Yarrows Diaries: It’s Spring in Shimla

I left Shimla for the interservices meet, Sangam, when winter was slowly giving way to the pleasantness of the Spring. However, due to the unfortunate turn of events, I wouldn’t return to Shimla for the next two months.

Yarrows Lawn
Yarrows Lawn

I returned to Kerala post the injury where the sun had already started to show his colours. The two months of April and May was very happening for both the OT’s of my batch and for myself.

While the batch would go on the most fun attachment till date ( atleast that is what my batchmates tell me. May be they want to make me jealous. One of the things most OT’s yearn for during training is going home with leaves very difficult to come by. I would like to think that they are just jealous 😉 ) The attachments that I missed are PWD (Public Works Department) attachment and Treasury attachments. For this attachment, the entire batch was split into two, with one group going to Kullu/Manali while the other group proceeding to Kangra/Dharamshala.

OT's enroute Rohtang Pass
OT’s enroute Rohtang Pass

From what I have been told and the pictures that have been shared, other than studying the working of the PWD and Treasury they engaged in a lot of fun activities like rafting, trekking, paragliding in these areas of Himachal Pradesh. My friend Karan tells me that Lazy Dog cafe in Manali is a chill place to hang out which their group did a lot.

Meanwhile, back in Kerala, I was having even more fun bonding with my son. He had turned 3 months and I had last seen him on my paternity leave. In a way, the accident turned a blessing in disguise. My son, who initially did not recognise me, would smile on seeing me by the time I left. I was able to witness a lot of personal landmarks for him in his growth phase:- He was able to turn around and lie on his stomach, he turned much more talkative and his smile was becoming even more attractive by the day. I was also able to spend our first wedding anniversary with my wife, thereby being able to avoid Lekshmy’s complaint that I was so invested with UPSC that it is my first wife.

Another important landmark was the “Choroonu” of Pranav. It is the custom where a baby is first given rice food. It is usually done in a temple on the 6th month of birth. However, since Pranav would complete 6 months only in June, by which time my leave would be over, we decided to conduct it while I was home. We did it in the nearby SriKrishna temple, and I was on a walker.

Meanwhile, I was also to attend the UPSC interview on May 18th, 2017. The doctor had informed me that I would not be able to bear weight on my leg by that time and therefore I intimated UPSC that I would require wheelchair assistance. The UPSC has to be commended for the prompt reply that they gave. Not just that, the entire UPSC building is disabled friendly with ramps and special restrooms built in the campus.

I had skipped the FC last year after the results, primarily because Lekshmy was pregnant at the time and I wanted to be there with her. It was Lekshmy who convinced me to write the exam again during the time. As a result this attempt was given with much lesser hardwork and effort as compared to previous time. I was also completely free from any stress during all stages of the exam this time. May be getting into the list made the difference. Or may be the fact that I have so much going in life made the difference. I was quite confident after the written exam that I had done well and would get the interview call for sure.

Lekshmy and my mother came with me for the interview. We initially were staying at Kerala House under the adoption scheme of the Kerala Government. Under this scheme, the Kerala government provides travel and accommodation to every Malayali who has qualified for the final interview for Civil Services. The scheme has been very successful in creating civil service awareness in the state and also to boost the morale of candidates who are appearing for the interview. It also saves them from the unnecessary hassle of having to find accommodation and food in Delhi during the interview days. The lesser things to worry about in your mind, the better it is for your interview.

However, since this time around, a lot of candidates from Kerala qualified for the interview, Kerala House was finding it difficult to give accommodation to everyone in double rooms. As many as 4 candidates had to fit in a room. Even though they gave me a double room (because my wife and mother were with me, because of my leg condition), I decided to shift to the CAG Guest House so that other aspirants could be allotted my room.

The CAG Guest House is a big suite which is available to IAAS officers at a very cheap rate of 300 Rupees. If you are on official duty, it is of course free. The food also is available at a cheap rate while not compromising on quality.

My interview was with PK Joshi board, which I believe was just average. My family came with me till the UPSC and my son at such a young age was able t o see off his father to an important interview.

Meanwhile, I was also co-ordinating with my academy on my possible rejoining date. My Course Director was extremely empathetic and understanding of my condition and accommodated my needs to the most possible extent. Tentatively, I was assigned June 2nd as joining date.

A special mention needs to be given to our Prime Minister and his recently launched “Udaan” scheme here. Under this scheme, the government ensures connectivity at a cheap rate to under connected airports in India. Shimla, despite being a State Capital and having a working airport, did not have air connectivity. Kingfisher Airlines was the only airline operating flights to Shimla which also stopped following its shut down. Under the Udaan scheme, a limited number of air tickets was available to the well planned public at a rate which was capped at Rs. 2500.

I booked a ticket from Delhi to Shimla under the scheme for 2nd June. However, my cast was removed on 1st June and the leg was still stiff. So I conveyed it to the academy and my joining date was extended till 9th June.

The UPSC results came in between all this planning and I had made it into the list this time too. A consecutive second time. I secured Rank 312 and would most probably allocated IRS IT. There was not much celebration this time around, as the charm of making into the rank list had waned since the last year. Whether to leave IAAS for IRS IT is another decision that I have to make in the coming months.

UPSC Result
UPSC Result

I set out for Shimla on 11th June (since 10th and 11th are weekends, I had to report on 12th). I reached Shimla on 12th morning. The weather here has become pleasant and all around you, you see life sprouting with mother earth in its full beauty. Beautiful red colours blooming, the yarrows lawn uncovered and stretched out in its full glory and birds chirping and tweeting around you. Everywhere you look, you see curious tourists from the plains who come here to escape the scorching heat.

It’s spring in Shimla. There is no better time to be here than now. I am back to attending classes and learning new things. Meanwhile, we have a trip to Sangla Valley scheduled later this month ( it is the most beautiful place in Himachal according to eye witness accounts), our departmental exams are lined up for early next month, attachments to IIM Ahmedabad, iCISA Noida, iCED Jaipur and a Himalayan Trek about to happen in that order in the next two months.

I look forward to sharing all these experience with you. I believe it would help to throw more light on IAAS for other aspirants. Meanwhile, I would also share with you my decision on the choice of my service and the factors that I weighed in my mind while making the decision once I arrive at a decision.

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.

Yarrows Diaries: The failure and the Tragedy

Reaching LBSNAA

When I started writing this blog, I wanted to regularly update how the training proceeds. As you would remember, my last post was about the IA&AS OT’s proceeding to the Inter Services Meet- Sangam.

We reached LBSNAA at around 8 PM in the night. Our stay was arranged in the Mahanadi Hostel, which was absolutely fantastic. My friends in LBSNAA told me that the Mahanadi hostel is usually reserved for senior bureaucrats when they come to stay in LBSNAA. They added that there are better room than the ones in Mahanadi in the hostel called Kalindi ( I hope I am getting the names right). I have to add that the rooms in Mahanadi were good, but not as good as the room that NAAA has for the senior staff.

LBSNAA is indeed a beauty. For anyone interested in seeing the LBSNAA campus, I had recorded a live video of the entire campus in Facebook. You can head straight to my Facebook wall. The colonial style buildings and the infrastructure that they have managed to build in a hill station is indeed amazing. There is no way our academy could match up to the infrastructure of LBSNAA (Given that we are the other service that has a cool hill station as the location of its Alma Mater) But, before you jump to any conclusion, let me remind you that IAS has 180 OT’s while, NAAA has only 26. If you calculate a per capita infrastructure requirement, I would say that NAAA would come out in front. There is also no argument that Shimla is more beautiful than Mussourie.

Day One

Coming back to Sangam, the inaugural function was scheduled for the next day. The Governor of Uttarakhand, Dr. Krishna Kant Paul was the chief Guest. Dr. K K Paul must be familiar to veteran UPSC candidates through his stint as a member of UPSC. He was an IPS officer of the AGMUT Cadre prior to that, and has also served as governor of Meghalaya.

Another charismatic person whom I was impressed with was the Director of LBSNAA, Ms. Upma Chaudhary, a 1983 batch IAS officer of the Himachal Pradesh cadre. What particularly impressed me was her perfect diction and delivery of speech (in English). My later interactions with my friends also reinforced my opinion about her. A particular incident was mentioned by them. During Holi this year, the faculty of LBSNAA stayed away from participating in the celebrations initially. While the OT’s were celebrating amongst themselves, the director came fully prepared to take part in the celebrations and the faculty who were several years junior to her had no option than to participate.

After the inauguration ceremony the events started immediately in full flow. We had a scheduled football match against NADT. Now this is one of those moments when you realise the advantages of coming from a big academy. NAAA had come with just 20 OT’s ( of our total 26) and many of us were participating in almost all the events, not because we were the best, but we were the only option available. For example the core of our football, basketball and volleyball team was exactly the same. NADT had come with 40 people and that too they had a pool of 180 to choose from.

Our only hope in football was our Bhutanese OT’s. This was also be the first time we were playing football as a team. My last memory of playing football was in college almost seven years back. I was assigned the defender. Within the first minute of the game, NADT had scored the first goal. It was more of a lack of coordination from our side than their skill. Even though we did make some advances, lack of practice and team co-ordination made sure we lost the game. (4–0). Our goal keeper was keeping the post for the first time in his life. Despite losing the game, I believe that our team played fantastic for a bunch of first timers.

The basketball match was a walk over ( our opponents ,FSI, did not come for the match) and therefore we advanced to the next stage. The next event for me was debate for which I ran after the football and basketball appearances. The debate was happening in Sampoornanda auditorium. Its format would be that of Parliamentary debate. I was amused to find out that of the seven teams, three (IPoS, IAAS, IIS) had malayalees.

One of the judges was Mr. Bharat Bhushan, who again must be familiar to all UPSC aspirants through Rajya Sabha TV. However, the other two judges were guest faculty who come to LBSNAA and also judges of several previous events conducted in LBSNAA. I felt that this was unfair ( as they would be familiar with the LBSNAA OT’s and hence biased). Our opposition was FSI and we argued against the motion “This house believes that Post Truth trumps Truth”. The final winners of the debate was Indian Corporate Law Service comprising of Noor Shergill and Anuja Pethia ( both were brilliant). The runners up was LBSNAA. I personally felt that they were not good, which is why I brought up the point that the judges shouldn’t be familiar with the participants.

The evening was spent in a DJ party and catching up with friends from other services. I had a pretty loaded day next day. But that did not stop us from celebrating a meet up after a long time.

Day 2

The next round of basket ball was scheduled at morning 8. We would be playing against NACEN. Now, in basketball, I felt we had a great chance. It was the best team of all the teams we put up. I had played in school and college, our other OT’s ( Nima (Captain) and Sonam (Bhutan), Akshay (Delhi), Karan (Punjab) all had experience playing. In fact, during our NIPFP attachment we had played against the kids from IIT Delhi and held our own.

NACEN too had a pretty good team. However, we won the game as I expected. We lead through all quarters. I played in the Centre position. If you know basketball, you would know that the Centre is the position near the baseline, usually occupied by the team’s tallest player. The center position has been traditionally considered one of the most important positions, if not the most important. ( Basketball positions – Wikipedia). However, the credit for our win should go to our Point Guard (Akshay) and Shooting Guard (Nima). Needless to say, I enjoyed the game and we won it.

The Tragedy

The semi finals of the basketball match was scheduled agains NADT, which was also a strong team. However, we were confident of putting up a good show. In fact the morning game had upped our morale. Through the first three quarters we led the game. I was sure that 8 more minutes ( one quarter was 8 minutes), and we would be sure of one medal. It would be a first for NAAA to win a medal in sports. Within minutes of starting the final quarter, the NADT players advanced to the circle. I blocked one player who passed the ball to his teammate. While I turned to tackle him, I heard a sudden pop in my foot and I fell forward. I could suddenly feel seething pain in my ankle and foot and I was howling in pain. I looked at my ankle and found that it was dislocated.

I was immediately carried off in the ambulance parked in the LBSNAA campus. There are no good hospitals in Mussourie and hence I was referred to Max, Dehradun. I had to lie down in the ambulance for a good 60 minutes all the while howling. Even though it was a painful experience, thinking back, that was the first time I experience dashing through the roads in an ambulance with its blaring sirens. I think that is one of the worst things about being in a hill station. You basically have no good facilities at your disposal. For anything and everything you have to rush to the plains.

My ankle was completely dislocated. It was a major injury. On the lighter side of it, ankle dislocation is a considerably difficult feat to achieve and I had done it. I fractured two bones, calcanium and navicular, and also had some ligament tear. The doctors from max, flushed my system with painkillers and it was still not helping. The duty doctor told me that they can’t sedate me because it might cause difficulty in breathing. Hence he asked me to suffer a little pain while he tries to put my ankle back in position ( called reduction procedure). He tried his hand while I shouted at the top of my voice in pain. I don’t remember what exactly happened after that (whether they gave me anasthesia or I passed out) but when I woke my ankle was back in position and they were wrapping it in plaster.

The Sense of Belonging

Within minutes of my accident, the bureaucratic machinery had swung into action. The director from LBSNAA had immediately called MAX hospital and informed of my arrival and hence I was admitted even before payment. Our Course Director from NAAA, Ms. Sudha Rajan made sure that I was comfortable and was constantly keeping in touch to make sure that I got the best care. My fellow OT’s were with me making sure that I had help. Sudha Mam contacted the AG office in Dehradun and an officer kept calling frequently to enquire what help we needed. The next day, after receiving my diagnosis, I decided that I should go to Kerala where my family can take care of me. The doctor did ask me to rest for two days and then leave. However, I decided that it would make things more difficult for people around me.

I wanted to get an ambulance to travel from Dehradun to Delhi and take a flight from Delhi. Our office arranged for one at an economical rate. Our office also made sure that there was someone at the airport with the wheelchair when I reached there, to receive me.

All these incidents, amidst this tragedy, helped instill in me a sense of belonging and pride in the service. The camaraderie and love that my seniors and peers bestowed on me even when it was not necessary kept reminding me that I made an excellent career choice by choosing the civil service. I was also reminded of what an ICAS officer who came for one of our sessions told us :- “Consider yourself lucky that you are in IAAS. No other service treats its officers the way yours does.” His words were proven right to me in that weekend in Mussuorie.

So now I am holed up at my home, with a cast in my leg and recuperating from my condition. Expect delays in my further posts, but be sure that I will share more things as and when time permits.