"What is your strength, Ali?" asked the discerning panel during the interview round of the UPSC exams in 2011. The answer would change the life of Muhammad Ali Shihab forever."I come from a remote village in Kerala's Malappuram district and I was brought up in an orphanage. Having accommodated with 150 children, I led a social life even in my sleep. The orphanage lent me tolerance, patience and leadership quality along with other several merits needed for an ideal civil servant," Muhammad Ali Shihab replied. It was an answer that helped Shihab clear the last hurdle and achieve a dream seen by millions, achieved by few: the orphan who grew up in Mukkam Muslim Orphanage in Kozhikode district had achieved Rank 226 in the list of candidates selected for UPSC.
The civil servant, who is currently the deputy commissioner in Mon, the eastern most district of Nagaland, is all set to take over another task: of demystifying the myth around the IAS exams in order to draw hundreds of aspirants towards the highest tag of civil service.
"Despite being an underprivileged student who lost his father at an early age, I could become an IAS officer. Remember, my dream was to become a teacher in an orphanage primary school as teachers were my heroes during my orphanage days," he told Twocircles.net.
"Ours is a country where a man can clear the IAS exams only with his degree. There is no discrimination and things are quite transparent. But even now, for most of our students, clearing the Civil Service Examination remains a mission impossible owing to their mindset. I am looking to fight this syndrome through raising awareness and encouraging such students," says 35-year-old Shihab.
What made Shihab's achievement even more exemplary was that he wrote his mains in Malayalam, as he studied in Malayalam medium schools.
It is no wonder, then, that every time he comes back home for a vacation, he spends a sizeable chunk of his time in schools, colleges and orphanages, where he holds interaction with students.