Living with his grandparents until class five, Suraj Singh Parihar studied in a small village school in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh.
He grew up on an appetite of stories of men who served the country and mankind from his grandfather, whom he called Baba. After class five, he moved with his parents to the suburb of Jajmau in Kanpur and joined a Hindi-medium school.
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Growing up, he was adept in not just academics, but in sports and creative writing too. In 2000, he won the National Bal Shree Award for Creative Writing and Poetry at the hands of the then President, KR Narayanan.
In 2001, having scored 81 per cent and a distinction in all five subjects, he topped his college in Class 12 under the UP board.
Although this should have opened avenues to study in the best institutes, Parihar had different plans.
His was a joint family and his father, the sole breadwinner. Parihar wanted to contribute to the household income. So he pursued his graduation from a college lenient on attendance and launched a coaching institute for English speaking with his friend, Ashwani, in a rented room.
Wondering how he mastered the language?
The story goes back to the Bal Shree Awards. During the selection rounds at zonal and national levels, the youngster often felt inferior to kids he met, who could speak English, effortlessly.
While he could read, write and understand English well, conversing was a big difficulty, having never spoken the language either at home or at school.
Starting by reading newspapers, watching English channels and often conversing with himself in the mirror, he learnt the language on his own.
“People around me would make fun of me when they would watch me speak to the mirror. But that didn’t stop me,” he says.
While the coaching institute took off, reaching almost 100 registrations in no time, it was shut down due to a feud with the landlord. Parihar later joined a marketing job at Hindustan Unilever but failed.
He then came across an ad for a walk-in-interview. The role of a call centre executive at EXL, known as the best paymaster in the BPO sector back then.
After seven rounds, he made it to the list. So, at 19, he left his hometown to move to Noida.
One may think, what goal was this serving?
The short term goal was to earn money to send home, but the bigger goal was to complete graduation and garner resources to prepare well for UPSC.
Back at the call centre, after receiving voice and accent training, Parihar failed the test. When he was asked to pack up and leave, he begged his then manager, Kanishk, to give him one last chance.
A month was the ultimatum given to him. In that one month, the youngster worked so hard, that he not only passed the re-test but made it to ‘The Wall of Fame,’ reserved for the top performers of the company, a couple of times. He was growing fast with a 60 per cent hike at the first appraisal, but deep down, he was sad.
“Because I knew this was not my goal. So I decided to quit,” he says.
The Vice President of EXL even offered to double his hike, but Parihar stuck to his plan. With his savings, he moved to Delhi to seek coaching for Hindi Literature (UPSC) in 2007-08. But in about six months, his funds drained.
The pressure was building up yet again. So, he applied for the Bank PO Exam in eight banks and cracked all of them.
He worked for four months at Bank of Maharashtra in Thane. It was at the same time that he got his selection letter from SB—he had cleared the exam securing AIR-7. He worked for a year each in Agra, Delhi and Roorkee. When he was promoted as a Bank Manager at Chamoli, he made a tough call.
“The work was intensive, and I knew if I moved to Chamoli, I would be completely cut off from my dream. So, I decided to quit again.”
To be on the safe side, he had also cleared the SSC Combined Graduate Level Exam with AIR-23 for the post of an inspector in the Customs and Excise Department. One of the perks of the job was the much sought after weekly off, unlike SBI, and he devoted this time entirely to UPSC preparation.
When asked how did he manage to crack the UPSC, the IPS Officer smilingly says, “Not in the first attempt.”
His first attempt was back in 2011 when he was still working for SBI. Despite juggling a full-time job, he reached the interview but missed the bus by a small margin.
“In 2012, I was better prepared, but couldn’t clear the mains, due to scoring double-digit marks in Public Administration, all thanks to the mysteries of the UPSC Exam.”
In his third attempt, he cleared the exam and got into the Indian Revenue Services. Right when he was sceptical about getting into IPS in the last attempt, the government gave away two extra attempts and increased age limit by two years.
But his next attempt proved the last one, as he secured AIR 189 and became an IPS officer at 30.
Was the training at National Police Academy tough?
“From learning guerilla tactics for a week in the wild with the Greyhounds to long route marches, running severak kilometres, combat circuits, firing, horse riding, swimming etc., it was challenging for me at 30, but I gave it my best.”
He managed to clear all his indoor and outdoor training in the first attempt itself and completed his commando course with an alpha grade.
Apart from his parents, he credits his wife, Dr Parisha, who has stood by him and supported him through thick and thin.
Post the training, for the first 18 months, the officer was posted in Raipur as the City SP. He was later promoted and posted as an ASP in the red corridors of Dantewada.
“Dantewada ranks third after its adjoining districts of Sukma and Bijapur in Naxal related violence. In the last five months, under the leadership of my seniors, i.e., the DGP, the IG and the SP, our team has struck down heavily on naxalites by encountering/arresting/surrendering naxals carrying a bounty of about rupees one crore. And the best part is that the police have suffered almost no casualties.”
He is now using a mix of soft and hard policing techniques in the area. Apart from conducting ‘civic action’ in heavily naxal-infested areas with the SP, he has used his creativity to make a non-commercial awareness film titled ‘Nayi Subah ka Sooraj’ to counter Maoist propaganda.
The officer has also written poems and even made one video song on the topic to spread awareness.
He ends with a positive message,
“Many of the aspirants who reach out to me, ask about the material benefits of being an IPS and time and again, I ask them to find a deeper motivation. The Indian Police Service is not a job, it is a service. Keep the company of better people, take constructive criticism positively, learn from your mistakes and that of others and maintain a balance between work-study-hobbies-play to do well in life.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)