Fifteen minutes is all a nervous Rashi Singh has to spare for lunch at Friends Cafe in Rajender Nagar on Monday. Hair tied up in a knot, and a chewed up pencil tucked into the bun, she wolfs down her plate of kadi chawal. “I have no time to relish this, my exam is on Sunday. It’s my second attempt,” says the 25-year-old, as she walks back to her rented room.
On June 18, Singh will be one of the thousands from the capital who will sit for the civil services preliminary exam to be conducted by the UPSC. Over the years, Rajender Nagar has become a hub for civil service aspirants — complete with 24×7 libraries or reading rooms, coaching centres, bookstores and photocopy shops, PGs, and a rapidly growing food industry.
“Seventy per cent students living in the vicinity are from outside Delhi, which makes it more cosmopolitan than other areas. It’s also safer in comparison. Even after midnight, you will see students on the street,” says Prakhar Sharma, advisor, Vajiram and Ravi coaching institute, established in Rajender Nagar in 1995-96.
For the full 16-month preparation course, the institute charges Rs 2.3 lakh and has a success rate of 8-10 per cent every year, says Sharma, adding that students from all over the country enrol for them. One of them is Shubha Loganathan (29) from Bengaluru: “I have left my baby behind, and quit my job as a civil engineer to come here and study. This is the only way to crack it, I have been told.”
The houses that dot the market have been turned into PGs. “Over the last two years, many families have been renting out their homes and moving to other parts of the city,” says Pradeep Chugh of Chaudhary Estate.
Students looking for cheaper accommodation have to cross the road over to Karol Bagh. Apart from PGs, old hotels have been turned into hostels. On Saraswati Marg in Karol Bagh, Hotel Raunak International has been converted into a hostel for boys, with rooms starting at Rs 12,500 per person per month on a four-sharing basis. “Tourists don’t come to these hotels anymore, so instead of shutting them down, the owners have turned them into hostels,” says a property dealer.