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“My tryst with Civil Services”

That is the most clichéd question every civil services aspirant expects on the day of his interview with the wise men (and women) at the Public Services Commission. For the uninitiated, interview board comprises the famed, and at times feared, members of the Commission. However, the question persists long after the interview is over. Sometimes, even long after you enter the service.
It was pretty simple in my case. Long long ago, when I was a little kid in the middle school, my Abu once told me that IAS/KAS was the most prestigious tag anyone can have after their name. Considering the obsession he has for the MBBS, I wonder if he really said that. But he must have said something really nice. Else how could a lethargic middle school kid who never thought about the next day’s homework ever think about something as farfetched as a career. So those magical three letters found their way into my memory.
And then we have these nosy uncles and aunties who are inherently dumb and incredibly restless to show off how boring they can get. They pick the smallest of the kids in any party and ask his name. In case, he manages to answer that, the next question would be, “What would you become when you grow up?”. Thus the underlying corollary is that every kid who has learned to talk should definitely know what he wants to become after two decades. If the kid embarrassingly smiles and wriggles in discomfort, he would even be given choices to choose from. I found that I had a wonderful antidote for all these tormentors. The moment I said that I wanted to get into the IAS/KAS, they would be filled with awe. They would praise me sky high. One lady even termed it dynamic. I never could get what was ‘dynamic’. If she meant the civil services, my Abu would laugh at her ignorance. If she meant me, my mom would laugh at her innocence. But anyways, I must admit that I began to enjoy the adulation. I had something different to say, especially in a place like Kashmir where people think it is a blasphemy to think anything other than being a doctor or engineer.
My Abu was least bothered what I would do in life. All he wanted was that I did not miss the school in the morning or my tuition classes in the evening. Simple man, simple thoughts. Of course, with a son like me it wouldn’t be prudent to expect more.
Life went on. Be it my high school or my degree course, I shrugged off my academic incompetence saying that since I wanted to enter into civil services, these technical inputs would be of little use to me. By this time, however, I learnt that there are other interesting services too, in addition to the popular IAS/KAS. College days breezed by me and I found myself in my penultimate year. True to their code of honor which they undertook on the day they were born in Kashmir, all my friends started preparing for Masters. Day in and day out, I was surrounded by names of Universities offering courses in Masters in Forestry, their rankings, dates etc. Reluctantly though, I had to get admission for Masters in the local university for my friends whose company I never wanted to miss. Ironically, I left my Masters midway, just for want of submission of my thesis, for many more reasons other than my indifferent attitude towards the course itself. I felt as out of place as Darsheel felt in the classrooms of Tare Zameen Par. So just like the kid in the movie went to a different teacher, I too went on with some different taste for career pursuit, and I finally managed to scrape through KAS. Thanks Abu!!
In retrospect, it was not a totally unconscious choice. Somewhere along the years, I found that Government is the place where I would be happy to work. Nothing patriotic or serve-the-people or make-a-difference-in-people’s-life about it. I believe that only interest that men have is self interest. So when people tell me that they join civil services to serve the nation, I become a little circumspect. I am not really sure if we really serve the people. The job has a mandate to fulfill. We do it and we get paid for it. Nothing selfless or altruistic about it. It is just another job on earth.
However, the civil services do have an appeal of their own, distinct and undeniable. The challenges in the Government are immense. Any industry would have a section of population as its prospective clientele. But for the Government, the entire population is its clientele. The Government performs more varied activities than all the MNC’s combined. The sheer numbers, the geographical stretch and mind-numbing diversity in its activities makes any Government the most challenging employer. Trust me, work in a government office is more challenging than any MNC.
If the challenges in the Government are one attraction, its conditions of employment are the other. It ensures that the work pressure does not lead to a burn-out. Personally, I always wanted to lead a balanced life. I believe that work should not become life. It should just be a part of life. I wanted to have enough time to pursue my other interests; say bore my friends by just gossiping in the evening. No wonder bureaucrats are such prolific writers. In such matters, Government is a very benevolent employer. Be it the five-day week or the sufficient leaves or the provision of benefits like health, housing etc, Government seeks to be the ideal employer. Its mid-career training programmes, where it funds the entire cost of post-graduation in prestigious universities like Harvard, Duke etc are something which you can never expect in even the best of the private sector firms. The exposure you get from the interaction with numerous institutions and distinguished persons in course of your career is invaluable.
So to put it simply, civil services offer a right mix of challenging opportunities and benevolent conditions of work, which nurtures a balanced growth of personality. As a pay-off, you might have to be contended with abysmally low salaries and curbs on your freedom in the form of Conduct Rules. But, that’s how life always is, a trade-off. I felt, and still feel, that implementing the VAT Act, ordering tax remissions, investigating tax evasions, conducting search, seizure and release operations, being a part of budget formulation etc. is more interesting than coding in a cubicle in a far off land earning tons of money but carrying the burden of monotony. It is a decision I made based on my observation of the world around me. It is for time to judge whether it would hold good in my case too.
 

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