“A little to the right…no, too much…slight left…slight right…perfect!”
The limits of my moderately-priced phone’s camera is tested as it tries to do justice to the innocence and charm radiating from its subject. When not smoothing out the crease on her kurta or adjusting her spectacles, this lanky 17-year-old beams into the lens, silently imploring me to release her from her misery.
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Meet Amisha Choubey. Having traversed 2,000 km from her hometown in Bihar, she is currently pursuing a computer training course in an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Bangalore. Fresh out of high school, she hopes to break the mould of Bihar being a land of IAS-aspirants (only) by joining the ranks of the State cadre some day – dreams that has led her to take her first steps in this nondescript college.
“I am acutely aware that my passion may not be any more than that of the next aspirant you meet. But I don’t want to be reduced to a statistic – I will clear the civil services examination. That is a promise I made to myself.”
Flashback to sharing a modest house with an extended family, Amisha has bittersweet memories of her school time when days were punctuated by long walks to the bus stop through early morning fog and fending off “chhichore ladke” (worthless men) who would line up to eve-tease unsuspecting women.
Belonging to a family that couldn’t afford to make good education a priority, Amisha’s father – a small time farmer – left no stone unturned to ensure that she and her sister were enrolled in a decent school, predominantly reserved for ‘privileged’ male students in the neighbourhood. This resolve caught on with her who took up formal tuition lessons for weak students to fund her long commutes. All of ten back then, Amisha also spent her after-school hours pitching in to run a PCO machine close by. Trained on how to make calls and prepare the billing process, she was more than delighted to be able to supplement her meagre tuition income.
“Money has always been a delicate issue at home. Getting basic education is one thing, but aspiring for anything more that doesn’t guarantee immediate financial benefits is generally not encouraged. Drawing a salary has always been the primary motivation behind getting a job, and understandably so. Although I’ve seldom borrowed from my father after 10th grade, my father used to peddle his rickety cycle 8 km each way to drop me to school some days. I’m aiming for a scholarship this year at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to study political science which will help me prepare for UPSC.”
However despite all this number-crunching, mathematics has been her nemesis since school. One would think a school-level academic blow would worry an IAS-aspirant, but Amisha has done her homework – the smart teenager knows that pruning the logical reasoning aspects of the subject would suffice – mastery, although desired, is not paramount to clearing the exams.
I take notes as she educates me on tips to crack one of the toughest competitive exams in the country. Her knowledge on the subject stuns me, especially since she’s never had a mentor or role model back in her village. What’s more, there was plenty of wisdom directed at her from all quarters about how it could be too ambitious for someone of her grounding and the challenges such an undertaking would entail.
“It was not easy to convince my family that this is the path I want to embark on. They would have been comforted by the idea of me aspiring to be a nurse or get into the teaching domain, but I try to drown out all the noise. What matters is my firm belief that the only thing separating one aspirant to the next is the level of hard work put in and that’s all that matters.”
Amisha recalls the excitement at getting a smartphone after her exams. But rather than getting caught in the Tik Tok tide, she leveraged the power of the internet to help her study. “My father gifted me a 4G mobile phone after my boards so I can broaden my preparation. It also helped me connect with other aspirants and civil servants across the country who helped streamline my curriculum.”
I was so enthralled by her speech, that I almost forgot to ask her something I should have brought up at the start of the meeting. Why UPSC?
“I used to be amazed at how indifferent people were to civic issues. People in my neighbourhood seem to have made their peace with acute shortage of public transport or have grown tolerant towards the rampant eve-teasing. I believe that we deserve better. There has been some progress over the years, but development is slow and scarce. I want to change this.”
This is not a tale of wishful thinking, especially coming from a girl who was brazen enough to file an affidavit and change her name as soon as she turned 16 (because why not?) and tirade against the dangers of dowry to her wide-eyed relatives.
She’s almost crossed a year away from home on a trip that turned out to be her first outside Bihar. How has the transition been?
“No one in my village had studied in RVTI, Bangalore before me – I found out about it myself. Although I was a little hesitant to speak in English at first, I soon got over it. The employability skills course offered by Quest Alliance as part of the computer course I’m pursuing has been very helpful too. Although proficiency in English is not a prerequisite to clearing UPSC, my observation has been that English-speaking students get greater attention in coaching classes so I wanted to be confident in it. Meeting different kinds of people in class also has been a huge learning experience.”
On course to sit for BHU’s entrance exams later this month, Amisha hopes to make her family – especially her father – proud. Despite their differences on a range of topics, she is absolutely sure nothing would make him happier than being proved wrong this one time.
Anu Thomas, Senior Content Editor at Quest Alliance