Entry into the central Indian civil services – in particular the Indian Administrative Service - is the dream of thousands of aspiring young men and women who take a fiercely competitive examination comprising a preliminary and main written examination followed by an interview.
This year heading the list of successful candidates was a young woman who shares with readers of NEW INDIA DIGEST how she prepared for the examination and her dreams for the future.
was born in Gulbarga on the 10th of January, 1977. My father was then in the Karnataka Administrative Service, and the following year he was selected for the Indian Police Service. My mother is a gynaecologist in government service and my brother is doing his third year engineering in computer science.
If I have chosen to start with my family it is because my family has been the biggest inspiration for me to join the services. My father Shankar Bidari has been the bravest and kindest officer I have ever known. He is the recipient of a spate of awards and medals including the Chief Minister’s medals, the President’s Medal for Gallantry as also for meritorious service. I have admired him as a hardworking leader who always led from the front, keeping in mind the ground realities, as a responsible son and brother, a supportive husband, a thoughtful father and a loving friend. To be like him, or to be close to him, has been a life-long ambition for me, and it still remains to be fulfilled.
My mother Umadevi is one of those doctors who went for Government service in spite of all the opportunities as a private practitioner. She feels from the bottom of her heart, not only for her patients, but for all people in distress and in suffering. She would go at 3 in the morning to attend to emergency cases in hospitals.
Her dedication to work, and the support my father gave her, instilled in me the confidence that I would be able to manage both a career and home well. To have a career woman for a mother makes one learn a lot of things. You never feel different just because you are a girl. You have your own dreams and you feel you can make them come true as your mother has done.
My brother Vijayendra who is five years younger than me is very mature, hardworking and intelligent. His affection and his criticism have pushed me into giving my best. My relatives and friends have also been a source of great inspiration, telling me that I have to live up to my parents’ reputation. All of them always made me work hard and helped me achieve what I am till today.
Due to my father’s frequent transfers my ten years of schooling and pre-university were spread over eleven places. However, I was in only one college, though I had to change home three times in four years. My schooling was in small places, in State board and mostly missionary schools. All these frequent changes in schools was not very nice. But today when I look back, I realise that all this has made a better individual out of me.In every new place there would be a new school, new teachers, new neighbours. At every stage I had to prove myself, again and again. This constant competition helped me do well in my studies and I am the kind of person I am today because of my experiences in different places.
rom the second standard onwards I have always stood in the top three in class. In the 10th standard Board examination I missed my state rank by five marks but got 100/100 in Mathematics, my weakest subject. This encouraged me to take up science in my 11th and 12th and I opted for Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Biology.
It was only after class X that my parents talked to me about the Civil services. I had an inclination for them but was not sure it would be easy to get through. My father told me to take Arts in college. But I was adamant in wanting to do science and engineering. I always wanted a secure job in hand, so that I would become financially independent. My parents agreed and after my 12th I got a merit seat in the RV College of Engineering.
This was one of the most difficult phases of my life. When I was about to finish my 11th, my father was posted as the Commander of a Special Task Force, set up to nab the forest brigand, Veerappan. For three and a half years he was in the jungles of Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Our lives were constantly at risk, and we had security cover all the time.
My decision to go in for engineering instead of medicine was to some extent influenced by these circumstances. I was scared that if something happened to him I would have to take responsibility for my home. Engineering would be over in 4 years, and I could settle down with a job soon. I chose Computer Science because I sensed it would really be a hit. And so it proved to be as I had two jobs in hand even before leaving college. But those three and a half years helped me realise how much my family meant to me and how thankful I should be to God for the wonderful home I had.
I went through campus selections in BFL Software as a project trainee, with HPCL Calcutta as a management trainee, and a dozen other companies. All these instilled a lot of confidence in me. My aspirations to have a job and financial security seemed easy to achieve. I was the only one selected from Bangalore University for the interview conducted by HPCL in Calcutta. I had to compete with 70 odd MBAs with an engineering background from some of the best universities in the country.
I was just twenty, and not even a graduate, but cleared the screenings at the University level and five levels of testing. Finally at eight at night I was one of the seven that had an appointment letter in hand, with an excellent salary - the only girl and may be their youngest employee in systems management.
finished my Engineering in March 1999. In December of the previous year, I decided to take the Civil Services Exam. I spoke to a few seniors about the subjects. I was keen on taking Kannada literature because of the influence of my grandfather, Sri Madhura Chenna, a well-known writer of the Navodaya movement in Kannada literature. Though I had done literature seriously only till Class X I was not sure I had the proficiency to write the Civil Services exam with Kannada literature. I joined some classes and a family friend also helped me.
My venture into Political Science and International Relations as a subject was solely because of Prof. B. R. A. Rao, a retired professor of political science – the one person who guided my thought process in the right direction. His e-friendliness and his novel ideas even at the age of 75 was something I admired the most. My highest marks, a record of 396/600, in a humanities subject like Political Science is a tribute to his teaching and guidance.
Bangalore does not generally have a tradition for Civil services. Students are more keen on joining engineering or medicine. They would like to do their Master’s abroad and maybe work there for some time. Nor do we have big training institutes for civil services exam. I joined the JSS institute which has an excellent library and an eminent economist, D.M. Nanjundappa, as its head I received great support and encouragement from the Institute.
The biggest benefit of joining all these classes was the friends’ circle I gained. I got into combined studies with the more serious students of these institutes which makes studying a pleasure. To be in the company of like-minded people of the same age group, all working towards the same goal, was simply great.
My friends helped reduce my anxieties and fears about the exams. We taught each other. We criticized each other. Through the clash of ideas we developed more balanced thinking. I became a better listener and learnt to appreciate diverse views on a topic. We also had a competitive spirit which made us work very hard.
I undertook my studies systematically: reading topics one by one; making notes, revising, trying test papers within the allotted time and getting them corrected and trying to improve on my mistakes. I might have worked eight hours a day, at least between January 1999 and December, 2000.
In my first attempt, I appeared for the preliminary exams in May, 1999, having finished Engineering in March that year. I had only two months time. But after the exams I was sure I would clear them. In any case, it would help if I started preparing for the Main exams – which I did.
I had a hint my Mains’ marks would have to be supported by excellent interview marks for me to make it to the list. So I prepared very well for the interview and got 210 /300 earning me the 107th rank. I was selected for the Indian Customs and Central Excise Service, missing the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) by 35 marks.
I decided to skip the Foundation Course and went ahead preparing for a second attempt. I knew I had to work very hard on my Mains. It was a little tough to motivate myself because I was already in a service. At this point my friends and my mother made sure I put in a lot of effort, telling me I that I deserved the best and should aim for the best.
I was extremely satisfied with my papers in the Mains. On December 13 we celebrated our parents’ 25th wedding anniversary and I left for Faridabad to join the Customs Academy, NACEN, for my training. It was the first time I had stayed out of Karnataka, and my first time in a hostel. I was very homesick. But my training was very interesting and involving. I met people from different backgrounds and cultures and made wonderful friends. I went to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and the Punjab for different aspects of my training. I was learning law and taxation-related matters for the first time in my life, as also Hindi.
In April I went home on leave. The results of the Mains had come and I started preparing for my interview with my friends. Back in Faridabad, my friends at the Customs Academy tested me with mock interviews. I told my parents that I had dreamt I was wearing a peach sari for the interview. So my mother bought me a Mysore silk sari in the same shade of peach so that I should feel comfortable at the interview!
My interview was on May 4. I was a little uneasy. The interview went on for an hour. It was mostly technical with questions regarding the history of computers, microprocessors, gravitation, and negative gravity, PSLV’s, GSLV’s. There were also questions on the Northeast and corruption, judicial activism and the Tehelka tapes. I was not entirely happy but felt comfortable about the interview. The board that interviewed me was very cordial.
I was very worried as I waited for the results. I thought I would miss the IAS because of my interview marks. On May 16, 2001, I excused myself from the class I was attending in NACEN, Faridabad, in order to check the results. When I could not download the results till 4.15 I started crying.
y father called to say that I had done well. I didn’t understand what that meant. When he called the third time he told me I had topped the list of successful candidates. It was such a pleasant surprise. I cried and cried and then came to my hostel. There was jubilation in the academy.
The press arrived within half an hour, and I was giving interviews to the press, TV and the radio. It went on all night and for the next three days. I was planning to go home, when my father met with an accident. I was very disturbed and flew home the same day. I had a grand reception in Bangalore, in spite of all that had happened. I had more interviews to do and was invited to meet the Chief Minister and the Governor of Karnataka.
I attended a few felicitations in Delhi, apart from some 45 felicitation functions throughout Karnataka. The people of my state and elsewhere too were elated. I received more than 3000 letters of appreciation from every nook and corner of the country. It was a celebrity status achieved in my moment of glory. I had to give so many speeches and began to get used to all the adulation which the people of my state so kindly bestowed on me. Recently on November 1, I was awarded the Kannada Rajyaotsava Award, the highest civilian order of Karnataka, and am the youngest recipient of this award.
I have the honour of being the first person from Karnataka to top the Civil Service Examination in the history of the civil services in India (including the ICS). I was also the first woman from south India to top the exams - and probably only one of three women to have topped this exam till now.
I was allotted to the Assam-Meghalaya cadre. I was a little disappointed initially about not getting my home state. But then I realised that this was a God-sent opportunity. When God had been so kind to me, surely He would be kind to me in future also. I am deeply influenced by Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri. I believe in the inherent strength of a human being in turning every challenge into a great opportunity.
I joined the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy for Administration in September, 2001. I am doing the Foundation Course and have met people from different services, different states, and different cultures here. I see India in this academy. I am very happy to be a part of it.
I remember when we were studying for this exam, how we used to keep a big poster with “ MISSION MUSSOORIE “ and “TRAIN TO MUSSOORIE” written on it. The academy always inspired us. My friends used to keep Bhavana Garg, the 1999 batch topper’s photographs in their wallets. But we never knew that I would end up topping the same exam one day. My friends told me I would - but I never believed them.
In Karnataka I have seen small children coming and telling me they want to be like me. I have signed more than a thousand autographs and received as many calls and many more letters. I have inspired a lot of girls to have faith in their dreams and to work to fulfil them. There are many young people who come from rural backgrounds and who have studied in the regional medium. They tell me they now feel they can get through these exams because one of my optional subjects was Kannada literature.
In all those innumerable interviews, felicitations and studio interviews I have laid stress on only one thing. I was a normal student with a normal schooling. I don’t belong to the big educational institutions or to big coaching centres. I have referred to simple Indian books and dealt with my subjects with commonsense and application. I have worked with whatever resources were available to me in a way I thought was right, and my consistent hard work has yielded the results I wanted.
I expected to be in the top thirty, but with God’s grace and the blessings of my parents, I have had the credit of topping the first civil services exam of this millennium.
There is a saying: “Shoot for the moon, and even if you fail you will land among the stars.” It’s always important to keep high goals for ourselves in our personal and professional lives, so that we can bring out the best possible in ourselves.
Getting into the IAS is not an end in itself. I left software engineering at a stage when it was one of the best careers available. I entered the IAS because I wanted to be of some service to my people and to my country. I am an optimist to the core. I believe in recognising and understanding the problems of our country and solving them. Blaming the system and claiming helplessness will not solve any problem. I believe it is the young who are the hope of this country. If we don’t want to make a difference who else will?
“ It’s not the end of my dream ...it’s the beginning....” A good beginning for that matter. I hope God and the people give me the strength to work very hard and to make the best of all the opportunities I get to create a very positive difference in the lives of our common people. The IAS is both my opportunity and challenge. To live up to the life of being a good public servant is a daunting task.
I want to prepare myself for a life of challenges and opportunities to leave this world a little better than I found it.
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