Interview with Surekh Reghunathen (CEC 2004, Civil Services)

Surekh Reghunathen belongs to the 2004 batch of CEC. After his UG, he did his MBA from SCMHRD, Pune. After MBA and a few years of corporate life, he pursued his childhood dream of becoming a civil servant. He’s currently with the Indian Postal Service.

Today, Kiran Chandramohan interviews Surekh.

Surekh Reghunathen

Surekh Reghunathen

Could you tell a few things about yourself ?

I hail from a village named Aranmula near Chengannur. My family consists of my parents and my wife Veena. I joined CEC in the computer engineering batch in 2000 and graduated (somehow!) in 2004. My hobbies include reading (especially English movie scripts) and creative writing. I am also interested in spirituality and martial arts. I am a laid-back guy who enjoys intellectually stimulating discussions and the company of friends. I envy anyone who can write, paint, sing or cook well. I love life and would ask others also to do the same.. (Too many “I”s!)

You graduated from CEC in 2004. How was life after college?

Life at CEC was good but engineering studies were making it tough for me. I decided I did not want to look for an engineering job. I wanted to get a post graduate degree but not in engineering. An MBA from a good institute would help me get a good job. I decided to try for an MBA for better employment prospects. So I prepared for management entrance exams in Bangalore. I took management entrance exams and finally joined the 2-year PGDM program at Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resource Development,Pune (SCMHRD)in 2005.

How was the MBA experience ?

MBA life was a mixed bag. On one side, I got to meet new people from all over the country and we had a life of fun and excitement. On the other hand, it was an Indian version of Peter Robinson’s “Snapshots from Hell”. Assignments were galore and project work trained us to work round the clock. Group meetings at 2 am and 3 am were not uncommon. We had compulsory yoga/aerobics/gym at 5.30 AM every morning. Also we had Vipassana, Art of Living and Vedanta courses complete our mental and spiritual training. However, I got to interact with some of the sharpest minds in management. It was a very satisfying experience.

Then you worked for some time.

I was placed from campus in GE (General Electric) in 2007. I worked with GE in the sales and marketing department. Later I took a sales job in ICICI Lombard. In 2011, I took up an HR assignment in UST Global (formerly US software) in Technopark, Trivandrum. And finally in 2013, I joined the Indian Civil Services where I am still undergoing my 2-year long training.

Why did you decide to try the Civil Services ?

The Civil Services were my dream since my school-days. But I was never serious about it until I spent some time in the corporate sector. I felt constrained and wanted to look for bigger challenges in life. That was when my dream of Civil Services was revived.

Any regrets that you didn’t try this earlier ?

In one sense, yes, I could have tried this immediately after graduating from CEC and joined the service much earlier. But looking back, I would say getting an MBA degree and the work experience thereafter shaped and enriched my personality which the UPSC interview board may have found suitable to the job of a civil servant.

How did you prepare for the Exam ?

Resigning from the job for preparation was out of the question. So I straddled both boats – job and preparation. I chose Geography and Sociology as my optional subjects for the UPSC Civil Services Exam. While I was working in Chennai, I bought some standard texts after consulting with aspirants and studied as per the syllabus. I mostly depended on self-study. I took weekend mock tests at some coaching institutes a few times. But all that changed when I came down to Trivandrum where none of these were available. Work was a constant presence which could not be neglected. Preparation was not a continuous process as work would sometimes keep me away from studies for weeks. However, I regularly read newspapers and magazines to follow current affairs. In short, I would say it was a miracle that I cleared the exam while still on the job.

Surekh Reghunathen's Batch With the Hon. President of India

Surekh Reghunathen’s Batch With the Hon. President of India

Where can an aspirant find more details about the Civil Services ?

Today, an aspirant can find details about the Civil Services from multiple resources. The Internet itself can give huge amounts of information. More and more coaching institutes are coming up in Kerala which is a good thing. Some coaching institutes even have their own websites. Many have started classes for working professionals which were not available when I was preparing. Aspirants can easily make use of these resources.

Is an engineering background helpful/hurtful for the Civil Services Exam ? Are there papers in CS/EC/EE or is it more focused on sciences, languages and social studies ?

Engineering will be definitely helpful for the Civil Services Exam. The preliminary exam is an aptitude test which engineers can easily clear with their analytical and numerical skills. The mains exam has papers in almost every discipline in arts, languages, commerce, management, science, medicine and engineering. So everyone is given equal opportunity to clear the process. There are engineering options like Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering. For CS/EC/EE either these or any other science subjects or mathematics can be opted for. In short you can take any subject of your liking and can prepare to pass the exam. I had opted for Geography and Sociology.

Which service did you join ? and where is your posting ?

I have joined the Indian Postal Service in the 2013 batch. I am still under training; so posting is still a few months away. It can be anywhere in India.

How is the CIvil Service training ?

The training policy of the Government of India insists upon creating good administrators. Our training started in September 2013 and will continue till September 2015. It is intensive and enlightening. The exposure that we get in this training is huge. In the initial foundation course, we underwent three months of training with probationers of all other services (There are about 27 in all). Then we underwent specialized training for our own service in Ghaziabad. We learn Government practices, constitutional law, operations and social welfare schemes. We are also trained in administration and conflict management.

It also includes various activities like classroom sessions and field attachments. We interacted with various constitutional functionaries like the honourable President of India, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chief Election Commissioner and Chief Vigilance Commissioner to name a few. We learned from some of the best minds in governance. We had field attachments where we independently held charge as administrators and handled public issues. There is a visible shift in training programmes to move with the times.

We did village visits in Maoist affected villages to understand the hardships of the common man. We also had attachments with the Parliament, armed forces in the North East and management modules in a few IIMs. We also had a foreign training component where we visited South Korea and Thailand to learn governance practices there.

We also had our share of fun. We did trekking (some of us in the Himalayas, some in the Nilgiris) and white water rafting in the upper Ganges. As I speak, we are about to embark on our 3-week long “Bharat Darshan” tour which will cover the whole of India.

The training has been unforgettable so far. It has fully equipped us to face the challenges of public service. As we used to say in SCMHRD, “The journey is the reward”.

What fond memories do you have about CEC ?

I have very fond memories of CEC. Though I struggled in my studies, I got to meet some of my best friends in CEC. They are wonderful human beings. We learnt life lessons there. We learned to be loyal to each other and to stay together in difficult times.

There were many shortcomings in the infrastructure in CEC in our times. Yet we made up for them all through our enthusiasm and camaraderie. Our class tours to Coorg, Goa and Thenmala were simply unforgettable.

The canteen and the library were my favourite haunts in college. Discussions would sometimes lead to boisterous laughter and loud singing which irritated our faculty at times. But the students and the faculty shared a warm relationship. I would tell my juniors to continue the same. With all its shortcomings, CEC was like second home to us. We truly celebrated life there. The bonds that were created here still stay strong amongst us.

What is your advice to current students/Alumni wishing to pursue a career in Civil Services ?

I am no pundit. But I have faced failure, so I will say this: Don’t get bogged down by failures. The Civil Services exam is a marathon. It will tax your patience, your will, your knowledge, even your self. You must remain strong at heart and totally committed. Things will then take care of themselves.

Also, not clearing the Civil Services does not mean the end of the world. It’s just another job (with some advantages and disadvantages to it). Try to be good human beings and enjoy life. Otherwise, life will become meaningless. I wish you all the very best!!