A bright, young civil service aspirant from Kerala appearing for her UPSC interview was asked why her home state nurtured Communism as an ideology. The young doctor did not think twice and said total literacy at the grassroots-level, institutionalised library movement were the differentiators which made the difference in a highly feudal society with a strong caste divide.
This is how M Beena, now the Cochin Port Trust (CPT) Chairperson, recollects her very eventful civil service interview.
She recently received the first ever Ambassador of Knowledge Award instituted by the International Quizzing Association (IQA) Asia chapter at a function organized by Devagiri CMI Public School, Kozhikode as part of Deva Jnan National Quiz fest organized by the PTA.
“The number of mock interviews you take is directly proportional to the chances of winning,” Dr. Beena, said.
Born in Amba Nagar in Vanchiyoor, Trivandrum, she was a diligent and meticulous student who shone well in academics. She won the NTSE, LSS, and USS examinations. During the NTSE interview, Beena, in her Class X then, said she wanted to be a psychologist and was inspired by Freud and C.G. Jung.
During her pre-degree at Women’s College, Trivandrum, she befriended many bright students. Among her classmates were Mariyamma Thomas, now in the Indian Postal Service, who was a celebrity Quizzer during those days.
A young Beena was an avid quizzer and she joined the Medical College, Trivandrum, in 1991.
In 1997 during her final year of MBBS out of curiosity, she tried her hand at the CSE prelims. She easily got through but she couldn’t write the Mains because she had not completed her degree.
“I just threw away a chance, which looking back, was quite foolish. Imagine my dismay when the next year I couldn’t clear the prelims when I attempted the exam during my stint as house surgeon.”
The third attempt was serious. At one go she cleared prelims, Mains and interview. “While score in main exam was a direct barometer of effort you put in, interview required handholding and guidance which was provided by the then IMG Director, Dr. Alexander Jacob.” Dr. Beena cleared CSE with all India 12th Rank and highest All India marks in Interview and English Essay.
On the unusual combination of MBBS and IAS, Dr. Beena says both are curative. However, the former treats only the symptoms whereas the latter, the actual disease or cause.
Dr. Beena was first posted as assistant collector (under training) in Kozhikode. She has donned many robes from then and the little innovations and quirks made things better for the public and enabled better service delivery.
The next posting was as the Sub Collector, Kottayam.
She observed that information asymmetry was the mechanism whereby corrupt officials made money. In those days when RTI was not conceived, she ensured that proper information boards were put up and transparency in dealings was ensured
Dr. Beena is also known to stand her ground in the face of unjust pressure. She as the Director of Employment and Training managed to change the face of the government-run Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). The government ITIs get the cream of students and have the best of teachers. But the results seemed to by abysmally poor in spite of this. The reason was that most political parties sought to fill their ‘manpower void’ by ‘recruiting’ from ITIs. The political leaders promised the students attendance and the malleable young minds were all out on the streets.
The Director was under tremendous pressure to give attendance to all those who had bunked classes. A firm no altered the whole scenario. The students by now knew that the Director meant business and all fell in line.
It was during her tenure that the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation recorded it's the highest profit in history. Her name is often heard along with Vyttila Mobility hub and Vallarpadam terminal for her contributions. She was the first one to draft a proper disaster management plan for Kerala, while she was the ACUT under Dr. Usha Titus in Kozhikode.
After stints in various departments and organisations, Dr. Beena is set to be recognized for something that she keeps close to her heart – Quizzing. She has been named the first ever Knowledge Ambassador by the Asia Chapter of the International Quizzing Association, the apex body which identifies and announce the World Champion in Quizzing every year and also conceptualize various activities to recognize and reward the Quizzers Quiz Masters and Quizzing organizations across the world.
The IQA found Beena the most deserving of the ambassadorship as she had conceptualized and implemented the Arogya Tarakam quiz. The health quiz saw the participation of thousands of school students and it ran for three consecutive years, making it the biggest Health Quiz in the country before culmination. During her KSIDC years, she conceptualized a quizzing event for the management and professional students in a mission to promote entrepreneurship in the state.
Dr. Beena is on a mission to turn around the CPT and make it a profit-making entity. She has all through used quizzing as a profound tool to effectively upskill the workforce.
Dr. Beena’s husband, Vijayan, whom she met during her Mussorie days, and a recipient of CNN - IBN Indian of the year Award is in the Indian Police Service and they have two children Vishnu Priya and Vignesh.