Born into the lap of impoverishment, Muhammed Ali Shihab, 31, can’t figure out which was the biggest test he had faced in his life. His life has been a fight against odds but they never conquered his will or resilience. Although he could not do much about some of the challenges he faced – personal tragedies like death of his father when he was only 11 years old or life in an orphanage as his mother could not bring him up due to impoverishment – he came out in flying colours in all professional tests he had attempted.
A resident of Edavannappara in Malappuram district, Shihab’s life story has all the ingredients of a Bollywood film. After the death of his father he was brought up in an orphanage. Not many had great expectations about him expect him. After completing his matriculation, he took up a peon’s job.
“He studied in an Arabic medium school and he was one of the best among the lot. From very early years, he started appearing for tests conducted by Public Service Commission and other agencies. His effort was to land in a job,” said a fried.
So far, he had cleared over 20 competitive tests and taken up different positions in the government right from that of a peon to railway ticket examiner. According to Shihab, he had a great desire to appear for Civil Services exam. He came to know about a Muslim non-governmental group that supported poor community members in UPSC exams. He managed to get in touch with Zakat Foundation of India and get assistance. But due to some pressing household problem, he had to discontinue the coaching for UPSC examination.
Shihab cleared the civil services exam in the third attempt. Since he studied in an Arabic medium school, he wrote his Mains in Malaylam. He had to seek the help of a translator for the interview as he was not proficient in English. But he is confident that he would soon overcome this hurdle too.
Shihab’s family is overjoyed. They hope that with this his difficulties will be over. The family which had seen the worst days, Shihab had to share a two-room house with one brother and two sisters, after the death of his father. “As a last option, mother took me and my two younger sisters to a Muslim-managed orphanage in Kozhikode district in 1991,” recalls Shihab.
Shihab would stay at the institute till he completed his higher secondary schooling and secured a teacher’s training certificate. He wanted to study further, but pressure to make a living meant he had to take up the first available job, which was of a last-grade peon in the Kerala Water Authority in 2004. The qualification was for the post was Class VII.
Later, he would get promoted to lower divisional clerk in a local body department. Shihab enrolled for BA (History) as a private student even as applied for several other jobs. In 2007, Shihab joined as an upper primary school teacher in Malappuram, where he continued till recently, when he took leave to prepare for the UPSC exam.
He came to know of the Civil Service coaching conducted by Delhi-based Zakat Foundation of India through a well-wisher. But again fate intervened, and Shihab had to drop out of the two-year course after five months because of domestic issues, including the treatment of his newborn baby.
Shihab did the rest of the preparation at home, helped by the faculty of a Civil Service training institute in Kerala. “I had to toil due to my poor knowledge of English and Malayalam. But I was determined to achieve my dream.”
Now that it is within his grasp, Shihab feels his life of struggles may turn out to be his strongest point. “I can better grasp grassroots-level concerns.”