Ansar Shaikh- the first graduate in his family, certainly the first civil servant and one of India’s youngest IAS officers. He made headlines after cracking the competitive Union Public Service Commission exam in his maiden attempt at the age of 21 and securing an All-India rank of 361 in 2016.
If you hear his speeches you’ll know the odds he fought to restore his family’s faith in the power of education. His father who struggled with alcohol addiction was a rickshaw driver in the village of Shelgaon in Jalna district of Marathwada. He had three wives and Ansar’s mother who worked as a farm hand is his second wife.
He grew up seeing the social threats of domestic violence and child marriage. His brother was dropped out from school when he was in class six to work at his uncle’s garage and his sisters were married at a young age of 15.
Though Ansar’s brother was two years younger than him, he considers him elder than himself in may ways.
The pressure at home would make him drop out but he didn’t.
“My relatives would walk up to my parents and ask them why there was a need for me to study. When I was in class four, my parents approached my teacher and said that they wanted me to drop out, but my teacher was persistent. He told them, ‘Your son is a bright student, invest in his education. You will not regret it. He will turn your lives around.’ For my uneducated parents, a teacher saying that was a big deal,” he says, in one of his speeches.
By listening so, his parents gave a chance to him and his education. He proved it by scoring an exceptional 91% in his class 12 boards.
“I loved chicken growing up, but of course, it was a luxury in a home where a square meal was difficult to put together. Once in a while, we’d spot worms in our mid-day meals. So vegetarian food would automatically turn non-vegetarian,” he said once joking about the struggles of studying in a Zilla Parishad School.
It was a difficult decision to move Pune to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Political science at renowned Ferguson College after studying at marathi medium.
To fund his academic dreams, his brother would deposit his entire monthly salary of Rs 6000 in Ansar’s account and his father would keep sending small amounts from his savings to help him survive in the city.
In 2012, when he first entered Fergusson College, all he had was a pair of chappals and two pairs of clothes that he would wear alternatively. He wasn’t fluent in English and this also created an inferiority complex but he wasn’t the one to give up.
He was exposed to UPSC by his teachers during first year. Alongside his regular academics, he approached Unique Academy’s Tukaram Jadhav requesting him for admission to the course.
It was a big question how he would arrange such a big amount of Rs 70,000 for the UPSC coaching fee.
He recalls, “I spoke to Jadhav sir and told him of the background I came from. He was gracious enough to accept me into the course and agreed to give me a 50% concession because he believed I had a spark. When I entered the class, most students who came there were in their late 20s and 30s, who had given two to three attempts. I was the only 19-year-old. I would often get intimidated and found it difficult to interact. I would sit in the back and crane my neck.”
Ansar became curious and began interacting with others as the course continued. According to him the spirit of inquiry is essential to a UPSC aspirant.
“I was often mocked when I would ask silly questions. But I never really stopped asking questions. There were days when I would survive on vada pav and didn’t have the money to buy preparatory material. So I would borrow it from my friends and photocopy it. I pushed myself very hard. I would study for 13 hours a day because I knew that I couldn’t afford failure. I wouldn’t have the resources to give a second attempt,” he says.
He had a sigh of relief when he cleared the prelims, but the mains and interview were still to go. While preparing for the mains, his sister’s husband died of alcohol overdose. Since his father and brother were both working, the responsibility of comforting the family had fallen upon him.
“But even in the difficult time, my sister who had lost her husband, as strong as she was, told me to return to Pune and prepare for the mains.”
The results came out, and he had cleared them yet again.
During his interview round, a retired IAS asked him about Muslim youth joining radical organisations and he was impressed by Ansar’s answer. At one point they asked him whether he belongs to the Shia sect or the Sunni sect. Ansar quickly replied, “I am an Indian Muslim.”
He scored a remarkable 199 out of 275. Ansar in his message to IAS aspirants says,
“If you think your competition is with other lakhs of aspirants who give the exam, you are mistaken. Your only competition is you. So get rid of all of your pessimistic thoughts and success will come your way.
Please remember, poverty and success have no correlation. All you need is hard work and determination. What background you come from, doesn’t matter. Marks might not define your intelligence. But for some, it is their only way to pull themselves out of the abyss of poverty. It is not easy and requires rigorous hard work to arrive at those grades and shouldn’t be disregarded.”