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With 83-year-old Grandfather as Mentor, a Haryana Village Girl Aces UPSC in First Attempt with Air 51

Nisha Grewal from Bamla village of Bhiwani district in Haryana secured AIR 51 in UPSC CSE 2020 in her first attempt. Her 83-year-old grandfather Ramphal Grewal, who is a retiredMaths teacher, mentored her. 23-year-old Nisha says preparing for this dynamic exam has been a liberating experience for her.

Nisha Grewal is somewhat different. She doesn’t come across as the regular UPSC achiever. While most of them say that they were anxious or stressed out while preparing for the Civil Services Exam, this Haryana girl says, for her it was a liberating experience! How did this tough exam become such a positive experience for this 23-year-old? Hear it from the young achiever herself. In conversation with Indian Masterminds, this chirpy girl from Bhiwani’s Bamla village talks about the strategies and mindset that helped her sail through the exam smoothly to get AIR 51 in her very first attempt.

Nisha with her grandfather

DYNAMIC EXAM

Nisha found the UPSC exam inspiring, motivating and dynamic. She says, “You get to learn so much about your country and about yourself, that you start noticing positive changes in yourself. That itself is so liberating!”

NO ROOM FOR EXCUSES

In the same breath she adds that, to crack this exam, one must have the 3D’s: dedication, discipline and determination. And being a girl who doesn’t mince words, she right away dismisses excuses. “You will have to give your 100 per cent. No excuses of home, kids, or anything else,” she says bluntly.

While saying that the success rate in UPSC is only .013%, she urges, “If you want to achieve the tallest position, you have to think tall, you have to act tall, and you have to behave tall. Set these three things in your mind!”

Nisha Grewal

GRANDFATHER AS MENTOR

True to her words, Nisha stretched herself beyond her comfort zone to achieve her goal. And to assist her, she had a most unlikely partner. Her 83-year-old grandfather, Ramphal Grewal, who is a retired Maths teacher.

“I solved 200 mock papers for Prelims and 40 for Mains. I discussed every single paper with him. My grandfather has been my team partner throughout. He taught me the value of hard work, truthfulness, courage and optimism,” she gushes.

But the most important thing that she learned from him was to never tire of trying. She kept on trying to educate herself in her quest for a good result. It was because of his tutoring that she got 96 % in 12th and could take admission in the prestigious Miranda House in Delhi where she studied History and Political Science. She began her UPSC preparation from the third year of college itself.

With her family

After finishing college in 2019, she didn’t stay back in Delhi’s Rajinder Nagar or Mukherjee Nagar, areas that are known as hub of UPSC aspirants. Neither did she join any coaching institution. Rather she went back home to her grandfather to begin preparing for UPSC exclusively. No wonder she calls him her only ‘peer group’!

NCERT BOOKS IMPORTANT

Nisha’s strategy was to divide her studies into 2+2+2. She devoted two months to optional Political Science, then NCERT, and then to foundation. She stresses the importance of the basic books of classes 6-12, and refers books by Laxmi Kant, Nitin Singhania, GC Leung, Bipin Chandra, and, also, Niti Aayog compilations and the Science Reporter magazine from CSIR.

CURRENT AFFAIRS SOURCES

For current affairs, she read two newspapers daily, The Hindu and The Indian Express. And tuned in to All India Radio every morning to listen to the daily news and a programme called Spotlight.

ANSWER WRITING TIPS

For Mains, her focus was answer writing and she talks about the importance of presentation. “If it’s a Bill, and you want to write about what it lacks, write only constructive criticism. Don’t criticise the government. Remember, you are writing this paper to be a part of the government.”

With her grandfather

She says candidates should be able to sell their answers to the examiner. She offers a few pointers. “Highlight keywords in the question. Write an attractive intro and an optimistic conclusion.” She explains why. “Examiners get tired. If they see a new thing, they like it.”

INTERVIEW PREPARATION

She prepared for her interview by giving many mock interviews where she received guidance from mentors like Avadh Ojha of IQRA IAS. She also closely studied mock interviews of previous years’ toppers. And she researched a lot about herself! This, she says, is very important as the board members could ask any question about the candidate. “But they ask only relevant things. They want to test your truthfulness, your confidence, and your value system.”

QUESTIONS SHE WAS ASKED

The first question she was asked was about the sari she was wearing. What is the border called and what is the fabric?

Thankfully, she had researched about it and so her answer was to the point: “This is temple border with zari work. The fabric is Venkatgiri cotton from Andhra Pradesh.”

With her family

She was asked why her alma mater, Miranda House, is so famous. And, as mehendi is her hobby, they asked how the colour comes, and what is its significance.

There were also questions on her passion and hobbies. “I had worked for ‘Beti bachao beti padao abhiyan’, so they asked me about gender justice. Since I am into debating and poetry, they commented that it’s a good combination of hard skill and soft skill.”

ON CHOOSING LANGUAGE

How does one decide which language to speak in? “Select the language in which you can express better. This exam is all about expression and presentation. If it’s English, it’s not that they want very sophisticated English from you. Speak the language which the common man can understand,” she advises.

DON’T FOLLOW BLINDLY

However, she cautions against copying someone blindly. “Prepare your own strategy. What worked for me might not work for you. Just take what you feel is relevant for you. Your strategy should be your own unique way of doing things.“

A LITTLE FEAR IS GOOD

And a little fear is necessary, she feels. “My grandfather always asks me to remain positively apprehensive. This makes you more productive. But don’t let fear stop you, keep moving. The Mountain Dew ad is very apt. Dar ki age jeet hai.”

Nisha with her father. This is the sari she wore for her interview round.

There is a reason why she says this. On result day, Nisha was shaking with fear, but, that time also, she was doing a mock paper! “I was already preparing for next year’s exam just in case I didn’t get through this year,” she says.

That’s Nisha Grewal for you! The Bamla village girl who refers to herself as “foolishly positive”. Foolishly positive about getting to her goal, and not willing to settle for anything less.

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