Bureaucratic Tales

Glamour quotient in civil services

ON googling the word “glamour”, one gets to read about the attractive, elegant or exciting quality that makes people or things seem appealing or special. In the original Scottish Gaelic, the meaning veers towards magic, enchantment and casting a spell.

By Maninder Singh

By Maninder Singh

ON googling the word “glamour”, one gets to read about the attractive, elegant or exciting quality that makes people or things seem appealing or special. In the original Scottish Gaelic, the meaning veers towards magic, enchantment and casting a spell.

Do the All India or the Central Services continue to hold the glamour that they held? Is the glamorous steel frame a frame of the same old vintage? Although children of many serving and retired officers continue to join the services, there are many whose offspring no longer aspire for the glamorous jobs in which their parents spent a contented life-time.

Does that mean that the glamour quotient of the services has declined? The numbers of those vying for the civil services continues to rise and tell a vastly different story. Does glamour play a role in the recruitment? Obviously not, since those who are recruited are quizzed on their academic proficiency in their chosen subjects, aptitude for the services and on general knowledge and awareness. Where does glamour truly figure, except in the medieval sense of scholarship?

Etymologically, the word glamour is a derivative of grammar. The Latin word grammatical was often used in those times to refer to learning and scholarly accomplishment.

Beauty with brains

When I sat for the exams, the reigning Miss India, Dolly Minhas, was also appearing at the same centre and there was considerable excitement whether she would make it. She had stated in interviews that she was appearing seriously for the exams and wanted to be known as a beauty with brains. Putting it differently, not just a dumb beauty. It may well be argued whether making it through an exam would be a guarantee of lack of dumbness and, conversely, for anyone making it through a competitive exam, with hundreds of thousands of aspirants at the starting blocks, could anyone sailing across the rigours of the exam and the interview really be dumb.

In the traditional and orthodox sense of meritorious academic attainments, a majority of the officers who make it have been uniformly good in studies and, even, toppers.

KD Tripathi, a Secretary in the Government of India, was a topper during both matriculation and plus-two. Saraswati Prasad, whose name made an officer ceremoniously pirouette in the Academy, had also topped in plus-two. These officers had topped in the UP Board exams, where the number of candidates was easily in lakhs, even four decades ago, and were, in the sense of scholarship, truly glamorous. 

Matrimonial sweepstakes

Reading about the matrimonial sweepstakes in the Academy, and the quest of two officers for the ”glamorous” much sought hand of another officer, an All India Services officer wrote, “Old friend, why didn’t you write the actual name of Helen of Troy, over whom so-called demi-gods of the Mussoorie Academy had a fight? Was she that beautiful?”

Recognising that some may consider the request to be crass, I had replied to my friend that this would be considered subsequently. The two “demi-gods” went on to carve out their lives and chart their own courses. One of them became a “glamorous” Commissioner of Police in a major metropolis and the other occupied several senior positions in North India.

What became of ‘Helen of Troy’? Ernest Hemingway wrote that all stories, if continued far enough, end in death and he is no true story-teller who would keep that from you. Under the happy home-skies of India, many stories, if continued long enough, end in holy wedlock. And so it was with her. The said ‘Helen’, if one is to go by the characters in Homer’s Iliad, discovered her ‘Paris’ in the form of a senior colleague from a south-Indian cadre. 

Sense of achievement

Finally, what would glamour truly denote in the sometimes fancied and oft-mundane world of the civil service?  Liberalisation in the 90s, and subsequent transformations in the media and other realms, may have shifted conceptions of glamour, which are not synonymous with common perceptions. There are multiple views and some facets of the service have been characterized by a distinct lack of glamour.

I would gravitate towards a lasting sense of achievement or accomplishment. Officers may do well to remember the following words, which I first saw, framed in sombre black, in the Old Circuit House on the banks of the Sutlej, in Rupnagar: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”.

Since nothing lasts, neither glamour, nor the years in service, nor, indeed, life itself, the injunction of showing kindness and doing good is a commandment, that thin-skinned officers may not always be able to brush aside carelessly.    

— The writer is an Assam cadre IAS officer currently on deputation in Chandigarh

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