"Kashmir ka sitara, Faesal hamara (Star of Kashmir, Faesal the great). The slogan reverberated the air when Shah Faesal (27) --- who topped the Union Public Services Examination (UPSC) to become first from Jammu and Kashmir ever --- landed in Srinagar on Friday afternoon.
Rains failed to play spoilsport as enthusiastic crowd in a small cavalcade beat drums and set afire crackers in front of the modest house of Faesal. Even for journalists, reporting the success story, it was a break from routine violence and gore.
"Who are bursting crackers? Who are raising slogans? Who are beating drums? Tell us please," shouted Faesal aunt, who rushed through the festooned path, bare-footed to have a glimpse.
Faesal topping the services examination has broken the myth that Kashmiris are discriminated. "We are caught in self-created confines of perceptions. I have broken those myths and perception. Our participation in the exam is miserable," said Faesal, surrounded by a battery of journalists.
The topper, who hails from a remote village of Sogam in north Kashmir, more than 90 km away from Srinagar, said he will reach out to people in remotest villages of Kashmir to motivate and educate them for administrative services.
"Clearing IAS exams is no more about being hailing from UP and Bihar," he added.
Conscious of being from a conflict zone, Faesal has set his priorities. "I want to contribute in my small way to peace of Kashmir," Faesal told the Hindustan Times.
Faesal was moved by the plight of poor people when he practiced medicine. "I saw patients who had no money to purchase medicines, a large number of them. I want to make difference for them. I though IAS will help be to contribute in a different way…Also want to fight menace of corruption," said Faesal in a blue suit, surrounded by skull-cap and Khan Suit wearing relatives.
He credited his father, killed by militants in 2002, for his success. "Many things what my father taught in my Class 7 helped me in the exams," said Faesal.
Overwhelmed by the responses in Delhi, he said he felt like a Delhiite. "The vice-chancellor of Hamdard University, many IAS officer, ordinary students came to me to say congratulation. It was humbling," said the topper.
Faesal, who had taken up Urdu and Public Administration as subjects for the IAS exams, wants to serve Kashmir "but is ready to be placed anywhere in the country".
The success story already has an imprint. "I too want to prepare for IAS exams," said Amir Bashir (16), a cousin of Faesal.
Governor NN Vohra has invited Faesal and his mother to Raj Bhawan for felicitation.