By Parth Sharma:
Success stories from the UPSC civil services examination (CSE), coveted as the most difficult exam in the world with a success rate of about 0.01%, often makes news. But why? What is it that makes these stories so special? Why are they so important? What is to gain from someone else’s success?
Before we answer that, let’s get a little uncomfortable.
Sandeep Kumar, son of a rickshaw puller and a resident of a transit camp for a slum, cleared CSE 2015. After the death of his father—he quit his job as an accountant to exclusively prepare for the exam. Studying in a makeshift cabin of 10×12 ft, without coaching or guidance, studying for 10-12 hours every day for two years, he achieved this stupendous feat.
Then again there is the twenty-seven-year-old, visually impaired, Bala Nagendran of Chennai, who also raised eyebrows by securing rank 926 in 2015 CSE with meagre resources and unavailability of good quality study material in Braille. Even then he said, “I would never accept whenever someone refers to me being blind as a challenge. Personally, I consider it a powerful tool. It has made me realise the importance of having inner-vision. My visual impairment has helped me get to know people better”
The 2014 CSE topper Ira Singhal, with 62% locomotor disability, placed her disability aside to clear the exam four times straight, acing it in her last attempt. She had the most novel reply when asked about her physical disability saying, “some problems are visible, some are not… we’re all fragmented beings, everybody has problems—what matters is how we deal with them.” And boy did she show us how.
The interesting thing about these stories, of Sandeep or Nagendran or Ira or anyone else, is that they do not just happen and die in isolation. They are infectious; they prove it’s not the means but the end that is more important. They don’t teach us how to clear just an exam, but how to not complain and crib. As heroes they stand right in our face, serving as living examples of how to stand tall in the face of adversity.
Such stories make news because they give us hope with a realisation of how lucky and better off we are, even with our share of problems. In the instant comparison with these overachievers, we face ourselves—we face the reality of how it could have been much worse—which is what makes us uncomfortable. Realising how difficult it must have been for them to break those binding shackles and overcome hindrances to achieve the unexpected shakes us up. But the resolve, the grit and determination shown by them to overcome insurmountable problems and yet emerging victorious, is what makes us happy.
We feel the adrenaline rise almost instantly; we feel everything is suddenly in reach with just the right amount of determination. There’s something in them that never ceases to amaze us whenever we remember them; something that stirs us, wakes us, and stiffens our resolve.
Even in the whirlpool of existential crisis they bring us a purpose. In the vagaries of life, they give us a hand to hold on to. This is why they’re so special, so important.