The IAS topper who failed Class VI
UPSC all-India second topper Rukmani Riar did not believe in coaching and cracked the exam in her first attempt. She tells us how she did it.
Ever since the UPSC results were announced, Rukmani Riar's phone hasn't stopped ringing.
Although Chandigarh-born Rukmani has received gold medals for her academic achievements and research during graduation and post-graduation, she says that this new feeling of success is overwhelming.
"People from all over have been trying to reach me to congratulate me and my family. It's a proud moment for all of us," beamed the 26-year-old, who holds a master's degree in social entrepreneurship from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai where she consistently topped her class.
What makes her second-highest nationwide UPSC score even more special is the fact that Rukmani did not opt for any coaching and cleared the civil services exam in her very first attempt.
"If you are consistent and perseverant in your preparation, you can crack the exam without coaching," suggests the topper, who chose political science and sociology as her main subjects for the exam.
For someone who was unable to cope with the pressure of moving to a boarding school and failed in Class VI while studying at the Sacred Heart School in Dalhousie, this success is a testimony to the adage that failures are the stepping stones to success.
"Ever since I failed in Class VI, I am scared of failure. It can be very depressing. But after that incident, I made up my mind that I won't sulk and complain. I will work hard and give things my best. I believe that if one decides to persevere and come out of that phase, nothing can stop you achieving success," advises Rukmani over the phone from Chandigarh.
"I always wanted to serve the nation," she adds. And you can well believe her -- she has interned with the Planning Commission of India and NGOs in Karnataka and Maharashtra over the last few years, researching and understanding various social policies and finding ways to help them make a positive impact upon society.
Following her success in the exam, Rukmani wants to become an IAS officer so that she can use her experience and training to serve the nation in a better way. Her father BS Riar works as a lawyer in Hoshiarpur and her mother is a housewife.
In this interview with Divya Nair, the young achiever talks about how she overcame the fear of failure, how she seeks inspiration from Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Abdul Kalam and Manmohan Singh and offers tips to aspirants on how to crack the exam.
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Image: Rukmani Riar
'If you are disciplined in your approach, you will not require any coaching'
How did you prepare for the exam without any coaching? Kindly share your strategy for success.
I believe that if you are disciplined in your approach, you will not require any coaching. I started preparing for the exam in August 2010, because the exam was scheduled in June 2011. I had a year's time to prepare. I relied on the NCERT textbooks for study material and set daily targets -- about six hours of study a day.
I am not a very studious person, so I had to be disciplined and focus on days when I could give my best hours. There were times when I did not feel like studying, but I ensured that whenever I did, I would complete what was on my agenda even if it meant stretching my study time to eight or nine hours.
Consistency was another factor. I know friends who study for 10 to 12 hours a day and then take a break. So they forget what they've learned and have to spend extra hours revising. I ensured that I studied everyday so as not to overburden myself when the exams approached.
Which was the most difficult part of the exam? How did you tackle it?
There was nothing difficult as such, because I had chosen my favourite subjects (political science and sociology). I believe that if you love what you do, you won't feel like you are working hard on it.
Why did you choose to appear for the UPSC exam after your post-graduation?
I wanted to have a back-up plan. Although it was my dream to crack the exam, I did not want to risk my career after graduation. Plus, I wanted time to prepare well.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
'Failure isn't bad, but it is up to us whether to take it as a lesson or a punishment'
You said you did not want to risk your career. Does that mean you are scared of failure?
Yes, I am scared of failure. I was in Class IV when my parents moved me to Sacred Heart School, a boarding school in Dalhousie.
I was young and could not cope up with the change. I flunked Class VI. I was not academically bright, but failing in school was depressing for me even then.
My peers looked down upon me. I felt very disappointed that I had let down my teachers and parents. That's why I am scared of failure.
How did you overcome that phase?
Initially, I sulked and felt bad about myself. But after some time, I realised that sulking was not the solution to my situation.
If I had to succeed, I had to find a way out of the situation. I decided to work hard. I wanted to show everyone that if I was given an opportunity, I would definitely make it worthwhile. And when I succeeded, I saw the dramatic change in people's behaviour.
I started liking the way my efforts and hard work were appreciated. I think that was when I made friends with success.
Failure isn't bad, but it is up to each one of us, whether to take it as a lesson or a punishment. If you are willing to work hard, you can overcome any obstacle that stands in your way.
'If given an opportunity, women can definitely shine and showcase their talents'
What inspired you to choose a career in civil services?
I have always wanted to serve society. I chose sociology as my major for my graduation. It was my dream to become an IAS officer. I knew I would crack the exam, but I wasn't sure that I would be among the toppers.
The majority of UPSC toppers in the last few years have been women. How does that make you feel?
I have always felt that girls are hard-working and strong-willed. If given an opportunity, they can definitely shine and showcase their talents.
At a time when girls have to fight social crimes like female foeticide, denial of primary education and dowry deaths, I am proud that we are setting a bright example for the future.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
'For every one rupee spent, only 10 paise reaches the needy'
Have you been involved in any activities that you think will help you in your IAS career?
Before appearing for the exam, I wanted to understand the problems faced by people across the country. I also wanted to gain some exposure with regards to the working of the government, policy-making, developmental schemes etc.
So along with my post-graduation, I worked with several NGOs like Ashodaya in Mysore, Karnataka and micro-finance firms like Annapurna Mahila Mandal in Mumbai. While Ashodaya deals with the emancipation and empowerment of sex workers, Annapurna identifies and organises developmental activities for women in various slums across Mumbai and Pune.
I was also involved in a project for Tata Corus. They were planning to set up a new steel factory in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra and the project involved studying the culture and lifestyle of people in the villages of Vanvette and Aiziwal, so that we could suggest plans for their employment and empowerment. It was a part of the company's corporate social responsibilities and was a good learning experience for me.
After my post-graduation, I joined the Centre for Equity Studies in New Delhi and worked under the leadership of activist Harsh Mander. I visited urban slums in places like Jama Masjid and Yamuna Pushta to rehabilitate and help them.
What were the people's problems you identified during the course of your internship?
I realised that problems vary according to the geography, climate and culture of people. While primary education for girls is a major concern in northern India, several youngsters are falling prey to drug addiction along the borders of Punjab and several slum areas.
I also realised that there are government schemes for each of these problems, but as a famous bureaucrat once said, 'for every one rupee spent by the government, only 10 paise reaches the needy.'
Be it the National Rural Health Mission Scheme or the Anganwadi Scheme, they are not implemented properly and hence the poor and underprivileged don't get what they deserve.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
' I want to set an example of good governance with accountability'
After becoming an IAS officer, how do you plan to address these problems?
I know it's too early to comment, but I would like to take up one thing at a time. I will concentrate on bridging the gap in the implementation process. The right schemes should reach the right people. I want to set an example of good governance with accountability.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I am inspired by different people everyday -- from Aamir Khan's urge for perfection to Shah Rukh Khan's growth from a nobody to a superstar, each one has his own way of achieving success.
At the same time, Abdul Kalam's selflessness and Manmohan Singh's sheer honesty and dedication to his job teach me that you can choose whatever field you want and still inspire people by your actions and do your bit for society.
I also look up to social activist and my mentor Harsh Mandera. The fact that he quit his cushy, high-paying job to serve the people only reinforced my dream to work for the nation.
Besides academics and participating in social causes, what are your other interests?
I am a very active person. You will hardly find me sitting idle. I listen to music, write poetry and watch movies. I also love travelling, meeting new people and trying out new cuisines. I am quite a foodie.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
'Dreams do come true; you just have to believe in them'
Kindly share some dos and don'ts for those who want to pursue a career in the civil services.
There are no 'don'ts': there are only dos for success.
You have to work hard. There is no substitute for hard work.
You have to be disciplined in your approach while studying or planning your career.
And yes, dreams do come true; you just have to believe in them.
Do you have a message for our young readers?
I would like to tell them that the country needs the support and cooperation of its people to evolve from its current condition. You may not become a successful bureaucrat or join the civil services, but if you ever get a chance to serve the people in some way, you must not hesitate to take up the opportunity.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier