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The Civil Services have long been a coveted career opportunity for those desirous of putting their skills to use in the service of the country. All India in nature and diverse in their character, team MYOD speaks to senior and junior officers in the IAS, IPS, IRS and IFS, to discover what life in the Civil Services in India is like



The Indian Foreign Serivce (IFS) is the most selective and exclusive of all the Civil Services in India, taking in less than 30 candidates each year. Trainees have to undergo three years of training before they are allowed to serve in Indian missions abroad and in the Ministry of External Affairs. The service was set up by the British government in September 1946 and in 1948, the first batch of officers recruited through the Civil Services Examination of the UPSC, joined the service




Under Secretary (Public Diplomacy), Ministry of External Affairs

t was during his second year of graduation from Kirori Mal College, Delhi University that a young Abhay Kumar got the opportunity to visit Manila in Philippines for the 19th World Universities Debating Championship. This trip made Abhay, born and raised in Chhabilapur in the Nalanda district of Bihar, conclusively decide to join the Indian foreign services. At 32, Abhay has completed nine years of foreign service, which he says have provided him with not just global exposure but also the chance to live life to the fullest. He is the author of six books, namely River Valley to Silicon Valley, 10 Questions of the Soul, Colours of Soul, Enigmatic Love, Fallen Leaves of Autumn and Candling the Light. He has been the Third Secretary/Second Secretary at the Embassy of India in St. Petersburg (from August 2005 to July 2007). He then went on to become the Consul at the Consulate General of India in St. Petersburg (from August 2007 to June 2010). At present, he is an Under Secretary (Public Diplomacy) with India’s Ministry of External Affairs, since July 2010.

Positives Foreign service gives you a lot more opportunity to grow individually, as compared to other services. Unlike the administrative services where you have an entire team to back you, the IFS makes you build upon your own personality. “If you compare the IFS with any other service, there is much more exposure, travelling and reading. The service gives you the chance to enrich yourself by learning, travelling and interacting with the best among the APRIL 2012 M.Y.O.D. 11

Cover story best,” explains Abhay. He adds that joining the IFS makes financial sense as well. “In some other services, it is difficult to lead a comfortable life unless you compromise on your integrity. But in the IFS, you’re financially enough at ease to be an honest officer and live well at the same time.”

nal Affairs where he was instrumental in opening the door to social media. He is also the Assistant Editor of a monthly magazine by the name of ‘India Perspective’, published in 17 languages across the world. “Given my interests and hobbies, I love my job. I have been able to write six books and am a painter as well,” he says.


Preparing for the IFS

The nature of this job is such that you have to shift to a new country, or at times even a new continent, every three years. This causes regular culture shock, and it takes a while before one adapts to a new environment. “For example, as an Indian, I did not find it very difficult adjusting in Russia. But I’m pretty sure that if I’m moved to a more conservative country, I’ll find it tough adjusting there,” he explains.

With geography as his main subject, Abhay started preparing for the IFS during his final year of graduation. In addition, he also started attending extra coaching for psychology as his second subject. He then secured himself a seat at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, while continually preparing for the foreign services exams. He says he focused more on the curriculum and the topics recommended for reading, rather than concentrating on reading specific books. “I am not someone who can study in isolation for hours. During those days of preparation, I would sit with my likeminded friends at a dhaba, discuss topics at length for hours, over cups of chai,” he remembers. Abhay cleared the exams in his sec-

Career highlights Abhay Kumar was the consul of India in St Petersburg for three years, from 2007 to 2010, where he was the incharge of the consulate for a whole year. Thereafter, he came back to India and joined the Ministry of Exter-

ond attempt. He believes that he couldn’t make it in the first on account of being a little weak in psychology.

Family Though Abhay’s parents had always wanted him to be an IAS officer, they are very proud of him today. Abhay lost his father in 2006, and now his mother accompanies her IFS officer son every time he goes to a new country. “My parents wanted me to be an IAS officer because they work at the grassroots, in tandem with the district administration. However, I was keen on travelling around the world, and did not wish to restrict myself to a particular district for years. Hence, the move to the IFS,” he elaborates.

Advice Abhay says that it is the curriculum that is important, not a particular book or author. “Focus on the syllabus rather than on specific books. Analyse the questions asked in the main exams and you will get a reasonable idea of the kind of questions asked. This will definitely help you save a lot of time and energy,” he ends.



native of Aligarh, Salman Haidar joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1960 and retired as Foreign Secretary in 1997. He has served in Egypt, the UK, Afghanistan and the United Nations. He was India’s ambassador to Bhutan between 1980 and 1983. Of his decision to join the Foreign Service he says, “I joined the IFS when the country was still

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young. It was the Nehru era and there was a huge motivation to do something for the country and in this scenario, the Civil Services shone out as an ideal option.”

Positives It is an honourable profession because you get to serve public causes. Besides the obvious lure of serving

abroad, which was a big motivation when I joined, it offers an intellectual challenge. You have to understand unfolding events in the world, their impact on the country and therefore develop skills to represent the country effectively.

Negatives You live an unsettled, almost no-


Former Foreign Secretary of India madic life due to the number of postings you go through. And this is something that is not in your control because you are a part of the service and you do what the serice requires you to do. Also, unlike in my time, remuneration is better now and the service conditions have vastly improved.

Family life The service can be hard on spouses. Nowadays, with more and more spouses being professionally trained in their own right, they might find that chances of them being satisfied in their careers are compromised because of the frequent postings that an IFS officer goes through.

Career highlights Through my entire career, I have not had any posting that I didn’t find absorbing. My first ambassadorship in 1980 in Bhutan was an enriching experience. I had a wonderful time and made some enduring friendships which last to this day. It just goes to show that through the IFS, you can make some good friends and also live a richer fuller life.


Advice to aspirants You have to be committed to a career as a civil servant. You have to go in with the understanding that the country needs committed servants. The moment you start thinking of working in the foreign service in terms of perks and privileges, you will find the going tough and your time here not as rewarding as it can be. APRIL 2012 M.Y.O.D. 13

Civil Services  

Interview of Abhay K to M.Y.O.D career magazine

Civil Services  

Interview of Abhay K to M.Y.O.D career magazine