Written by current Commissioner of Coimbatore Corporation K Vijayakarthikeyan, the novel is set against the backdrop of the 2010 IAS exams.

Once Upon an IAS Exam book review A simple story about the making of a bureaucrat
news Book Review Tuesday, November 06, 2018 - 12:10

Civil service examinations in India are a world unto their own, filled with elated highs and frightening lows for the lakhs of aspirants who take the tests in hopes of serving as bureaucrats for the country. The exams, conducted by the nation’s central recruiting agency, the Union Public Service Commission, is notorious for being the ‘mother of all exams’ in a country that places a disproportionate importance on marks and ranks when it comes to academics.

However, K Vijayakarthikeyan’s book, Once Upon an IAS Exam, is less about the scoring of marks and more about the excruciatingly-long ‘process’ the aspirants undergo in the cyclical annual ritual that involves a preliminary qualifying examination, the main examinations and an interview in the nation’s capital, New Delhi.

The short read is a simple story based on the life of Vishy, a Chennai-based mechanical engineer who hopes to crack the examinations. With supportive parents and a best friend who would do anything for him, for Vishy, the world is his oyster. However, it is when he encounters the world of ‘coaching institutes’ that he understands what it is to be competing with different kinds of people who have various motivations to take the exam.

The author brings alive the streets of Anna Nagar, the area in Chennai best known for its neatly-decked avenues and, of course, its IAS training institutes that offer everything from ‘super best’ crash courses to all-expenses paid mock prep interviews for high achieving candidates. Set in the year 2010, the book depicts the small joys, disappointments, insecurities and the uncertainties in the lives of these aspirants. With a neighbourhood tea stall that offers the best ragi malt and leaked question papers from institutes looking to make a quick side buck, Vishy, who has led a sheltered life, has a lot to learn from his friends Vinod and Ashok who have left their homes and mastered the less-than-luxurious environs of Anna Nagar’s student hostels.

The author is the current Commissioner of Coimbatore Corporation, who has drawn from his experiences of becoming a civil servant. He has authored three Tamil bestsellers, Ettum Dhoorathil IAS, Adhuvum Idhuvum and Orey Kallil 13 Maangai.

The writing is uncomplicated and from the heart, making it an easy read for anyone who is fascinated by the makings of the Indian bureaucracy. While one wishes that the time jumps were not as jarring and that the lives of the supporting characters were described more elaborately, this is a relaxing read, especially for bureaucrats and aspirants who may relate to its intricacies – if they find the time, that is.

Book: Once Upon an IAS Exam

Author: K Vijayakarthikeyan

Publisher: Rupa Publications  

Pages: 138

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