. And I said, “I want to be a Collector.”

Well, he got the headline for the next day. And I was damned.

Next day, the news came: “Collector banna chahati hain Surabhi”

This news changed, you know, course of everything for me after that. Everyone was coming to my home with the sweets, to my parents and they were saying that, you know, “Gautamji, aap ki larki kuchh achcha karegi.”

I was enjoying all that limelight but I was not knowing how to be a collector, what a collector is and how important he is for society. Well, I went into 11th [class]; I took Mathematics and I forgot about all these things. Yeah, I wanted to correct something that was wrong in my village, that was wrong with my education, that was wrong with the situation of my village, that there was no electricity, there was no proper hospital. So I wanted those things to be on right place. But through collector or not through it, I was not clear.

Well, I passed 12th and I got APJ Abdul Kalam Scholarship for securing maximum marks in science stream. So again, one more pseudo celebrity status. And with all this status, I came to this big city of Bhopal, in this very college and took admission for Bachelor of Engineering. This decision of my parents to send me from the village to a big city for higher education was a big decision, because I was the first girl from my village to go out and study.

So it was not only I who was studying here; it was the whole village along with me. If I will come back, the hopes of all other girls, the door for all other girls will close automatically. So I had to perform here anyhow.

Well, the first day of my college was the worst day of my college, to be frank, because what happened — when I entered the college, there was chemistry lab that was going on. I entered the class, and the madam was taking lab. She asked me, “OK, you go and do titration. Titration? In my village, there was no lab. I do not know the meaning of titration in Hindi. So I was standing there blank.

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