IAS officer Himanshu Gupta once had to travel 70 km everyday to attend school. Years later, in 2020, he topped UPSC CSE without taking any coaching. Here's how.
Born in Sitarganj, which is in Udham Singh district of Uttarakhand, Himanshu Gupta is an aspirant who cleared the Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) Civil Service Examination (CSE) thrice, most recently in 2020 with an All India Rank (AIR) of 139 without resorting to any formal coaching.
Speaking to The Better India, he says, “It was only after I completed my Class 12 examination that the thought of appearing for the UPSC CSE struck me. Having spent 16 years of my growing up in Uttarakhand, my father was involved in daily wage work, while my mother spent her time managing the home and me and my siblings.” There was a brief period during which Himanshu’s father also ran a tea stall and he says, “I have on several occasions also worked there and helped him.”
Given the condition the family was in, Himanshu says that there was always a huge financial burden on them. “I never saw my father much because he was in different places trying to find jobs. It was very difficult for us financially and this was also one of the reasons why my family moved to Shivpuri in Bareilly where my maternal grandparents lived. So, I was enrolled at the local government school there.”
In 2006, they moved to Sirauli in district Bareilly, where his father opened up his general store. “To this date, my father is managing the same store,” says Himanshu. During their stay here, Himanshu says that the nearest English medium school was 35 km away and he would travel 70 km each day just for basic education. While all this was happening, Himanshu says that he was oblivious to the UPSC and what it has to offer. It was only once he got into Hindu College at Delhi University (DU) that the idea of appearing for the examination struck.
‘Getting into DU was life-altering.’
Until he enrolled in Hindu college, Himanshu described himself as a rather timid young boy who was satisfied with all that life had to offer him. His exposure to others in Delhi was what gave him the idea to appear for the CSE. “Hindu college was almost like a training ground for me – whatever I learnt was thanks to my peers there,” he says. After completing his Bachelor’s, Himanshu enrolled for a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from DU and says, “I worked hard and also topped the university. This also led me to get admission to pursue my PhD from a foreign university.”
Himanshu says that he chose to stay back in India and turn to UPSC in 2016. “I spent three months trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life. The fact that UPSC allowed aspirants to dabble in various fields and helped bring about direct change drew me in. This was how I landed up thinking of entering the field of bureaucracy.”
In 2018, Himanshu gave his first attempt and managed to get into Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS). He attempted the examination again in 2019 and managed to get into the Indian Police Service (IPS) and in his third attempt in 2020 he got into Indian Administrative Service (IAS). “I wanted to get into IAS because it is not domain-specific and allows one to explore so many different aspects of bureaucracy,” he adds.
‘Becoming an IAS Officer was not a childhood dream.’
While for Himanshu becoming an IAS officer was not a childhood dream, he says that it has given him a sense of identity and purpose. “I knew I wanted to work with grassroots organisations and bring about a direct change. Being a part of the administrative services helps in doing just that,” he adds.
For him, the shift from a small town to Delhi was also an overwhelming one.
“I came from a very chilled out town and landed in Delhi where everyone is busy,” he says. It was his curiosity that led him to learn and he says, “I spent the first few months just taking in all the new sights and sounds. From the language to how each person behaved everything was new to me. College life for me can best be described as a period of self-discovery. Only then did I feel comfortable there.”
“Getting to know people and understanding their interests helped me shape my likes and dislikes,” says Himanshu. He spent considerable time while in DU travelling and gathering practical experiences.
Today, Himanshu’s parents are known because of him and he says, “There can be no greater joy for parents than that. While they do not understand the magnitude of my job (IAS), they know it is a big deal and that makes them proud. The biggest reason why I managed to succeed is that I had zero pressure from my parents and their immense trust in my ability to succeed. That empowered me to achieve whatever I have so far.”
Tips for aspirants:
1. Read less, revise more:
Himanshu says that unless one revises enough times, any sort of preparation for the UPSC CSE is pointless. “Keep your sources fixed and ensure you follow a simple technique of read-revise-rectify-repeat. This will ensure you are well prepared to tackle the examination,” he says.
2. Use digital resources efficiently:
Different aspirants find different techniques for retaining whatever they have studied. Himanshu says, “For me, using a combination of audio, video and textbooks for better retention helped. Find what works best for you and stick to that. Do not get swayed by what your peers are doing.”
3. Preparing yourself well:
“There are two aspects of preparation – while all aspirants work on preparing for the exam they fail to prepare themselves. This is a tough examination and one that tests your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Managing all this and also ensuring that you do well needs you to prepare yourself for it,” he says.
4. Believe in yourself:
“UPSC is a tough examination that can leave the aspirant mentally and physically fatigued. It is therefore very important that one has utmost belief in their capabilities. You must believe that you can achieve anything and work towards that goal. Ensure that you channelize your energy into achieving that,” he says.
5. Make the most of what you have:
“You have got this incredible opportunity to know about the world around you. To immerse yourself completely into knowing everything. You only get to do it once. Make the most of it. Be that knowledgeable person you always imagined yourself to be. Fear none, except fear itself,” he concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)