IAS topper: Failure didn’t dishearten me

Five women are on the top 25 list of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam results announced on Wednesday with the top two slots adorned by S Divyadharshini, a law graduate from Chennai and Sweta Mohanty, a computer engineer from Hyderabad.

When a friend called in the morning on May 11 to tell Divyadarshini she topped the Civil Services exam 2010 she was amazed but unsure if that was true. Without any access to the Internet at her office at the State Bank of India where she works in Chennai, she immediately called her brother to check if her friend was not pulling up a fast one.

“He checked the UPSC web site and confirmed it was indeed true,” says Divyadarshini.

“I was sure to get into the service (IAS) at any rank but I didn’t expect to be a topper,” she adds for good measure justifying her disbelief when her friend broke the news to her.

Ever since she has been busy answering phone calls from well-wishers, strangers and giving interviews to the media. So much so that she told this correspondent that she would like to enjoy the next couple of days with her family, her source of inspiration.

“Please understand,” she pleads, “I’ve not got enough time to enjoy the moment with them yet,” when asked if there could be further interactions with her on the subject.

Prasanna D Zore spoke with the national UPSC topper, a law graduate from Tamil Nadu Dr Ambedkar Law University, who has been working as a clerical assistant with the State Bank of India for the last five months, about her preparation tips, her success mantras, her failure to clear the same exam in her first attempt, how she coped with it and things that she would like to change in India as an Indian and an IAS officer.

Ask her about the women IAS officers she admires the most and pat comes the reply: “I appreciate all the good work done by Indian bureaucrats for the country in whatever capacity, irrespective of who they are.”

What was your reaction when the news was broken to you that you were the national UPSC topper?

One of my friends called me and told me that I was the topper. I didn’t believe it. Then I asked my brother if this was true. He checked the UPSC web site and confirmed to me over the phone that it was indeed true. I was in office then and only after my brother’s call did it finally sink in that I was the national topper.

How did your friends and colleagues react to the news at the State bank of India?

Actually, I didn’t inform anybody and immediately left for home. When they came to know about it they felicitated me the next day in office. We all enjoyed it but I didn’t expect such a big reaction from my colleagues in office.

You did not clear the UPSC exams in your first attempt. Give us words of wisdom for people who fail and then don’t know how to overcome such disappointments in life…

The most important thing that I would like to tell all such people is: Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself nobody else will believe in you. Have the courage and confidence that you can make it the next time and work sincerely in achieving what you have set out for yourself.

What was your reaction when you didn’t clear UPSC for the first time?

I had worked very hard for a year from 2008 to 2009 but then my final year semester exam for BA, BL (Hons) clashed with the UPSC preliminary exams. They were scheduled just a week after the other.

But I was not disheartened when I did not clear it. I was sure if I could put in some more hard work I could make it. And I did. I was sure to get into the service (IAS) at any rank but I didn’t expect to be a topper.

Did you consider it as your failure that you didn’t make it in your first attempt?

No. I learnt from my mistakes. I thought with putting in more effort I should be able to clear the exam the next time. Also, during my first attempt to clear the preliminary exams I didn’t know what risks you could take, there was negative marking for wrong answers and which questions to attempt first.

But then I learned from my mistakes and corrected all those in my second attempt.

Who guided you for taking the UPSC exam?

I was guided by my coach Prabhakaran Sir from Prabhas IAS Academy.

Did you always wanted to become an IAS officer?

It materialised during the final year of my BA, BL (Hons) course. I was thinking about it till then but I made the resolve only during the third year of college.

Who inspired you to take this career path? Or was it self-inspiration?

There was no particular inspiration as such. But I have seen IAS officers working laboriously on the field, talking about their work on TV and I always wanted to do something and become like them one day.

Who are your role models in life?

I admire Abdul Kalam Sir (former president of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam). I admire my parents, my brother and my sister. I admire all of them.

What qualities in these people do you admire the most?

There belief in self is what I admire the most. I admire Abdul kalam Sir’s belief that he has in (India‘s) youngsters and his belief that India could be a superpower by 2020.

Your prep tips…

Actually, I didn’t do any extraordinary preparation as such. I studied for four to five hours on an average per day. And then put in a few extra hours during exam time. The most important preparation is in believing in self that I can crack it.

This time around the first two UPSC toppers happen to be women. Also, there are five women in the top 25. How does it feel when you see women excelling in any given field?

I feel very happy. I think women are coming out now. There is no field where you don’t find women excelling these days in any given field. Indian society is moving to a point where there is not much discrimination seen between men and women.

Five things that you would like to see change in India as an Indian…

I would like to have more of rural development, rural health, rural education, infrastructure development and minimising of corruption at least from our society.

Do you think corruption cannot be eliminated from our society?

Minimising (corruption) is the first step and then we can (try to) eliminate it.

Five things that you would like to do as an IAS officer?

They all are the same (as things that I’d like to change as an Indian).

Your success mantras…

Self confidence, perseverance ad never-say-die attitude.

Women IAS officers that you admire the most…

I don’t want to name any of them. I appreciate all the good work done by Indian bureaucrats for the country in whatever capacity, irrespective of who they are.


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