23, and something

Sunil Kumar Barnwal sat next to the radio with great apprehension. It was the day of the civil services results.

On the radio news in Hindi, he heard that a certain SK Barnwal had topped the civil services exam. He couldn’t believe his ears. He listened to the subsequent English news and it said the same thing. He shook his head in disbelief. “Couldn’t there be some other SK Barnwal in the country?” he thought. The next day it was his nameless roll number on a sheet of paper which confirmed that he had indeed topped the exam he had dreamt of since childhood.

Till a few days back, the topper had been leading a fairly ordinary life. In his first attempt, he had faltered at the interview stage and a few had become cynical whether or not he would make it in subsequent attempts. In the meanwhile, his peers were doing well in the private sector as well as abroad. But one day, thanks to a roll number that was his, all kinds of apprehensions disappeared. “I cried with joy,” says Barwal. I could also see the joy of my parents, friends and colleagues who had backed me up all my life.”

He remembers, “When I came to office the next day, the chairman of GAIL congratulated me and later the concerned minister presented me with a bouquet.”

The 23-year-old comes from Bhagalpur in Bihar, a state that has been traditionally performing well in the civil services. He studied in Science College Patna. After that, he studied engineering in the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad. He passed out in 1993 and has been in the Gas Authority of India Ltd ever since.

Till the second standard, he hated school and that was the worry of his parents. Then, during his third class, a strict teacher in a village school started punishing him by pressing a pencil between his fingers. The fear of punishment was immense. He started taking interest in his studies. “I even started counting the numerals at a very fast pace in class.”

In fact he would finish his syllabus well before the exams. The, he started learning the syllabus of the next higher class! It was this zeal that helped him earn a double promotion from the fifth standard to the seventh. He started dreaming of being an IAS officer from the eighth standard, he fondly remembers.

It was impatience all the way after that. He would finish his syllabus well before time, redo it and start the next year’s. He had to be pushed out of home to play. “If I wasn’t here, I would definitely be in academics,” he adds.

There was slight frustration for him when he became a graduate. He was too young to give the civil services exam. It was a difficult wait. People around him were either taking the IAS exam, doing MBA or going abroad.

He succumbed the MBA thanks to peer pressure. But he left his industrial management course at Mumbai’s National Institute of Industrial Engineering to prepare for his civil services exam. Thereafter he got a job with GAIL and accepted.

But a fortnight after the results, the euphoria has died down. He realises the daunting task of coming up to expectations and feels the pressure.

A believer in destiny, he summarises, “This is not the peak of my life, but just the beginning!”

(This article appeared in the Hindustan Times newspaper)