There were days when I would just weep: How medico P Srija found the will to become Telangana’s UPSC topper in 2021

On the big day when the UPSC 2020 results were to be announced, an anxious P Srija headed to the bus stop to pick her mother up who was returning from a long day at work as a nurse on COVID vaccination duty. While Srija remained preoccupied the entire ride back home, her mother, who was riding pillion, nonchalantly asked, “What should we eat today? Shall I cook at home or shall we get some biryani?”.

At the mention of biryani, Srija’s ears perked up, just like any true blue Hyderabadi’s ears would. But she brusquely brushed aside her mother’s request and hurried home, all the while thinking, “We all might just end up eating biryani anyway if the results are good. I must look at this as a good omen.” Little did she know that, indeed, biryani was a sign from above. Not only had Srija cleared UPSC in her first attempt, with an All India Rank (AIR) 20, she had also topped in the state of Telangana. So, how about some biryani on that note?

The house that made it happen
Srija, who hails from Warangal, comes from a household that has given her wings to fly and has no intentions of clipping them. Her mother started her second innings in academics by studying to become a nurse when Srija was in Class V. “Much before her marriage, she wanted to become a doctor and she continues to harbour that ambition,” says Srija, who draws inspiration from her mother. “It was my mother who used to say, ‘We always benefit from society, but what are we doing to give back to it?’,” recollects the youngster. If her mother was a source of inspiration, her father was the enabler. “He never held us back from pursuing any field that we wanted to,” she states. Overall, a sense of ‘gender equality’ prevailed in their house which urged Srija on to the path of pursuing MBBS from Osmania Medical College. 

One patient that changed her life
So, now we have inspiration and support, so what’s missing in the equation which promoted Srija to walk down the path of service to society? The trigger incident. This happened when, as a medical student, she was interning at Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Erragadda. Srija and her professor were attending to a mentally unstable woman who had lost her husband and had children to take care of. The woman was not coherent with her answers as to what ailed her which led Srija to prematurely conclude that she might be lying. With much trepidation, she shared this insight with the professor, who poignantly said, “Would you say the same if, god forbid, your husband passes away and you are left in such a hapless state? Don’t be quick to judge anyone, always walk in their shoes first and empathise.” 

Leaning to show empathy
This one statement changed Srija’s worldview, as she knew it, and after that, she started asking herself many questions. “As a medical student serving in government hospitals, I got to see the condition of many people, up close and personal. There are so many complexities in society — sexual abuse, acid attack, domestic violence and so on. The stories of all these victims I, as a doctor, was privy to. I knew I already had the medical aptitude to be a good doctor and tend to their needs. But I started to understand the next level change that I could potentially bring about as an administrator, which would help treat those issues at the root,” she shares. Thus, with the blessings of her parents, she started preparing and also signed up for coaching classes at VisionIAS, a coaching institute in Hyderabad. 

While preparing, what worked best for Srija were the wise words of the previous year’s toppers. She watched many of their videos with the aim to learn from their mistakes as much as she was trying to learn from her own. “There were days when I would throw myself on the bed and weep, that’s when my close group of friends, who themselves were preparing for entrance exams would talk to me for hours on end, offering moral support and the cheer that I needed to get through,” says Srija and adds that her younger brother has been of great solace to her too.

Women empowerment, education and skilling are the three top concern areas for P Srija which she would like to focus on as an administrator. And she hopes that her journey starts with becoming the change she wishes to see in the world. And forever remembering her mother’s words, “For a woman, education and job are like two legs with the help of which she stands tall in this society.”