Dr Renu Raj cracked the UPSC exams at her very first attempt.
'You should be sensitive to what is happening in society and you will get through the exams,' she tells A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com
She was studying to become a doctor, she reminded herself.
Even as she looked at the people who walked into the hospital for succor -- "many of whom came from hilly areas or backward districts," she says -- Renu Raj realised they encountered problems that were much bigger than health issues.
"That was when I decided I would try for the civil services. It was the only way I could help solve their difficulties," she says.
Renu had thought of becoming a civil servant much earlier, when she was in school. "But my parents felt the chances of clearing that exam were very low and I should have an alternate career to fall back on," she recalls.
She decided to study medicine and was ranked No 60 in the medical entrance exam, which she took the same year as her Class 12 exam.
Like her Class 10 exam, Renu was ranked among the top students in Kerala in the Class 12 exam.
Renu joined the Government Medical College in Kottayam and completed her course in January 2013.
A year later, she joined the Kerala State Civil Service Academy and appeared for the preliminary examination after attending coaching classes for six months.
"My teachers helped me a lot, but I also did a lot of self study. I read the main syllabus and understood it. I referred to books and the Internet. I always approached my teachers when I did not understand a particular topic," she says.
After appearing for the main civil services entrance examination, she joined the ESI hospital in Kollam.
When the results were declared, the fact that Renu had come second in the Union Public Service Commission examination in the country came as no surprise to folks who knew her.
This year, the top four ranks in the civil service examination went to women.
Renu, who cleared the exam at the first attempt, plans to join the Indian Administrative Service.
"In both medicine and the civil services, you get close to people. This (being a doctor) will help me when I become a civil services officer," she says.
Renu, who is married to a doctor, has a younger sister who is doing her fourth year in medicine and planning her post-graduation in the same field.
"Financially I found it very difficult to put both of them through medical college," says their father Rajakumaran Nair, who worked as a bus conductor and retired as a district transport officer in 2011, "but I feel it is worth it. My daughters are good in studies."
"Renu," Nair says proudly, "always wanted to be a free and fair civil servant. I am sure she will do well."
Photograph courtesy: Dr Renu Raj