Boys in rural Assam often bunk school to go fishing. Narayan Konwar did that too, but not for fun. The family meals depended on the catch.
That wasn't his only odd job. He sold fried papad and pakora at the markets and tilled other people's fields. His school attendance suffered, and he had to drop out of class 9.
Life wasn't as hard when his schoolteacher father was alive.
"He died in 1989, when I was eight," Narayan, 31, told HT from the IAS training academy at Mussoorie. "The gratuity kept us afloat for some time. But the pension dried up, thanks to red tape."
The Konwars could not fall back on agriculture, for floods regularly destroyed crops at Chamkota village – some 70km east of Guwahati.
"Many a time, we slept on an empty stomach. My mother endured a lot. As the eldest of four siblings, I helped her run the family," Narayan said.
Narayan would perhaps have ended up as a daily-wager, had his headmaster at Batabari High School not tried to find out why he stopped coming to school. "Going back to school was a luxury, despite wearing second-hand uniform and reading used, worn out textbooks," he said.
Narayan passed his class 10 boards, but failed in class 12, because he couldn't attend classes. The higher secondary school in Morigaon was 15 km away and there was simply no money for the bus fare.
"One perhaps needs to fail to succeed. I secured a first class in my next attempt," Narayan said.
A second class in graduation spurred him to top in political science from Gauhati University in 2003. He taught at a college to fund his coaching in New Delhi to crack the civil services exam, and in 2010 secured the 119th position.
Narayan feels poverty or a remote area cannot come in the way of success if one is determined. And having proved a point, he has set his priorities.
"My village got electricity last year, but the supply is very irregular, the road connectivity poor. I want to make a difference for backward villages," he said.
And yes, he also wants to gift his mother something better than their mud-and-thatch house to live in.