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ULFA Meetings to IAS Meets, Incredible Journey of Narayan Konwar

2010 batch IAS officer Narayan Konwar is the Education Secretary of Assam He almost became a school dropout in 9th standard and failed in 12th boards From trysts with the banned outfit ULFA to becoming an IAS officer, his journey will keep you riveted
Indian Masterminds Stories

About 15 km away from Assam’s magic heartland, Mayong, where till this day live people who come closest to the ‘sorcerers’ in Enid Blyton’s books, is a small village called Chamkata. Every year, floods leave the villagers broken, with their longings and belongings washed away in the waters of the river they look upon with devotion – Brahmaputra.

In this tragic setting of hardships grew a boy in physique and spirit, who searched for little delights in playing football with ULFA cadres and watching in awe as they rode by in Yamahas with their Ak-47s. Even when they spoke, he listened intently, their words often sparking a desire to be like them.

But, braving floods and economic hardships, as he grew into a strapping lad, his inclination took a sharp turn towards UPSC, and, today, he is a senior IAS officer. He is Mr. Narayan Konwar, Education Secretary of Assam.

In an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds, Mr. Konwar gave riveting details about his journey to IAS.

Narayan Konwar, IAS

SCHOOL DROPOUT

Mr. Konwar’s journey was fraught with hardship every step of the way. From losing his school teacher father at a young age to dropping out of school in the 9th standard because of not being able to pay the fees, his is a story of destiny refusing to let go of him from its chosen path.

Surviving only on his late father’s pension of around Rs. 1200, he learned to bear responsibility early on in life, from their small thatched hut, the roof of which allowed rainwater to dribble inside generously.

Mr. Konwar said, “My mother did not even know to sign. I was the eldest, with two brothers and a sister. After one particularly difficult flood-hit year, when we did not have the money to pay my school fees, I decided to drop out in Class 9. Later, my late father’s colleagues helped me out. Otherwise I would have been a school dropout.”

IAS officer Narayan Konwar with his family

12th FAIL

However, his studies again came to an abrupt halt when he failed in the 12th boards. “That year, the floodwater washed away everything. I could not attend classes as I had to rebuild our hut and worry about where from the next meal would come.”

CLEARED NET

Next year, he passed the board exam comfortably and enrolled in college in the nearby town, Morigaon, taking Political Science as major. By this time, his village had stabilised as a result of engaging in two cultivations, in summer as well as in winter – an idea introduced to the villagers by the ULFA cadres from their village. These boys also helped with the required equipment, introducing the villagers to diesel machines for cultivation. With enough rice grains for the family and food security in place, Mr. Konwar’s mother sent most of the pension money to him for his studies.

After graduating, he enrolled in Gauhati University for his MA. “I topped the university in Political Science. I then cleared NET and took up a college lecturer job.”

Inaugurating a government function

But, although his mind was on this job, his heart lay elsewhere. His growing up pains of seeing his family and villagers suffer troubled him, and flashes of memories disturbed him.

“I wanted to help people in villages like ours who do not have road connectivity, electricity, rainproof houses, and who are left flood-devastated year after year. And, I realised that UPSC is that platform.”

CLEARED CSE

With the savings he had accumulated from his job, he went to Delhi for a year of coaching and sat for the UPSC Civil Services Examination. On his first attempt, he reached till the mains. In his second, he cleared the exam with AIR 119 in 2010, and was allotted IAS.

“On analysing, I realised that my orientation was different from the demands of the exam, in the first attempt. Hence, I got very less marks in the essay – 23 out of 100. So, I went with a different bent of mind next time and cleared all the stages. In my interview, I focussed on just being myself. It does not matter if you give wrong answers. It’s how you carry yourself that is important. Remember, your personality is on test here.”

Planting a sapling as part of a government function

JOINED IAS

After joining IAS, he focussed on giving shapes to his wishes. “Being posted as SDM and DM allowed me to work on road connectivity and electricity connection in remote villages through various government schemes. And, giving the poor villagers houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana scheme gave me so much joy.”

Life has come a full circle for Mr. Konwar. From suffering and stumbling in his village because of lack of roads and electricity, he could provide the same to hundreds of villages in district after district.

And, as the Secretary of the Education department now, the destiny of lakhs of students rest on his able shoulders – the very shoulders that were once so heavily burdened with family responsibilities that he had almost dropped out of school and failed in the 12th boards.

IAS officer Narayan Konwar (right) attending a function

LESSONS

Mr. Konwar was introduced to social service from his childhood. He saw the ULFA cadres help his village folks during floods and boosting their confidence and cultivation, which planted the seed for ‘service to people’ from an impressionable age.

Yet, he did not join the ULFA, like his best friend and many others from his village did. Instead, he opted to join the Indian Administrative Service to serve people because he felt that by using this platform, he could serve people in a well-coordinated manner and on a bigger scale.

His journey is a poignant reminder to all that in sufferings lie hidden life’s greatest lessons, and once people come out of these, they are not the same person who encountered the storms. They are more resilient and more empathetic. The end result is someone who feels another’s pain and responds faster to a call for help. As is the case with IAS officer Narayan Konwar.


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