The UPSC 2017 results are out and with it have come celebrations and heartbreaks.
For 27-year-old Abhishek Surana, a resident of Bhilwara in Rajasthan, the results have brought in some much-needed cheer as he has secured the 10th rank in the examination.
In a conversation with The Better India, he speaks about his life, the decision to attempt the examination, the manner in which he prepared, and the journey so far.
Abhishek grew up in Bhilwara, which is known as the ‘textile city’ of India. After completing his schooling, he went on to study Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi. He spent four years in the national capital during which he was exposed to different people and different experiences, all of which widened his perspectives.
In addition to academics, Abhishek always had an inclination to contribute to social causes, and in IIT Delhi he actively participated in the National Service Scheme (NSS) and got to work with various NGOs across multiple issues. He feels that this experience strongly influenced him to look the civil services as a career option.
“The inclination to work with the social sector has always been there but I never thought that I would end up writing the UPSC examination,” he says.
He recalls that the initial idea of joining the civil services was planted in his mind by his grandfather. “My grandfather was into government service at a very local level, and I remember him telling us (his grandchildren) that one of us should get into the services. At that time I did not think much of it, but perhaps that did influence me to take it up.”
Life before the civil service examination
Like many of his IIT batchmates, Abhishek also secured a high paying corporate job with Barclay’s Bank in Singapore and spent 1.5 years there.
“The job at the bank was too comfortable for me.”
“I had always heard that if you get too comfortable too early in life, then you are not doing the right thing. Also, the job was not challenging enough. So I took a risk and started up a company, which took me to Chile, South America. It was a mobile-based app start-up, and the South American government gave us the funding,” he says. All this happened in February 2014, and the app took up nine months to build. During the time Abhishek felt that there was still something missing in his life.
The decision to come back to India
“In 2014 I decided that I needed to come back to India and appear for the civil service examination. I wanted diversity in what I did—and that I felt only the services could give me.”
“You get to work in so many different sectors, and that experience and exposure is completely different,” he says.
It was a tough decision to make for Abhishek, and after a lot of deliberation, he decided that his true calling was to work on a grassroots level, in India.
The journey from 2014 to 2018
Abhishek attempted the UPSC three times without success, before making it this year.
“I cleared the examination last year with a rank of 250 but did not manage to get selected for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).”
“However, I got through the Indian Police Service (IPS),” he says.
Abhishek took up the IPS seat and was undergoing training at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad when the UPSC 2017 results were announced, and his life changed forever. There was no looking back now.
Abhishek attributes his success to his family’s support as well.
They never asked him any questions about why he chose to leave a high paying job and return to India or why he decided to write the examination.
“The fact that they were so comfortable with me doing whatever I wanted to has certainly helped me. There was no pressure, and they have always encouraged me to do what I think is best,” he says.
The years spent in preparation
Over the last two decades, the profile of the examination has undergone many changes. One of the biggest changes is the easy availability of study material. Earlier most aspirants would come to Delhi, Hyderabad or other such centres to enrol in classes, now that is not needed.
“Non-availability of study material or access to quality classes is no longer an excuse for aspirants,” he says.
“From 2014 it took me almost 1.5 years to feel that I was competent enough to be selected. Each year that I wrote the examination, I felt more in control. In 2016, I finally learnt from my mistakes and did reasonably well,” he says.
A typical day in the life of an aspirant
“I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. on most days and head to the gym by 6:00 a.m. After an hour of working out, I would return to my room in Rajinder Nagar, a place where many civil service aspirants live.
After a quick breakfast, I would head to the library in Rajinder Nagar, which is considered a mecca for all aspirants. The next twelve hours would be spent there, with a few breaks for tea and lunch in between,” he says.
While Abhishek has many friends from his college days in Delhi, he chose to be cocooned in Rajinder Nagar to ensure that he remained focussed on clearing the examination.
“Even a day lost would have been crucial for me. During the time I was preparing for the exam, the library had become my home. I only went back to my room to sleep,” he says.
Spending so much time in the library also led to Abhishek making some good friends here. As they all shared a common goal and quickly bonded.
How expensive are coaching centres?
Abhishek says that while most aspirants complain about the amount of money these centres charge, if one is really keen on it, then there always is a way out.
He says, “If you are a good candidate and are serious enough, you can approach any coaching centre and request that they enrol you for their course.”
“Trust me when I say, that if you have that potential in you, no one will turn you away. They will find a way to accommodate you.”
On an average, just for the test series, one should be ready to spend about Rs 20,000 a year for general studies and about Rs 15,000 for the optional paper per year.
Abhishek will be joining the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie in August, and until then, he plans to spend his time travelling across India.
“I have travelled a lot outside India, so I plan to use this time to explore my country. Kerala and Ladakh are on my list of places to visit,” he says.
Here’s wishing this young IAS officer in the making all the very best!
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)