As the heading suggests, this article is not just a chronological collection of the events that happened during my interview, but rather an attempt to make everyone realize the hidden potential in themselves and thus helping them become better human beings. This can be considered as the third and the final article in my series. The first two being, and dealing with the questions -
WHY – Why I want to become an IAS Officer.
HOW – How to become an IAS Officer – A Detailed Strategy
And this article deals with the next question – WHAT. What kind of an IAS officer should one become and what kind of qualities that the interview board hopes to see in their candidates. I request all of you to read the above two articles before this, as there is a sense of continuation and you will not lose the context.
Before I start, I would like to thank profusely for the overwhelming response that I got for the previous two articles. I have received hundreds of emails from dedicated aspirants and I have tried to answer each and every one of them. But, I couldn’t reply to some emails too due to lack of time, I apologize sincerely for that. Some emails have enlightened me and I tried to ignore some harsh emails too. I humbly apologize to some people if my articles portray me as a “self-glorifying”, “narcissistic” and “fame-addicted” person. I am sorry that I did write a lot about “me” and “my journey” but that was just to mention the lessons that I had learnt. I also would like to mention that I am not “fame-addicted”, as most of my college and school friends didn’t even know that I was preparing for this exam, till a month ago.
Anyway, I am forever indebted to each and everyone of you who has blessed me with wishes and who have showcased their love and affection towards me. I also like to thank all people who have taken the time out to write to me. I appreciate all the gestures and I hope I continue to help and serve people.
Now, instead of just concentrating on what happened in Delhi during my interview, I would like to talk about my journey from December till April too. As this phase, truly changed my life, and I hope it will change yours too.
In December, I knew that I might pass Mains, so I thought of concentrating on the next stage, after taking a small break. My family thought of sending me to Delhi for interview coaching (Facepalm, they never understand), when I said no, they asked me to take at least mock interviews. I still had some ideological conflicts about the whole “preparation” stage. So I denied this offer too.
I did not want to attend mock interview sessions because I did not want to hide my true personality. The mock sessions teach you how best to portray yourself, they will teach you how to showcase your personality in the best way and they will make you put on a fake disguised mask where you will be shown as something you are truly not. I heard that in some coaching centres, they even make you by-heart information about various hobbies so that you can repeat them at the interview.
I have been told to make a list of 100 questions on my biodata and background, then make a perfect well-worded answer for each question and by-heart the answer so that I can talk impressively the prepared sentences in the interview when I’m asked the relevant questions.
I dont know why, but this did not appeal to me. I did not want to put a fake Akand in front of the panel with pre-planned answers and cheat them to get this job. But, rather I wanted to improve myself internally and I wanted to ‘earn’ the qualities of an ideal personality. So, in order to imbibe and inculcate the good characteristics, I started thinking on a new strategy. I asked myself why people wanted to become IAS officers and asked whether I would fit into any of the following categories.
a) IAS gives respect – True. Many people want respect in the society so they attempt this examination, and there is nothing wrong in it. People need respect for a good living. But, did I want this attribute? I was an IITian. I had enough respect in the society already. In fact, I get very embarrassed by this. Sometimes, I get sick of it, so I ensure strangers don’t know that I’m an IITian. I cannot handle too much respect. That is why, I don’t want this job for the respect that it gives. I dont care about the ‘lal-batti’ and the infinite ‘salaam-saab’ salutations. I think I will ban my subordinates from saluting me every time we meet.
b) IAS gives money – My previous job used to pay me more than what a district collector earns. I did not want this job for the money. I just would need enough cash for sustenance. And I’m not really a fan of materialistic things. (I did not use a phone for 6 months) So, even this attribute did not appeal to me.
c) IAS gives power – Of course. It would give a normal man too much power. Power to do anything, power to influence anyone, power to make people listen to you. Honestly, I was and am a very shy person and I am sure I need special training to even learn how to wield such power. I don’t feel comfortable with these qualities at all. I did not want IAS for the power. Power scares me, and I’m sure it can corrupt too.
d) Service to people – This attribute is many times confused. And this explanation might prove to be controversial. IAS, IPS etc., are not for “serving” people. A service-oriented person sometimes might not be suitable for this job. If someone wants to truly “serve” people, they should open an NGO instead.
IAS officers do serve people but that is only because it is an indirect result of the “duty” that they are supposed to do. Since, ours is a welfare state, all the policies that the government makes are service-oriented. That is the only reason why IAS officers are often confused with “Benefit-givers”.
The true role of an IAS officer is – “Administration”. His only duty is to give a flawless efficient administration and should implement the policies effectively. He should not be service-oriented but should be duty-oriented.
If a government policy which has been approved by the Parliament, is against the society, a service-oriented mindset can show resistance in implementing it. But, an IAS officer should perform his duty no matter what. If, suddenly India transforms into a police-state from a welfare-state, the IAS officers should be immune to peoples’ feelings. So, whatever the duties are, he should perform them diligently. So, I wont hesitate to repeat, that the most important attribute of someone who is preparing for the civil services should not be service. But, rather it should be formulating good policies and ensuring effective implementation which indirectly serves the intended people. Societal service is a necessary by-product, but the intended goal should be good administration.
Then, I realized I had to get the qualities of an ideal administrator, a perfect manager, a true leader. So, I made a list of characteristics that I intended to develop. And I’m sure, every administrator must develop these basic ideals.
Responsibility – Integrity – Humility – Gratitude – Vision – Innovation – Quality – Respect – Empathy – Unity – Adaptability – Magnanimity – Perseverance – Balance – Simplicity – Courage – Attention – Discipline – Patience – Leadership
So, to attain a perfect personality, I wanted to practice each of these characteristics. So, on Dec 31st, I took a series of new year resolutions. I took some tangible time-bound resolutions, because without a timeline, I would not achieve them. They were -
1) Lose 5 kgs in 30 Days.
2) Cook 15 delicacies in 45 Days.
3) Read 30 Books in 90 Days.
4) Travel 5000 km in 150 Days.
5) Become an IAS officer in 180 Days.
Each of these resolutions were supposed to teach me few of those ideals. Also, since I was not working anymore, I had lots of free time to spare. And I always wanted to spend it in a productive way. I was busy for a long time with college, studies and office. At last, I had got some time to do the stuff that I wanted and could never do again – Travel, read and cook.
1. Lose weight
After graduation, I had gained 15kgs within 6 months. I just had to sit at home, eat home food (after 4 years) every day. I just was sitting, studying, eating and sleeping. So, soon, I became a fat man from a skinny boy. So, after the exam I decided to decrease.
And in the process, I would learn – Perseverance, Dedication, Discipline, Courage and Patience.
It takes a lot of determination to wake up at 5 and go for a jog in the cold weather. It takes a lot of patience to weigh yourself everyday hoping to reduce at least 100g. It takes a lot of dedication to repeat the exercises every day for 30 days. It takes courage to start running when you are out of breath and are about to die. :P
So, this goal was easily reached and I did a conscious study of the ideals that I was learning.
2. Cook food.
Till now, I did not even know how to boil water. Making maggi itself was a tough job for me. So, I took up this challenge. All of you might think, I am blabbering unrelated useless things. But, trust me, it is in the simplest of actions that the deepest wisdom lies. Every action you perform, no matter how miniscule it might be, will have great repercussions in your personality. Cooking, might be unrelated to civil services preparation, but it is very much important in determining what kind of a person one wants to become.
Cooking teaches a lot of ideals such as – Balance, Quality, Innovation, Team work, Attention, Observation and Discipline.
I just did not want to cook edible food, I wanted to create art. I took keen interest in the aesthetic external appearance of the dishes too. I wanted the food to please the eye. I gave attention to detail and observed the various intricacies in balancing the taste. I learnt how a mixture of various tasteless individual ingredients, make a divine dish which everyone can relish. It teaches everyone team-work. It teaches the leader to appreciate each and every ingredient’s quality that is brought to the table. Even without the contribution of one member(ingredient), the dish(work) will taste bad.
Cooking, in short, gives a good Management lesson. And I think every human being, irrespective of the gender should learn to cook. Cooking, either by a male or a female, teaches a myriad of life-lessons which are not taught anywhere else, most important of them being – Gender equality.
3. Reading books.
I missed out on so many books in the busy hectic life’s rat race that when I finally found peace, I wanted to read all of them. But, when I was about to quit my job, I was worried. I was worried because I had to repay my Education Loan which I had taken to complete my BTech. The bank had said that I had to start repaying, 6 months after the graduation. So, when I quit my job, I called up SBI and asked permission to extend the period. The Manager was gracious enough to extend it, but he also said the interest will keep on piling up. I was happy that I need not think about it for a long time after Mains.
So, I had 6 months after Mains which I wanted to utilize to the maximum. I had to take up a job again after that. So, I decided to read at least 30 books in 3 months. I carefully selected books which can give me wisdom, and teach me life-lessons. The list of the books can be found here -
Each book taught me a lot. I would leave it to the readers to read those books to gain more in-depth understanding.
An IAS officer should understand the society well. True understanding doesn’t come merely by reading books, articles and reports. I was an urban educated regular middle-class guy. I had never seen true poverty of a rural farmer. I had never seen the crowd outside a ration shop in villages. I had never seen the quality of water, people actually drink.
Of course, I “knew” about all these. I knew the statistics. I had seen countless documentaries regarding the societal problems. I knew about female infanticide, I saw in movies about the bad upkeep of hospitals. I was empathetic, I felt bad for the people who couldn’t afford a decent meal every day. I was sympathetic and I wanted to do something for the society.
But, had I really witnessed true India? Had I seen with my own eyes people’s everyday living? I lived in Bangalore for over 16 years. But, did I know about the living conditions of the rest of the 70% of the population?
I can honestly say, No!
I wanted to travel the country. I wanted to see regular people in my journeys. I wanted to see true India. But, my savings were getting depleted very fast. So, I had to carefully plan everything I wanted to happen.
But, I didn’t know where to go!! One should realize that a journey without a destination is meaningless. It is akin to getting lost. So, my mother advised me to go visit far-away temples. I did not know what to say. I was an athiest, and going on a pilgrimage at such an age did not appeal to me. But, I then realized that I should concentrate on the journey rather than the destination. I wanted to experience and observe people around the temples. On top of that, I would get an extra incentive for going and visiting gods. It was funny that I was bribing God to give me a seat. I shouldn’t say this as it might be blasphemy.
Anyway, I started visiting nearby temples after making a long list. I wanted to cover 5000 km in 5 months.(And I managed to cover 10000 km including the Delhi trip) I had embarked on a journey which would change my life forever.
I did three types of travelling.
1) I travelled alone.
2) I travelled with parents to far off places in train.
3) My family drove to nearby destinations if it was an important temple.
And in each mode of travel, I had new experiences and did learn a lot. I consciously observed everything in these journeys.
I always wanted to take the second class general coaches of trains. I had never done that before, and I assured my mother that I would be safe. So, whenever I travelled alone, I started taking general unreserved tickets. The first thing I realized was that they were dirt-cheap. And the second thing I realized was that the bogies would get hazardously crowded!
I truly started enjoying my train rides. The coach in the mornings would get so filled up that, in each compartment at least 12 people used to sit, where seatings for 6 were recommended. There would be 6 people sitting on the two upper berths too! I used to wonder how flexible they could be! Most of the time, I did not get a seat and I used to stand near the door and enjoy the beauty of nature. The trees and barren fields used to zoom past by me, and I would just stand there enjoying the air and would observe people.
In the evenings, I could see that many men used to go back home from work. They literally travelled for over 60 km every single day to work in the big city and then travel back again to go to their far-away towns. They lived too close for total urban migration, and they lived too far away for a less-tiring commute. I used to get frustrated even if I was stuck in traffic for a mere 30 mins. But, after seeing this so much hardwork for mere sustenance, I had to humble down a lot. They were brave dedicated men, who worked and traveled extra-ordinarily so that they could provide their families a decent living. All of them were small-time blue-collar employees and suddenly I had immense respect for them and applauded silently for the sacrifices they were making for their families.
The people in second class bogies were both very friendly and very short-tempered at the same time. I saw many small fights over small things, and used to get very amused by them. These fights were some sort of entertainment for the rest of the travellers. They used to fight verbally and physically over issues like seat-sharing or water spillage.
But, at the same time people were very understanding and helpful too. I was tired of standing and wanted to sit down. There was an aunty beside me sitting on the ground. When I tried to sit, she offered me a sheet of newspaper to sit on.(All seats were full, and one cannot imagine the crowd) Imagine sitting on the floor near the bathroom and the door with all the stench filling the atmosphere. I was supposed to get disgusted but for some reason, I was enjoying myself. I started truly experiencing what they experience. I started feeling what they feel.
At this time, I truly admired the Indian Railways. The tickets were very cheap and it helped millions of very poor people travel. Even if they were very crowded, there would be a sense of belonging. I cannot imagine what would happen to those millions of commuters who use the long-distance trains to go to work everyday, if suddenly the railways increased the fares. I am sure there would be fuel-surcharges that would be added to the cost of the ticket in the future, and now, I was dead against to it. Truly, the Railways was a welfare organization, and I wouldn’t mind it running in losses if it was giving life to so many poor people who are at a disadvantage.
The food items that were being sold in the General section were also very cheap! I ate a small packet of hot and tasty sambhar rice for a mere Rs.15! I started understanding the true meaning of a welfare-state.
In the above picture, one can see sitting together on the same berth are a well dressed government employee, a small scale industry businessman, a college student and a farmer belonging to various castes, classes, religions and regions. The line which divides people along castes and classes is truly blurred in a second class coach of the Indian train. The trains are the single-most unifying factor this country has seen and one should be proud of it.
Yes, the train gets this much over-crowded. I was sitting on the corner most seat trying not to fall off and I could see Biharis, Tamilians, Christians, Mizos, Gujjus etc. sleeping all over each other!! Where else can you see this beauty!? Trains are truly the melting pot of various cultures and depicts the true India.
The next type of new experience came when I was traveling with my parents in reserved 2A sleeper coaches. Here, the people were of a different class who were educated and were informed about current affairs and news. My father has an unusual habit of chatting up with co-passengers every time we travel. (I think all old uncles have this annoying habit). The discussions usually would lead up to politics of various states. Till then, I never listened to all the grown-up talks, but this time I started listening more. (Civil service prep mentality I guess)
This time, I understood the differences in political perception of urban city people and other people from smaller towns and villages. Urban young people talk a lot about politics on social networking platforms like facebook etc., but would have never been to a political rally. They wouldn’t even know who would be contesting from their own constituencies. Urban young citizens do not talk about manifesto points and usually many are lost in the crowded busy city life that they do not vote also. (Bangalore had a 50% voting rate).
They have strong opinions about a particular party and usually support one top charismatic leader. They wouldn’t care about the rest of the 500 odd MP contestants. They usually wouldnt even know what ideology each party stands for.
But, on the other hand politics plays a huge role in smaller towns and villages. This might be due to the slower pace of life, villages being much more peaceful and the people who are not rushing so much everywhere. Villagers would go to a political rally atleast because they are bored at homes and need some form of entertainment. Elections are a very exciting phase of life for them, and they believe in local mass leaders than the party high command. Most of the people who were discussing in the train would talk about their local leader in their constituency and not the party itself. So, an established local leader can get votes even if he changes the party frequently. It may be due to caste lines, but it is the name of the candidate which matters more and not the party itself.
This fundamental difference in ‘candidature vs party’ was very interesting. It made me think that in the current scenario, everybody talks about ‘Modi vs Rahul Gandhi vs Arvind Kejriwal’ which is wrong. In a true democracy, the people should elect for a leader in their constituency and not the PM directly. This is true decentralization of electoral power.
But, what happens in the real scenario is that a voter would decide upon the PM first, and accordingly vote for his party irrespective of the candidate in his constituency. The candidate might be corrupt or might have criminal case against him, but if he belongs to the party of the voter’s favourite PM candidate he would easily win. This way, in trying to make his favourite leader as PM, the voter sends immoral people into the parliament.
In any democracy, the people should vote for candidates in the constituency first, without any bias. Then the candidates should decide amongst themselves for the nomination of the PM. But, in this country, it is exactly the opposite. First, the PM is decided, then the people are made to vote to ensure that the decided person becomes the PM! In the process, we get one honest leader with hundreds of corrupt MP followers. This shouldn’t be the scenario.
It is important to realize that voting for the right candidate is far more important for us than to select the party in the centre. It is the candidates in every constituency who need to be capable enough to fulfil their responsibilities in their constituency irrespective of who is given the post of Prime Ministership.
These kind of exciting political talks usually happen over a long train journey. I truly believe trains are the best modes of transportation and one can learn a lot about life during a long-distance train journey.
Some time ago, Insights had posted a video on casteism in the country called – India Untouched. The video was truly amazing and it did teach me a lot. The events shown in the video were unbelievable but when I was on one of my travels, I witnessed one of the caste incidents first hand. It was truly mind-blowing and shocking. Once, we were driving to a nearby temple (Around 150km) away. We had to go through some villages to reach that old temple. On the way, we stopped near a local tea-stall to drink some coffee. I got out and ordered for all of us from the tiny tea shop. There were few people sitting inside already sipping their coffee from a ‘glass’ tumbler. The tea shop owner gave us four cups of tea in a ‘stainless steel’ cup but. The documentary which was shared clearly said that the glass cups were used by lower caste people and the tea shop owners usually give stainless steel cups to higher caste people. Maybe, by seeing the car, he thought we were from a higher caste. When I realized this phenomenon I asked him to give me a cup of coffee in the glass tumbler to check his reaction, he and the others looked at me weirdly for a second. He then gave me in the glass one and I went back into the car and explained the story to my family members. It was amazing to see discrimination on such a large scale.
These travels have taught me about poverty, welfare-state, caste, religion, region, politics and basic human behaviour. The journey into rural India opened my eyes and showed the naked truth of the country that we live in. With such an enlightening experience I was truly ready to contribute. I was truly ready to face my interview. I had truly believed that I had become a better human being in those 4 months and I tried to inculcate as many good qualities as required by an IAS officer. I was ready now to test them in my interview arena.
Then, we went to UPSC Bhawan, New Delhi.
Before going inside, I told my parents not to worry. I told them I might get a rank or I might not get a rank, but the last 15 months had been amazing. I had completely transformed myself, I had learnt a lot and experienced a lot more. So, I wouldn’t really mind if I did not get a rank too as I had come a long way in a short time. In fact, I loved the studying phase, I loved it so much that I did not mind to repeat the whole one year process again. So, with that, I had no tension of facing the interview. Many students face a lot of tension just before the interview thinking about the results. Because of this tension, they fumble in the interview and lose confidence while they talk. This would directly give them lesser marks. I had no such tension because I did not care about my results at all at this point. I was happy with the amount of progress I had made and I did not worry about this last step. I had done my groundwork, I had worked hard enough and I left it in the hands of destiny to determine my success.
With that worrying off my mind, I went inside the gates at 9am. The next 2 hours would be the most over-hyped phase of the whole examination process. The coaching centres talk so much about the boards, mocks, hobbies, DAF, saying good morning etc. etc. that once you actually face the interview you will know that all this was just a huge unnecessary hype to scare the students. The board consists of a bunch of old educated people who just want to get to know you better. It is more of a conversation than an interview. There was no grilling, no cross-questioning nor any uncomfortable queries.
If one did not know the answer to any factual question, he could just say I dont know sir! There was nothing wrong in it. Nobody knows everything on this planet, but what matters is the courage to accept something you don’t know as you don’t know. The board checks if you are really interested in the job and whether you are honest and capable enough to handle so much of responsibility. The board checks your confidence, cool headed mind and your attitude mainly.
So, as soon as I entered the gate, they gave me a desk number to sit at the waiting hall(I got E-3) and then they checked all our documents(Call letter, 10th, Graduation degree). They gave me a name of the hospital where my medical check-up would be done the next day. I saw that I had to attend Lok Nayak hospital at 9 am the next day to undergo some simple tests. An attendant came to our desk and informed details about our Board and also said that I would be the first person to get in. I was both excited and nervous but kept my calm.
When my name came up at 10.15 am, I was ready. I was ready to face the best 30 mins of my life.
Date – 30th April 2014
Board – Prof David R Syiemlieh
Detailed Application Form (DAF) – goo.gl/gqmm2s
The attendant opened the door for me, there were five members including the Chairman sitting around a circular desk. My seat was opposite to the Chairman’s and I had two Members on either side. It was more of a discussion desk rather than an interview desk. Let us call the members as CM, M1, M2, M3 and M4.
A – May I come in Sir?
CM – Come in, come in.
Then I turned around, said “Thank you Bhaiyya” loudly to the attendant so that I ensured that all the board members heard that. I wanted them to think I respect everyone irrespective of their job and status.
A – Good morning Mr.Chairman, good morning sirs.
CM – Good morning Sitra, please take your seat.(My name is Akand!!)
A – Thank you sir. ( Sat comfortably, it was a very comfy chair)
CM -So, you were born in Anantapur? (Reading my DAF)
A – Yes, sir and my home town is Kurnool.
CM – Achcha, and you live in Bangalore right now?
A – Yes sir, I’am from Bangalore.
CM – Achcha, your hobby is cycling? How did that start?
A – Sir, back in college, cycling was a necessity. Hostels were far from classes and also far from mess. So, all of us used to cycle to all places. So, a necessity had transformed into a passion. We started going on long-distance cycling trips. We cycled till Mahabalipuram which is over 50 km away and also to Kovalam beach near Chennai.
CM – Hmmmm. Around two days ago, there was another candidate with a strange hobby. It was sparrow watching. Can you tell me why sparrow watching in big cities, like Delhi is declining?
A – (Why is he asking me questions on someone else’s hobby?! Maybe he is trying to make this into a stress interview) Sir, one of the main causes for decline of sparrow watching is due to the immense pollution that every city has these days. A few decades ago, sparrow watching would not be considered as a hobby as there were sparrows everywhere! It has become a “hobbby” now because they are almost endangered.
CM – Hmmmm.. Do you know who was the first sparrow watcher in India?
A- Smiled. I don’t know Sir.
CM – Who was the founder of the Indian National Congress?
A – (Why is he asking random unrelated questions!) Sir, Dadabhai Naoroji.
CM – Ummm, along with Mr. A.O.Hume.
A – Yes Sir.
CM – He was one of the first sparrow watcher in India. Not many know this side of him, many know him just for founding INC. He was an incredible bird watcher.
A – Smiled. Okay Sir. (No clue why he was saying all this)
CM – Achcha, you worked in this company called Sabre Holdings? As an Associate Product Specialist? What was your exact work there?
A – Sir, I had joined the job in July after writing Prelims in May. Within three months I quit the job because I couldn’t find time to prepare for Mains. So, they did not give me any solid work till then. I was still in basic training.
CM – Look Sitra. (My name is Akand!!) When you talk with your peers, you can use words like “Mains”, but when you come to important interviews like this you should not only be politically correct but also academically correct. Mains can be anything.
M4 – Yeah! It can be power mains or water mains too! So what Mains is it?
A – (I understood that this was one of the stupidest questions. They were just trying to make me uncomfortable and wanted to see whether I would panic) I grinned from ear to ear. True sir, Sorry. I meant Civil Services Mains. I should be more careful. Then gave a broad smile.
CM – Okay. Tell me three best qualities you think you have.
A – (I was blank, no quality was coming into my mind) Ummm Sir, Leadership. I had assumed many leadership roles in college and I think I did a fair job.
Ummm, second would be honesty. Smiled.
Third, let me think Sir. Nothing is coming into my mind.
CM – Your smile man! Your smile is your best quality. Never forget that.
A – Yes sir, my smile. Thank you sir. And gave a big grin again.
CM – Tell me your three negative qualities now.
A – Well sir, first would be I don’t know what to talk when. I should learn to be more diplomatic. Like just now, I should have said Civil Services Mains instead of Mains.
CM – Thats all right. You can always learn that in training. Second?
A – Ummmm, I always take too much in my plate.
CM – That is, you bite more than you can chew?
A – Yes sir, back in college, I tried to organize a lot of events simultaneously. I think, if I had taken them one by one, I could have done a much better job.
CM – And third?
A – (I thought for a while) I make friends very easily Sir. That is, I have trust issues. I am very trusting.
CM – Laughing. It’s okay. That is not a negative.
Then he asked M1 to continue.
M1 – You do yoga? Tell the different types of yoga.
A – (I totally forgot this answer) Sir, there is hatha yoga, kundalini yoga, meditation yoga etc. I dont remember others.
M1 – Meditation yoga??? Hmmmm.. What is transcendental meditation?
A – I am not sure of the answer, can I take a guess Sir?
M1 – No, leave it. You know Art of Living? Who is its founder?
A – Sri Sri Ravishankar… Ji.. Sir.
M1 – Hmmm.. Who was his guru?
A – Sorry Sir, I don’t know that.
M1 – (Irritated) Forget yoga. Are you thorough in anything?
A – Sorry sir, I have been doing very basic yoga under my school yoga master, Mr. Rawat. Very simple pranayamas and asanas like anulom-vilom, vrikshasana etc. I am not really thorough in the theoretical aspects of yoga as I had always concentrated only on its practical uses.
M1 – You didn’t get me. Let me repeat myself. Are you thorough in anything?
A – Sir, biotechnology sir.
M1 – What biotech did you learn? Industrial or research?
A – Sir, we had courses on both industrial biotech like reaction engineering and also on research biotech like cell biology and tissue engineering. I did two internships, one in an industry and one in an research institute, IMSc.
M1 – What is the difference between industrial biotech and research biotechnology?
A – Gave a long textbook definition.
M1 -You know WTO?(Yes, Sir) What is TRIPS?
A – Trade related aspects of intellectual property rights is a policy… blah blah.. talked about traditional knowledge… blah blah.. patenting healing properties of turmeric powder, yogic postures, bad for indigenous growth…. etc etc.
M1 – But, how is patenting turmeric illegal? It is mere documentation of process, right?.
A – No sir. When a western company patents the healing properties of turmeric powder, it gains the sole right for all its properties and its commercialization. In countries like India, turmeric powder is in use for centuries. After such a patent, any traditional use will be illegal and all Indians should start paying royalty for using their own indigenous product. So intellectual properties must be regulated hence the necessity of TRIPS.
M1 – Okay, tell me the three requirements for patents.
A – Ummmm, originality? Innovation?
M1 – No. It’s novelty.
A – Okay sir. ( I thought my interview was very bad till now. I had to gain the upper ground soon or else I would get very average marks. It seemed like M1 hated me and now I had to answer more carefully. They had manipulated me enough, it was my time to manipulate them)
M2 – Tell me the difference between botany and biotechnology.
A – Sir, botany is the study of plants and organisms whereas biotechnology is the study of usage of modified living organisms for economical purposes for humans, like GM crops, drugs etc.
M2 – Okay, tell me a 20 th century Indian botany scientist.
A – Ummmm, Sir, Jagadish Chandra Bose?
M2 – Correct, can you tell me his achievements?
A – He was the first to discover that plants could communicate with each other.
M2 – Okay, any other discoveries?
A – Also something related to radio waves.
M2 – No, that is in physics, I’am asking in botany.
A – I think that’s all sir.
M2 – He also discovered that plants were living things like us too. Yes, as you said, they can communicate too. Do you know any English 20th century botanist?
A – Umm sorry sir, I cant recall any.
M2 – Ever heard of Luther Burbank?
A – Yes sir, the name is familiar but I don’t recall anything else about him.
M2 – He was a great botanist too. Without using biotechnology like in recent days, he used to make better crops. Can you tell me how?
A – By cross-breeding between two different species of the crop sir. In-breeding.
M2 – Yes, correct. He also invented something called “edible cactus”. Can you explain what that is and how he could have done it?
A – Hmmmm. Sir, usually cactii have thorns on them to protect themselves from animals which try to eat them. Maybe, Burbank tried to communicate with the cactus and tried to tell it that the surrounding is safe for it. There are no animals in the area to eat it. This made the cactus not grow the thorns, thus using communication he got cactus without thorns which can be edible.
M2 – Yes, correct. On a totally unrelated note, can you tell me who said this quote? “I am not an Athenian or Greek, I am a world Citizen”
A – Ummm, Socrates??
M2 – No, it was Aristotle. (It is Socrates actually) Can you tell me what you understood from it?
A – In today’s globalized world, the whole world is becoming one global village. The boundaries between different states, nationalities are eroding day by day. With communication technology, one can contact any part of the world instantly. Every country is becoming more and more similar with common companies like McDonalds etc. So, distinguishing ourselves through countries is being replaced by becoming a global citizen. Who knows Sir, in the near future all countries might become one and literally replace with world citizenship as prophesized by Aristotle. (It was Socrates)
M2 – Hmm. You are partially correct. But, according to me I think he was saying that we all are humans first. Let’s be human beings before dividing ourselves into various countries.
A – Yes Sir. But he used the term “world citizen”, so I think it is much more than just being a human being.
M2 – Yes, Sitra. You are right. (My name is Akand!!!)
CM – What are your preferences?
A – First, the administrative services Sir, then the police services..
CM – Administrative? For which country? British eh? Bhutan eh?
A – I am sorry Sir. I did it again. I should be more academically correct. I meant the Indian Administrative Services. (He was trying to stress me out again. This is one of the most random correction a Chairman can ever do. I LOLed in my mind)
CM – Achcha, always be diplomatic and think before you answer. (Yes Sir) What are your state preferences?
A – Sir, I don’t mind working in any part of the country, every state has its own problems. But, since the choice of preference was given I would take Andhra Pradesh, because of familiarity with ground problems.
CM – Hmmm, next? (Sir, Karnataka). Next? (Tamil Nadu) Next? (Kerala). (He was testing me whether I had actually remembered my state preferences. Many people just allocate them randomly, but thankfully I remembered all the South Indian states)
(I think the Chairman has talked a lot with me. Usually with other candidates the CM doesn’t talk much. Maybe because I was the first one to get in, everyone was fresh in the morning for a nice chat)
M3 – You said your first positive quality is Leadership. Can you tell me the difference between a leader and an administrator.
A – Sir, a leader should be a person who can enthuse his subordinates anytime so that they are willing to work for the profit of the organization. An administrator is more a mix of a manager and a leader. A manager just needs to facilitate and give directions. So, an administrator should be an efficient leader and an effective manager.
M3 – What is this S-Net ambassador? What have you done there?
A – Sir, Sustainability Network is an organization in IIT Madras, which takes care of the sustainability of the energy resources we use. My work as a S-Net ambassador was to calculate the total energy consumption in my hostel and also to calculate the unnecessary wastage going through. I was also asked to calculate the area on the roof where a solar water heater could be established. I made a report with all my recommendations and observations in it.
M3 – Ok. Do you Food stability act?
M4 – He means Food Security Act.
A – The NFSA? Yes sir, the idea behind the act was that everybody should be comfortable regarding food. Noone should sleep on an empty stomach.
M4 – Everybody? Are you sure?
A – Yes sir, I was coming to the technical part. The govt gives subsidized food grains to 2/3rds of the population. 75% in the rural areas and 50% in the urban areas. So that everybody can be happy and not hungry.
M4 – Everybody?
A – Mostly, people below the poverty line Sir. But the core idea was everybody should be well-fed.
M4 – Everybody? Think harder. It is called the National Food Security Act.
A – (Then it dawns on me) No Sir, not everybody. Only Indians.
M4 – Yes correct. It is only for the Indian citizens and not the world population. You should be very careful in your choice of words. This is the third time. In one instant, you changed the beneficiaries from 1 billion to 7 billion!
A – (Gave a sheepish grin)(Smiled) Yes sir, sorry. I should be academically correct.( Even M4 was playing with me like CM. Why is everyone trying to make me tense? When I was clearly laughing at such questions)
M3 – Okay, you are from Andhra Pradesh. Tell me about the status.
A – Sir, recently after the division of Andhra Pradesh into Telengana and residual Andhra Pradesh, the future is going to be both grim and hopeful for the residual Andhra. With Hyderabad gone to Telangana, more than 60% of the revenue is gone. With most of the Godavari and Krishna running through Telangana, there will be water shortage for the residual Andhra too. Not only that, all educational institutions, offices, important colleges, everything is gone. I am not saying the division is a bad thing, the emotions of the Telangana people must be respected. But the repercussions on the residual Andhra are very high. It has nothing right now, that is the sole reason why I want to go the Andhra cadre. The IAS officers who join now will be pioneers in rebuilding the state. I want to bring a planned change in all districts and bring Andhra back to its former glory. And the whole Andhra is united this time to bring back enormous developmental change. So, even when the situation is very bad everyone is hopeful of starting everything back from scratch Sir.
M3 – Okay, you said Hyderabad is gone to Telangana right? What other important cities are in Andhra now?
A – Sir, Vishakhapatnam. Vijaywada, Tirupthi etc. Mostly all the district capitals, most of them are big towns not large metropolitan commercial cities like Hyderabad.
M3 – Okay, and these cities are in residual Andhra?
A – Yes Sir.
M4 – (Reading the Accomplishments section in my DAF) What is this NCO? AIR 225?
A – NCO is National Cyber Olympiad where “Indian” students from all over the country had participated. It was mostly an online exam which tests our computer skills. I got rank 225 all India.
M4 – What is cyber crime?
A – Any crime made through computer technology and the internet is cyber crime Sir. Like hacking govt websites, online transactions of money etc.
M4 – KVPY. “Offered” to join IISER? I didnt understand. You were offered to join an institution?
A – Yes Sir, Kishore Vaigyanik Prothsahith Yojana is a govt scheme where exams are conducted to take students into basic sciences. I wrote the exam in my 12th std and I was offered to join IISER with a stipend after I cleared it. But then, I got through IITJEE also, so I declined this offer to join IIT Madras.
M4 – Hmmm. Good. What is this Al Gore Sustainable thing?
A – Sir, Al Gore Sustainability Technology Venture Competition was an event founded by a Professor in Carnegie Mellon University. She had come to IITM and she said she wanted volunteers to organize this event and I was one of the volunteers. We organized it in a grand scale. It is basically a competition for sustainable business plans for upcoming start-ups. I saw many astonishing designs which can be put for use in rural India.
M4 – Okay, who was Al Gore.
A – He was the ex-Vice President of the US.
M4 – Yes, he was into politics too and not only the environment. Did he win a Nobel Prize?
A – Yes sir, he won one.
M4 – Are you sure? No he did not.
A – I think he did Sir. Smiled.
M4 – You have Marathons in your DAF too? Tell me where the word marathon is derived from.
A – I am sorry Sir, I dont know. I think it is another Greek word.
M4 – You and your friends used to run marathons but never discussed about the origin of the name?
A – Smiling. Yes sir, sorry sir. We were more worried about completing the marathon only. He laughed.
M4 – What is this Eureka run?
A – It was the name of an NGO which organized a run Sir. After running, whatever money we contributed, they would make a good use of it.
M4 – Okay, tell me how the word “Eureka” originate?
A – (Trying to remember.) Sir, I know the story. There was a guy sitting in his bath tub and he came out crying Eureka after discovering a scientific principle.
CM – “Guy”!? A guy? Was he wearing jeans? Was he listening to his iPod?
A – Oops Sorry Sir. I did it again. (Smiling)(He was smiling too) I should be more academically correct in my statements. A respected scientist came out running into the streets after discovering buoyancy sir.
M4 – What was his name?
A – (Tried hard to think but forgot this simple fact.) Sorry sir, I don’t remember.
M4 – No, you cant say I don’t knows anymore. (Laughing) Take a guess.
A – Sir, Aristotle. :P
M4 – No, it was Archimedes.
A – Yes sir! (With a sudden emotion of recognizing the simple answer)
M4 – So you play Kho Kho and Kabaddi too? Nobody plays these games anymore.
A – Yes sir, I used to play back in school. I was in Kendriya Vidyalaya so all these games were compulsory.
M4 – But, isn’t Kho Kho a girl’s game?
A – No Sir! It is played by boys too. We have a national boys kho kho team in our school.
M4 – Good good. ( I don’t know why he was impressed when I said my school had a team. I had nothing to do with it :P)
M4 – Sitra, you have done so many things! And you are not even 23 yet!
CM – Yes yes, he is too young. You can see that on his face itself.
M4 – I think he is one of the youngest we have seen in this stage right?
A – (Smiled) Thank you sir.
M4 – Okay, tell me about biodiversity. How does it harm humans?
A – Sir, biodiversity is the variety of living organisms in the surroundings. But sir, people keep saying if we destroy the biodiversity, “nature” will be destroyed. I think it is the other way round. Nature will always be there. It was there in the past, it is there now and it will continue to be in the future. When humans try to harm the environment through pollution etc., they are not harming nature. But they are harming themselves. It is their species which is going to get destroyed and not nature. Through usage of too many polluting chemicals, global warming, melting of polar caps, submerging of coastal areas, nothing serious is happening to nature. It is our survival that we should be worried about.
(I was on a high when I was saying this)
M4 – Okay. But can you be more specific how biodiversity changes can affect humans?
A – There would be adverse effects on the food chain. The whole biodiversity is a large web Sir. Even if there is a disturbance in one end, the whole web can get affected. Every species has a specific function in nature, if we destroy that species, we are harming ourselves and the whole fabric Sir.
M4 – Okay. Tell me which is better. Small states or big states? Small states like Goa have been developed too and large states like Gujarat are developed too. So should we have many small states or should we have very few large states??
A – Sir, every issue has both pros and cons. If we have large states, the ground level administration can become tough, but large states send a large number of MP s to the Parliament and they have the numbers to bring in state-specific policies. Whereas, small states can be administered very well because of less area and less population, but they send only 1 or 2 MP s. 1 MP doesnt make much difference in 545 other MP s Sir. So, I would say it should be in middle. The state should be small enough to be managed well and also large enough to get enough attention in the Parliament.
M4 – Haha so you took the middle ground. Safest approach.
CM – Thank you Sitra, your interview is over. (My name is Akand!!)
A – Thank you Sir. ( I got up and was about to leave)
M4 – What is the meaning of your name, Sitra?
A – Sir, my name is Akand. Sitra is just a family name. :)
CM – Achcha, makes more sense now.
A – Thank you Sir.
And left. Came out at 10 45. Half an hour exact.
I went in at 9, came out of the building at 11. Two hours of memorable time were over. I had mixed feelings about my interview.
1) The board must have thought I was immature, who doesn’t take interviews seriously (I was laughing the whole time) and they must have thought I might be too young and immature to be a dignified IAS officer. I was a kid in front of their eyes who got through the exam somehow. And for this they might award me less marks.
2) Or, the board might have thought I had raw young energy, who was always cheerful and was not tensed at all. I need some proper moulding and must train me in diplomatic skills. And thus award high marks because I was one the youngest to come till here in his first attempt.
But, I stopped thinking about the results. I thought I had done my duty and I left everything for fate now. If I am destined to become an IAS officer, nothing could stop me. If I wasn’t, even if I studied hard I could never become one. I thought that everything was over now. The UPSC chapter in my life is done for now. I felt a kind of closure after studying for 15 months.
But God did not want to leave me so easily. The story wasn’t over yet.
The next day, I went to get my medical done. Around 15 of us were allotted Lok Nayak hospital. They were simple tests. – Ear, audiometry, eye, height, weigh, chest expansion, Chest X-Ray, blood test, urine test, medical test and internal organs test(All organs, including private parts :P)
I was perfect in almost all the tests that they conducted. I was 13 cm more than the minimum height limit. My BMI was exactly 25. My eye-sight was perfect, I had no vision problems. But the big problem came when I was getting checked for colour blindness.
Eye tests – Far vision, near vision, night blindness test, colour blindness test, retina/iris test.
Doc – Read this colourful chart and tell me the numbers you see.
She had just shone a white torch light into my eyes to check for night blindness and I was blinded for a second.
A – (I read around four cards and the rest 6 I couldn’t read properly. Maybe I did have colour blindness.)
Doc – I think you might have colour blindness.
A – But maam, I had a check up done 4 years ago and that time I did not have colour blindness.
Doc – Hmmm, colour blindness is genetic. It cannot come suddenly, you must have from birth itself. Is this going to be a problem? (It was a govt hospital and there were dozens of other OP patients waiting to get tested, so she was in a hurry)
A – Not for all services maam, I think only for IPS and IRTS.
Doc – Achcha, then tell me what do you want me to write in this form.
A – Maam, write whatever you observe.
Doc – (She smiled) Okay, as you say. But reduce laptops, phone screens and eat a lot of carrots, papayas and cucumbers. Eyes are important.
A – Yes ma’am, thank you. (I think she wrote I did have colour blindness)
I came out and I was talking to my other friends. They asked me not to worry. Even if you get IPS or IRTS, there will be another board doing a much more detailed check up, and colour blindness usually wouldn’t be much problem. Since, you did not have it 4 years ago, you cannot have it now. Just chill now and be happy!
I did exactly that. But there might still be a slight possibility that I might be colour blind. I took this as a positive sign from God. I thought this meant I should have only one goal in mind – Only IAS. No other back up, no IPS, no IFS and no IRS. Only IAS.
But could I do it? Will my colour blindness be a problem? What did the doctor write in the report? All these questions will be unanswered for another two months.
When my parents scolded me asking why like every other student in such a situation, I did not ask/beg the doctor to falsely report that I did not have colour blindness when she herself asked, I said only one thing, “Everybody is ethical and has a good character under normal circumstances, it is only in the adverse situations like this, it would show who really is ethical. And I wanted to be ethical in all circumstances” If I got IPS with colour blindness, I would die with guilt for the rest of my life. I would rather not have IPS if it is got in an unethical way.
Now, I just need to wait for the results. I would either get a rank or I would repeat the whole one year again. I was mentally prepared for both. Let us see what will happen. But, before I finish I should say I am extremely sorry for such long articles, I truly am. I sorry for testing the patience of all the readers. I hope this long article can be of use to someone. I hope it can help them in some way. And I hope everyone who reads this get all success in their life. I hope Insights which has helped me so much, also help all aspirants to get a rank and I hope they will strive to serve the society in the best way possible.
And, I had earlier mentioned in the beginning of the article that this is going to be the last one in the trilogy series. That doesn’t mean it is the end of my story.
It just means, the actual story has just begun now.
Filed under: IAS Tagged: akand sitra, ias preparation, INSIGHTS, interview akand sitra, interview transcript akand sitra