The Bijay I know
By Ayaskant Das
The mobile phone just does not stop ringing. Eager journalists, relatives and friends call up to congratulate Bijay Ketan Upadhyaya, the unassuming simple guy from Soro in Balasore district of Orissa, who secured the fifth rank in the Civil Services Examination of 2008. He takes all calls, responds to every text message and replies to all emails with a patience and diligence that is very much the characteristic of a rational bureaucrat in the making. As he settles down to a sumptuous dinner after three days of hectic activity since the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) declared the final results on May 4, 2009, he reflects on his four years of hard work in New Delhi, which catapulted him to the most coveted job in the country, the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), with a rank that most candidates would be proud of.
Bijay came to Delhi in May 2005 and settled in 55/1 of Old Rajinder Nagar, the middle-class locality of New Delhi that is better known for the umpteen institutes offering coaching for civil services. He made his room, his hermitage and shared it with the writer of this piece for the next three years. All around him aspiring candidates crumbled like ninepins but his determination was like the Sphinx. In May 2005 itself, he joined the Vajiram and Ravi coaching institute, for coaching in General Studies and Psychology, while he joined Sriram’s IAS, another nearby coaching institute, for studying Public Administration. For the next three years, he regularly put in more than ten hours of study everyday and mastered those books for his optional papers that many a candidate dare not touch: Ferrel Heady in Public Administration, for example. A student of Veterinary Science from the Orissa University of Agriculture Technology, he was very well read: Edward Said, T. S. Eliot, Noam Chomsky, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Samuel Beckett; he had touched upon a variety of writers on a wide range of subjects. Often, he would make particular mention of English, August, a novel by the bureaucrat-writer Upamanyu Chatterjee and how the protagonist of the novel, Agastya Sen, a District Collector, had fired his imagination to be a District Collector himself.
Among journalists, he is a big fan of Jug Suraiya, the columnist of the Times of India, whose articles he read regularly. Eminent journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is his other favourite journalist, and he regularly listened to him over the All India Radio, which he claims helped him broaden his knowledge. Entertainment was kept at bay for the struggling years and I remember accompanying him to a nearby multiplex on a maximum of four occasions during four years. But even then he would ensure putting in an hour or two of study, no matter how late at night he returned after the movie. Occasionally, he would watch the cartoon programme Tom and Jerry on television, which he said helped him “destress” and increase his “creativity”.
One has to see him to know how simple and humble he is. In food too, he was not choosy and would occasionally indulge in a brick of ice cream from the neighbourhood Mother Diary. He had no other focus in life than the Civil Services. He stuck to his routine even when we other friends went about partying and revelling.“Ultimately, my confidence in myself, the hard work I put in, the support of my parents and the guidance of my senior Satyasai Rath, an Indian Revenue Service officer, has paid off”, he said on his secret mantra of success.
He had cleared the prelims of the 2007 Orissa Service Public Examination (OPSC) but the submission of the form for the main examinations got delayed. “It was a blessing in disguise. OPSC would have diverted my attention”, he says. “Even my not clearing the prelims in my first attempt of UPSC and my being unable to make it to the final list in my second attempt by 40 odd marks were blessings in disguise. God arranges for the best”, he adds. “I had a good exposure to English literature since my childhood as my father is a reader in English and that has helped me being inspirational in life”.
Bijay was so organised in his daily tasks that he could locate every item in his room even in pitch dark. All his friends were of the strong opinion that he would make it in the Civil Services, but he says: “I never dreamt of getting such a high rank and was expecting a rank somewhere near 200. I was very confident in the interview board, the Chairman of which was Prasanta Kumar Mishra. Lot more confident than what I was in the board of Roy Paul, in my second attempt. Extensive study brought about this confidence in me. ”
On Orissa being a backward state, he says: “The people of Orissa need to develop strong entrepreneurial skills to compete with others. Otherwise they are very talented. I became a civil servant with the inspiration of Satyasai Rath and Roopa Mishra, the topper of IAS 2004. I hope many other students from my state do even better”. His younger brother, Ajay Ketan Upadhyaya, a software engineer with Citibank in Singapore, when contacted over the phone said: “Bijay was very ambitious since very early in life and that is the single most important point that brought him success.”
As Bijay polished his long, much-deserved lazy dinner, I asked him jocularly if success would get to his head and he would taper into mediocrity to which he replied with his characteristic humility: “Just wait and watch. This is just the beginning.” It is a wish that Bijay remains the same guy as ever and guides Orissa on the path of prosperity.(The writer, Ayaskant Das, is an Editor with Macmillan India Limited. He is based in New Delhi and can be contacted at email@example.com)
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