Ice cold tea, a half-eaten lunch, an ashtray full of cheap cigarette butts, and a room where even a pacing around is not possible. If you see all this, be assured that you are in this wonderland of dreams called Rajendra Nagar or the highly discriminated against Mukherjee Nagar.

They all sell one dream. The dream called Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) or Civil Services Examination.

For many in our country, the civil services examination offers an escape from their present realities. Be it the dismal life of a 9-5 office worker or a poverty-stricken sawmill worker, a girl who literally had to fight for the right to be recognized into the services or a boy whose father was shot down by militants in Kashmir. For all of them, the only escape is Indian Civil Services.

But if even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr dreamt this dream, he wouldn’t have liked to talk about it. The experience of preparation, as it is known amongst the aspirants, breaks human spirit. Its a terrible, yet a rewarding experience. Why? Lets see.

The Great Indian Dream Job

Indian Civil Services Examination offers a person entry into almost all Grade ‘A’ central government jobs. These include the All India Services such as the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Police Services (IPS) and the Indian Revenue Services (IRS). It also grants entry to the very selective and elite, Indian Foreign Services (IFS). These four services are the ones, mainly which have driven millions upon millions of youths of India to spend years preparing for this unforgiving exam. Why? The perks are brilliant, the pay is great, but the greatest thing these jobs provide is, immense power.

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The power to change the society, shape a district, regulate law and order. These sweeping powers are required to be held my men and women of high caliber and competence. Hence, the pattern of the exam. Divided into three stages, it tests a candidate at every level.

A multiple choice Prelims, a subjective Mains exam and a personal interview. These test candidates’ knowledge of the country, the world and themselves. Lakhs give prelims, about 10-14k give mains, and less than 1000 make it through the interview. That makes a success rate of less than 0.01%. In spite of being incredibly hard, this exam attracts millions every year, everywhere. So who are these people anyway?

Where is this dream manufactured?

Stereotypical answer will say people from Bihar, and by extension, UP. But this demographic stratification is gradually waning away in favour of a more pan-India participation. Toppers are coming from the metros, small cities, and increasingly, rural areas. Another major shift is in the educational background of the candidates. Inspite of Tripura Chief Minister asking them not to, engineers are increasingly appearing for the exams. And so are doctors , lawyers and other professionals. Usually, the domain of arts graduates, UPSC has become more open.

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Then, we come down to the industries this saga has spawned. Old Rajendar Nagar, Mukherjee Nagar, Neb Sarai and other localities in Delhi have more aspirants than locals. The area is teeming with book shops selling NCERT photocopies, coaching notes and reference material. These, for the benefit of the thousands living in rooms smaller than a king-sized bed, usually, in double or triple sharing arrangement. You may think, rent would be proportional for the facilities provided. But here too, profiteering shows it’s ugly face and hapless candidates are charged anything between 10-20k per month for these boxes!

The journey 

Here, we reach the reason for these ‘PGs’ and flats creeping up all over the place. Countless coaching centres have spawned in these localities for UPSC preparation. Holed up for hours at end, with almost 5-600 students per class, candidates pay lakhs for a chance of ‘sure-shot’ selection. Fighting all this, and in many cases, abject poverty and horrible circumstances, a fresh crop of Civil Servants are selected every year around April end.

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Each person, from the first to the last rank has his own story in their journey up to that photograph with the President of the Union of India. But you know what all of them have in common? The zeal, the determination to serve their motherland. The sheer will to pull the wheels of progress of our great country. And lastly, immense love for the nation.

If you didn’t give UPSC at least once in your life, what have you done?

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