Vishnu H Prasad : An Accidental Civil Servant

Our Home: Yarrows

Before we delve more into the training that IA&AS Officer Trainees undergo, it is imperative that I introduce you to Yarrows, the home of the officer Trainees in Shimla. As I reported in Shimla on December 11, 2016 for attending the training, Yarrows was the home that awaited me. I was welcomed at the reception by the ever charming Lat Sab and ushered into my room. I was alloted Yarrows-7, the only double room in Yarrows, overlooking the Tennis Court and the Himalayas. I fell in love almost instantaneously.

Yarrows

Yarrows

It is very difficult to not love Yarrows. It has been the home of the Officer Trainees ever since the 1951 batch, ( the 1950 batch was lodged in the nearby Chadwick House, another colonial building in Shimla) and almost every batch that has graduated from the academy holds it very dear to the heart. Like the monsoon that unifies Indians under a single emotion, Yaroows is the emotion unifies every IAAS Officer.

Yarrows is a colonial building that was designed by none other than the famous British Architect, Herbert Baker in 1913 for his friend Charles Lowndes, a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. The first volume of the Analytical history of the CAG, mentions that Yarrows was the place where Muhammad Ali Jinnah spent his honeymoon. However, the revised and updated Thematic History of the CAG which came out in the naughties, calls it the Summer Residence of Jinnah. Whichever is the truth, we probationers often joke about Jinnah’s Ghost haunting the corridors of the wooden bungalow.

A slight digression here:- Herbert Baker, who designed the building, should be familiar to almost all UPSC aspirants who have read the NCERT Textbooks. He is also the person who designed the house of Sir Cecil Rhodes at Cape Town which is now the official residence of the President of South Africa. Later, he worked with Edward Lutyens for designing New Delhi and the Secratariats of North and South Block in New Delhi are his handiwork.

Yarrows

Yarrows

There are 7 rooms in the top floor which are all named after different flowering plants. There is also a balcony which opens to a Square in front of the palatial building. In the ground floor, we have the officer’s mess, a reception, a music room, billiards room and 2 lounges.

Regarding the architecture of the building there are two views that I hold. The academy website mentions that it is Swiss Chalet Architecture. However, after some reading on the internet, I am convinced that it is Tudorbethan Architectural Style rather than Swiss Chalet. Ofcourse, only an expert in European architecture can confirm this. Therefore I would just propose this idea to you.

The first curious question I had regarding the building was why the name Yarrows was given to it. Again, this is the official description that I have heard about it is thus

This building is probably named after Yarrow (achilleamillefolium), a mildly aromatic,lacy-leaved plant topped with daisy-like flower heads borne in rounded corymbs. Thisplant has multifarious uses: it was once used for colds and as a tonic. It was used tostaunch wounds and nosebleed. It was said to cure demonic possession and also to testwhether one’s love was true!

Whatever the heck it means. But nowadays, I tend to think that it is a corrpution of the word “Yaaron” given the bond that we officer trainees form between each other during the training period.

Yarrows is exclusively reserved for the Officer Trainees. This means no one, not even the Director General, enters inside the premises. The seniors who have graduated from the academy also never enter inside the Yarrows complex without asking the OT’s for permission. It has been set by tradition, it seems.

The most wonderful thing about Yarrows, however, is not the building or the legacy. What makes the stay there most memorable are the fellow officer Trainees and the staff involved in keeping it ever so well maintained.

In the morning, when I go running for the classes, with my bed and room completely in disarray, I expect the little elves of Yarrows to do their magic. When I get back from the Academy, the bed is made, the clothes are neatly stacked, the waterbottles filled, the table arranged, the coffee table cleaned and slippers kept in position. I can say with utmost confidence that no other academy pampers its OT’s like the way NAAA does.

There are still more things that make Yarrows ever so endearing. The view of the Himalayas on all sides, the deck that juts into the valley and provides a wonderful view of Shimla, the beautiful and well maintained lawn which is where we make our snowman , the serene and calm surroundings, the languors that keep running on the wooden roof through the night… the list is endless.

No trip to Shimla is complete without atleast once visiting this beautiful building that is hidden from the hustle and bustle of the city. I am glad that I get to live here for one year in my life. It makes the effort that you put in preparing for the UPSC CSE worthwhile.

The real life starts not during preparation, but after it.



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