This year’s State topper in civil services, Lalitha Rajendran, shares valuable tips with Olympia Shilpa Gerald

Twenty years ago, a little girl in a small town in Srinagar, watched awestruck two young ladies being ushered in with great respect by high-ranking officers -- men who were senior to her father.

Her father, an engineer with the Border Roads Organisation, told her the women were IAS officers. That day, the little girl silently resolved to become an IAS officer.

The girl soon followed her father to Assam, Nagaland and Pune. She changed schools, but the dream stayed. She grew up and the dream grew with her.

One fine morning in Tiruchi, it all fell into place when Lalitha Rajendran found her name at Number 12 in the civil service examination result list. And her joy knew no bounds when she was told she was numero uno in the State.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” is all Lalitha Rajendran, this year’s State topper in the civil service exams, can say to describe the moment she had long dreamt of.

Following her dream

After a succession of schools across India, Lalitha joined R.S.K Higher Secondary School, when her family shifted to Tiruchi. Though history was her favourite subject at school, she opted for civil engineering at Periyar Maniyemmai College, Thanjavur for two reasons.

First, civil engineering was an available discipline for the preliminary exams. Second, her biggest inspiration – gold medalist father in civil engineering. Wishing to emulate her dad, Lalitha promptly followed in his footsteps, winning the gold medal at her college eventually.

After graduation, she started out as Junior Executive Engineer with the Airports Authority of India(AAI), while simultaneously preparing for the civil service exams.

“Initially, it was the respect commanded by the IAS lady officers that inspired me. Later, I became aware of the opportunities the post offered from the feats of former Tiruchi District Collector, Ashish Vachani.”

Lalitha cites Vachani’s transformation of Tiruvalarchipatti by introducing sewage treatment in the leather tanneries as the very act that made her realize she too could make a difference.

Two attempts proved unsuccessful and the third attempt in 2007 left her at the crossroads when she made it to the list at No. 573. After three attempts and unsure whether she would get a call, Lalitha went into depression.

Obstacles on the way

Lalitha soon learnt that dreaming and daring to go after your dreams are two different things. Not the one to give up, she decided to approach the exams with renewed determination and confidence. Quitting her lucrative job at the AAI was not the easiest of decisions, but her confidence and her parent’s support saw her through.

She went through arduous preparation, attending mock tests at Delhi and rigorous interviews at Manidha Neiyam Institute,Chennai.

The path to glory is not always strewn with roses, as Lalitha narrates. “There were quite a few who ridiculed me, who told me that I did not have the skill and ability required to make it big. There will always be people to pull you down; But, it is up to you to decide who and what to listen to,” she advises.

Lalitha sums up the whole period before making it to the list as ‘a trying phase’ for both the aspirants and their families.

Family Support

For women, pressure to perform increases with age. Parents are badgered with queries on why the girl is unmarried even at 25. The pressure can take its toll and this is when you need your family’s support the most,” Lalitha emphasises, adding, “I was lucky. My parents stood by me, and we stopped attending social events during the period.”

Lalitha, who believes perseverance and hardwork are the key to success, reiterates that she owes it to her parents. “Family support cannot be undermined. My parents reassured me saying, ‘If not you, who else?’ They let me follow my heart.”

From N.Rajendran, her father, Lalitha learnt hard work and passion were necessary to achieve her dreams, while her mother Tamizharasi taught her the first lessons in adaptability. Lalitha’s aspirations were fuelled by the success of her father, a simple village lad deprived of many amenities.

Lalitha, is one of those individuals who blossom in adversity, and believe that when the going gets tough, only the tough get going.

Ask her where she found the determination to keep going despite initial failures and she says matter-of-factly,

“If your goal is clear, failures will not deter you. From childhood, I had a fixed goal- to become an IAS officer. Though I liked my job with the AAI, I was not completely happy, because I felt out of place. This (IAS) was my destiny, this was my dream,” she justifies.

Way forward

At twenty- six, the world is at your feet and there are ‘miles to go’ before you sleep.

“This is just the beginning. I have just reached the door that I wanted to open. I have much to achieve,” she acknowledges humbly.

Her facing beaming with excitement and confidence, Lalitha lists what she would like to accomplish as an IAS officer.

She points out that though many excellent government schemes exist, they do not reach the people due to indifferent implementation. Besides focusing on implementation of schemes, Lalitha wants to ensure people are aware of the schemes available to them. She adds that education would be her top priority.

“My roots are in the rural India. So, I would definitely do something to better the lot of farmers,” adds the young woman, born in Kurichi near Karur.

Full of hope and anticipation for the future, she admits she has much to learn. “I have a goal – to reach the people. I need to learn the ways.”

Lalitha maybe a District Collector in the making, but she is in many ways the average twenty- six year old. She loves playing badminton and reading English novels in her free time. And yes, she has yet another dream, “To go on a world tour!” she exclaims with a big smile.

Perhaps, as she travels, fulfilling her dreams, she would plant more dreams in the hearts of other little girls who would be inspired as she once was.

For IAS Aspirants: Lalitha’s suggestions

Perseverance is a key asset. And so is self motivation. Never give up.

Choice of subject for the exams is very important- Choose either your U.G. subject or the one in the general studies part your are most comfortable with.

Family support is invaluable.

Getting good guidance from the right people is important. This has to start from teachers and professors in schools and colleges who know about the field.

Don’t just stick to academics. Participate in all extra-curricular activities.

Hone your speaking skills.

Systematic planning is needed. Cover a fixed portion every day.

Keep your mind relaxed before exams; if you panic you will be unable to co-relate things.