For the past few days so many “UPSC rank lists” had done the rounds at the National Academy for Customs Excise and Narcotics (NACEN), Faridabad, that when the actual rank list was published on Friday, one person who did not take it seriously was Haritha V. Kumar a trainee officer of the Indian Revenue Service.

She even called her father in Thiruvananthapuram and told him that someone had prepared a fake rank list and given her the first rank.

A short while later when a couple of friends made her sit in front of a computer and showed her the UPSC website, Ms. Kumar realised that she had indeed bagged the first rank in the civil services examination.

The last time a Kerala candidate — Raju Narayanaswamy — topped this list was in 1991.

Four problems

A trace of that initial disbelief was still evident when Ms. Kumar told The Hindu over phone from Faridabad on Friday evening that her performance in the interview appeared to have fetched her the top rank.

Among other things the interview board wanted to know what she thought were India’s four greatest problems.

On self-defence

“I listed corruption, poverty, women’s safety and unemployment, in that order. I was then asked to give bullet-point solutions to all this. I remember saying that, though it may not be a solution to problems about women’s safety, all girls need be taught self-defence techniques right from school,” she said.

Ms. Kumar was also very categorical in pointing out that had it not been for her friends at NACEN with whom she would gather around the dining table and hold discussions on everything under the sun, she would not have done this well in the interview.

The ‘literature’ rule

As an engineer by training and as one who took Malayalam literature as an optional subject Ms. Kumar strongly believes that the Union government did the right thing by not insisting that a candidate must have a degree in a particular language for him/her to choose that literature as an optional in the civil services examinations.

“What is literature but the portrayal of life, of social realities? It generates empathy in a person, a much-needed quality for a civil servant,” she argued.

A trained Carnatic vocalist and a lover of old Malayalam movie songs, Ms. Kumar, who underwent civil services training at the Centre for Career Development Studies and at the Kerala State Civil Services Academy in Thiruvananthapuram, said she hoped to be allotted to the Kerala cadre.

Doctor was on duty

V. Sriram was doing his ICU duty at a hospital in Cuttack when he learnt that he had bagged the second rank in the civil services examination.

Even as he gave near-total focus to his PG programme at Cuttack, Dr. Sriram burnt the midnight oil to try and get into the Indian Administrative Service. This was his second shot at the examinations.

Though medical science was an obvious optional, his choice of the second optional was inspired by his father P. R. Venkitaraman a retired professor of Zoology. Dr. Sriram’s mother Rajam works with the State Bank of India at Vyttila, Kochi where the family also live.

Dr. Sriram told The Hindu that all his civil services preparations were done in Kerala. He did his MBBS at the MCH, Thiruvananthapuram.

‘Group study helped’

For Alby John Varghese who loves to write short stories in Malayalam, this was his first shot at the UPSC examinations. Dr. Varghese, who bagged the fourth rank, was unhesitant when he told The Hindu that the group study sessions with his friends helped him in no small measure during the examinations and the interview.

A meticulous reader of newspapers, Dr. Varghese is the son of John Varghese, a farmer and Salome Varghese, a homemaker.

He did his MBBS at the Jubilee Mission Hospital, Thrissur.

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