Saumya Sharma, a 2018-batch Indian Administrative Service Officer (IAS) of the AGMUT cadre, has all the makings of a civil servant who can make a real difference to the lives of people. She is exceptionally bright, conscientious, determined and empathetic.
Her life story and the journey she undertook to crack the notoriously tricky Union Public Service Commission (Civil Service) exams are a testament to these qualities.
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Despite having severe sensorineural hearing loss (85-90 dB in both ears), she opted not to avail the benefits of reservations and cracked the exam in her very first attempt, finishing with an exceptional All India Rank of 9.
However, growing up in Delhi, she didn’t fathom that one day, she would become an IAS officer.
“My parents are doctors, and my brother is in his final year at the Maulana Azad Medical College, Delhi. Following my Class 10 board exams (she topped her school), I was on the same path, but I eventually chose to study law. Despite getting admission into the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bengaluru, I opted for National Law University, Delhi,” says Saumya, in an exclusive conversation with The Better India.
Saumya was a gifted student, and regularly topping her class, so when one fine day in August 2010, she stopped hearing altogether, it came as a shock.
“It began with a lot of buzzing in my ears, but the hearing loss happened all of a sudden and went to the extent where I wasn’t able to hear my voice. It was awful, initially coping with this new reality. Most of my Class XI was spent going in and out of the hospital. But like they say, we all get by with a little help from our friends. Thanks to the support of my family, friends and modern technology, I got through it,” recalls Saumya.
She has sensorineural hearing loss, which according to MED-EL, a hearing implant company, results from “missing or damaged sensory cells (hair cells) in the cochlea and is usually permanent.”
It is also known as “nerve deafness” and can often be helped with hearing aids or a middle ear implant, according to the description.
“Modern technology has stepped up tremendously, and the hearing aid that I use now helps me hear and talk very well. This wouldn’t have been possible back in 2010, but things have become better. Of course, there are times when I miss out on hearing certain things, but overall, these hearing aids have done an excellent job,” she says.
Law school & beyond
It was in law school, where the seeds of her desire to join the civil services were first sown.
“Once you study law, your inclination naturally turns to social issues. You read about constitutional law, human rights, and a lot of other things that inspire you to do something for society. However, I only got serious about writing the exam in February 2017, which was four months before the preliminary exams (prelims) that year. But getting into the civil services felt like a perfect opportunity to do something for the masses,” she recalls.
She began preparing in her final year of college, taking no coaching classes and studying on her own. Keeping abreast of current affairs since her schooldays, Saumya didn’t take a long time to break into her preparations.
Her final college exam took place on June 2, 2017, and she wrote the prelims just 16 days later.
However, this isn’t where her obstacles ended. After spending months preparing for the Civil Services (Mains) Examination, she fell violently sick with viral fever.
Saumya wrote her essay exam with barely three hours of sleep, and by the time she returned home, her fever had hit 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
“All my plans for revising for the GS (General Studies) papers came to nought. I was struggling in my bed, unable to get up, and was given IV drips as my fever climbed to 102 degrees. Everyone in my family was worried and wondered I would be able to get up in the morning and write my exams, but somehow, I managed. In between the GS papers, i.e., during the lunch break, I was given IV drips in my car—an extremely uncomfortable experience. The exhaustion along with the fever almost made me faint while writing my GS2 exam,” she writes in her blog
Speaking to The Better India, she says, “My parents are doctors, and they managed the situation well. I was determined not to let another physical condition to pull me down. I did not want a petty fever to come in between all the work that I put in for this exam. I’m really grateful that despite these obstacles I could do well in my first attempt and finish with a good rank.”
Today, she is an Assistant Commissioner undergoing her district training with the District Magistrate of South West Delhi, and she’s loving every minute of it.
All that struggle has paid off. Now, it’s time for her to serve.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)