New Delhi: IAS officers in India are popularly known to be stiff, rule-following, dour people measuring out their lives between In and Out file baskets sitting on a chair wrapped in white towels. So, when Indian Administrative Service officer Hari Om sang a song on a Dal Lake shikara in Kashmir, it was bound to go viral.
Virality isn’t what IAS officers are known for. But of late, several officers are not only singing, acting and dancing, but also uploading their videos. Their creative outbursts spread on social media like a forest fire, definitely faster than the speed of a government file.
The faceless, officious steel frame of India is singing. And people are lapping it up. They are the new stars on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
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The last time people sang romantic songs on Dal Lake was in Bollywood movies and music videos. But a lovelorn song of loss and longing by an Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer serving in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government doesn’t get shared on WhatsApp groups every day.
Main tere pyaar ka mara hua, Sikander hoon magar hara hua hoon,” UP’s principal secretary, Dr Hari Om sang the song he had written. He routinely sings ghazals by Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali, Talat Mahmood and many more.
This is not his first brush with viralling social media fame.
In 2007, when Hariom was posted in Gorakhpur, which is Yogi’s constituency and the seat of his mutth, Hari Om even arrested then BJP MP Adityanath and sent him to jail for 11 days. When Yogi became the CM of UP, many feared that he would ‘not spare’ the IAS officer. But Hari Om presented his book, Kailash Mansarovar Yatra to Yogi, and that photo went viral.
The IAS officer takes more pleasure in seeing his music clips being shared on social media. “I’ve always wanted to do something different. Ever since I was a child, people would praise my voice, but due to the lack of time I never got a chance to develop my hobby,” he says.
Music was a neglected hobby and over time, it had become an itch that he just couldn’t wish away anymore. He wasn’t just a bathroom singer. He sang in school, college and even in the IAS academy, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA). But after 10 successful years as an IAS officer, it was time.
Hari Om has brought out six albums in 17 years in sync with tides of technology. His initial albums were cassettes, then CDs and now, he releases them on YouTube. And he still calls himself a part-time artist.
He releases a song a month on his YouTube channel, which has over 8,000 subscribers. His small army of fans is mesmerised by the “purity” of his voice. “Simply awesome rendition. soulful voice. . .really heart touching,” writes one commentator.
For many of these officers, the Covid pandemic came as a carpe diem moment. Business-as-usual was just not going to cut it anymore.
Like Hari Om, IAS officer Rakhee Gupta, too, had limited her audience to friends and family for 25 years. But then she got a bad attack of Covid, one that saw her hospitalised. While doctors administered Remdesivir and oxygen, the words ‘Zindagi na milegi dobara’ kept playing inside her head. It was kind of a turning point.
“Now, I tell everyone that you get to live only once. Follow whatever hobby you have,” says Gupta, who is from the UP cadre, 1997 batch.
Music comes naturally to her and her mother is a gifted singer too. After recovering from Covid, the first thing she did was sing ‘Ratungi Radha Naam,’ which trended on social media for many days.
“Covid taught us to live life to the fullest, and then one day I took out time and recorded the song,” she says. A few days later, her song even made it to the Times Music list where it remained for two months.
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The work of an IAS officer – whether as a district magistrate or in the secretariat – is a break-less, breathless, and often thankless, 24×7 life. There is no room for letting your hair down for creative pursuits. The proverbial stiff upper lip is part of the calling and eventually becomes them.
“If we are collectors or officers of any department, if you consider it a burden, then both the work and the employees working with you will feel like a burden,” Hari Om says. “But ever since I have included music in my life, no matter how difficult the work is, it gets done with humming.” Even the most mind-boggling tasks don’t weigh him down. “It can get creative too,” he adds.
For Rakhee Gupta, who studied at Lady Shri Ram College and Delhi School of Economics, music is a stress buster. Her introduction to the professional world of music was by happenstance. She was “humming some tunes at a party” and caught the attention of a guest who was from the music industry. “They offered me a chance to record a song for them.” A few days after the song was released, she learned that it had been picked up by Times Music.
As a senior IAS officer— and, a woman—Gupta was initially worried about public perception. Would there be a backlash? Would it affect her career? In all the scenarios playing in her head, she never once entertained a sudden rise to fame.
“In October 2020, when the whole world was in the throes of Covid, my song was released and I started trending on Twitter,” she says. “I must have looked at myself in the mirror more than ten times that day. It felt great… like when a child’s wish is fulfilled.”
Gupta writes poems too, which she occasionally shares on her Twitter and Facebook handles.
Many IAS and IPS officers have secret hobbies and hidden talents. But they are mostly harboured as family secrets or revealed at dinner parties. But social media is changing the way they think, giving them some courage and the secrets are tumbling out.
It’s not just singing and dancing, there is also some acting thrown in. IAS officer Abhishek Singh is the talk of the town ever since he played himself in the second season of Netflix hit, Delhi Crime. His Instagram account offers his three million followers a glossy glimpse of celebrity and professional encounters. A photo of his meeting with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde is followed by one with fashion designer Manish Malhotra. Another reel shows him lip-syncing and dancing to the popular song ‘Slow-Slow’ with Indian rapper Badshah.
“I don’t sing, except in the bathroom,” Singh says.
The IAS officer who is currently Delhi Deputy Commissioner, became popular two years ago when he lip-synced and acted in the video of the viral T-Series song, Dil Tod Ke. He made his acting debut in the short film Chaar Pandrah (2020), entirely made by students.
“This is destiny,” he says.
When Singh was offered a chance to act in Delhi Crime, he jumped at it. His former boss and current election commissioner of Delhi Vijay Kumar Dev allowed him to take it up as long as it did not affect his work.
“Look, everyone is a hero…When we are in front of the mirror in our room, we are thinking of ourselves as heroes. It’s just a matter of getting a chance, I got it,” says Singh.
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Juggling two worlds
Their breadth of experience and exposure informs their ‘hobbies’, but straddling a demanding career with an equally demanding hobby is not easy.
“I have been writing since the time I was in college, but it was immature. Time, age and understanding have brought about a big change in my writing. I don’t know what inspires me, but my social exposure is so much that I meet all kinds of people. And this experience matures my writing,” says Municipal Commissioner Mahendra Singh Tanwar, who has vowed to make Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh Gazab Ghaziabad’.
These days though, he can barely write two lines. He starts his day at eight o’clock in the morning but there is no end time. But even writing those lines helps him. “No matter how much work I do, if I write two lines, then I feel energised,” says Singh who has written more than 10 songs so far, under the pen name MST Mahi.
Of the two songs he released this year, one is a Hindi number, Aaya Numaish by Rang Taal Studio for Valentine’s Day. The other, a Haryanvi song, Tanwar Ka Unchi Haveli, got over 240 million views on YouTube.
But unlike his colleagues, Mahendra Singh does not want his ‘hobby’ to be in the public domain. “I want to maintain the strong image of the IAS,” he says.
Not everyone can juggle civil services and a creative career. Some resign too. Especially those who got pushed into the IAS unthinkingly early on. It isn’t an easy decision to cut the umbilical cord to the services, but sometimes the pull can be too strong.
That’s what happened to Niti Ayog officer Kashish Mittal who resigned out of the blue in September 2019. Mittal, an AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram-Union Territory)-cadre officer from the 2011 batch, was posted as additional principal secretary to NITI Aayog.
His career trajectory dotted all the ‘I’s that millions of young men and women across India dream of: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and then IAS. But for Kashish, it only reinforced the distance from his first love, classical music.
He started studying classical music when he was eight years old. Live performances were a part of his childhood and college years, but they were never a distraction from his academic life. “I kept on stufying and did well in maths and science. I decided to take up engineering and got into IIT-Delhi with an All India Rank of four.”
Sitting for the UPSC exam was the next logical step.
“But everyone knows that my life is only music,” says Kashish, who started taking classical music lessons from professor Harvinder Singh and later learned from Pandit Yashpal of Agra Gharana.
“It was not easy for me to leave the IAS,” he says. But the inner voice asking him if he was doing what he truly wanted grew louder and louder.
“And then one day I resigned.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)
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