Saturday, May 15, 2004

Way to the top

They are winners in one of the toughest tests conducted by the UPSC. Tripti Nath and Geetanjali Gayatri talk to the first five civil services toppers who are raring to go.

THERE are a number of new, attractive and lucrative jobs, but the civil services continue to remain the most coveted career option for the younger generation. Over three lakh candidates applied for the 2003 civil services examination. Of these, 1,60,788 students appeared in the preliminary examination. For the main examination, only 5,973 qualified and 1,179 were called to face the interview board. In the results declared recently, 413 candidates have been recommended for appointment to the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Foreign Service, the Indian Police Service and the Central Services, Group A and B.

While some aspirants make it without depending on any formal coaching, a majority join coaching centres.

Roopa Mishra, an MBA from Utkal University who has topped the UPSC examination and has become the first Oriya woman to achieve this feat, says this exam is the toughest in the country. It is not just a test of intelligence quotient, but is a test of the candidate's emotional quotient as well. Daughter of bureaucrat Dandanirodh Mishra and academician Dr Usha Mishra, Roopa Mishra is the third IAS topper from Orissa. The other two toppers have been Hrushikesh Panda (in 1979) and Prafulla Chandra Mishra (in 1982). Roopa says she grew up in a very encouraging environment where she interacted with "leading people from every walk of life." Her husband Anshuman Tripathi, who is at the IIM, Kolkata, encouraged her.

The 27 year-old MBA who was working as an academic consultant at the Directorate of Distance Education, Utkal University, says: "I want people to assess my work after five years. I need time to know my country, its people and the intricacies of development."

She is of the view that perseverance and a positive attitude is imperative for success in the examination. "I believed that I would click, so I did. I guess it is the result of positive attitude, hard work, systematic preparation and, of course, the blessings of God and my family. I chose my subjects with care, keeping in view my aptitude, efficiency and, of course, availability of materials. I could not have offered management, my subject, as materials on that were not easy to come by. So I chose psychology and public administration - two subjects that could be drawn on in my professional life too." She shifted to Delhi to study because in Orissa she could not get the right atmosphere for preparation in the absence of a circle of friends with whom she could interact.

An Odissi dancer, the topper says that honesty is appreciated by the interview panel. Recalling her interview, Roopa says that she maintained her cool and did not get nervous. "They asked me to prepare a the nation's budget on water. I told them that I could only make a rough estimate as a student. It is not possible to read anything and everything under the sun."

Roopa is not unduly bothered about the murky state of politics today and hopes as an administrator, she will bring about a balance. "One may not be able to change things overnight but with sincere efforts, one can make a huge difference and I firmly believe that one should lead by example," says Roopa, who has opted for the Orissa cadre.

Ashima Garg, who got the number two rank in the examination, says she always wanted to be part of the civil services as it is one of the best careers available in the country. "It is an official instrument through which you can make changes in the lives of the common man. You have to deal with a lot of challenges. I want to do something for the people of the country."

Ashima was selected in the Haryana Civil Service and joined as Excise and Taxation Officer (under training) in 2002. A postgraduate from Delhi School of Economics, Ashima taught in Rajdhani College, Delhi University for about six months.

In the first attempt, Ashima did not clear the preliminary examinations. So, a top rank obviously came as a pleasant surprise. "The result was unbelievable."

Ashima who opted for economics and public administration in the examination believes that there is no substitute for hard work. "The harder you work, the luckier you get."

This Gurgaon-based rank holder says the interview is not a test of knowledge but a test of your personality.

Arshdeep Singh, who has stood third in the UPSC exam and who is still busy discharging his duty as Assistant Commissioner of Police in Delhi, attributes his success to his parents Amarjit Singh Thind, an agriculturist, and Surinder Kaur. "They made me a great sacrifice by sending me away from the village to my grandparents in Jalandhar, where I did my schooling. Had it not been for that decision, I would have been nowhere. I would have been working in the fields. My grandparents and relatives, too, have played a crucial role in inspiring me." This graduate from Punjab Engineering College (PEC), who belongs to Kapurthala, recommends choosing subjects which can sustain your interest and rigorous group discussions to prepare for the interview.

Interestingly, Shoorbir Singh, Arshdeep's friend and batchmate at PEC, Chandigarh, has also emerged a topper, standing fourth in the examination. This Jalandhar boy comes from an army background. "I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps and join the army but I was put off by the limited interaction between the army and society. That's when I decided to try my hand at the civil services examination," he explains. The job profile of the Civil Services, the growth and diversity it entails, proved to be a pull factor he could not resist.

He opted for an engineering degree to have something to fall back upon in case he could not make it to the coveted services. After a failed attempt and hard work of two and a half years, his hard work paid rich dividends. Shoorbir is now focusing on the job ahead. "At the micro level I can think of laying new roads and repairing the old ones, promoting harmony among the people and easing traffic congestion, which is a major hassle in my town. The rest of the problems can be taken care of as and when they come my way," he states.

Anamika Singh, who has secured the fifth position in the examination in the second attempt, is enrolled for M.Phil in political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Anamika says it is important to remain cool right from the preliminaries till the interview. It is equally important to be honest if you don't know answers to questions. During my interview, I was asked how stocks are traded. I wasn't comfortable answering it. So, I told them that I've very limited knowledge about economics.

They asked me how submarines communicate with each other. I told them that I did not know about it. Anamika had opted for political science and sociology.

óWith inputs from Bibhuti Mishra in Bhubaneswar