There are some books which you feel like reading almost at one go. One such book is a delightful, light read titled, “Once Upon An IAS Exam” by a doctor turned bureaucrat called K. Vijayakarthikeyan. But before speaking about his book, let me provide some context to the setting of the story. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is clearly one of the most prestigious occupations in India as the bureaucrats rule the country, following , of course, the directives set out by their political masters in our democracy.
Selection to the IAS and its allied services like the Indian Foreign Service ( IFS) and the Indian Police Service ( IPS) is based on an extremely competitive examination conducted each year by the Union Public Service Commission ( UPSC). To give you some idea of the numbers involved, I read in this website ( appropriately perhaps) called Clear IAS.com that in 2016, over 11, 35, 000 candidates applied for the preliminary examinations, from which about 4, 59,000 were called for this exam. Subsequently, 15,400 or so qualified to appear for the Mains, only 2961 got through and were called for the final interview. Ultimately a mere 1209 ( out of the original 11,35,000) were selected not just for the IAS but for all the 24 Central Services.
As you can imagine, there is a great deal of prestige attached to getting into the IAS. I suspect that Dr. Vijayakarthikeyan has based this story on his own experiences and that of his friends, when they were striving to get into the IAS. I shall not be surprised, though it is only my guess, that the author has created Vishy in the book based on his own character. Of course, Vishy is a Mechanical Engineer by qualification, while the author is a qualified medical practitioner who chose to totally shift careers and enter the Civil Services. I understand that he is currently the Commissioner of the Coimbatore Municipal Corporation and the youngest officer to have held that post so far.
But let’s get back to the book. Vishy is devastated at 25 after he has failed in his attempt to qualify for the IAS. Like thousands of others who share a similar fate, he decides to give it one more shot and enrolls for coaching at the Great Minds Coaching Centre, (the one adjacent to Super Best Coaching Classes!!) I enjoyed the author’s often tongue in cheek writing style, which is so easy to read, simple yet effective! He traces the ups and downs in the lives of a bunch of students at Great Minds, young men like Vishy, Vinod, Ashok, Madhan etc. They all have one burning ambition: to crack the prelims., get to the Mains and triumph in the final interview to enter the hallowed portals of the IAS. Vishy is under pressure from another source. His girlfriend Rithika, who works in an IT company, is waiting for the day that they can get married. She is a source of strength to him though often he does not fully appreciate her value.
The author very deftly captures the coaching class staff, the teachers, the students and their characteristics as also the environment there with its intense competition. He weaves into the story different facets of the coaching classes which really has become a major industry!!
All in all, I would recommend this book strongly to anyone looking for a light read about a topic that is so relevant today as thousands of students, who are aspiring Civil Servants, battle it out to reach their ultimate goal. I am sure the book will particularly appeal to the youth who face such problems and can relate very well to the characters in the book.