Mr. Abhishek is a mechanical engineering graduate from IIT-M and is currently posted as Asst. Collector in Puducherry. He opens up to Chennai-36 about his days at insti, his training, and experience as a civil servant and his advice to students. Here are the excerpts-
Q1. Hello sir. It’s a great pleasure talking to you. To start with, can you tell us about your journey to and at IIT?
Ans. I come from a small town called Tenali in Andhra Pradesh. You must have heard of Tenali Raman! Being from a rural area, I did not have a lot of exposure before coming to insti. But somehow I made it to IIT-Madras. What I really loved about insti was the diversity of the opportunities that it offered and the range of exposure, be it Shaastra, Saarang, IVil or any sort of activities. Another great thing was that I got to meet people from the length and the breadth of this country and that is very important to shape our perspectives about lives and try to understand about how people from different cultures behave. I was also inspired by those students who put tremendous effort into their student life and also by professors who put so much effort into their profession. I keep saying this to many people that most of my learning happened outside of the classroom and that is the beauty of IIT-Madras. But out of all these, what stuck with me is IVil (IIT-M for Villages). I loved working on the ground in villages, spending time in the camps, engaging with students and trying to find out solutions to the problems. I also enjoyed working with IIT-M Alumni Association because that is where I interacted with many IAS officers who were the alumni of IIT-Madras.
Q2. How did you decide to get into civil services?
Ans. It was in my fourth year, after an internship in TVS motors when I realized that I had to start figuring out what to do in my life, otherwise, I thought to myself that I would end up in a company like a lot of people without a job satisfaction. I felt that public service would be a great opportunity to really do what I love to do. The diversity in the job also attracted me, which always keeps your learning curve increasing. So that’s how I decided to enter IAS. In fact, I opted out of the placement process too! I was very clear about what I wanted to do and wanted to experiment with my life instead of working in a company.
Q3. You have told us how you made up your mind to go into civil services. How did you prepare for UPSC? Did your experience in insti POR’s help you in your entrance process?
Ans. Yes, they indeed help! As I mentioned, I was an active participant in the Alumni Association and IVil. I was also the co-founder of Colloquium, which was actually the most helpful. As a student, I always felt that though we had a great platform for exchange on technical and cultural knowledge, we lacked opinion sharing on burning social and political issues happening outside insti. So I thought we should have a very informed discussion and debate among academics as well as the student community. That’s how colloquium was born. It really helped in my preparation as it gave me different perspectives on the same social issues. As far as preparation is concerned, the biggest disadvantage for IIT-M students is that not too many seniors prepare for civil services during those days. So, there is a lack of orientation within the institute. Most of the people aimed for MBA, placements and going to grad school somewhere abroad. There was one person, Mr. Neeraj Kumar, who was my senior and who went on to become an IAS officer. Along with Neeraj, Vishnu Warrier (who is now an IPS) was also another aspirant. We all got together and thought that we should work together towards our passion. But the real preparation started when I graduated and went to Delhi, where I realized how to prepare and what to study.
Q4. Once you cleared UPSC, how was your training experience? How was it different from the education you had in IIT Madras?
Ans. First of all, I was in IPS earlier, later on, I shifted to IAS. I would like to give you some incidents from my IPS training because these inspired me a lot. It was really a humbling experience to see some great people in IPS. There was a constable named Durairaj who got two to three police medals and one presidential medal. He was put in the training school to teach young probationers even after retirement! Even at the age of 60-65 years he as physically fit and uncompromising. Mind you, he was not an IIT graduate nor an IPS officer. I learned to be disciplined and organized in my IPS training. In the IAS training, the emphasis on discipline was high but the training was not as regimented as IPS training. I got exposure to a variety of fields such as law, economics etc. These pieces of training are more action or field oriented, but IIT-Madras was more academic. The same police reform will be taught in some other college somewhere. But the way they teach it here is completely different. There are a lot of field visits, meeting with dignitaries etc.
Q5. While getting into civil services, you have many options like IAS, IPS, and IFS etc. How did you narrow down on IPS and later to IAS?
Ans. I always wanted to become an IAS officer. When I was in IIT Madras Alumni Association, we had something called “Connect”. It is only through alumni that I got deep exposure to what is IAS, IPS etc. I think the huge difference between IAS and IPS is the diversity of the job. IPS, even though very dynamic, is largely confined to law and order. But in IAS, you have a wide variety of tasks. In fact, even while I am speaking to you, I am returning from an operation where I caught a man illegally mining sand! For one hour, we searched him throughout a village and finally caught him after a brief chase. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to work on something like blockchain technology, after that some court work etc.! So IAS is indeed a very diverse job. Also, when I was interning in TVS motors, I was always surrounded by engines, motors etc. I feared that if there was no diversity in my job, my learning curve would stagnate. While handling multiple things, I keep learning and this learning never ends.
Q6. Those were some fascinating stories about your work. Like these, what types of challenges do you face on an everyday basis?
Ans. The biggest challenge is the insane amount of workload. We need to maintain a delicate balance between the rate at which we do tasks and the thoroughness with which we do them. We get a tremendous amount of paperwork on an everyday basis. Unless and until we read each and every part of the file, we cannot take an informed decision on these. But at the same time, bureaucracy cannot become slow and sluggish. Then there are the usual problems of being understaffed and under-resourced. We need to learn to optimize the existing resources to get things done. Then there is the political challenge. We need to tactically handle that and understand their minds. Another big challenge is managing our personal lives at the same time. Many people fail to take good care of themselves while working because of the workload.
Q7. Can you tell us some more adventures which you have faced in your career? I am sure our readers will be very excited to hear these.
Ans. In Dec 2017, somewhere near Christmas, I was in Kashmir and posted along with the army in a district called Budgam which is one of the most militant affected areas in Kashmir. That is where many militants like Burhan Wani who got killed by the army come from. I was with one of the army Major and we both were discussing the challenges that jawans in the army face. One unique thing about the Indian army is that the officers actually go onto the field and fight with the enemies which don’t happen in other places like Pakistan. In order to understand the major challenges that they face, the Major told me that he will take me to a night patrol. So we formed a team of around 16-17 people and I was one of them, I had no training at all, I was dressed as an army officer and I was given an AK-47! I just mimicked what the others did! Being winter, the light was fading quickly and people there wear long dresses that completely cover their body, you don’t know what they can be hiding. You don’t know who is carrying what and which vehicle has what. It was one of the scariest experience in my life. When you actually do that, you know what is happening on the ground in Kashmir. We many a time comment on things but it is when you actually go there that you get the real taste.
Q8. IIT-M, as you told, offers a lot of opportunities for students. What is your advice to them for making the best use of it?
Ans. My advice to students is to discover their passion before they come out of IIT-Madras. In my own batch, I have seen people who sat for placements, gave CAT and also applied for universities. I think it is better to fix on some goal in life and invest all your time and energy on it rather than ‘going with the flow’. I would tell students to grab every opportunity you get in insti life, and in the process discover their interests. Another advice is, after graduating, if you want to experiment with your life for four to five years, do it, without any fear of failure.
Mr. Abhishek also encouraged students who want any help, especially about civil services, to contact him. He can be reached at 9703934553.
Author- SRIRAM RAGUNATHAN(CH’21)