Though our society may believe that single moms are weak and vulnerable, the reality is quite different. In the quest to give their kids a better future, many single moms are thrashing social norms every day. IPS Nirmala Devi was blessed with one such strong single mom.
It isn’t surprising why IPS Nirmala chose to define her mother, Laxmi Sudharam, as a rule-breaker. Laxmi might have passed away in 2016, but her impact on her IPS daughter’s life is timeless.
Laxmi, The Single Mom, Who Raised A Real ‘Mardani’
Despite being raised in a conservative society where daughters are raised to get married, Laxmi fought with her parents to complete her education. But, when her parents succumbed to societal pressure, Laxmi pledged that she won’t let society define her kids’ future.
She honored that promise by fighting against society at every step of her life to let her daughter live life on her own terms.
While Laxmi might have never studied further than seventh grade, she made sure her daughter never give up on her education till her dreams are met. It is inspiring how this mother-daughter duo worked relentlessly to fulfill just one dream i.e. joining the government civil service.
Single Mom’s Undying Courage
Laxmi was only 17 when she was married into a farmer’s family. Unfortunately after 3 years, her husband passed away. At that time Nirmala was just 1.5 years old. But, rather than absorbing in self-pity or asking family members for help, this courageous soul becomes both mother and father to her kids.
While sharing her mother’s inspiring story with TBI, IPS Nirmala Devi recalled:
“She would wake up early in the morning, make our meals, drop my brother and me to school, work in the sugarcane fields and evenings help us do our homework. Sometimes, she would work late in the night to water the crops as power supply was available only then. She possessed a tremendous amount of mental and physical strength to juggle between her kids and farm. In hindsight, she was a supermom who did it all without any complaints,”
“She was always breaking the norms”: IPS Nirmala
Laxmi believed in smashing the social norms – Doesn’t matter whether it was riding a four-wheeler in the 90s or shutting down a judgmental society that believed her daughter, Nirmala, shouldn’t be allowed to study beyond school!
Taking a stand against the social norms, Nirmala’s mother sent both her children to a private English-medium school. Though she faced financial constraints, she always supported her kids to charter their own career paths. While her elder brother joined the family occupation, Nirmala did her graduation in BSC IT.
But that’s not all. Nirmala shared how her mother also went out of her way to help others. From helping women to apply for government schemes, to being active in panchayat meetings, she always encouraged villagers to educate their daughters.
When Her Mother Sowed The Seeds Of Civil Services In IPS Nirmala’s Heart
Nirmala secured a job in a private bank to assist her mother financially after completing her graduation in 2004. It was during this time, her mother Laxmi expressed her long-deferred dreams of the Union Public Service Commission.
She also shared an article with Nirmala that covered the struggling story of an IAS officer from their village. It left Nirmala impressed but at that point in time, she felt it was an impossible dream. But, she did change her mind later. Sharing what changed her mind, Nirmala further added:
“I was intrigued by his story, so I ended up reading more about him and others who had cracked UPSC with minimal resources. My mother gave me the confidence that it did not matter if my English was not good or I had no guidance like the aspirants in cities do,” she says.
With no phones, internet, or guidance, Nirmala was off to a bad start. Sadly, she wasted nearly half a year reading books that were not relevant to the examination.
“I had no starting point, and amidst all those thousands of books, I felt lost. I did not understand the concepts of chemistry for months only to realise later that it wasn’t relevant.
But neither Nirmala nor her mother, Laxmi, were yet to give up on their dream. Seeing her daughter’s enthusiasm, Lakshmi started her own research. And, through a newspaper advertisement, she found free UPSC classes at GRD College in Coimbatore.
Nirmala prepared for the entrance test and cracked it. Realizing how close her dream was, she quit her job. And to meet the expenses, Lakshmi started working harder on farms.
A year later, Nirmala got another opportunity of free coaching by the Tamil Nadu State Training Institute for Civil Services in Chennai. The institute gave free accommodation and food as well. But, even after free coaching, Nirmala and her family still dealt with financial problems.
As Nirmala struggled with financial problems, she refrained from buying books. To save money, Nirmala would get copies photocopied from her batchmate’s book. This batchmate, Arjun, is now her husband and an income tax officer in Nagpur.
All the hard work and sleepless nights paid off in 2008 when Nirmala cleared UPSC in her fourth attempt with an All India Rank of 272.
“My mother would say the reason why aspirants are given multiple chances at attempting UPSC is that it is a tough exam, so failing is an integral part of the process. Her simple words were very comforting. In all my attempts, she has accompanied me to the exam centres, including the final interview in Delhi. It was like she was giving the exams,”
At IFORHER, we are in awe of this inspiring mother-daughter duo who fought their circumstances like true warrior. We hope many would seek inspiration from Lakshmi, the single mom, who stood for her daughter’s dream against the patriarchal society. We wish luck to Nirmala and hope she will keep inspiring us!