Mumbai: Solapur Street is one of several dusty lanes in Wadi Bunder area lined with warehouses storing goods being shipped to and from the nearby Mazgaon dockyard. The lane also has rows of tiny shanties that are mostly inhabited by dock workers.
On Tuesday, one of these houses, belonging to Ramzan Sayed, a labour supervisor at the dock, was awash with glee and excitement. This is because Mohammed Husain, the family's youngest, had just cleared the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC)'s Civil Service Examination (CSE), one of the toughest and most prestigious tests in the country.
While the exam results brought a sense of joy and relief to 933 candidates recommended by the commission for the country's top bureaucracy, the feat achieved by Mohammed Husain was particularly remarkable, considering the social and economic obstacles he faced during his arduous journey.
Despite a paucity of space and a conducive atmosphere for studying at home, the lack of initial awareness and guidance about the competitive exam, and limited resources, the 27-year-old managed to clear the test on the fifth attempt with an All India Rank (AIR) of 570.
Sayed Mohammed Hussain's neighbourhood. | Pushpita Chatterjee
Mohammed Husain says that he decided to make a career in civil services early on following his visits to government offices with his father.
"My father would encourage me to bring about change." he said, adding, "My family supported me throughout my journey, even going to the extent of not distracting me with household problems. My father would even accompany me when I went to appear for the exam."
At the Wadi Bunder slums, Mohammed Husain lives with his extended family, which includes his maternal grandmother, parents, elder brothers, and their wives and children.
While the family has roots in Hyderabad, Telangana, they have been based in Mumbai for the last three generations. Belonging to the Muslim community, which has historically had much lower representation in the civil services than its share in the population, cracking the UPSC CSE was an even more uphill task.
While Mohammed Husain's grandfather was in government service, his father couldn't find a white-collar job as never went to school. He started as a labourer loading and unloading goods from trucks at the dockyard and went on to become a supervisor. His brothers were also employed with private contractors working at the dock.
A very happy and proud family sit outside their shanty in Wadi Bunder. | Pushpita Chatterjee
Despite his lack of formal education, Ramzan ensured that his son gets educated at some of the city's well-known institutes. He was schooled at St. Joseph's School at Dongri and got his bachelor's degree from Elphinstone College at Fort in 2018.
He prepared for the civil services at the Hajj Committee of India's Civil Services Residential Coaching Institute, a specialised coaching programme being run by the central government for Muslim aspirants at Hajj House in Mumbai, as well as Unique Academy in Pune and Jamia Millia Islamia's Residential Coaching Academy in New Delhi.
In his four earlier outings, Mohammed Husain could only pass the preliminary exam and would always stumble at the Mains. "The last failure really broke me. I spent a lot of time in a mosque contemplating about my situation and came out resolved to give it another shot," he said. He also credits his friends for standing by him while he was feeling low.
Mohammed Husain reflects on his journey of becoming a civil servant in a neigbourhood mosque. | By Special Arrangement
While the family did its bit to support Mohammed Husain in his pursuit, he also had to work to sustain himself during his multiple shots at the UPSC exam. He would teach other UPSC aspirants in the city while preparing for the competitive exams himself. Scholarships received from government and private organisations also helped him continue following his dream.
Finding a place to study with concentration was another challenge. In the small room that Mohammed Hussain made his study, one couldn't stand without hitting their head on the ceiling. He would often take his books outside under a shade in front of the home or one of the godowns in the vicinity. For a while, he also stayed at the nearby Jaffer Suleiman Musafirkhana, a student dormitory.
Mohammed Husain has a message for students struggling to make it in similar circumstances. "Hard work pays off, if not immediately then afterward. But one should be consistent and work with zeal," he said.
As he awaits his marksheet, Mohammed Husain is hoping to join either Indian Police Services (IPS) or Indian Revenue Services (IRS). "I want to give a positive contribution towards the development of the nation. I want to work for the betterment of slum-dwellers and towards providing education, as these are the things that matter," he said.
As he awaits his marksheet, Mohammed Husain is hoping to join either Indian Police Services (IPS) or Indian Revenue Services (IRS). | Pushpita Chatterjee