This article will use the acronym “CSGP” several times. It stands for Civil Service Grooming Programme. CSGP is an initiative that attempts to give a chosen group of young people thorough grooming to crack exams like the Civil Service Exam and others of a higher calibre. In 2017, St. Albert’s College(Autonomous), Ernakulam and the Kerala Region Latin Catholic Bishops Council (KRLCBC) launched this full-time residential programme for male aspirants. St. Teresa’s College, Ernakulam began participating in the programme for female candidates in 2018. Participants can pursue their degree programmes while studying for the civil service exam with financial support from a number of organisations, such as the KRLCBC commissions, certain dioceses, and the two participating colleges. The article is about my life as a CSGP-ian (a member student of CSGP).

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry, I could not travel both”

But sorry to you, Mr. Robert Frost, I chose to travel both and a few more! Not just me, but every CSGP-ians should apologise to the great poet because we had our own paths and a different destiny. And the paths that led us weren’t the most travelled or the less travelled, but the strong-travelled.

The year 2017. A fine noon In June. I along with another 31 wide-eyed and ambitious teenagers, their parents and a set of mentors rendezvoused in the Bernad Hall of St Albert’s College. Looking all around, I could find curious faces some with excitement and some with fear. But I never knew that we were witnessing a historic moment for the Latin Catholic Church of Kerala, where the very first batch of Civil Service Grooming Programme was being officially inaugurated.

Though we were clueless in the beginning, we were well aware that our purpose here was something very serious. It was the starting point and the tastiest part of our whole lives. We were getting ready to ripen and spread our savoury all around us.

The 32 of us bonded very easily. With Brother Alphin and Brother Midhun leading us under the guidance of Fr. Sherin Joseph- a man of vision, our paths and bonds became more clear. Within days, we turned out to be a happy family. But all of us had a common problem – the timetable! Being in the final years of my teenage and having never been exposed to an organised lifestyle before, found it difficult to cope with the timetable. I wondered why a civil service aspirant should follow a timetable other than for studies. But gradually I started realising that I was dealing with things differently when compared to my other classmates. Something called “professionalism” was elevating me. And in no time, all of us realised that we were hitting our college lives differently! We were mastering skills apart from academics! Our timetable was converting us into visionaries…leaders.

The holy mass every morning was giving us the spiritual energy to run the rest of the day with ease. The study hours were a great boon to us CSGP-ians, as we could cover our daily portions without building up a hectic pile to complete. The library and the newspaper rooms were a bonus to us as UPSC aspirants which helped us gather a lot of extra knowledge apart from academics. And before sleep we would gather around the stone benches to share what we learnt anew that day, or share any sweet or bitter moments, or any funny chit-chat or even to sing a melody together. In this way, we were well aware of what was going around us.

When the 4 o’clock bell rings we used to march into the canteen to enjoy our evening delicacy the renowned –“chocolate appam”, that our chechis used to prepare for us. That was the energy booster for our playtime. We literally played every games that were possible on our courts. I who didn’t even know to hold a racket the right way learnt to deliver smashes to the opponent’s court. Like ways all of us learnt a new sport from that friend who was the “pro player”. Not just in sports, these “symbiotic relations” were visible. We taught each other to communicate in English, in which our Northeast friends also played a big part. We taught each other to cook, to read a book, to garden, to pardon, to teach, to preach, to pray, to play…and the endless list goes on.

The Sunday exposures made us socially aware. Our visits to orphanages, old-age homes, hospitals, mental asylums, SHGs, slums, and other communities opened a whole new world to us. We volunteered for numerous social services like cleaning and structuring the affected Chellanam beach, doing household work for charitable institutions, volunteering for the 2018 Kerala Flood relief camps, harvesting paddy fields and a lot more. The North Indian exposures were real life changers that made us realise what life outside our comfort zones was. We witnessed the lives of the unprivileged and the downtrodden and lives as one among them for months. It’s from that point we started to think like real civil servants- to identify their problems and search for a solution. Those exposures had given the happiness that no other luxury trip could provide.

With all these exposure and training we were doing far better than most of the students in the college. We began winning prizes in various intra and inter-college competitions and during our second year, CSGP was turning into a brand. I was elected as the college magazine editor that year which made me explore my passion for art and literature even more. I also became the Winner of the English Poetry Recitation Competition in the MG University Arts Fest that year which turned out to be my biggest achievement till then. And yes, the credits definitely belong to my CSGP mates and our regent brothers Vipin and Bibin. This win helped me to constantly participate in various competitions and helped motivate my friends to do the same. And the aftermath was really a pleasant one. By the third year at college, we CSGP-ians established ourselves as a brand and we were noticed by all. The 32 of us along with our juniors, and our regent brothers Peter and John were nourishing under the leadership of Fr John Christopher who was a man of perfection. We were now the super seniors and had the responsibility to pass down what we had learnt to our junior brothers. And that year too CSGP-ians backed various achievements in the arts, sports and science fields. I was able to win national-level literary competitions which furthermore exposed me. And the best thing that happened for me that year was winning the Albertian Star Competition 2020 which I completely owe to my CSGP family. The qualifying rounds in the competition consisted of quizzes, debates, round table discussions and PowerPoint presentations which were new to most of the contenders. But for the CSGP-ians who do all these on a daily basis, clearing these rounds was a cakewalk and so was for me. Therefore all that I received from my Albert’s is for my CSGP with no second thought.

CSGP became the best thing that ever happened to me. My achievements in CSGP helped me grab a Post Graduation seat. The virtue I had taken from there helped me to face the endeavours that came thereafter.

During our time here, we’ve experienced a lot – the highs, the lows, the successes, and the failures. But through it all, we’ve grown as individuals and as a community, learning valuable lessons and forging lifelong friendships. We’ve had the privilege of being guided by some of the most exceptional educators and , who’ve challenged us to think critically, expand our horizons, and pursue our passions and the dream job of Civil Services.

As we said goodbye to this chapter of our lives, we had taken with us unforgettable experiences that have shaped us into who we are today. We’ve been molded into resilient, compassionate, and empathetic individuals, ready to make a difference in the world. I who thought that my road was heading towards literature and films, also found numerous other roads on my journey to my (our) ultimate destination. We were built curious by CSGP and that curiosity couldn’t stop me from exploring the bushes on the other roads. And at the end of the day, I believe that me and all of us would reach the final destination with a basket full of fruits collected from all those bushes.