Once Upon an IAS Exam (Book Excerpt) by K. Vijayakarthikeyan

Vishy’s worst nightmare—failing the UPSC’s Civil Services exam—has come true. He is plagued by insecurity, fear and doubts. The mother of all competitive examinations has rejected him and he needs a reason to live. So, what does he do? He tells his best friend Rithika, ‘I love you… Will you marry me?’

In Once Upon an IAS Exam, twenty-five-year-old Vishy tries to overcome the uncertainty and confusion about his future and figure out ways of convincing Rithika to marry him. Things turn even more interesting, funny and emotional as Vishy reattempts to conquer ‘Mount IAS’. As he tries to take his academic and love life towards safety, he seeks refuge in the world of IAS coaching centres.

Set in the bustling Civil Services exam coaching hub of Anna Nagar in Chennai, this book is a hilarious account of the actuality, stress and struggle faced by millions of candidates who prepare year after year for one of India’s toughest exams. Join Vishy as he sets out to prove his mettle to the world—and himself. Will Rithika accept the love of her best friend? Will Vishy overcome his sense of failure? Will there be a happily ever after?

Dr K. Vijayakarthikeyan is a medico turned bureaucrat currently working as commissioner, Coimbatore Municipal Corporation, and is the youngest ever officer to have held this charge. He is well known for his hugely popular initiatives as an IAS officer and has won several awards and accolades for his pioneering work in land, solid waste and urban management. He has authored three Tamil bestsellers, Ethum Doorathil IASAdhuvum Idhuvum and Orey Kallil 13 Maangai. On sunny weekends, he can be found wreaking havoc on the cricket ground with his explosive batting and deceptive spin.

An Excerpt from Once Upon an IAS Exam by K. Vijayakarthikeyan

‘82506’ typed Vishy nervously on his tablet. His fingers were trembling as he typed those numbers. That was his roll number in the 2009 Civil Services Examination; the preliminary results of the exam had just come out. Vishy stared at the screen after entering his roll number in the official website. The webpage seemed like it was last changed during the 1990s.

‘Sorry! Your roll number does not figure in the list of successful candidates!’ read the screen.

Picture Credit: Rupa

Vishy was a tall, well-built, twenty-five-year-old Mechanical Engineering graduate from Chennai. Like 99 per cent of his batch mates, at the time of enrolling he had no clue as to why he was joining engineering. However, by the time he realized his mistake, five semesters of college were already over. Yet, he felt that it was better to be late than sorry… He wasn’t someone who could be tied to the mechanical ‘office–home–office’ routine. He wanted challenges, and he always wanted to be around people, not machines.


He had seen his father do an effective job as a doctor, balancing material success with inner satisfaction, yet Vishy wanted bigger challenges and a multidimensional future. And he wouldn’t get those challenges by becoming an engineer, as he often proclaimed to his father. He felt that getting into the civil services, encountering multiple obstacles and providing solutions to them was far better than joining an MNC, getting a hefty salary and leading a mechanical life. Getting into the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) was his dream—but now, after leaving behind his engineering career and putting in one year of preparation, his hopes and dreams were dashed.

Vishy felt a choking sensation in his throat; he was barely able to breathe. Reality had hit him hard. He had failed to clear the exam, his hard work had been wasted, and his and his parents’

dreams were broken. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he felt the pressure of life for the first time. For the past twenty-five years, Vishy had always done well in academics. This was his first big failure in life, and it hurt him badly.

It wasn’t only Vishy who was hurt—about 4,88,000 other aspirants across the country, who were dreaming of entering the civil services and shaping up a better India were also feeling the same. Dreams, aspirations, love, hope, faith, trust, confidence, patience, dedication, determination—all were broken as only 12,000 candidates were selected from the 5,00,000-odd aspirants who had appeared for the preliminary exam.

Some gave the exam out of peer and parental pressure, some saw it as a means of settling down in life and for some, this exam was life itself. For Vishy, this exam was the gateway to his dream.

The dream of being of some use to his country.

His mother saw him crying and rushed to the room. She understood what had happened and quickly comforted him.

‘Never mind boy, you tried hard, but that’s how things work sometimes. Cheer up!’ she said.

Vishy continued crying, but a sense of resolve started creeping into him. For every bout of tears, he thought This is the last time in my life that I will cry because of an exam result.

He repeated the same thought to his mother, and then decided to cry himself out.

An hour later, his father called him. ‘You haven’t failed. Your success has been postponed,’ he said.

‘Ok Pa, sorry for letting you down. Next year this time I’ll convey to you the happy news of me clearing the Prelims,’ said Vishy, in a low but confident tone.

Both his father and his mother who overheard the conversation, felt extremely happy. At an age where youngsters jumped into unruly ways at the slightest of pressures, the way Vishy had regained his composure made them feel proud.

Although he had behaved so bravely and in such a composed manner before his parents, Vishy still couldn’t sleep that night.

What went wrong? What went wrong? he kept wondering.

Meanwhile, his phone started ringing.

It was Rithika. She was his 2.00 a.m. friend from his school days. He answered it.

‘Hello,’ said Vishy.

‘Result gone, is it?’ she asked.


‘Guessed it from your “hello”. What now?’

‘Will clear it next year for sure.’

‘Yes, you will,’ reassured Rithika.

‘I have one more thing to say.’


‘I love you, Rithika. Will you marry me?’

‘What the… What has happened to you? Why all of a sudden?’

‘What, why, how, when is all too much. Just let me know your reply.’

‘What do you want me to reply? Your mind is confused. Your heart is insecure.’

‘Stop the gyan, please. And think. Think, and let me know. I am really sleepy now. Goodnight.’

‘Good. Sleep well. Goodnight.’

Vishy woke up the next morning and brushed through the newspapers. Thankfully I can read more cinema news now than current affairs, he thought to himself. His father, who had reached home late that night had just finished his morning walk and joined Vishy.

‘I wish to talk no further on the results, Son. Just put it behind you, take a short break and start working again,’ he said.

Vishy nodded without taking his eyes off a picture of Deepika Padukone on Page 3.

‘Moorthy had called. Hari has cleared Prelims it seems. His father is jumping upside down, while Hari is doing somersaults and reverse somersaults in their house,’ said Vishy’s dad.

‘Ha ha! Expected this. Hari’s Facebook status reads “On the way to conquer the world”,’ chuckled Vishy, motioning to his phone.

‘Amma, I am going out. Won’t be home for lunch,’ yelled Vishy as he checked his phone for the 3532ndth time since he woke up.

He then got ready and went to watch a movie.

‘1 new message received’, beeped Vishy’s phone as he was in the middle of the movie. He opened it with his popcorn dipped fingers.

‘Need time. To think, to assess. Let’s stay away for a month and then decide based on our feelings,’ read the message.

‘Ah, here she goes again,’ sighed Vishy.

Again, that night Vishy had lots to ponder over….

His eyes fell on the words inscribed on an advertisement in a nearby sign that read: ‘Never do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.’

Vishy felt that those words were written for him. ‘It’s the subject. I made a mistake; I shouldn’t have gone with Mechanical Engineering as an optional subject for this exam,’ he concluded finally.

The other side of Vishy’s brain was thinking about Rithika.

On the outside, Vishy felt pretty confident that Rithika would reciprocate his love—after all they were best buddies from school. But deep inside he had a fear that this ‘best buddy’ tag

might not necessarily make Rithika respond in his favour.

In fact, she would do just the opposite. That’s what she is…he thought.

Anyway, he was happy that he had expressed himself clearly to his parents in terms of his career, and to his girl about his personal feelings. He slept off with a loud snore….

Vishy spent the next few days loitering with his buddies, catching up with all the new movie releases and completely taking his mind off of exam preparation. After a couple of weeks of doing nothing, he realized that doing nothing was the toughest job in the world, so he started putting the books back on his study table. He felt that it was time to get back to business.

He felt that he hadn’t done many practice and mock tests before the exam, the first time around, and had mostly relied only on self-preparation. He hadn’t joined any coaching classes for the exam, but decided to join the bandwagon now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *