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Chasing the civil dream

They want to turn their backs on careers in glitzy India Inc, get down to grassroots — and do something ‘meaningful’. Praveen Donthi meets a few young Indians who want to join the IAS.

india Updated: May 18, 2008 01:20 IST
Praveen Donthi

Amit Kumar, 26: Too much disparity in society, he ‘can make a difference’

He fended off all the initial resistance from his family to do an MBA after he had completed engineering in IT from Delhi University. Amit was set on the IAS, and he was ready to go to any extent. “I worked for five months in a call centre to support myself, then my family finally relented.” There was a lot of pressure on him as he was the eldest son in the family.

He decided to pursue the IAS only during his graduation days in DU, which he qualifies as “very late in life”.

Amit says back home in Jamshedpur, people believe that only divinely ordained people get through the exam, “and I knew that wasn’t the case. Many people with very ordinary track records have done well.” He is now determined to break that ‘divine’ myth.

He took the UPSC main exam twice, and now is pursuing his M.Phil in JNU. “This university has the right environment to prepare, and I am also getting a degree which will be useful in future.” Why is he ignoring all the avenues that might come his way thanks to his IT degree? “If I go to the US, I could earn in dollars and have all the luxuries, but go to my hometown, and you can see the disparity. I can’t lead a blinkered life. One has to then stop reading newspapers.”

Says Amit, “But if you have the intention, you can make a difference as a collector.” What if he doesn’t make it? “Going back to IT will be the worst-case scenario. Or maybe I will join an NGO or a government institution.”

S Gondkar, 28, MBA: ‘IAS has a broad-minded approach’

Sharmila Gondkar, an MBA holder from Karntaka University is determined not to secure a corporate management job but to become an IAS officer. Why does she want to waste her degree? “Management is needed everywhere, and I want to use that in the best possible way, where I can test my qualities and bring innovation to administration. Civil services is such a job.”

None of her family members are highly educated. Sharmila comes from a humble background which is what pushed her to pursue civil services. “Ever since I was a child, I’ve been struck by the plight of the poor. I have seen a lot of poverty in my village. The private sector is profit driven, and its scope is very narrow — unlike civil services which allows for a broadminded approach.”

What exactly does she want to do and how? “All I know is that there are many problems and they need to be solved. Even I may not know how to do it but this job will provide me with the platform, ways and means of how to go about it.”

Sharmila has taken the UPSC main exam twice, and also twice appeared for the final round of interviews for the Karnataka state services. What if she doesn’t clear the exam? “I have to clear it, there is no other way.” Would it be a waste of time if she doesn’t succeed? “I’ve gained so much knowledge after I started preparing for this exam that I feel very empowered and strong. I will put all this to use.” What would be the alternative? “This is one of the ways to serve people, I will find some other way.”

Arun Kumar, 28: The IIT-ian who wants to help the needy

As a Mechanical Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur — where leading companies come to recruit — Arun Kumar opted to sit out his campus placements. Not that he was born into riches, it’s just that Kumar felt he was suited for the civil services.

“From where I come (Ghazipur, UP), people suffer, and it makes me miserable. If I get into the corporate sector, that will be just for me. But in the IAS, I will have a chance to do something for the poor and needy.”

Standing at rank 672 — according to the results declared this Friday — today will be his fourth and last attempt. Was it easy to just sit and study all this while and not earn? “Money was a problem as this exam is both, time consuming and financially intensive, so I took up a job with SAIL (for three years), and now I’m supporting myself with that money. A private sector job wouldn’t have given me enough time for preparation.”

Is all this hardship worth it? “If you can help at least one person during the day, you will have that tremendous amount of satisfaction. You sleep peacefully. IAS gives you that opportunity.” Isn’t it possible to do all that while in the private sector? “You need some power to change things at the grassroot level. It also gives you a feeling that you are with the people.” What if he doesn’t make it in his last attempt? “I have been selected in Indian Engineering services,” says Kumar in response.

Sadre Alam, 23: MBBS to ‘policy making’

Chennai boy, Sadre Alam, 23, stood ninth in the AIIMS entrance exam, and passed out last year with a stupendous sixty five percent. He secured rank 311 in the 2007 UPSC exam.

It would not have been surprising for Alam to — like his peers — pack his bags and head westwards for a post graduation. He would’ve been a success, and earned in dollars or pounds for the rest of his life.

Instead, he chose to pursue a profession — the IAS — which would pay him Rs 8,000 as basic salary. Why? Because IAS is the only job which lets you be part of policy making. Alam says, “As a doctor, however big, I cannot do a job of the health secretary.” What would such a job mean? “I see myself in the role of a leader. Society ascribes more prestige to an IAS officer than to a doctor.”

You probe for more reasons and he gives you more: MBBS is a long-duration course, while IAS gives you recognition in very little time.

“At 23, I have a chance to become an IAS officer. As a doctor, I might earn a lot of money, but I won’t achieve anything — unlike in the IAS. The gestation period for success is very high in the medical field.”

Isn’t money a temptation? “It can’t be a factor. As an IAS officer, I will be able to achieve bigger things, way beyond the scope of a doctor.”

Mercy Tetseo, 25: ‘There’s a higher calling in UPSC,’ she says

She walked the ramp, did print modelling, and represented the Nagaland cultural delegation that went to Bangkok as a singer. But she didn’t pursue any of the above with the passion she had reserved for this “most elite and challenging” civil services. “I saw all the other things as hobbies, but I found a higher calling in UPSC.”

After completing her post graduation in Psychology from Indraprastha College, Delhi, she worked as an HR Executive for six months, but her “heart” she says, “was always in the UPSC.”

Ask her why UPSC, and pat comes the reply, “why not UPSC?” Mercy explains, “It can’t be compared with any other service. You are part of policy making; there is a lot of social prestige, and both — job satisfaction as well as job security.” Even as CEO of a big corporate, you can’t have all of them, she adds.

None of this comes easy — the process is strenuous and time consuming. “When you are preparing for the exam, you are also proving something to yourself.” Mercy understands the importance of perseverance. She says, “You have got to somehow hang on, and see it through till the end. Not everyone gets through, but we all know that the process is very tough. And that only increases the lure.

What about alternative career plans — just in case this doesn’t work out? “I have my degree to fall back on.” She says. “But before that, I have to give it my all, and not regret later that I didn’t even try.” Is there a lot of prestige attached to UPSC back home? “Yes of course.”

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