I believe, therefore I can
Amara Ram Gurjar
Indian Foreign Service (probationer)
Coming from a family of farmers in the Pali district of Rajasthan, it was my burning desire to achieve something really big. I was working with Rajasthan Police as a sub-inspector. I couldn’t clear the prelims in the first attempt and this affected my confidence. But my friends egged me on, and I cleared it in the third attempt.
Though I am an MA in public administration, I did not choose the subject at any level. I chose history for the prelims, and that and Hindi literature for the mains in my third and last attempt in 2007. One should be very careful while choosing one’s subjects. I performed well in the mains and my preparation for the interview was also good. Quite honestly, I was expecting to make it. I had also cleared the Rajasthan Administrative Service that year, securing the second rank.
I secured a rank of 140, and got IFS. I am glad that I will get an opportunity to project India worldwide, when the country is an emerging global player. Moreover, I will get to travel a lot, and my wife and children are very excited about it.
As told to V. Kumara Swamy
Sub-divisional officer, Arambagh, West Bengal
I did BTech (electronics) from the National Institute of Technology, Calicut. I saw IAS as a platform offering social esteem, job diversity and challenge. However, to dream of becoming an IAS officer is one thing and to realise it another. The lack of coaching centres, aspirant groups and study material in Calcutta proved to be a hurdle. In my second attempt, I cleared the mains but not the interview. In my third attempt, I ranked 120 and got the Indian Revenue Service (IRS). In my fourth and final attempt, I got IAS. I enrolled in IISWBM, Calcutta, for a brief while as well as took correspondence coaching from a well-known tutorial. I also had discussions with a few bureaucrats which was very helpful.
Aspirants must be ready to burn the midnight oil for at least two years. Develop the power of lateral thinking to correlate issues and analyse holistically. Do a SWOT analysis. Give a professional touch to your answers, enriching them with case studies, recent examples from current happenings and diagrammatic representations. Stick to the word limit wherever mentioned. Don’t panic during the interview; one isn’t expected to know everything. Last but not the least, have the killer instinct to fight it out in times of frustration and despair.
Indian Administrative Service (probationer)
As a child I wanted to join academics but while doing MA at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, I decided on the civil services. I collected all the relevant material and joined a coaching centre. I studied for eight to nine hours a day. Since I was a geography graduate from Presidency College, Calcutta, I chose that subject for the prelims. In the mains, my subjects were geography and psychology. I couldn’t clear the prelims in the first two attempts. But once I cracked it in 2007, I was confident about the mains. As for the interview, I had no fear. I decided that I would answer all questions honestly; if I did not know an answer, I wouldn’t bluff. I stuck to this rule and that helped me sail through. I was in Jaipur when my husband called to tell me that I had ranked 15th. I was too happy to speak. I attribute my success to good guidance, self-belief and hard work.
Sub-divisional officer, Haldia, West Bengal
I wanted to join the services as I loved the hype and glamour surrounding it. I took the exam for the first time in 2004. I had passed MBBS from Patna Medical College. I cleared both the prelims and mains but stumbled at the interview. The board grilled me on public health, social and women-related issues. I lacked knowledge of the public health system at the micro-level. Soon I was working as a medical officer under the Jharkhand government. This helped me crack the interview the next year.
What matters is the quality of effort you put in. When you are studying for CSE, there should be nothing else on your mind. I used to study for 10-12 hours everyday. I read newspapers and watched analytical shows on news channels. There are a lot of analytical questions in both the mains and interview. You might be asked, for example, what would have happened if Aurangzeb had preceded Akbar as a ruler. Make sure your answer is balanced, diplomatic and politically correct. I read magazines like India Today, Frontline and the Economic and Political Weekly. They are perhaps more helpful than quiz books. CSE is a test of the presence of mind. During the interview if you do not know a particular answer, you should admit it rather than take a guess.
As told to Devlina Ganguly
Assistant superintendent of police, Chatra, Jharkhand
I cracked the civil service exam in 2005 in my first attempt. I ranked 40 and could have opted for IAS or IFS, but took up IPS as law enforcement seemed more challenging. I completed graduation in history from Hansraj College, New Delhi, in 2004. I spent the next year preparing for CSE. I took tutorials for the history and geography papers. For the prelims, I concentrated on the previous years’ question papers and read The Hindu religiously. Reading NCERT books help in the general studies paper. For general knowledge, I read the India Year Book. I do not think long hours of study matter. I studied for six to seven hours a day. However, one has to be consistent. Hard work is not important, smart hard work is.
Many candidates don’t make it through the interview. I think what matters most at this level is confidence. When I took the interview, two of the board members kept questioning me on medicine, which is not my subject area. I told them humbly that I didn’t know anything about it. At times you are asked for your opinion on sensitive issues. For example, I was given a real-life incident where a rapist had been asked by a judge to marry the girl he had raped. I was asked whether it was the right verdict. I chose to be diplomatic and said that if the girl was comfortable, then it was fine.
To join as sub-divisional officer, Serampore, West Bengal
I did BA in political science, MA in international relations and PhD from Jadavpur University, Calcutta. In 2001, I enrolled at the coaching centre at IISWBM, Calcutta, as I was drawn to the charm of the “elite” service. My first attempt was without any preparation. In the next two attempts, I cleared the mains but no further. I finally made it in my fourth attempt.
Read magazines like the Civil Services Chronicle, compilations of general studies volumes and NCERT books. The hours don’t count. You should be always alert. For example, when I sat for dinner, I would watch panel discussions on news channels.
You never know what bouncers the interview board might deliver. For example, I had said cooking was one of my hobbies, and they asked me what I would rustle up if they came to my house for a meal. It’s basically a test of nerves. Do not try to bluff the board. Be honest and admit it if you do not know something.
Sub-divisional police officer, Kalyani, West Bengal
I took CSE partly to prove myself in this seemingly difficult all-India exam, and partly by accident. Literally.
I went to IIT Kharagpur, emerging in 2001 with a degree in agriculture and food engineering. I joined Cognizant as programme analyst. Then 9/11 happened. The Indian IT sector, reliant largely on outsourcing, was badly hit and a general sense of insecurity enveloped the world. For the first time, I was drawn to matters relating to governance.
After I joined IIM Indore, in 2003, I began toying with the idea of taking CSE. I broke my leg in an accident, and was wheelchair-bound for several months. I spent the time preparing. I first took the exam in 2005 and bagged IPS, my rank being 128. I took it again in 2006, hoping to make it to IAS. But again, I got IPS.
Choose a subject close to your heart. I took help from the Delhi-based Interactions and Calcutta-based Institute for Civil Service Aspirants. I relied mainly on NCERT books, newspapers and the Internet for general knowledge. I also read the Indian Constitution. Aspirants should be able to analyse and critically evaluate issues.
Don’t mope if you don’t score well or fail. If you make it, it’s fine. Or else, move on and do something else.
As told to Debashis Bhattacharyya