As you may all well know, the UPSC Civil Service Mains results were announced on the 1st March. 2012 has been the year of changes, new beginning’s etc. But I’ve forgotten to mention that it’s turning out to be a year of certain disappointments as well – for every beginning, there must have been an ending right? So, am guessing some ending’s were a little painful and not really celebrated or heralded in joy as a ‘new beginning’.
Where am I going with this, one may ask? Ahem, like so many hopeful’s who knew they would either be in one of two categories with the Mains results, I too ended up in one of the two categories – the unsuccessful. It massively sucks when you keep scrolling the results to see if your number made it only to be greeted with its absence. Sigh.
So, another year, another attempt down the drain. The worst part is the reluctant hope that begins to grow within you as you contemplate the remote chances of success and begin to play out the various happy scenarios of receiving that news. Then when failure greets you, you curse the hope that had been swelling up inside. Which I thoroughly did. I reached a point with that news where I felt a little old and very tired. Tired of trying for something I’m not even sure I want or is meant for me. Tired of living like a flatting student (no steady source of income, no sense of security knowing you’re just renting the place you call home). Tired of being torn in two by an Mphil on one hand and a career-making examination on the other. Then comes the success stories you hear of others and the myriad of ways you find to try and bring a heartfelt smile to your lips and words of congratulations from your mouth when inside you feel like seeking refuge under a rock!
The only thing you can do when you find yourself in these kinds of situations is to drown in your misery willingly. Go ahead and indulge a little. Everyone needs a ‘day-off’ from keeping it together all the time. You might find refuge in travelling, being alone and for the majority, finding solace in friends. I found comfort in all three – I took a small trip to the next neighbourhood, prior to that had buried my face in my bed and thirdly, chatted to a friend/s about things unrelated to what was making me feel down. Before I knew it, I was good to go again, batteries recharged and feelings of failure and fatigue receding.
Somewhere deep down inside, I was afraid of the changes that were going to come if in case I did succeed. I do not like to leave things in the middle and I don’t think the regret of leaving my MPhil incomplete would have ever left me. Not to mention, I recently got a scholarship in connection with my MPhil which I would have had to forfeit if I decided to join the civil service. When I look at it objectively, we’ve been praying for success for these exams and asking of God to grant me success, success, success. We never once stopped to ask Him if this was His will for me? I do want to pass the exams at least once because I hate failing but at the same time, I hope and pray that this is what the Lord has willed for me. In some ways, He knows my heart better than anyone else and in His own way, I feel, I’ve been granted some breathing space and time to reflect and see exactly where I want to be and what I want to do with my life.
Thank you to everyone for helping me get over this ‘down-in-the-dumps’ moment of mine and just helping put things in perspective. To my family who were disheartened but gracious enough to acknowledge their respect and love of their children. And to God who knows me best and knows what my heart yearns for. I trust He has bigger things in store but I need to put in the effort too but thank Him from the bottom of my heart.
Day 4 – We leave it Your Hands!
Eid is coming on Monday and what an incredible gift this is to know that I will be seeing it with no more fear and paranoia of exams hanging over my head! Phew….
Today marked the final day (at least for me) of the UPSC Civil Service Mains. I ended with Sociology, which came back-to-back with History the day before. Yeeshhhh. How was the paper? Not bad considering how ill-prepared I was for it and how long it has been since I even touched anything remotely related to sociology! That doesn’t excuse the fact that I hadn’t prepared at all but I was grateful that there was a chance for me to try and answer. The strangest ‘revelation’ during this whole experience has been, I got asked questions about things that I had read randomly in things not related for preps. Today, one of the questions asked about the term ‘Dalit’ and it’s definition and basically how it has gone through various image changes and what Dalits themselves would like the term to mean when others hear it. I read about this is some random EPW article I had read when I was on the way to the General Studies exam in the morning. It’s so weird how it came up today.
Weber was also a big favourite today. I have no idea what the significance of this year is for Weber but a lot of questions relating to his ideal types, Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism and his views on social stratification in comparison to Marx’s and his concept of Verstehen etc. So, yah, Weber a big favourite this year and Marx always there. Question on perspectives in the study of caste by M.N. Srinivasan and Andre Beteille….hmmmmm, not good. Only remembered Srinivasan’s point vaguely and Andre Beteille barely. I could only recall his thoughts on China! I swear East Asian Studies…you’re there in every part of my life now! TT_TT I remember questions on the linkages between globalization and the growth of the informal sector etc. Putting ALL of this aside, the only thought that came to my head so clearly and so pronounced was the recurring scream ‘GET SLEEEEEEPPPPPP!!! SYSTEM OVERLOAD!!!!!’ Yah, then I became worried because I thought that like my dad, I would also suffer a system overload and fry my CPU (my brain). I was actually falling asleep in the hall! And I almost didn’t care. I’ve learnt that also reading before the exams has it’s pro’s and con’s but in general, not a good thing to do unless it’s something specific you’re looking into.
No special set of instructions or paper to use during this exam. I actually like Sociology but I jut do not enjoy the race against time that these exams incur and how it all boils down to how much info you can pack in your head about EVERYTHING and ANYTHING! I feel, in the end, that coaching does not help as extensively as one likes and the only solution? Make your own notes after you’ve gone through your own materials…try to make them unique and go over them regularly.
So that concludes my four-day long expedition into the land of the ‘civil service exams’. I do not want to repeat this ‘expedition’ again next year! I do not know if my CPU can take any more of this…It’s all in the Almighty’s hands now and I will just trust and Leave it to Him. Good luck to all who still have papers. To others who managed to finish them all off today, well done! Now just rest for the next day or two. Do not think about it and just let it gather dust for some time before we go through the next round of tension and disappointment over the results….SIGHHHHHHHHHHH. I do not know if I have the strength to do this again……..
What were some of the better things about the day? Walked to India Gate and it was right next door the whole time! Thought it was super far away. Enjoyed the walk and took shots of the India Gate for the first time for myself. Lol. During the lunch break between the two papers, went to Khan Market for lunch again at Subway. After eating, just took a walk around to walk off the lunch and walking towards me was a little blonde-haired girl about 2 or 3, walking with her mum and wearing a crown and holding what looked like a wand. She gave me the sweetest smile and kept smiling at me even after passing me. I smiled back. That made my day.
Day 3 – ….and the rest, they say, is HISTORY!
So like the title suggests, yesterday was History and it was one of the worst prepared subjects ever! You just reach that point where you have absolutely no clue as to where the questions are going to come from or if the topics you’re studying are the ones that are even going to appear. History does this to you. It’s so VAST! Combine the Indian History syllabus with World History and that makes things even more VAST! I was not in a good state, mentally and to top that off, I had no idea about the map portion of Paper I. Yes, for those who did not know, in Paper I you get a blank map of India and you’re suppose to mark on that map, the sites that are given to you in the question paper and write something about the sites. Each site and note is worth 3 marks and there are 20 to mark! I just discovered a few of my random guesses turned out to land in the right spots but not nearly enough to get me any marks! TT_TT So there goes 60 marks! And just like that, lesson learnt too late – LEARN YOUR MAPS!!!!
The rest of Paper I was reasonable with question such as Trace the process of urbanization from the third millenium B.C. till the sixth century B.C. and questions about Illtutmish’s contributions to the consolidation of the Delhi Sultanate, Alauddin Khalji’s economic and agrarian reforms, the concepts behind the Vedic deities, Akbar’s mansab and jagir system etc. So pretty much balanced, covering all portions of History from pre-historic to the Mughal period. So, the paper is divided between Section A (Ancient India) and Section B (Medieval India). There was a question on the socio-political conditions reflected by Mughal paintings! Yes, UPSC is getting pretty creative with their questions, it’s no longer as clear-cut and straight forward as it use to be. The map really sucked though…sorry, can’t help remembering it again! Sigh.
Paper II was in the afternoon from 2pm to 5pm for 300 marks and covered Modern India and World History in Section A and B, respectively. Surprisingly, Paper II felt much better than Paper I (must be because of the absence of the map…guffaw). Attempted all the questions which ranged from critically assessing quotes by Rousseau about listening to the heart more than the logic of the mind etc. which I bungled slightly as I keep getting various European thought patterns mixed up. Then discussed the efforts of forming European unity after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, why were tribal revolts more in number and more violent than peasant revolts, the ‘centripetal pull’ of rebel sepoys to congregate in Delhi etc. It went a lot better than the first paper but still have my fingers crossed. Couldn’t help but just mentally glance around the room and wish I would see some perplexed and confused faces which would make me feel less like the odd-man out. You don’t want to come out of the exam hall hearing other people say that they didn’t know what else to write as they always ended up with 10 mins to spare in each paper! Either they didn’t know what they were writing or they couldn’t write anymore because they had written all that needed to be written X_X Seriously, gives you bad vibes and feelings.
So History was quite an experience and yet, I’m still left wondering if it’s a good choice of optionals or not. I might stick with it due to the sentimental attachments but I don’t want to keep jeaopardizing myself just because of sentimentality! Let’s wait and see now as it’s all gone into God’s grace and hands and all I can do is just get on with other things I need to do.
The highlight of the whole day? I get to travel to Khan Market to eat (today was at Subway where I tried the Bacon & Egg 6 inch sub…..hmmmmmmmmmmm) and also book browse. I have decided that book browsing should not be done very often as I walked away with three books! :p Definitely not what an exam candidate is suppose to be doing. Hurried back to my centre and tried to flip through a few books I brought along to review, to no avail. Climbed the four ramps to the fourth floor, had my books open then decided just to refill my pens instead. Lol. Got chased out of my sitting area under the excuse that if I’m seen sitting there, EVERYONE else will come (note: they were are sitting on the floor with their books, studying!) Finally, put my bag aside and just waltzed right in, prepared to face whatever kind of music that was awaiting me.
I got home to be greeted by a very hyperactive Hector and a sleepy old Alchia Bura. Further meted out ‘therapy’ to myself by ordering from Slice of Italy and began reading a bit of The Sunset Club by Khushwant Singh (he is such a ‘dirty old man’…LOL, but cracks me up)! And now I’m going to nap…why? So I can get up in an hour to prepare for my exam at 9am! Sociology….put me on snooze someone…please just put me on snooze…..
Day 2 – Essay & English language
(AKA ‘The Breather’)
All I have to say about this day’s papers is, if there is going to be one positive highlight to the entire exam, then today would have to be it! That’s why I’ve called this day and section ‘The Breather’. But don’t get me wrong, you can still go wrong so you shouldn’t get lax.
Some of us do take our English language skills for granted. I admit fully that most of the time, I am not aware of what grammatical rules are at work in a sentence construction. The only reason I might be able to let’s say, ‘change the narrative’ or ‘correct the grammatical mistakes’ or ‘fill in the blanks’ is because of English practically being my first language – I just say the sentence aloud and see what sounds right. Not very scientific. So how to tackle the English paper then for those who are non-English speakers? There are countless grammar books and exercise books to help with this. There is one grammar book I remember having as a kid and it was incredibly useful growing up, the Wren and Martin English Grammar book. Even if I couldn’t understand the grammatical concept, this book had excellent examples so I could understand through that. Also, just immerse yourself in English language movies and shows. At least your ear will get use to hearing English.
I noticed with the Essay paper today and the long-answer question for the English paper, that the kind of questions given can be broadly based into two types -’factual’ and ‘creative’. Creative here does NOT mean actual creative writing but I use the word to mean that these type of questions require some independent thought and originality. Factual questions are ones which require some more technical facts to support your answers e.g. Discuss the creation of smaller states and it’s political and economic impact. The ‘creative’ type questions can be ones like ‘Does Indian cinema shape popular culture or reflect it?‘ (these were both actual questions on the essay paper). Go with your strengths. If you’re the type who does better with solid facts then you know what type of questions you’re better at. But if you like having to ‘think on your feet’ then you know which question to attempt. The Essay paper was for 200 marks and 3 hours long.
There were five questions in total (with many parts i.e. A, B, C etc.) for the English language paper for 300 marks. The first question is a semi-long answer question, to be answered in 300 words. Topics such as ‘Modern world’s concern over nuclear energy‘, ‘Invention creates necessity‘ (liked this one and how the old saying of necessity being the mother of all inventions had been turned the other way around) etc. Then there is passage comprehension which was straightforward and simple. Fill in the blanks was not bad either with questions coming in two forms: one, putting in the correct usage of a verb in the sentence e.g. (SEE) I remember _______ her when she was a little girl and two, questions on putting in the correct preposition e.g. I have no fondness ______ music, I have no doubts ______ your honesty etc. Changing the narrative dealt with questions like change the narrative of this sentence – He said to me, “What a strange man you are!”. There was a question also on using the correct conjunction; the question gave five coordinating conjunctions ‘when‘, ‘but‘, ‘and‘, ‘nor‘ & ‘for‘ and then 5 sentences were given and you had to select the correct conjunction to use e.g. He picked up his pen. He began to write. There was one question which I did find kind of tricky since it was a little open-ended. For me, unless I see it written specifically in the instructions then I am prone to making my own corrections. Here are some of the sentences that came for this question: ‘Saints desire nothing ____________the society‘, ‘I did nothing but laughed‘ etc. etc. Some were pretty clear, others I managed to confuse for myself :p
The precis I kept for last. It was a 611 word passage and you had to redo it in 204 words. The special sheet they use has individual boxes for every word, every line containing 5 boxes and on the margins are the number of words for every two lines. For precis, the only thing you can do is practice. Practice and practice. Overall, it was a good day compared to Day 1 and the General Studies papers. For English language, brush up on your school grammar i.e. tenses, parts of speech etc. There is not much more advice to give for these two papers.
So, how am I holding up after Day 2? The answer – I am thoroughly exhausted at the close of Day 2. Sleeping has gotten bad in the sense that every time I wake up, I keep thinking that I’m late for the exams regardless of day, date and time! I took a nap around 9pm last night and woke up around 1 am in the morning thinking I had missed yesterday’s exams and also thinking I had missed my upcoming exam on Friday! Time has ceased to exist! Sigh. It’s gotten ‘bad’ to the point that I do not have strength to walk properly….I now waddle happily in the street. It’s more about mentally being tired rather than physically. Also, as much I love and appreciate all the support and prayers of my parents, I get more tired having to field questions (in detail) about the exam i.e. type of questions, which did you answer, how many marks, can you estimate your expected marks etc. etc. etc. I realized that I’m halfway there now with just two more days of exams, four more papers then free…..to face one term paper, one research proposal and two assignments! Arghhhhhhhh!!!! It never ends!
Day 1 – General Studies
(AKA read the entire Encyclopaedia! and everything the Government has ever printed about the nation….hmph…and still no guarantees there!)
I have decided to start a four-day series (this is because my exams will spread for four days!) about the Road to Becoming a Civil Servant! Why? you may ask, have I decided to blog about this experience…well, only because on this day, the 29th of October, 2011, thousands upon thousands of hopeful, young (and not so young), bright, fresh-faced (not entirely) youth have decided to go sit an exam that will either make or break their dreams and careers! Yes…it IS actually that big a deal for a lot of people and I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness when I think my life lies in the hands of a bureaucratic exam. Sigh.
So what does it feel like to sit the Civil Service Mains exam? Hmmm, feels like someone spun you in a circle REALLY fast, stopped and then told you to walk in a straight line down to the UPSC office o_O Not kidding. I woke up in a state of disoriented disbelief as I could not get a grip on the fact that I was actually going to sit THE Civil Service Mains exam. I went through the motions of getting ready, having breakfast, riding the metro, getting the auto and reaching the building. Sure enough, it was a freaking SEA of humanity ALL around me today! I found it highly amusing as it reminded of the scenes you see on the first day of school or nursery with the multitude of ‘children’ of all shapes, sizes and personalities: wide-eyed kids, smart-ass kids, know-it-all kids, duh kids, rebel-without-a-cause kids, get-out-of-my-way kids, rude kids AND their anxious parents! Lol. Yep, definitely felt like the first day of school all over again.
So surrounded by the crowd of hopefuls, I threaded my way through! Got told to hand in my mobile at the front, fought the human wave and got to my designated seat and the exams began! Just an observation – if the candidates who might be running your nation’s administration cannot themselves observe basic etiquette and patience e.g.: pushing, shoving, cutting in line etc. would you still want them as your administrators?
Some practical things to note:
- Please read the instructions carefully (ahem). It seems I’m suppose to start every new question on a fresh page and draw a line across the page at the end of each question (tedious). Even more tedious, there’s a table on the front of the answer booklet where you’re suppose to write down the question number, the page number on where you answered (yes, UPSC answer booklets come with numbered pages) and note the booklet number (whether you answered in one answer booklet or took supplementary booklets).
- Carry a freaking mathematical box-set with you! You know the type that come with a ruler, a compass, a protractor, a pencil, eraser and sharpener. I so needed it when it came to the maths portion of the General Studies Paper – II. Heads up – you’re allowed to take in a calculator!
- Do not leave blank pages in the middle between questions and make sure to cross out any rough work or anything that you don’t want the examiners to count as part of your answer.
- Try and get there early only because you don’t want to be panicking about finding your seat because you can’t get through the crowds. I managed to reach with 20 mins to spare for the first paper and actually spent 10 minutes just trying to walk with/against the flow of the crowd to get to the exam hall!
- What they don’t tell you when you sit for this General Studies papers is that you need to become something of an encyclopaedia and an almanac in one! (remembering everything under the sun that has happened not just THIS year but even in PREVIOUS years, ALONG with ‘basic’ GK about EVERYTHING i.e. Economics, Geography, History, Science, Constitutional knowledge, Development etc.)
- You can be prepared for one section but never really for the latter sections where obscure short-answer question topics are picked up like ‘Bihar Courts Act of 2009′ or the ‘Advertising Standards Council of India’, or perhaps the ‘Community-led Sanitization Programme’, or maybe you’d like to try your hand at SAGA-220 or the Damodaran Committe Report on customer services in banks? Like I said, ANYTHING under the sun comes.
- Do not neglect your basic GK about the arts! Easy marks if you can learn about classical dances, theatre, painting, music etc. Should be the easiest thing to do and remember, right? But often neglected because we get so wrapped up in trying to pack in info about the other stuff!
- Easy marks to score would be to just keep a watch out for people who come in the news but it’s touch-and-go here, since the ones you may have learnt about might not show T_T
- Get a TV! I’m not kidding. Visual media sometimes is the fastest way to keep up-to-date about things going on in the world and in India. It’s tempting to watch other stuff but you can keep that aside as a treat for when you’ve done your bit of info-gleaning.
- Freaking learn to become comfortable with Stats! Yah, seriously, easy marks get lost because we get so freaked out trying to finish the essay questions that we don’t get time for the stats section. Sigh.
- Just READ! Especially the paper and magazines. Not even intensely but make it a habit to just read the paper habitually (does not have to be the Hindu, it can be TOI one day, Indian Express the next, perhaps a little bit of the Asian Age or Hindustan Times). Whatever strikes your fancy, pick it up and make it a point to read it and try to do so everyday!
I have been to the halls of bureaucratic fame and fortune (merrily cheated on the way by our good auto-wallah),
Handed in my humble application for membership and left
leaving it up to the ‘powers that be’ to see it through….
I laboured on through the dust and cobwebs,
On past the wheezing and hacking noises of my own cough,
To reach that singular golden parchment adorning the shelves of our humble abode of knowledge…
and it lies unopened, still, atop my book shelf….
The hardships of my quest had weakened me,
But the call to duty had sounded and I stirred,
Determined to fulfill my sacred bonds of filial piety….
And possibly be rewarded monetarily for my deeds!
I have held wealth of both kinds: yellow and green!
Stretching from the Americas to the ‘land down under’,
Such fabulous wealth beyond my dreams…
I have feasted like a queen on the Grand Old McD’s and KFC,
And humbly ran to Wenger’s to top it off with the sweet nectar of life…
I have awoken aghast by the noises of a beast! a brute!
Only to discover I have lost my most precious aid for the visually-challenged!
Lying ravaged and broken in the jaws of that furry creature known as Hector! Grhhh….
Now I recount my saga for all to hear, as I lay confined, by my trusted Medicine Woman, to house-rest!
The journey known as the ‘week’ is fraught with untold dangers my friends!
Be alert, Be brave and Be victorious!!!! Hooo-ah Hoo-ah!
If anyone has been keeping their ears open on the news in India, you would know that our capital is at a crossroads with the arrest of the Lokpal Bill activist Anna Hazare. Thousands have poured out of nowhere to show their support for him and his anti-corruption stance. It’s strange how it’s taken this nation over 60 years to reach this point. Corruption, from it’s greatest form to it’s mildest, has plagued this nation like a virulent disease that none know the cure to. The strangest thing is that the cure was always simple but we as human beings are so incredibly afraid, lax, lazy and have the typical ‘sheep’ mentality when it comes to combating corruption head-on.
I read an article in today’s Times of India, about some businessman from Hong Kong, an NRI, who had flown all the way here to Delhi to show his support for Anna. Something he said just struck me and though I understood his point perfectly, I couldn’t help but find a major loophole in his argument as well. He said that in Hong Kong, he wouldn’t think of cutting corners on traffic rules but when he lands in India, unless you cut the traffic rules, you can’t get anywhere. He went on to give another example which I can’t recall right now. The point he was trying to make was that the kind of government enforcement that goes on in Hong Kong and in India; that people in Hong Kong would think twice about violating the laws as flagrantly as their Indian counterparts. The issues I have with this argument are:
- As if there isn’t corruption in Hong Kong! People have just learnt to hide it better and I don’t know if that kind of corruption is any better than having such obvious, in-your-face corruption, like we do in India.
- Um, so, you’re saying just because EVERYONE flaunts traffic laws in India, that YOU need to as well? This takes us back to the quintessential rhetorical question that goes something like this:-
Child: Mum, can I something-something?
Parent: No, you cannot.
Child: Awwhhhh, why?
Parent: Because something–something.
Child: Why you being so old-fashioned? Everyone is doing it!
Parent: So, if everyone decides to jump off a bridge, would you?
- If YOU know that what you’re doing is against the law, then it is up to YOU to make sure you abide by the law. That is the whole problem in India in a nutshell. You want a corrupt-free nation? Then stop indulging in ‘corruption’ in your very own lives! The more people we can get to follow this simple ‘ideology’, the more powerful it becomes. The Lokpal Bill addresses only our government, whose job it is to manage and look after the macro-affairs of our lives and nation. The micro part of it is up to us. If we want a corrupt-free nation, it is our duty and responsibility to start with ourselves. Unless we do, no amount of Bills and anti-corruption legislation is going to work.
If everyone in this nation could become an ‘Anna Hazare’ and live by his principles of honesty and integrity, truly then we will have a corrupt-free society and government. A Bill is not going to solve anything…you will make one man accountable but what about the other billion? You will make one government accountable but what about all the other parties?
Along with the ‘Anna’ fever, there was another fever sweeping across this nation last night – the Civil Services Preliminary results! It’s just so ironic that there is a fight going on to rid the nation of corruption and reform the government while at the same time, the results were out for the exams which select the very same officers who will become the machinery of our administrative system. Though limited in power often times by the government they serve and the parties in power, they still have the potential to effect the greatest amount of change with their authority, IF, they choose to. So to all those aspiring civil servants who succeeded in this first stage, my heartiest congratulations to you and wishes for success in the upcoming rounds ahead. Also with that goes my heartfelt prayer and wish that we all remember what it is all about at the end…service to the nation and the people. That’s why they are called Civil ‘Servants’.