Fazl ul Haseeb Peer qualified the civil service exams 2017, securing 36th rank. In a detailed interaction he shares his thoughts with GK special correspondent Syed Rizwan Geelani. Here are the excerpts:
You were an engineering student. How do you explain the shift towards civil service exams?
We have grown in a situation that needs no explaining in Kashmir. But my father always taught me that if I wanted to do anything in life it was through education. When I was in school and wanted to utilize my time in sports, my father used to tell me that I can do well in sports but Kashmir needs educated youth. He used to tell me that I should qualify civil service exams. I was like any other boy, interested in playing and moving out with friends. But gradually I developed interest in civil services and after completing my bachelors in engineering from MIET Jammu, I went to Delhi for coaching.
Actually during my engineering days, my father was a member at SSRB ( Service Selection Board). I saw him helping people, and I realized that my father who is from an academic background and is restricted to a field, but here he is helping people. It struck me that if I can qualify civil service exams and get main IAS cadre I can also serve people. That was when I decided that I need to work on it.
How do you feel now, when you look back at your journey?
The trend in 2009- 2010, when I was in class 12th, was to get into a medical college. So I followed the trend and went to MIET College Jammu for engineering. But talks about civil services would always go around and my dad would tell me about various officers – IAS and KAS. Now when I look back, I feel that I would have gone to Amar Singh College for graduation and completed earlier than engineering. But now I think the trend will change. I will say about myself that when I was exposed to things, I asked my sister to opt for Arts, not science. Even if she doesn't qualify IAS exams, she can go for college professorship or any other good profession.
Did you opt for coaching or it was all self study?
This is something which I want people to know. I took coaching for civil service exams. Most of those who get selected take coaching. From 2014 July to 2015 July I was completely occupied with coaching. Later I wrote 2015 IAS exams. I qualified preliminary exams but could not qualify mains. I lost by around 70 marks. In 2016 I started re-preparing for IAS as I realized the importance of coaching.
I shifted my base to Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi, at central coaching academy. I went there to get the best atmosphere. Urdu was my optional subject and some of my friends whom I met there had good hold on the subject. I again qualified preliminary exam, but didn't qualify mains 2016.
Was there any special reason for opting Urdu as optional subject?
Since I come from a literary family so it is obvious that its influence must be there. I am also a lover of literature. So I think it is always better to opt for the subject you are good at, and have a interest in.
You made two attempts before, couldn't make it. How was the experience.
In 2015 it was an experience, but in 2016 it was very heartbreaking because it was my first full-fledged attempt. And when you fail it hurts your ego as well. I again thought to get up and started again in 2017 February 22. This time I formulated a strategy, and here I am.
And what was that strategy?
In 2015 and 2016 my attitude was like I should get some service, and later I will try again next year. But in 2017, my attitude was completely aggressive. I had decided that I will demolish things, and I will get IAS cadre. And I think it was due to this aggressive attitude that I qualified the exams. I wanted to catch the bull by its horn. I had already failed twice, and it was also on my mind. But then I realized I need to stick to it. I realized that I need to finish all the six attempts of the exams. And then I will decide about other options. I made my mind that if I fail in all six attempts I will go with the thought that it was not meant for me. I didn't want to go with the thought that I could have reappeared in the exams. I want to tell everyone that when you apply for any exam you should streamline your energies, and channelize it properly to qualify the exam.
Apart from this aggressive attitude, how did you plan?
This time I adopted a different strategy. I started writing rigorously. Every day for three months I wrote five questions each day for general studies and optional subject. And this time I went to Jamia Hamdard University and preferred to be in complete isolation, and had no social connection. I prepared for one complete year.
What are the basics one should stick to if one decides to prepare for this exam?
Simple. Hard work, consistency and patience are the basics. If one doesn't work hard how can he achieve. One important thing regarding this exam is that you know the syllabus. My teacher told me that UPSC is bounded by the syllabus. He said UPSC will not go beyond syllabus. But we treat it as General Knowledge exam, but it is not like that. It is general studies with a proper syllabus. But students make a mistake that they don't look into the syllabus in-depth. Second, one should try and get in touch with those who have qualified the exams earlier, talk to them. They give you a feel of things. Some people get in touch with only people at coaching academies, but better is to talk to qualifiers. In 2015 I spoke to Afaq Ahmad Girri, Bilal Mohiudin Bhat who had qualified the UPSC exams. I would consistently speak to Bilal.
When you failed in your earlier two attempts, how did your family respond?
Family support is always good, but feeding an unemployed youth for complete three years is very difficult. This is the truth. For the past three years they never told me to look for a job but they told me that if I want to qualify exams, as parents they are ready to back me. Parental support was unparalleled. I personally feel that I would have collapsed if I didn't have my parents with me.
Kashmir was on boil in 2016, when you were preparing for exams. Was there any mental disturbance?
There were issues back in the valley from past years but I was not here. Of course, It disturbs your mind. But when you are not physically present it is a different thing. During 2016 I was in Jamia Milia and was disconnected from whatsoever was happening here in Kashmir. For this exam, you need to be in isolation. There is no point in preparing for this exam, if you can't dissociate yourself from routine social engagements.
Having a local officer in civil administration increases expectations of people. Now you are expected to be one of the officers in administration.
See, when we look at our civil administration, we don't have more people. Ideally everyone wants that we should have more local officers in administration.
Who has been your inspiration?
My father has been an inspiration in my life and the basic reason is that he comes from a poor background; but I come from a middle class family. His journey has been brilliant. People keep on asking me who has been my inspiration and I tell them my father is my inspiration. I don't want to look for role models outside. My father comes from a poor background but he has progressed slowly and steadily. I didn't see any struggle in my life because of my father only. He has been a shield for me. I tell my friends even if he was not my father I would have still been inspired by him because of his journey. The whole journey was backed by my mother, and it goes without saying.
From past some years a good number of youth have qualified UPSC exams. How do you see the trend?
In 2010 when Dr. Shah Faesal qualified this prestigious exam, an impression started settling down that this exam can be cracked. His success opened gates for many. But over these past years people are showing interest in it. Earlier there was a kind of social acceptability for a person who was in GMC Srinagar, but now that concept has changed. We now accept those people who are not from medical college. I see it as a fantastic change. People won't realize how qualifying UPSC exams will help our own society. But it will have good results in future when a local IAS officer will be at principal secretary level. People will see our own officers in administration and work culture will be effective. We understand our problems better and will address them in a better way. There will be no cultural or linguistic barriers.
What is your message to aspiring IAS officers of Kashmir?
I would like to tell them that don't look up to me, look up to my father. They should look at his journey because if one works hard, the other generation is better placed. Years back my father would have never dreamt of someone from family getting into IAS. My father sowed seeds, and I nurtured it. Progress is always incremental and everybody should see how their parents have struggled; now our young generation can take things forward.