After you scrape through and find your name in the coveted "list" of UPSC-CSE successful candidates, you have a two-and-a-half month 'honeymoon' period in July and August. This is the period when you feel like a local celebrity with lots of media attention and pampering from the entire family.
Neighbors, teachers, even old girlfriends treat you differently, now that you are a soon-to-be IAS officer. This is a valuable lesson in opportunism, flattery and helps set your priorities straight.
Come September and life becomes an entirely different ball game. This is the beginning of the "100-day foundation course,” the first part of the two-year training. The foundation course is common for all civil servants from various disciplines.
One of the most important lessons we learnt was that we are not ‘ the elite.' It's vital for bureaucrats and other power-wielding authorities to understand that others, no matter what their stature in the government hierarchy, are human and to be treated with dignity and respect.
The course included lessons in law, management, accounting, history, polity and economics. We also had guest speakers who were professors from top colleges, retired army generals, working or retired civil servants, even authors and media persons. Our batch had Raghuram Rajan, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Shobhaa De, Gurcharan Das, Tom Alter, Nachiket Mor, Tushar Gandhi and Sumanta Banerjee as speakers.
The training programme did not neglect our physical fitness and we had a mandatory session at 6 a.m every morning. Every Saturday in September, we were taken on a trek which typically involved walking and climbing a total of 18-22 km from 8 am to 3 pm. You really curse yourself while you are climbing the hills. But the scenic beauty and the sense of achievement one feels on reaching the top is really worth the effort.
We visited Kempty Falls, Benog hills (best view in Mussoorie), Lal Tibba hills, known for its blood sucking leeches. Yes, you read it right, I personally sprayed half a kilo of salt on myself and still a leech attached to me.
We also had a week-long Himalayan trek. My group went to Uttarkashi. We walked and climbed 90 kms in one week, ate food with live worms, slept on the ground, including tents, stayed for 2 days at a height of 4500 m. It is both, literally and metaphorically, the high point of our course.
We didn’t get a break after the arduous trek as we had to submit assignments, essays, book reviews, and appear for the dreadful mid-term examination on 22/10/2014.
The most profound part of the training came after the exams. All trainees were sent for a village visit, where we were supposed to stay, and to have a taste of real-life practical problems faced by the villagers on a day-to-day basis.
Our group went to a village in Moradabad, named Kaderpur. It was relatively well-developed but was quite a sensitive area. We were all skeptical about how we would manage without modern amenities. But, the stay was an eye-opener for all of us.
We visited and gauged the functioning of primary healthcare centres, village schools, panchayat functioning. We went to the farms and observed the cropping patterns. Every piece of land was covered by sugarcane and rice.
Living among the poorest of the poor, observing their daily struggle for basic amenities, was an experience that made us realize what we are here to do. It reminded me of a stay in 2011 when as a medical student I went to Dayalpur village, merely 50 km from the national capital. That’s where I realized problems of the poor are solved not by medicine but by providing them with proper civic amenities and nutrition. That experience pushed me towards IAS. Life came full circle.
To conclude, I felt privileged and humbled to be trained at LBSNAA, Mussoorie. The sense of pride you get when you realize that all the senior civil servants who took all the major decisions, made policies marking paradigm shifts and that influenced the very fabric of Indian society, economy and polity and in-turn, laid the founding stone of present day modern India.
If this was not enough, the fact that we have to fill their shoes, carry forward and improve upon their work further fills us with feeling of tremendous responsibility and patriotism.