Written by Jaydrath Mahedu

Civil services have long been considered a fit domain for the youth of the “Hindi heartland”. After 2010, the country underwent a sea change, in large part due to growing social media influence. The appearance rate in civil services skyrocketed nationwide, luring even IITians, doctors, and IIM pass-outs who had so far abstained from joining the field. Cult following of a profession like civil services is not a new phenomenon; There has always been a fan following for officers like KPS Gill, K Vijay Kumar, TN Seshan, etc. But one of the bigger sparks set off on Instagram somewhere around 2018.

Newly recruited officers inspire lakhs of people to join the services by giving interviews about their struggles and posting pictures in front of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Administration Academy (LBSNAA) and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy (SVPNPA) in crisp uniforms.

It is no secret that the fastest way to achieve some upward social mobility for an average person in a middle-class family is by cracking the civil services examination. No sooner does one get absorbed into the services (particularly the Group A services like IAS, IPS, IFS), do they start getting counted as the cream of society. The metamorphosis of an aspirant through the preparation process is tantamount to gold-ore dressing. The aggrandisement of knowledge — geographical, historical, constitutional, economic, cultural — is not the only skill acquired. One develops the ability to think with complexity, manage their temperament, learn the art of sustenance, and have mental endurance.

In light of this, every year, a plethora of young aspirants, nervous as they may be, land up in Delhi for coaching classes and the “splendid isolation” essential for this examination. Many would then scan the Old Rajinder Nagar (ORN) and adjoining Karol Bagh area to find a humble abode. ORN is a place where one would, at any given point in time, see young men and women loitering around in casual clothes, carrying bags, using earphones. The shops are ordered just right — property dealer, followed by a cafe and ending with a stationery/book shop. On both sides, one can see innumerable institutes claiming the toppers to be their product, reality notwithstanding. Footpaths are lit up with pedestrians, pamphleteers, and stationery goods sellers.

Festive offer

As they shift to ORN/Karol Bagh, the realities of life make strong headwinds. (One is reminded of the accurate depiction of the struggle in 12th Fail). The odds, especially for the financially insecure, are too high. Skirmishes with the landlords and acquiescence to inedible meals are the order of the day. But, like army personnel, they learn to exercise stoicism and spend all their energy to become a district collector or “jilladhikari”.

On the bright side though, as one learns to navigate these cross-currents, and gets settled, one starts making memories until the charm of the melting pot called Delhi finally sets in. Moving through the curriculum for the exam, the desire to visit the places one comes across only increases. A week of hard work and a day off – that is the mantra. It all begins with trying to figure out the colorful Delhi Metro lines. A visit around the old walled city of Shahjahanabad where the red imperial edifice still stands comes as a refresher for the medieval history part of the syllabus and the arterial lanes of Balli Maran and Chandni Chowk provide context to the 18th century invasions which “Dilli” is known for. Another Sunday, as one hops off at Lok Kalyan Marg Metro station and wanders on the posh streets of Lutyens’ Delhi, one comes across the bungalows of India’s who’s who as they walk up to the Teen Murti Bhawan, PM Sagrahalay and Parliament house. (Flashes of modern Indian history and the Nehruvian era are only natural).

Another place that holds a special place in every aspirant’s heart is the library where they go to sharpen their edges — and end up developing an emotional attachment. The British Council Library at KG Marg is a place that many aspirants wistfully remember after leaving Delhi.

As I write this, many must be shedding sweat and tears in preparation for the upcoming civil services examination, scheduled for June 16. Those who clear the exam will go on to constitute the top brass of the bureaucracy and contribute towards nation-building. Those who can’t, will come out more refined than they were before and contribute towards nation-building all the same, in a different capacity. Perhaps, there is no competitive examination that so radically evolves a human being as the UPSC exam. Not every aspirant gets to climb the social ladder with this route, but each ends up taking away a lot.

The writer is a UPSC aspirant

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