I was on an occasional visit to my home town last week and as usual, I visited Sri Krishna temple Neyyattinkara. Deity’s name is ‘Unni Kannan’ (baby Krishna) and whenever I reach my home town I never forget to visit ‘Unni Kannan’. This time, I was accompanied by my mother and daughter and after the temple visit we sat outside the temple for a while. We saw cleaned plates placed on the desk and I remembered that it’s now time for meals. As I have a great ‘weakness’ on the tasty meals provided by the temple, we decided that we shall wait for a while, have lunch and further proceed.

We took a few chairs and peacefully seated for the delicious meal to be served soon. Though there is no special item, a curry and a side dish with over cooked red rice is the best food I ever tasted. As usual, a religious person was giving a speech and a lot of people gathered around him, on the right side. His voice was not catchy and hence my attention and thoughts shattered around. I was eagerly waiting for Deeparadhana (special prayer of Hindu temples of Kerala – done twice a day) at 10.45 am and temple doors to close so that they will start serving meals. I had a few urgent matters too. That time an old person came near us, when we were busy in talking. “Why can’t you sit in the group to listen the speech?” he asked. We didn’t respond. But the next words he told were enough to rise my hair up. “At 11 am, Haritha.V.Kumar is visiting the temple and temple authority has arranged a special function to appreciate her. When she comes, we need a small crowd to receive her and so, if you join the religious group it would be nice”. I couldn’t believe my ears for a while. Then I clearly read the flex placed in the stadium, behind the person who was giving the religious speech. Then only I came to know that I have come at the right time at the right place. “Hoping you know Haritha.V.Kumar, who has become the topper of IAS Exams. Neyyattinkara is her home town and she completed her schooling here. That’s why temple authorities have decided to give her a special treat. Many prominent persons are also coming for the occasion”, he stopped.

I took my mobile to know the time. It’s only half past 10, yet I was willing to wait to see this talented lady – the pride of Kerala, who brought first rank to Kerala after a long interval of 22 years. Last time, it happened in 1991 when Raju Narayana Swamy of Changanassery (Kottayam) became the topper of UPSC Civil service exams. This miracle happened for the first time in 1973, when Nirupama Rao of Malappuram district won the first rank for IFS. Till now only four persons from Kerala have become toppers of IAS, though many others have achieved good ranks in civil service exams. T.N.Sheshan (1954), V.Krishnamurthy (1965) and Raju Narayana Swamy (1991) are the Keralite toppers before Haritha. Thus 27 year old Haritha became the first woman to win IAS from Kerala, breaking the myth that top position is not meant for Kerala and that it’s only men’s monopoly.

A brief note on Haritha’s childhood and schooling

harithaNeyyattinkara is not a big town, a small town and Taluk capital and it is 20 kilometers away from the heart of capital city. Haritha was born in a middle class family of Neyyattinkara Pulimoodu and her father Vijaya Kumar was a contractor of Kerala Water Authorities that time. Her mother Chitra is a house wife and she has twin brothers – Satheerth and Sadarsh, younger to her. Till 10th she studied in St.Therasa’s convent Neyyattinkara – A girls’ school at the heart of the small town. It’s surprising to note that she studied Malayalam medium in the school! Later she chose Malayalam as one among the two optional subjects too for UPSC Exams, other being Economics. As every parent carries a secret ambition of seeing his son or daughter as a doctor, engineer or IAS officer, same was the case of Vijayakumar too. He wanted to see his daughter as an IAS officer/Collector and his secret ambition got implanted in young Haritha’s mind too. That may be the reason why, while she was studying in class 1, when Sister Jasmine asked the kids ‘what will you like to become when you grow up?’, she simply said “IAS Officer”. As it is Christian school, majority of teachers are Christian nuns and Haritha gives full credit to her class 1 Class teacher, Mother Douress who discovered her hidden talents and named her as ‘Promising child’. Though Haritha can’t tell how Mother called her so, her encouraging words were enough for little Haritha to change from a naughty child to the most brilliant student of the class. Later Haritha’s mother used to recall those ‘promising words’ repeatedly cementing Haritha’s reflecting thoughts to unique direction.

But from early childhood, Haritha was not a child who wakes up early morning and learns lessons. Instead she learns till night and when wakes up, gets time only to get ready for school. Yet she never sleeps late and gives full preference to full sleep. For that, everyday she used to prepare a schedule for a particular topic and completes the lesson that day itself – the strategy that she followed till she became the IAS topper. Choose the subject that mind says ‘Yes’! 

Haritha V Kumar completed her SSLC in Kerala syllabus with 7th rank in 2002 and it is to be noted that she didn’t choose CBSE or ISC syllabus for her schooling and getting the basement of her learning from Kerala state syllabus in Malayalam medium in a school of a remote town and became the topper of the most prestigious exams of India! After completing 10th, she joined Boys Higher Secondary school at Hospital Junction Neyyattinkara. Kindly note that, though this English medium Government school is for boys only till SSLC, girls are also allowed for Plus 2 course (Government Higher Secondary School Neyyattinkara). She used to go to coaching classes of Thiruvananthapuram city that time 20 kms away from Neyyattinkara. Her father used to accompany her this time. In between she has learnt Carnatic music, Bharatnatyam and Mohini attam and has won many prizes too. She has conducted many concerts and stage shows in many temples including Neyyattinkara Krishna Temple. She started learning dance and music when she was 7 and almost stopped it when she reached 9th standard. Later she fully concentrated in her studies with IAS dreams in mind. 

Shifted to heart of the city for Higher studies

She was interested in Physics and Mathematics from school levels and hence decided to learn technology studies. She took her B.Tech degree for Electronics and Telecommunication from Barton Hill Engineering College, Thiruvananthapuram. Solely for the purpose of her education, family got shifted from their home town to Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram city and Vijay Kumar continued with business there. Earlier they were residing in Chitralaya of Fort Ward, Neyyattinkara. They closed their ‘Chitralaya’ and temporarily shifted to a rental home behind CPI State Committee Office at Thaycaud, Thiruvananthapuram city so that she can save a lot of time spend for travelling every day. Soon after her B.Tech course, she got an offer from HCL Technologies. But her aim was something else and she declined the job. Only thought in her mind was Civil service exams and she decided to study further as it’s possible to get job later, but discontinuing the studies may abruptly end her destination and dreams. When it came for choosing the optional subjects, she chose Economics and Malayalam, a little adventurous deed that she told later. She felt that Economics is deeply linked with all official files and that’s the reason why she chose that subject. As she was not proficient in this subject, she joined class of S. Narayanan, former head of the Department of Economics, Government College for Women Thiruvananthapuram and studied Economics for 2 years, thus providing the basement of Economics.

Haritha’s lost attempts and success journey to win at last

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Haritha’s journey to the topper position was not so sweet. She failed in the first three attempts, winning it at last at the fourth and final one. She attempted first in the year 2009, but couldn’t clear the preliminaries. She lost her final chance for the interview by just 18 marks. Actually, she did fewer preparations in this chance and didn’t allocate time correctly. In the second attempt (2010), she got 179th rank. She chose IRS instead of IPS as she felt that Police Service never goes well with her character. In the third attempt, she got 290th rank. She almost left the dream, but felt in mind that it’s possible for her to conquer that big mountain. Also the backward jump provided her enough strength to jump many steps forward. Intense desire, hard work and dedication helped her to win at last.

While she was doing training in Indian Revenue Service, she took live for 1 year for exam preparations. Actually, one year leave was allotted for candidates who wish to prepare for civil services again. When result was published, she was on probation of Indian Revenue Service of 2011 batch, undergoing training program at NACEN Faridabad, near New Delhi. Thoughts were going on in her mind that, though she couldn’t win in the final attempt she will get a deserved job in Indian Revenue service.

Haritha’s tastes and interests

She wants to go and see common man near. According to her, though Revenue service has a link with common man, it is Administrative service that helps to do more activities for them. Haritha has chosen ‘Kerala’ as first option and she wants to serve common people of her home state. Among all districts she thinks she can do a lot of backward tribal areas of Wyanad. As home district will never be allotted, she may not work for capital city. She is a good reader, though she never considers herself so.

She watches Malayalam movies a lot and Thilakan is her most favourite actor. According to her, Thilakan’s performance in ‘Kireedam’ and last movie ‘Ustad Hotel’ are simply the best. Her favourite writer is M.T.Vasudevan Nair and she likes ‘Randamuzham’ and ‘Mannju’ most. She likes the movies of M.T – Hariharan team too. Her favorite poet is Mahakavi Vailoppilli Sreedhara Menon. According to her opinion, while reading/reciting the poems of Vailoppilli we get a strange feeling of travelling through green paddy fields and Kerala villages. She has a special liking of her Mother tongue too. That’s the reason why she chose Malayalam as the main writing subject for the top examination of the country. She is a great listener of Malayalam old tunes too. She has learnt Carnatic music, Bharatnatyam and Mohiniyattam and has done stage shows also.

Success mantra of Haritha

She is not a person who spends full time reading and mugging up lessons. Instead she divides the whole topic into modules and completes it one by one comfortably. She tries to complete the pre-decided module that day itself. It’s the success mantra of Indian Administrative Service topper. Writing practices can help you a lot before the main exams – Haritha says.

When she attempted Civil service exams first, she was not having a clear idea of how many marks needed to enter the final list. Her doubtful mind prompted her to think that she won’t win it and she lagged in the studies. But when she lost the preliminaries by just 18 marks, she took things seriously. She made use of the time between prelims and final exams effectively and gave much importance to newspaper reading. She prepared a lot with model question papers too.

When she lost all the first three opportunities, it made her a little despair. But she competed with herself, taking a long leave from services, winning at last. In an interview she told, “I didn’t even imagine that my name will be shown even in first 100-list though I desired I lot. When one of my friends called me to inform the happy news, I thought it as prank. Later he showed me the official website to make me believe at last.”

Though her teachers discouraged her from choosing Economics as the optional subject, it was her determination to take it as challenge and conquer the principles of Economics, being an Electronics student. She spent two valuable years solely for learning Economics too – says her professor Narayanan, who took her tuition. According to him, her talent in observation and explanation are the secret mantras and he says, he has repeatedly asked her to write about 150 essays, corrected them thus sharpening her writing skills. Haritha also agrees that those two years under the teaching of this retired professor of Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram has determined the success in Civil service exams. Professor Narayanan has worked in Economics department of Kariyavattom College and at present lives in Athani lane of Vanchiyur. Haritha believes that her performance in the interview might have helped in attaining such a big rank in civil service exams.

Now back to Shree Krishna Temple Neyyattinkara

May 30 2013 Time past 11.15 am. I was impatiently checking my mobile time. Suddenly a white hash bush car stopped at the inner gate. Religious speech was still going on. Before searching and finding camera from my bag, she has entered the temple. Suddenly I got my camera and took a close shot, but she already passed me and entered the temple with her mother. “Is Deeparadhana getting late? Is Bhagavan Krishna waiting for her arrival?” I thought myself. Then I eagerly waited for her return with my camera ready. After 10-15 minutes she returned in supersonic speed, yet I could take a couple of close shots though not clearly visible. People were gathered around with mobile cameras, a professional photographer was also present to cover the whole event.

She seated in the stage along with a few famous personalities, whose names I can’t remember. My eyes and mind were fully covering this intelligent lady, who made all natives of Neyyattinkara pride. A retired IAS officer was also present, though I can’t recall his name right now.

Temples are for religious purposes. It is for the first time that this famous temple of Neyyattinkara, built by Maharaja of Travancore Marthanda Varma arranged a function for a person, not related to religion. Exactly the same day evening, a function was scheduled in Neyyattinkara Town Hall to be inaugurated by most famous poetess of present times, Sugatha Kumari. Yet temple authorities felt to honour this girl who has made whole Neyyattinkara people pride. Except Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai (Fighter against Divans of Travancore), Neyyattinkara Vasudevan Nair (Carnatic singer) and cricketer Abhishek Nayyar, famous personalities from this small town are almost nil. That may be one reason. But the most important fact is that, her home is very close to Krishna temple and everyday she used to wake up in the mornings hearing songs from the temple. It was a daily happening till she reached 21, when she shifted to city for further studies before 6 years.

haritha1When function just started, we could hear temple bells ringing for Deeparadhana and everybody stood up for a while. It seemed as if Lord Krishna blessed her for her achievements and future journey. When I was fully involved in the speeches given by different personalities, my 5 year old daughter asked, “Who is this?” I gave a brief note of her; but seeing my enthusiasm she suddenly asked “Is she your friend?” I couldn’t find reply for a while. Till last month, she was an unknown face to everyone. But in the past one month, it’s about Haritha.V.Kumar that Kerala homes have talked most! She is the most popular person of present times!

One of the persons told that, when first conference of Indian National Congress was organized in 1885, only two Keralites got the invitation to participate in it. If the name is not mistaken, one among the two it’s Shankaran Nair – grand grandfather of Haritha. This great leader has worked in old Travancore kingdom too, but I can’t recall his designation right now. I heard a strange incident about this great personality during the speech. When government ordered him to produce the predecessor, he was enough courageous to present before the Diwan, his obedient servant who has served him for 25 years without questioning or complaining.

I waited impatiently for more than 1 hour to hear Haritha’s speech. I had a few urgent assignments, yet I postponed everything. She was given Krishna's statue, an image of famous Parthasarathy statue at front gate and religious books by different organizations. She said only simple words and thanked Neyyattinkara Unnikannan (Lord Krishna) to choose her as the person to bring the top rank to Kerala after 20 years. She told a few words about her childhood spend in this small town near the temple and programs conducted in the temple. Before she ended her speech, recited a Krishna Sloka too. Her voice is so nice to hear, with classical base.

As I had a few important assignments, I left the place when she completed the speech. I really thought of giving her a shake hand before I leave the place. In the evening, her success was celebrated in a grand way by the whole town. A grand procession was held in an open car and function at Swadeshabhimani Town hall. Though I didn’t witness the event, I read its details from next day newspaper. Yes, she is the real lady for whom we people, belonging to a small town can feel proud of, for many years to come.

Let me mention one more thing. Though my whole childhood and college life (till my marriage) have been spent in this small town, I have never studied in the schools studied by Haritha. But most of my friends in the home town have studied in at least one of the schools, either till 10 or for higher secondary course. The school that I studied (Shri Vidyadhiraja Vidya Nilayam) is just a few steps away from St.Theresa's convent and being the top two schools of the small town, these two schools always compete one another, exactly the same way shown in the movie, 'Jo jeeta wohi Sikander'. When SSLC results get declared, my school far exceeds St.Theresa's, particularly because till now in the past 28 years or so, not even a single student has failed in SSLC. Our school has produced many rank holders, finest doctors, journalists and engineers. But now, this school has beaten our school.The pride and status earned by St.Theresa's most recently is hard to acheive by someone else. Haritha's aunt’s family (Chitra’s elder sister) is next door neighbours of my brother and family. He told me a lot about the happiness shared by the family. If possible I shall present before you another interesting article about Haritha and her success journey. Wait for me till then. Thank you.

It’s celebration time for Kerala!

It’s for the first time that Kerala won 3 of the first 5 ranks of Civil service Exams thus dominating the top 5 list. Most surprising fact is that all those talented candidates were presented by Civil Services Academy, Thiruvananthapuram; indeed a unique record. 8 Keralites have scored among the best 100 who have written exams from Civil Service Academy Thiruvananthapuram; 4 candidates found space in the top 25 list. Second rank winner is Dr. V. Sri Ram Venkittaraman from Kochi and Fourth rank winner is Dr. Alby John Vargeese from Muvattupuzha who belongs to a middle class agriculture family. Arun Thamburaj bagged sixth rank in the exams and he studied outside the state. Now let me mention two more names who have occupied spaces in the first 20 - Rahul got 13th rank and Thanupriya 18th. It's the real time for celebrations!

N.B: All images taken by the author.


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