TODAY -

ICS (IAS) viva voce of Khushwant Singh

Free Thinker *



It is raining cats and dogs; I have already gone through the newspaper headlines; now I don't want to read the edit page which I normally do at night when my head is on the pillows. Reading editorials is just like a lullaby for me since the slogging days for Civil Services (which I failed miserably).

Suddenly I remember a widely circulated ICS (Indian Civil Services) interview extract of Shri Late Khushwant Singh, which I received a few days back from a senior bureaucrat through WhatsApp. ICS was the former avatar of IAS. I didn't dare to go into the authenticity of the interview which supposedly took place in the late 1930s. But the narration of the interview is interesting, here it goes –

"Khushwant Singh writes that he got 300 out of 300 in the ICS interview in London, in the late 1930s. He had done well in the first paper, so dropped the second paper, submitted a good essay and appeared for the interview; just for the experience. The first question was "Why are you appearing for the ICS?"

Most candidates said that they were interested in administration or that they wanted to serve the British Government. Khushwant said, "I hear the salary is pretty good!" There was laughter around the table. The second question was "We notice you are doing Bar-at-law also, have you ever been to a British Court of Justice?"

Khushwant : Yes Sir, I have been to the Old Bailey.
Q : And what did you see ?
KS: Sir I saw that cases which drag on for six months in India, are decided here in 40 minutes.

Q : So what is your conclusion ?
KS: Sir, I wonder how British lawyers make a living ?

Another big laugh around the table. The final question from Harold Laski: "How many guns salute is fired when the Viceroy's wife delivers a male child?
KS: I don't know how many guns salute is fired but I know that the ADC is fired. Huge laughter around the table....

Just to satisfy my inquisitive mind I reopened his autobiography (Truth, Love & a Little Malice);

I was trying to locate the ICS interview part which I read a few years ago-but could not recollect the entire thing. I got it at page 79-80 under the heading- "Discovering England". The content in the message has some factual basis but not entirely. KS himself would have endorsed it, if he were alive as his spirit is embedded in the circulated 'interview'.

From his own narration – "For the heck of it, I decided to have a go at the ICS examination. I had only one chance; I know that my academic record was loaded against me. I did the best I could. I believed my top scoring subject would be International Law.

I skipped one paper because I thought I would fare badly in it. Came the viva voce. I went...The first question the panel of three members asked me was why I wanted to get into ICS. I replied candidly that I knew I had little chance of making it, but since it was regarded as a test of intelligence I thought I would have a go at it.

They laughed...Next they asked me whether while studying law, I had ever visited the Courts in England and seen how justice was administered. I told them of my having appeared as a witness before the Bow Street Magistrate and of my surprise at how speedily the case had been disposed of, the number of accused who had pleaded guilty and the sentences passed for petty thefts.

And how hard English Barristers must find it to make a living. They had another hearty laugh... The results were announced a month later..... I was the only candidate, Indian or English, who was given full marks in the viva voce, 300 out of 300."

Born in 1915 in Hadali, Punjab, Pakistan Khuswant Singh made his birthday 15 August as there was some confusion. His father wrote 2nd Feb 1915; later his grandmother told him that he was born in the month of 'Badroo'–sometime in August.

Then he changed his date of birth to 15 August. "I decided to fix it in the middle of the month, to 15 August 1915, and made myself Leo. Thirty two years later in 1947,15 August became the birthday of Independent India"( page 3 his autobiography). However his 99th Birthday was celebrated on 2 Feb.

Under his own admission Khuswant Singh wrote that his father died at ninety after taking his last sip of Scotch; his mother also passed away at 94 and her last word was 'Viskee"; and he wants to raise his glass for the long journey, when his time comes (Khuswant Singh, in his first page Prologue: An Apology for Writing an Autobiography).

His son Rahul Singh says "the evening before he went..... He had drunk his mandatory 'Patiala' peg of single-malt Glenlivet (he did not like the smoky single-malts like Laphroaig).

I told my daughter that there are similarities between me and Khuswant Singh; she said with a smile 'there is only one - he passed his BA in third division and you have a third class BA Hon. Degree; others you emulate.'


* Free Thinker wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 14 2021.



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