The first thing that strikes you about this bustling Calcutta neighbourhood is the noise — people on the street discussing everything from politics to sports in loud voices, a Hindi film song blaring from a loudspeaker somewhere. This is not quite a place conducive to studies, you think. Yet it is this neighbourhood that is home to Shilpa Gourisaria, who ranked 25th in the civil services examination this year. Ever since the 25-year-old grabbed the highest rank from the state, the noise level in the neighbourhood has only increased. Not only do people have a new topic to discuss at the top of their voice, the doorbell and telephone in Gourisarias home havent stopped ringing.
Though I knew I had done well, I had no idea that I would rank this high, says the elated woman. My hard work has paid off and it definitely feels great.
Gourisaria seems to have made winning a habit. The former student of Mahadevi Birla Shishu Vihar, who did her Plus Two from Calcutta Girls High School, was the school topper in both ICSE and ISC exams with 93 per cent. She was also the countrywide topper in maths with 99 per cent.
And all this without a private tutor. Everyday, after coming back from school, I studied for two-three hours. That saved me from extra pressure during exams, she says. Slow and steady seems to be her motto. And it paid off. Gourisaria also ranked 27th in the chartered accountancy exam and was the topper among women candidates from the eastern region. And the only tutor she had was elder sister Shubhra, also a chartered accountant (CA).
The youngest of three siblings, Gourisaria belongs to a traditional Marwari family — yet one that is not typical at all. Daughters are normally groomed to marry and settle down in conventional Marwari households. But this family wants them to stand on their feet. Her father is an income tax consultant. We have had to listen to taunts at times as both our daughters are not married yet, but we are proud of what they are doing, says mother Kiran Gourisaria, who used to wake her daughter up at 6am and then sit with her as she studied for the civil services exam.
The first time Gourisaria junior tasted failure was when she did not make the cut after being called for the civil services interview in 2006. Did she despair? No, she decided to complete her chartered accountancy. I completed my CA finals after not clearing the civil services in the first go as I wanted to have a back up in case I failed to clear it the second time as well.
Why did she choose to become a civil servant? I used to read a lot of magazines and came across interviews of civil service officers. Their grit and determination impressed me, she says. The civil services provide the best platform if one wants to bring some change in the societal framework.
Gourisaria is keen on becoming an effective civil servant — as proven by the fact that she chose public administration for her optional, along with commerce. Commerce was familiar territory but I had no inkling of public administration. And I wanted to have an idea about what my work would entail if I did clear the exams.
However, she was unsure of her subject. So for the first time she decided to take coaching and enrolled at the Institute for Civil Service Aspirants headed by Jyotirmoy Pal Chaudhuri. I knew Shilpa would emerge with flying colours. She has the ability and is serious about her work, says a proud Pal Chaudhuri.
Studying 18 hours a day is no mean task, and at times fatigue set in and uncertainty clawed her mind. It was then that her family and professor provided the much needed morale boost. Sir always told me to put in my best and not think about the results. This philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita is a must for all civil service aspirants, she says.
Apart from poring over textbooks, Gourisaria read two newspapers, followed news channels and surfed the Internet. Long walks and music were her only means of relaxation. She did not waste a day; even a trip to the movies could not tempt her because that would mean she would have three hours less to study. But she did not hesitate a minute when she had to take her mother to the hospital when she met with a minor accident just a day before the mains.
The proud mother is a little nervous about her youngest leaving the nest. But for Gourisaria, its the time to savour her mothers cooking before heading for The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie where civil servants are trained.
making the grade
Gourisarias tips for IAS aspirants
Written: Dont wait for the results of the prelims to start preparing for the mains. You hardly get any time and the syllabus is huge — youll have six papers to complete. So the mains require strategic studying and time management
Interview: No one can know the answers to all the questions. Its best to frankly admit that you dont know the answer rather than bluff