The Indian dream

Like so many success stories in India, this one begins in a village. Jayakumar Perumal moved to Mumbai from Tamil Nadu's Periyakollur village, found work as an auto driver and raised his family in cramped quarters in a Mumbai chawl. Today, his children are set to become chartered accountants. Daughter Prema topped the notoriously difficult CA exams and son Dhanraj also cracked them. From the village to the city and eventually to financial security — this tale of personal courage and excellence is embedded in the ethos of aspirational India. The Indian growth story resides here, more than anywhere else, in the economic and social dynamism of its smallest constituents.

Prema Jayakumar's story is echoed by thousands across the country, young people who have overcome poverty, social discrimination and even political strife to succeed. The Kashmiri youth from Kupwara who lost his father to the conflict but went on to become a doctor and clear the civil services examination in 2009, the son of the MNREGA worker who competed from Naxal-affected areas and qualified for the IITs last year. Such stories also show the gruelling Indian education system in a softer light — much of Prema's education was funded by scholarships from the schools and the coaching institute she went to, hundreds of youth from BPL tribal families wrote the IIT entrance exams and the AIEEEs from a residential school-cum-coaching institute set up by the Chhattisgarh government.

The idea of aspiration has proved to be one of the most powerful binding forces in the country. In the process, it has acquired totemic qualities, garlic to the vampire of corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency and stultified politics. Stories such as Prema's give substance to this idea, making it reassuringly real once again.

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