ASSAM : A young man growing up poor in a river valley clears his civil services examinations and makes it significant in life.
No, it’s not about Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s potential Oscar award entry film “12th Fail” on a Chambal Valley boy’s journey to becoming an IPS officer. There is an identical echo in the story of an Assam IAS officer.
If the Bollywood flick revolves around the life journey of Manoj Kumar Sharma from the dacoit-affected Chambal to UPSC, Narayan Konwar’s story is set in flood-affected Assam in the times when the movement by extremist group United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) was becoming stronger each passing day.
Konwar is a Tiwa (tribe) from central Assam’s Morigaon district and the secretary of Assam’s Education Department. When he was 12 years old, he lost his schoolteacher father, Haren Konwar, and it fell upon him and his mother, a housewife, to run the family of five.
Circumstances compelled him to take to fishing to make a living. And, perhaps not known to Chopra and Sharma, Konwar had also failed his class XII exams.
Reminiscing his hardship, he says his family was at its wit’s end when his father passed away in 1989. “I was a Class V student when I lost my father. His service was regularised barely three years before his death. He spent most of his salary helping needy students and had no savings. So, we were in serious financial difficulties even when he was alive,” says Konwar.
“Those days, almost 99 per cent of the households in the villages of Morigaon relied heavily on fishing. People would catch fish and sell them to buy rice and other necessities. I, too, was involved in this activity. During the dry season, people would slog as daily wagers,” the IAS officer says.
Hit hard by the floods, Konwar did not go to school for six months in Class IX. When his school’s headmaster learnt about his plight, he arranged for books and a uniform for him.
Konwar cleared his Class X board in the second division and enrolled in a college. However, as it was some 15 km away and he had to work to look after his family, he could hardly afford to attend his classes. He lost his focus on his studies and failed the Class XII board.
“It was ignominious not just for me but for everyone in the family as people knew me as Haren master’s son,” Konwar says. “The next year, I worked hard and appeared as a private candidate for the exam. I secured first division,” he adds.
It was during this period that the ULFA movement began to gain ground in the Assam political landscape, the oufit garnering popularity especially among youth. Konwar too was inspired, but did not join the outfit.
“We saw many young and handsome ULFA members roaming around our area, holding rallies and meetings in the 90s. They put up posters on electric poles to inform people that they banned liquor and gambling. I had a friend, and we studied together till Class X. Then, he joined ULFA and, in due course, became a most wanted member of the group in Morigaon district,” Konwar says.
“Those days, we liked whatever they said. They inspired us and were our role models. They would move around riding Yamaha, and we felt all powers were with them,” the IAS officer says.He says after the outfit had introduced summer paddy in Morigaon, it turned the district into a rice bowl. It helped the locals tremendously, Konwar says.
After graduating and post-graduating in political science from Gauhati University, Konwar cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET). He wanted to become a college teacher and briefly taught at a private college in Nagaon until he decided to sit for the civil services exam. He went to Delhi, took coaching for a year and returned home.
“While I was doing post-graduation, my goal was to clear NET to land a job at a college. I was the topper in the university and cleared NET, too. Then, I felt I could work for the marginalised sections of society. I thought bureaucracy was the best area, for it has more opportunities. So, I decided to sit for the civil services exams,” Konwar says.
He could not clear mains on his first attempt in 2008 but cracked the exam in 2010 and secured the 119th rank. Society had helped him when he struggled in his youth and as a student. Now, Konwar is keen to return the favour.
Despite his hectic schedule, he takes his time to guide youngsters aspiring to become civil servants.
“Talent-wise, our students do not have any issues. If they get proper guidance, they can also clear such exams. Many students come to me to know how to prepare for the exam. Some come with a specific problem. You become more confident when you talk to somebody who has cleared it. I try to help them out,” Konwar says.
Some of these students cleared exams to become Assam civil and police services officers. “There could be a difficult phase in your life, but you can overcome it with determination and work hard. I have seen many successful people overcoming problems in life through strong determination and hard work,” he adds.
Living his dream, he had built a house for his mother. For the record, he is the first and only IAS officer from among his community.
Passing the torch
Society had helped him when he struggled in his youth and as a student. Now, Konwar is keen to return the favour. Despite his hectic schedule, he takes his time to guide youngsters aspiring to become civil servants. “Talent-wise, our students do not have any problems. If only they get proper guidance, they can also clear such exams. Many students come to me to know how to prepare for the exam. Some come with a specific problem. You become more confident when you talk to somebody who has cleared it. I try to help them out,” the IAS officer says.