Beyond UPSC Glory: The Struggle Of Those Who Didn’t Make The Cut

IAS aspirants who failed to make the cut talk about their preparation, inspiration, and dealing with disappointment

5 min read
IAS aspirants Avinash Singh (left) and Ashutosh Dwivedi. (Photo: Facebook/<b>The Quint</b>)

A walk through the area in and around North Delhi's Mukherjee Nagar reveals it to be a microcosm of sorts. It represents the still sought-after status of civil services in India as it teems with coaching centres – each with hoardings more garish than the other – serving thousands of aspirants hoping to crack the remarkably tough Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam.

Over 11 lakh aspirants enrolled to give the 2016-17 UPSC exam, out of which 15,445 cleared the prelims and 2,961 students were called for the interview round. The results for this year’s UPSC exam, announced on 31 May, saw 1,099 students making the cut and of this only 180 aspirants were allotted the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).


The Quint caught up with some of the UPSC aspirants who have no qualms about trying every year till their eligibility is exhausted and others who have been forced to give up on their dream under different circumstances.

The Hopefuls of Gandhi Vihar

In Gandhi Vihar, just minutes away from Mukherjee Nagar, Ashutosh Dwivedi, his wife Pragya, Avinash Singh and Shantanu Singh are all busy with preparations for the preliminary round of the UPSC exam to be held on 18 June.

Having attempted the exam many times in the past, they are well-versed with the protracted process. But the multiple efforts have not deterred them and the desire to join the government service of their choice still runs quite strong.

Both Ashutosh and Pragya, newly married and living together in Gandhi Vihar, have made four attempts. While 30-year-old Ashutosh cracked the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 2015, he remains determined to secure a higher rank and become an IAS officer.

For Pragya, on the other hand, this would be her last attempt, considering the age cap for the examination.

Ashutosh considers the UPSC preparation as tapasya (meditation), stressing on the need to continuously evolve as the exam “keeps throwing new things at you”.

These sentiments are echoed by Avinash Singh, who would be giving his seventh attempt this year.

After six years (of preparation), it would seem like a sad story, but that’s not true. Studying for UPSC has helped me get prepared for everything. I’ve never even thought about another job.
Avinash Singh
Avinash Singh. (Photo: Kabir Upmanyu/<b>The Quint</b>)
Avinash Singh. (Photo: Kabir Upmanyu/The Quint)

Incidentally, Avinash offsets any kind of financial shortcomings by working at civil services coaching centres, helping with “making papers and handling the content part”.

Problems do persist, he says, but he’s willing to overlook them for now.

Living here hasn’t been really pleasant. But it’s a phase, I guess. It’ll pass.

Shantanu Singh, like Pragya, would be giving the exam one last shot this year as he would soon be turning 32 – the age limit for general candidates. After working for four and a half years in a private company, he got the confidence to attempt the UPSC exam, backed by the support of his father and his friend circle.

He doesn't seem perturbed about not being able to crack the exam and is prepared with a ‘plan B’ in mind:

If not civil services, I’ll try and do an MBA, get back into the private sector. It’s not the end of the world for me.
Shantanu Singh

Lack Of Jobs, Emotional Toll After Deciding To Quit

With failed attempts and lost years taking a toll on the physical and mental state of the aspirants, many candidates resort to extreme measures like attempting to end their lives before calling it quits.

Ever since Gayathri Kishore was in primary school, she wanted to be an IAS officer. Just like her grandfather and her father. Graduating in Economics from a top college in Bangalore, Gayathri rejected a couple of lucrative job offers that came her way to pursue her dream.

After two failed attempts to clear preliminary tests, Gayathri packed her bags to Delhi and enrolled herself at a leading coaching centre in the same Mukerjee Nagar against the wishes of her family.

More than anything, you lose confidence in yourself. The kind of person you are, and what you are capable of. Failure drains you physically and mentally.
Gayathri Kishore

While she qualified for the interview round in her third and fourth attempt, she could not make the final cut. In what she called a “desperate” move, Gayathri attempted to end her life by hanging, but was saved by her sister.

With five years lost after undergraduate degree, Gayathri almost lost hope. But with the encouragement and support of her family, she went on to pursue her Masters from Chicago University and is now employed with a well reputed multi-national company. Not all are as lucky as her, though.

Debesh Ghosh is an active member of a UPSC aspirants group on Facebook. He is from Somrabazar, a village near Kolkata. On completing his postgraduate degree in Mathematics, Debesh worked as a school teacher at a private school for a year before deciding to pursue his IAS dream.

Five years hence, Debesh is still carrying the baggage of his dreams.

It has been four years of disappointment. I have not just lost my savings, but that of my parents as well. I do not know how to break it to my parents that I have failed them again.
Debesh Ghosh
Debesh has vacated his rental home in Rajinder Nagar and is going back to Kolkata in search of a job.
North Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar. The craze for IAS still runs high. (Photo: Kabir Upmanyu/<b>The Quint</b>)
North Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar. The craze for IAS still runs high. (Photo: Kabir Upmanyu/The Quint)

After graduating in Law from Symbiosis in Pune, Shailabh Tiwari from Madhya Pradesh set himself a target of three years to pass IAS rank in UPSC exams. But when the time expired, Shailabh, unlike the rest, decided to call it quits.

I decided to go back to practicing law, and my one-year work experience from earlier helped me get back to practicing. But while my peers were already practicing, I was preparing for the exams and I was well behind them when I started.
Shailabh Tiwari

With two attempts left for his age bracket, Tiwari, who is practicing in Delhi, said that he is “out of the game” and does not regret it at all.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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