Broken benches, torn books and missing teachers — this is what a typical day in a government school in Bihar’s Supaul district looked like in the ‘90s. Even today, after so many years, Manoj Kumar Roy distinctly remembers what it was like to study in an atmosphere like that.
While that was school, at home, he was frequently told that money trumped education, and that is what he needed to focus on. After passing out, when he left for Delhi to look for jobs, that was the only thought in his mind.
Little did he know that the move would turn out to be a momentous decision in more ways than one. Not only did it end up changing his life’s philosophy, but he also went on to secure an All India Rank (AIR) of 870 in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations in 2010, and join the Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS).
Today, Manoj is an Assistant Commissioner posted at IOFS, Kolkata.
So, how did this happen?
“It’s simple — I was at the right place, at the right time. After moving to Delhi, I met certain people who became very close friends. They were passionate about studies, and also ended up influencing and encouraging me to complete my graduation. Seeing my interest in the social sciences, they introduced me to civil services and pushed me to work hard. So, in a nutshell, it was really about getting the right exposure,” Manoj tells The Better India.
The Journey From Bihar to Delhi
In 1996, Manoj moved from Supaul to Delhi. The transition was jarring, and he felt overwhelmed by the city and its people. Even so, he decided to stay there in the hope that things would work out. After trying and failing to get a job, he decided to open an egg and vegetable cart in order to sustain himself.
He also began to help deliver rations to Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he met Uday Kumar, a student. “We belonged to the same region in Bihar and as a friend, he advised me to complete my studies. I thought getting a degree would help me find a decent job. So I joined Sri Aurobindo College (evening) and completed my BA in 2000 while selling eggs and vegetables.”
Following this, Uday suggested that Manoj give the UPSC exams. “Honestly, I wanted to study more but I did not have the financial resources. I took some days to figure out if I really wanted to get into civil services and work as a bureaucrat, and finally, made up my mind to give it a try,” he says.
In 2001, just when Manoj was about to start his preparations, a common friend introduced him to Rash Bihari Prasad Singh, a PhD lecturer in Patna University’s Geography department who was in Delhi for a few days. Impressed by Singh’s expertise in Geography, Manoj decided to take the subject as his optional for UPSC and shifted to Patna to study under him.
He spent the next three years in Patna and gave his first attempt in 2005. He took private tuitions for school students to sustain himself and also joined a UPSC coaching centre.
Unfortunately, he failed to clear the exams, and moved back to Delhi from Bihar.
More Failed Attempts & Finally, Success
Manoj opted for writing the exams in Hindi, which had its own share of challenges — for instance, finding the right study material in Hindi was not easy.
But, irrespective of the language that candidates choose to write the exam in, they have to appear for two language subjects — one of them is English — and this proved to be a barrier for him. “In UPSC, clearing English and one regional language paper is mandatory. So, if one does not clear either, other papers like General Studies and Optional subject will not be evaluated. The language papers are like qualifying papers whose marks will not be evaluated in the final mark sheet. I failed to clear English paper and my entire year’s hard work was wasted.”
“While I paid extra attention to English in other attempts, I did not clear Mains and Interview until the fourth attempt,” he adds.
By the fourth attempt, Manoj was 30 years old and knew the attempt bracket closed at 33 for him. So, this time he completely changed his strategy.
“Instead of studying for the Prelims, I first completed the Mains syllabus. By doing this, I had automatically covered 80 per cent of the prelims syllabus. I also diligently read NCERT textbooks of class 6-12. That strengthened my basic concepts needed for General Studies,” he says. For current affairs, Manoj subscribed to monthly magazines dedicated to civil service aspirants and also read old news. To improve his English he would read The Hindu daily for an hour. He also rigorously practised writing essays and structuring his answers.
The new strategy worked and Manoj cleared the UPSC exam in 2010.
Life As An Officer
Manoj’s first posting was in his home state as an administrative officer at the Rajgir Ordinance factory in Bihar’s Nalanda district.
Knowing that several civil aspirants cannot afford coaching centres, Manoj decided to dedicate his weekends to impart free coaching. He would travel 110 km from Nalanda to Patna and groom the aspirants.
Arun Kumar, who passed the Bihar Public Service Commission in his second attempt in 2013, owes his success to Manoj.
“From the duration of studying, how to concentrate, charting out a disciplined plan, preparation strategies to study materials, Manoj sir guided me throughout and showed how small details mattered. He would also take my mock interviews. I secured an AIR of 397 and am currently posted as a Probation Officer in Vaishali district’s Hajipur Jail,” Arun tells The Better India.
During his first posting, Manoj inspired and guided aspirants, but due to professional commitments, he had to discontinue it a few years later. While he misses teaching and his days in Delhi, he is deeply content with his life as an IOFS officer.
Manoj has undoubtedly come far, but when asked about how he feels, he states, “Only my zameen (land) has changed, my zameer (conscience) is still the same. I am still the hard-working person who strives each day to do my job efficiently. I believe that every person should use their struggles as an opportunity to succeed.”
Edited by Gayatri Mishra