Grew Up In Orphanage, Never Had Formal Education, Yet Scored 226 Rank In UPSC

When every turn in life goes against you, hold on to anything that offers you a ray of hope. A man did this for more than two decades, kept working on one thing that was in his favor, and now he is in a position where his single signature can turnaround people’s fate. Mohammed Ali Shihab broke away from the shackles of scarcity in an orphanage and became an IAS officer.

Shihab was born into an extremely poor family in Kerala’s Malappuram district where his father constantly struggled to feed his wife, three daughters, and two sons. At a very young age, Shihab began helping his father, who suffered from chronic asthma, in selling betel leaves and bamboo baskets under harsh weather conditions to ensure that his siblings did not go to bed on an empty stomach two nights in a row.

Taking his ill father from home to their ramshackle shop meant that Shihab could hardly attend primary schooling. But no amount of hardwork can control one’s fate. It was a terrible shock for their family when one day in 1991, the only bread winner of the family passed away. At just 11 years, life appeared to Shihab nothing but a deep, dark pit where no dreams could survive.

There was no way his mother could feed her children. The only way the kids would survive starvation and death was if they were sent away – in an orphanage. No mother wants her little children to part from her but Fatima knew her children would die if they are not sent away. The very next day after his father’s death, Shihab and his two siblings landed in a Muslim orphanage in Kozhikode district.

When you have nothing to lose you have everything to gain

Life at orphanage was better than before but here too he couldn’t get formal schooling. He grew up studying in Malyalam and Urdu madarsa but he was quick to grasp whatever was taught to him. He spent 10 years at the orphanage and after his basic education and got a degree in BA History through distance education.

Mohammed Ali Shihab, IAS batch 2011

Shihab began to work hoping his hardship will go away and did everything that came his way. He worked as an unskilled labor, a helper in a roadside restaurant, teacher in a school, water pump operator and even clerk at Panchayat. His brother, who is now an Ayurveda doctor, advised him to try for government examinations which Shihab thought was a great advice. He cleared 21 exams from a forester, railway ticket collector, jail warden, to peons and clerks.

“I wanted to achieve something high to inspire my thousands of friends in orphanages.”

In 2009, Delhi’s Zakat Foundation reached Kerala to handpick sharp students and provide them with guidance. This was the chance that Shihab grabbed with both his hands. This little support was enough for him to give more than his 100 percent. He had a burning desire to make a good life for himself and become a pillar for his mother and sisters. Although he received the coaching, he did not have money to buy books or newspaper so he used to spend hours in public library and read all the books and newspaper available in the facility.

He recalls, “I used to read in scant light under the cover of bedsheet and pillows in order not to disturb my friends sleeping in the neighbouring beds of the dormitory. In fact, I was violating the orphanage rules.”

The first two attempt brought him failure but that only fanned the fire roaring within him. But challenges in his life seemed never ending. Shihab got married and had a daughter who was born with Erb’s palsy (paralysis of the arm). He kept shuttling between books and hospital for his daughter before his third attempt. He was running out of patience and forced himself to focus on studies and followed a vigorous schedule for his third attempt. In the last three months, he left home only once a week to offer the Friday prayers.

When the results were out he had passed the UPSC with flying colors and scored 226th rank in the 2011 examinations. He did this despite his poor knowledge of English language. In fact, he faced the interview with a translator by his side and scored 201 out of 300, which was quite good.

Shihab is now posted in Kohima, Nagaland and credits all his success to discipline. His journey sounds stranger than fiction as he grew up with barely anything in his hands but defeated his challenges by his discipline, hardwork and indomitable determinations.

Share this tremendous inspirational story of Shihab as a salute to his spirit. Hats off!


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