‘Guten Tag’ or Vanakkam? Had the three magical letters after her name not come through after her fourth crack at the Civil Services Examination, Sharanya Ari would have flown to Germany for a Masters Degree in Data Management, post her basic qualification in Information Technology from SRM University, and probably ended up as one of those ubiquitous “Consultants” dabbling in “sustainable solutions and green initiatives”. But her Indian Air Force father Wing Commander M. Arivazhagan (Rtd) gave her wings and propelled her to fly high and her mother J.Sathiya Priya, a Government School Teacher taught her lessons in persistence. If the “Prelims” was initially her “Achilles Heel”, Sharanya dug it in, using every attempt as a “learning curve”, to not merely storm her way into the IAS but also notch up an enviable All India 7th Rank.
Five years, you would imagine, is just about enough to get the lay of the land in administration. But this 2016 batch IAS officer has hit the road sprinting. In the very first week of her posting as Commissioner of the Thoothukudi Municipal Corporation, Sharanya has spurred her team to take recycling to a new high. The proof of the innovation lies in a staff toilet made from 1700 plastic bottles packed with sand and glued together, tin-barrel sofas, hydroponic pineapples and ropes made from sarees. Add the regular challenges like finding a permanent solution to rain water stagnation to her ‘To Do’ list and her task is cut out.
Like a seasoned professional, there is no attempt to hog the limelight. Instead, credit is given to the team. “Before I took over, I had heard that the Health and Sanitation wing is one of the best and most dedicated in the State. The City Health Officer Vidhya, Sanitary Officers Stalin and Ariganesh had decided to label this campaign as Waste To Wealth.” Operational freedom and delegation seem to be her mantra.
In her maiden posting as Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi, Sharanya was immersed in “conserving and enriching the great civilisational heritage that we have inherited and making them more accessible to the common person so that they too can appreciate the same and become active partners in conserving all art forms.”
As Assistant Collector (Training) in Coimbatore, she heralded a lasting association with the tribal society in Siruvani. “With the help of the then Managing Director of Poompuhar, Dr.Santhosh Babu, we were able to train the tribals there and marketed the Lantana weed furniture manufactured by them. This activity was hugely appreciated and was personally satisfying since it gave a sustainable means of livelihood by converting waste to wealth. It also got me a medal for ‘Village Study’ at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.”
After a brief innings as Sub Collector in Ambattur, Chennai district, Sharanya was posted in Kanyakumari as Sub Collector and Sub Divisional Magistrate of Padmanabhapuram. “The 2 year stint in Kanyakumari will always be memorable in my life and I would even call it adventurous. The interactions with the coastal society made me understand how some problems require tailor-made interventions. Leading rescue operations during cyclones and other natural disasters was highly enriching since I had to co-ordinate with multiple stakeholders. It made me adept in applying rules and procedures and strengthened my conviction that people-centric governance is the only way forward in administration.”
This young officer’s life exemplifies the saying that when you set your heart at something, the universe conspires to make it happen. Prince Charming presented himself in the form of a study partner in 2011. Vishwesh Shastri went on to clear the civil services and enter the Indian Defence Accounts Service (IDAS) in 2012. It was only after Sharanya got into the IAS in 2016, that the couple decided to tie the knot. “As the IDAS was a central service, I insisted that he write the civil services examination again. The idea clicked and Vishwesh got into the Indian Police service in 2017 with the Tamil Nadu cadre!” Now the ASP – Colachel, the dashing cop, initially found himself posted together with his wife for almost a year and a half.
The work pressure of an officer couple can be intense and draining. Notwithstanding the sobriquet of ‘Jack of all Trades, Master of None’ that her mother jocularly gave her, Sharanya’s multiple childhood hobbies like Carnatic music, painting and badminton, come in handy to beat stress.
Meanwhile, the administrative challenges that the Covid19 pandemic has thrown up, will keep her on her toes. But it will not overwhelm a green thumb who is not a green horn!
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)