The village of Madhopatti, or Gaddipur as some call it, is in a frenzy. The narrow roads are being cleared and carefully lined with white chalk dust; chairs are being laid out on the porch of an apparently simple house; the village elders gathering around; and snacks and tea being arranged—all for the short visit of the village’s homegrown IAS officer Shree Prakash Singh. The tall, well-built, fiftysomething man is quick to arrive, and in style too—with a three-car trail, stepping out of an SUV with the official blue beacon light, clad in a black coat over a crisp shirt and trousers, security guard in tow, two iPhone 6s in hand. A lot of fanfare, greetings, and feet-touching, both by the congregation and Singh himself follows, and then calm finally restored. Everyone sits down for a round of catchup over the usual Bisleri, tea and sweets.
Shree Singh is the one of the 48 serving IAS and PCS (Provincial Civil Services) officers that this tiny village in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, boasts of. It’s a village of just 75 households, members of which are serving all over the country. The first person to clear the civil servant exam was way back in 1914 when Mustafa Hussain, father of renowned poet Wamiq Jaunpuri cracked the Provincial Civil Services (PCS) exam. After that there was a big gap till 1952, when Indu Prakash Singh became the first to secure the highest rank, who joined the IFS and served as Indian ambassador in Spain, Burma and Nepal. But after that there has been no stopping Madhopatti, which has churned out over 200 IAS, IFS and other civil servants. “It is now an officers’ conveyor belt of sorts,” says Amitabh Singh, son of I.P. Singh and an IAS officer currently on deputation to Bangkok. How did it all start? “My father wanted to become a film star and ran away to Mumbai to live the dream. Six months into working with Ashok Kumar, he was almost abducted back by his uncles who later convinced him to appear for the Union Public Service Commission exam,” says Amitabh. “Pre-Independence, the terms and conditions of joining were a lot more difficult to meet. After 1947, it opened up as a tenable career option for many in the village,” says Rajeshwar Singh, a teacher at the village’s Shri Gandhi Ram Niranjan Inter College.
Madhopatti’s Homegrown Shree Prakash Singh poses during his visit. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)
But it’s all a bit mystifying. How do so many from this little village sail through what is said to be one of the toughest exam to crack? “It’s in our soil. Whoever has the makai-ki-roti and arhar dal here is assured to clear their civil service exams,” says the smiling Sajal Singh, a history teacher who is credited with training over 50 IAS and PCS officers. What’s more, all of them have gone to the local school and Allahabad University has perhaps been the only education centre outside the village where the aspirants have enrolled. “With Madhopatti getting connected by train, Allahabad University came as a great boon,” says Prahlad Kumar Singh, a teacher of Civics and English in the Inter College. Of course, you can put it all down to ‘social capital’. The advice passed on from one generation to another has been of great help. “Coaching restricts your time; with a family of IAS officers, you have teachers 24/7,” says Shipra Singh, a PCS aspirant. Amit Singh, another PCS aspirant, boasts of notes from an uncle who recently cleared the exam. It’s a curious domino effect built around familiarity, nay, familial proximity and peer group influences. “If someone in your neighbourhood achieves something, the thing seems more accessible,” says Amitabh. Others like Prahlad point to the visible prestige around the occupation that rubs off on others. “Whenever an officer visits the village there is a lot of fanfare around the ‘celebrity’, and this attracts a lot of youth into the profession,” he says. For Jitendra, competition is a great driver. It is the ‘me-too phenomenon’ at work: “if that family can have an IAS or PCS we can too”, he adds.
With the civil service bug biting even the youngest of children, the local teaching has also altered to place a greater emphasis on English. “We start with grammar and punctuations so as to develop a strong hold on English and then stress on translations, idioms and one-word substitutions that are important for the exams,” says Prahlad. Shree recalls a time when he would go to his grandfather, Sajal Singh, for translations. “Every morning, whether I wanted it or not Babaji would sit me down and hand me a bunch of translations,” he reminisces. Jitendra Singh, a retired doctor in Australia, often comes back to his village to help students with English in the Junior High School. “I try to establish the understanding of English as a world language. So we begin with phonetics, go to grammar and then sentence diagrams,” he says. Parents in Madhopatti also do their bit to help their kid into the civil services. “Almost every child in the village wants to take the exams. Our job is only to ensure that he or she gets enough resources to study and time away from chores to be able to put in the hours—especially girls,” says Mauli Singh, mother of IAS aspirant Shivani Singh.
Not A Whiff Of DDLJ The mustard fields provide a study for IAS aspirants (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)
In a fairly predictable, if a tad less-than-enlightened caste-like behaviour dynamic, many families also look at marriages with other civil officers to widen the genepool. “Marriages between officers ensure that the ability and intellect is passed on and even enhanced,” says Sajal, who has had two sons marry within the IAS community. Some have found partners in training itself. “I met Amitabh, who looked like a movie star, during the foundation course, , and I fell in love with him. Before our individual postings we were married,” says Kalpana Singh.
But is it only the civil services that attract the youth in Madhopatti, and is there any other option for those who are unable to clear the exam? “There are a few who can’t clear it, some give up after the first attempt, but that doesn’t mean they take up farming,” says Sajal. Literate professions beckon. He recalls a nephew who could not clear his exams and became an advocate instead. He is currently running for judgeship in the Patna High Court. “Honesty is important to us,” says Sajal, who has had 15 IAS/PCS officers in his own family and lives in an old house with a lone Maruti 800 parked in front. Then there are also others who are not interested in the civil services at all. “There are so many civil servants already, I don’t care to add to the number and want to become a chartered accountant instead,” says Aditya Singh. The village boasts of brand managers in FMCG companies, World Bank executives, doctors and engineers and also many who are teaching in schools and colleges in Jaunpur. The village even has presence in the UK Space Agency. There is a spark in Sajal’s eyes as he narrates how his ancestors in the district established many teaching centres and got Jaunpur, and with it Madhopatti, the name of Shiraz-e-Hind by Shah Jahan (after the ‘cultural capital’ of Iran).
Today, of course, everyone looks for a job outside the village and the land is worked on by hired labour. The village is almost deserted, with mostly retired people and children of parents who aren’t civil servants, staying back. “All the officers, doctors and engineers go out looking for opportunities and hardly look back. Most come occasionally for weddings or other functions and have little to no contribution to the development of the village,” says Sajal.
But sadly none of the civil servants from here have done anything for their village. The road around the village is barely paved. Cleanliness is a problem without a waste disposal system, and clean water is scarce; and all these are only the things that are visible. “Dowry is rampant, and education serves as a means for the boy’s family to get dowry. Girls have no say in their marriages, and still lack the freedom given to the boys. Meanwhile temples and mosques have increased, and there has been an increase in dogmatic religious practices. I can go on and on,” says Jitendra. The village has only now come under the Jameshwar Mishra Gram Yojana and basic amenities like medical, sanitation, water and transport are being looked into. “We hope that once the village has better facilities to offer, our children would like to come back more often,” says Sajal. And everyone in Madhopatti hopes that one of their sons or daughters is posted to look after their welfare soon. But perhaps the IAS is not always such a predictable crop after all.
The Miracle List
Some of the current IAS and PCS officers who come from Madhopatti
- Shree Prakash Singh: IAS, Director of Urban Development, Employment and Poverty Alleviation; Lucknow
- Amitabh Singh: IAS, Allied Services, Foreign Deputation; Bangkok
- Dr Kuwar Chandramouli Singh: IAS, Auditor General; Gujarat
- Vidya Prakash Singh: IAS, Labour Tribunal Chairman
- Yashaswi Singh: IAS, Collector; Ludhiana
- Vishal Vikram Singh: PCS, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Barabanki
- Shivani Singh: PCS, Training, Lucknow
- Manasvi Singh: IAS, CEO, Punjab Energy Development Agency
- Roli Singh: PCS, Area Marketing Officer, Noida
- Ajay Kumar Singh: IAS, Director General, Stamp and Registration
- Praveen Singh: PCS, District Social Welfare Officer, Pratapgarh
- Madhulika Singh: PCS, Treasury Officer, Allahabad
- Kalpana Singh: IAS, Allied Services, Deputation in Delhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri Sanskrit University
By Stuti Agarwal in Madhopatti, Uttar Pradesh