(Success Story) Muhammad Ali Shihab: cracked IAS Exam living
Mohammed Ali Shihab, who has emerged successful in the Civil Services
Examination this year and was placed 226th in the rank-list, going to a reputed
campus still remains an unfulfilled experience. The 31-year-old from a remote
village in Kerala's Malappuram district, who grew up in an orphanage, has a
story of grit and perseverance to tell.
Born to penury in the village of Edavannappara near Kondotty,
Shihab spent his childhood helping his father, Ali, to sell betel leaves and
bamboo baskets. Primary schooling was almost an optional affair as he used to
carry his chronically asthmatic father between their tiny home and ramshackle
shop. He was sent to Mukkam Muslim Orphanage in Kozhikode district the next day
after his father died in 1991, as his family had no wherewithal to support his
education. He was even made to fail in Class V in order to get admission to the
Becoming a teacher in an orphanage primary school was his dream. His parents
were illiterate and poor but they had high ambitions about their three daughters
and two sons.
Shihab's elder brother Abdul Gafoor is an Ayurveda doctor. And all his
sisters have had teacher training.
During his orphanage days, Shihab was inspired by some of his teachers who
cared for him. The discipline maintained by the orphanage authorities had its
influence in his life. It taught him what systematic life is.
He passed SSLC with good marks, and joined a pre-degree
course at Mohammed Abdurahman Memorial Orphanage College, Manassery. He stopped
pre-degree (equivalent of higher secondary) half-way and joined a
teacher-training course. The orphanage authorities readmitted him for pre-degree
course in the second year, and he did well in the last batch of the course. “I
was lucky to be part of the last pre-degree batch in the State,” he chuckled.
Despite the limited facilities and lack of privacy, he studied hard. He
maintained a unique time-table for studies. He used to sleep soon after taking
dinner from the orphanage mess around 8 p.m. and wake up around midnight for
“I used to read in scant light under the cover of bedsheet and pillows in
order not to disturb my friends sleeping in the neighbouring beds of the
dormitory. In fact, I was violating the orphanage rules,” he said.
After pre-degree, Shihab shifted to Bafakhi Orphanage at
Valavannur and joined its school as a primary teacher. There the quizzer in
Shihab began to flower, and he started preparing for competitive examinations.
He had little money to buy books but he read and assimilated whatever books that
came his way.
One by one, he started writing PSC exams. He passed all the
21 PSC tests he took. In the meantime, he tried his hand at many jobs. He worked
as an unskilled labourer for different organisations, pump operator for Kerala
Water Authority, helper in a hotel, clerk in a panchayat office, and assistant
in a government school. He cracked the exams for the selection of forester,
railway ticket collector, jail warden, and peons and clerks. He got B.A. degree
in history by writing the exams privately.
It was his brother who took his mind to the Civil Services. “I wanted to
achieve something high to inspire my thousands of friends in orphanages,” he
said. Although luck was on his side, Shihab's life was not smooth at all.
He got married to Aysha Femina in 2006, and his daughter Liya
Nawal was born two years later with Erb's palsy (paralysis of the arm). During
his studies and exams, he used to shuttle between hospitals and home. The child
is still undergoing physiotherapy. “She has recovered 90 per cent. I am
hopeful,” he said.
He was selected by New Delhi-based Zakat Foundation for free
Civil Services coaching in 2009. That was the only time Zakat Foundation came to
Kerala and took 12 students for coaching after conducting a screening test at
P.S.M.O. College, Tirurangadi. “But for that coaching, I would not have made it
to the Civil Services,” Shihab said.
He got coaching in history and geography in New Delhi. But the chilling cold
of Delhi made him sick and so he returned home.
He studied intensively for three months, getting out of his home only for the
weekly Juma prayers. Subject pressures forced him to dump geography, and opt for
Malayalam language and literature as a topic for the main examination.
Courtesy: The Hindu