India’s steel frame sings and dances. IAS officers learn their art

New Delhi: IAS agents in India are generally known to be stiff, rule-abiding and austere people, measuring their lives between incoming and outgoing file baskets while seated in a chair wrapped in white towels. So when Indian Administrative Services agent Hari Om sang a song about a Dal Lake shikara in Kashmir, it was bound to go viral.

Virality is not what IAS agents are known for. But lately, several officers are not only singing, playing and dancing, but also uploading their videos. Their creative explosions spread through social media like wildfire, significantly faster than the speed of a government brief.

The faceless and unofficial steel frame of India sings. And people love it. They are the new stars on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


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IAS officers carpe diem

The last time people sang romantic songs about Dal Lake was in Bollywood movies and music videos. But a loving song of loss and longing by an IAS cadre officer from Uttar Pradesh serving in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government is not being shared on WhatsApp groups every day.

Main tere pyaar ka mara hua, Sikander hoon magar hara hua hoonUP Principal Secretary Dr. Hari Om sang the song he had written. He regularly sings ghazals by Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali, Talat Mahmood and many others.

IAS officer presents his book to UP CM Yogi Adityanath | Dr. Hari Om/Twitter

This isn’t his first brush with viral social media fame.

In 2007, when Hariom was posted to Gorakhpur which is Yogi’s constituency and the seat of his muth, Hari Om even arrested 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 this photo went viral.

The IAS officer takes more pleasure in seeing his music videos shared on social media. “I’ve always wanted to do something different. Ever since I was a child, people praised my voice, but due to lack of time, I never had a chance to develop my hobby,” he says.

Music was a neglected hobby and over time it had become an itch he couldn’t wish for anymore. He wasn’t just a bathroom singer. He sang in school, college and even 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 released six albums in 17 years in tune with the tides of technology. His first albums were cassettes, then CDs and now he publishes them on YouTube. And he still calls himself a part-time artist.

He releases one song a month on his YouTube channel, which has over 8,000 subscribers. His small army of fans is mesmerized by the “purity” of his voice. “A simply brilliant interpretation. soulful voice. . .really touching,” one commenter wrote.

For many of these officers, the Covid pandemic has come as a carpe diem moment. The status quo was simply not going to be enough.

File photo of Rakhee Gupta |  Twitter |  @rakheeguptaias
File photo of Rakhee Gupta | Twitter | @rakheeguptaias

Like Hari Om, IAS officer Rakhee Gupta also limited his audience to friends and family for 25 years. But then she had a bad Covid attack, one that saw her hospitalized. As doctors administered Remdesivir and oxygen, the words “Zindagi na milegi dobara’ kept playing in his head. It was kind of a turning point.

“Now I tell everyone that you can only live once. Follow whatever hobby you have,” says Gupta, who is part of the UP group, 1997.

Music comes naturally to her and her mother is also a gifted singer. After recovering from Covid the first thing she did was sing’Ratungi Radha Naam‘, which trended on social media for several days.

“Covid taught us to live life to the fullest, and then one day I took time off 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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Music as a stress reliever

The job of an IAS officer – whether as a district magistrate or in the secretariat – is a 24×7 life without breaks, breathless and often thankless. There’s no room to let your hair down for creative pursuits. The proverbial stiff upper lip is part of the appeal and eventually becomes them.

“If we are collectors or agents of any department, if you consider it a burden, then the job and the employees who work with you will feel like a burden,” says Hari Om. “But since I’ve included music in my life, no matter how hard the job, it’s done by humming.” Even the most breathtaking tasks do not weigh it down. “It can also get creative,” he adds.

For Rakhee Gupta, who studied at Lady Shri Ram College and the Delhi School of Economics, music is a stress reliever. His introduction into the professional world of music happened by chance. She was “humming a few tunes at a party” and caught the eye of a guest from the music industry. “They offered me to record a song for them.” A few days after the song was released, she learned that it had been covered by Times Music.

As a senior IAS officer – and woman – Gupta was initially concerned about public perception. Would there be a backlash? Would this affect his career? In all the scenarios playing in her head, she never once had a sudden rise to fame.

“In October 2020, when the whole world was in the throes of Covid, my song came out and I started trending on Twitter,” she says. “I must have looked at myself more than ten times in the mirror that day. It was great…like when a child’s wish comes true.

Gupta also writes poems, which she occasionally shares on her Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Batch 2011 IAS Officer Abhishek Singh |  Facebook: Abhishek Singh
Batch 2011 IAS Officer Abhishek Singh | Facebook: Abhishek Singh

Many IAS and IPS officers have secret hobbies and hidden talents. But they are mostly hidden as family secrets or revealed at dinner parties. But social media changes their way of thinking, gives them courage and the secrets fall.

It’s not just about singing and dancing, it’s also about acting. IAS officer Abhishek Singh has been the talk of the town since he played himself in the second season of the Netflix hit, Crime in Delhi. His Instagram account offers his three million followers a brilliant insight into how celebrities meet professionals. A photo of her meeting with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde is followed by another with fashion designer Manish Malhotra. Another reel shows him lip-syncing and dancing to the popular song ‘Slowly slowly’ with Indian rapper Badshah.

“I don’t sing except in the bathroom,” Singh says.

The IAS officer, currently Deputy Commissioner of Delhi, rose to popularity two years ago when he lip-synced and starred in the viral T-series song video, Dil Tod Ke. He made his acting debut in the short film Chaar Pandra (2020), entirely made by students.

“It’s fate,” he says.

When Singh was offered a chance to act in Crime in Delhi, he jumped on it. His former boss and current Delhi Election Commissioner Vijay Kumar Dev allowed him to take him over as long as it did not affect his job.

“Listen, everyone is a hero… When we are in front of our bedroom mirror, we think of ourselves as heroes. It’s just a matter of having a chance, I had it,” Singh said.


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Juggling two worlds

The breadth of their experience and exposure informs their “hobbies”, but it’s not easy to balance a demanding career with an equally demanding hobby.

“I’ve been writing since I was in college, but it was immature. Time, age, and understanding have brought a big change in my writing. I don’t know what inspires me, but my social exposure is such that I meet all kinds of people. And that experience matures my writing,” says City Commissioner Mahendra Singh Tanwar, who has pledged to make the 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 these lines helps. “No matter how much work I do, if I write two lines, then I feel energized,” 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 Haveligot over 240 million views on YouTube.

But unlike her colleagues, Mahendra Singh doesn’t want her “hobby” to be in the public domain. “I want to maintain the strong image of the IAS,” he says.

Not everyone can juggle public service with a creative career. Some also quit. Especially those who were pushed into the IAS mindlessly from the start. It’s not an easy decision to cut the umbilical cord in services, but sometimes the pull can be too much.

IAS Officer Kashish Mittal |  Youtube
IAS Officer Kashish Mittal | Youtube

This is what happened to Niti Ayog’s officer, Kashish Mittal, who resigned unexpectedly in September 2019. Mittal, a cadre officer of AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram-Union Territory) from batch 2011, has been appointed additional Principal Secretary of NITI. Ayog.

His professional trajectory has marked out all the “I’s” dreamed of by millions of young men and women across India: the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and then the IAS. But for Kashish, it only further distanced him from his first love, classical music.

He began studying classical music at the age of eight. Live performances were part of his childhood and college years, but they were never a distraction from his college life. “I continued to flesh out and did well in math and science. I decided to go into engineering and entered IIT-Delhi with an All India rank of four.

Passing the UPSC exam was the next logical step.

“But everyone knows that my life is all about 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 IAS,” he says. But the inner voice asking him if he was doing what he really wanted was getting louder and louder.

“And then one day, I quit.

(Editing by Ratan Priya)

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