In the book, Madam President by Sandeep Sahu, we explore the life of Droupadi Murmu and take a look at her formative years, where she honed her leadership skills amidst numerous challenges and her unwavering pursuit for excellence that would later shape her into a trailblazing leader. From her unyielding passion for education to active participation in cultural activities, Droupadi Murmu’s talents shone brightly even in her youth.
Read this fascinating account to catch a glimpse of the leadership qualities that marked her journey from the village to the historic role of Madam President.
After completing her high school education, Murmu went back to her village. She wanted to pursue higher studies. But given the poor state of communication those days, she did not get to know about the commencement of the admission process. By the time she did, the last date for admission had already passed. As a result, she lost a year after school. She spent the year doing household chores and teaching younger girls in the village. But determined as she was to be a graduate, she took no chances the next year and duly took admission in the Ramadevi Women’s College, the premier women’s college in Bhubaneswar which now is a full-fledged university. However, since
the hostel for ST and SC students in the college was not yet ready, she continued boarding in her old school hostel for some more time.
Her former classmates and contemporaries remember her as a quiet, disciplined girl who denied herself the ordinary pleasures that her batchmates indulged in. She was not exactly an outstanding student but was extremely attentive in classes, never participating in the pranks other students were up to. She would borrow books and notes from her seniors and ask them to help her out with a subject if she had a problem understanding something. ‘She consulted me and other seniors on what subjects to choose for the undergraduate and graduate classes,’ says Delha Soren, her senior in college, in an interview with this author.
There was great camaraderie among the boarders in the hostel, who came from similar sociocultural milieu. ‘There were five girls in every room. If someone was busy with something when the dining bell was sounded, others would keep her meal ready. If it suddenly started raining, whoever was present would collect the dresses of everyone, not just her own, hung outside for drying,’ shares Delha.
With the pittance she got as monthly allowance from her father, there was no scope for indulgences in college for Murmu. In her four years at Ramadevi, she did not go to the college canteen even once, rarely went to the market and watched just one movie, an Odia film called Gapa Hele Bi Sata at the now defunct Ravi Talkies. She would mostly hang out with girls from Mayurbhanj. But she would come into her own whenever there was a sports meet or a cultural function in the college. ‘She excelled in sports and often ended up on the podium,’ recalls retired Prof. Anima Kar, who taught her at Ramadevi, while talking to this writer. ‘I remember because I used to do the running commentary,’ she adds
‘She was most sought after whenever there was a cultural event in the college or the hostel because not only did she sing very well, she also played the percussion instruments to perfection,’ remembers Gayamani Besra, her senior in college and a lifelong friend. ‘During annual functions in the college, we would organize an adivasi dance item and sing and play the tunda, which is a tribal musical instrument. She was so good at what she did. Everybody appreciated her skills as a singer and musician. She was a happy-go-lucky girl but was always respectful towards seniors.’ Besra is among those specially invited by Murmu for the swearing-in ceremony. She adds, ‘She would invariably be part of the choir that sang the opening song at every cultural function in the college.’
Once, the girls of the hostel staged a play in which Murmu played the ‘hero’. ‘It was such a huge success that there was an invitation from a cultural group in Baripada, the headquarters of Murmu’s home district of Mayurbhanj, to stage the drama there. Murmu and the troupe travelled to Baripada and performed the play there to thunderous applause,’ recalls Delha.
Murmu was a quiet girl alright, but she was never shy of speaking up when she felt something wasn’t fair. ‘She never contested any election in college, not even for a class representative. But her leadership qualities were evident even in those early years. I remember an occasion when there was an issue about the quality of food served in the hostel. She led a delegation of students that met the principal and got the issue sorted,’ says Surama Padhi, senior BJP leader and a former minister in the Odisha government who was her senior in college, in an interview with this author.
Beneath her shy exterior lay nerves of steel. Once, she was on her way to the hostel from the bus stand on a rickshaw with her senior Delha when they realized a boy was following them on a bicycle. Without panicking one bit, Murmu took out a bundle of twigs she had brought from home to be used as toothbrush (no one in the hostel used toothbrush in those days) and waved it at the street Romeo, who panicked and stopped following them.
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