Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Civil Services: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The charm of civil services has always been an enigma. It is struggling hard to maintain its shine especially after the waves of LPG but still it attract lakhs who ferociously compete for a handful of seats. People predict its doom yet surveys rate it as the most preferred choice of youngsters.

In order to understand why all this happens let us make a balance sheet, outlining its pros and cons. Keeping the pros for the later part, the bad news first.

The foremost disadvantage of civil services is the low salary salary, both in absolute and relative terms. A civil servant may be drawing one fourth salary compared to his peers in the private sector. It may be difficult for an honest civil servant to send his/her kids in a public school, buy a car in the initial years, spend holidays abroad or construct a home. After some years of idealism, reality sets in and then the lack of money pinches hard.

Another thing is the cadre than can be allotted. Suppose one worked hard, invested years, resources; got selected and then got a ‘bad cadre’. There are cadres which may be thousands miles away from his/her home, where a parallel government is running and due to lack of manpower a civil servant will have to work at all levels of hierarchy. Remember, this shall be his/her cadre for life.

Now about tenures, 90% IAS officers spend less than a year on any post. They are shuffled like cards at the slightest of whims of the politicians. This is also an instrument of ‘disciplining’ the civil servants. A DM who is looking after a population of half a crore may be shunted to Archives department having not even an office; and the person may not even know the reason for same.

Then there is the issue of utility of merit. Everyone wants his good work to be appreciated. But Government is like lord Shiva; jo kare uska bhi bhala, jo na kare uska bhi bhala. So irrespective of whether you work or not, system will throw you up.

Adding to all this, a person has to invest a lot to clear the exam. It is highly unpredictable exam with a degree of arbitrariness. A person will never get selected without studying, but even if you study, chances are that you may fail. What is left for a failed thirty year old guy who has wasted four five years in the preparations.

Last but not the least, the powers of civil servants are declining. The commanding heights of the economy are now in the hands of private sector. Bureaucrats no longer enjoy the glory of License Permit Raj. So what shall be the future of services? Will they only a weak image of their former self in the coming times? Is it really worth it to enter the bureaucracy.

Picture is gloomy. But there is a brighter side too, and aspects that make civil services what it is.


It is a career of diversity. Once a CA was asked why he entered IAS when he could have worked for any major company. His answer was he could have worked for ICICI, then could have moved to Deutche Bank, then perhaps to World Bank at much higher pay scales. But till he retires, he would be doing the same work. What if the challenge left in such a job? In civil services every day and every post is a new challenge and a new learning opportunity.

And love it or hate it, stability in civil services is a big plus point. Let me take my own example. I wanted to live life on my own terms, do what I want to do and not because it will increase my ‘market value’. I want to be relaxed from any undue pressure of continuously competing throughout my life in the rat race. I now have an assured career. Competition is good but its excess may take a heavy toll on life.

Any post in civil services may be of much greater value than in private sector. Only a handful may rise to become a CEO in private sector but nearly all IAS will manage a public sector unit in their thirties. In terms of importance of work too, civil services score fairly well. A person may sell the sixth brand of toothpaste much more than his fourth brand, but the satisfaction he gets may not compete with that of a civil servant who has successfully managed relief work during a cyclone.

Another intangible but still a very important thing is the social respect a civil servant commands. In India this may not be matched by any other service. I do not know what future in services have in store for me. But whenever my parents tell anyone that their son is an IAS, they have a glow in their eyes. Leaving other things apart, this alone is a reason sufficient for me to choose civil services as a career.

And then the biggest thing, here one can really work for the people. Most civil servants, at least when they come in service, have the passion of creating a difference; and many succeed in doing that. I once heard an election commissioner who ensured free and fair UP elections. There was a village which had never voted before because of terror of dominant groups and when he ensured that they fearlessly vote in elections, he got all the satisfaction of his life. Hearing him, I realized I had made a right choice.

Anyways emotions apart, both pros and cons are pretty strong. Before deciding to enter civil services, one should be very clear in his/her mind what is he/she going to get. The reality may be pretty different from the perceptions. For seeing more, have a look at this .

It’s a path that demands big sacrifices; and has its own way of giving rewards too!

PS: My Bharat Darshan starts on 8th Dec and will last till mid Feb. So I will be almost offline during the period and my blog may hibernate. But, I will be back :)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

In Which I Played the Host


Education teaches you many laws of life and one is the great Murphy’s law; if a thing can go wrong, it certainly will. So in the penultimate week at LBSNAA, the thing dreaded by officer trainees happened to me. I was made the escort officer of a visiting guest faculty.

To brief you a little about that, most of the lectures at LBSNAA are taken by specialist guest faculties who come from all over. One (unfortunate) officer trainee is made his escort officer who has to be his ‘direct host’ for his entire stay.

Apart from general duties of an escort like entertaining the kids of the guest and arranging the flavor of ice cream liked by his wife, a specific one is introduce him to the students and ensure that his lecture goes well. Introduction is a euphemism for eulogizing the guest, and going to the extent of proving that he is the most talented man born on the earth.

As a responsible man, I decided to take the challenge head on. The biggest hurdle for me was to save my guest from apathetic (read hostile) audience in an auditorium that has more than three hundred (yawning, sleeping, murmuring) students, and a challenge greater than that was to give a good impression of the academy to the guest after all this.

All this did not stop there. My guest was a young professor, enthusiastic about his field and was on his first visit to the academy. This meant that he had high hopes from the academic brilliance of civil servants and a desire to have an intellectual discussion with them.

The guest was friendly and during our informal chat before the lecture, I quietly mentioned the hectic schedule of the academy, hard physical training that we had to undergo and general lack of sleep amongst the officer trainees. With a smile I mentioned that he should not be surprised in he finds ‘some’ ( a gross misrepresentation) students sleeping.

The lecture began. Slowly ‘some’ started growing and soon I could hear soft snoring sounds. Before things grew out of hand, I requested my guest to allow switching off some lights so that his presentation becomes visible to the students sitting at the back. This proved fairly successful and after that there was no major issue. People anonymously slept and my guest went on.

When the lecture got finished, my guest invited questions. That is the rarest thing to get from a sleeping, uninterested audience but I had anticipated this. On promise of a treat, some of friends had agreed to ask questions. The guest was fairly happy by the level of their intellect and the interest his lecture had generated.

I gave a brief thanks speech and the session ended. I could not have asked for more. The mission was complete. As a courtesy, I requested my guest to join us for lunch.

I sat on a table having already two officer trainees.

“Sir this is Vaneet, and he is Venkat” : I said
“ Hello Vaneet, hello Venkat” : my guest was very courteous to them

Hellos got exchanged and then it all started. Venkat who was sitting quiet till now started talking.

“AS, is he your friend?”: I prayed that he shuts up his mouth soon.

“Is he your relative?” He enquired again.

I was completely taken aback but my guest replied “I was the one who took your two hour lecture in the morning”. I had nothing much to say.

After that I deliberately avoided discussing interest of officer trainees in lectures. My guest was a nice human being and as far as I know, he carried a 'almost' good impression of the academy.

Moral of the story is Murpy's law is indeed true.

PS: As in all other posts, this one too has a good content of my imagination. So please do not consider it to be literally true.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And she still smiles




He met Aarti for the first time during trek, both of them somehow forced into trekking. She was a simple, soft spoken girl who had only few friends. The thing that brought them close as friends was that they were partners in misery. I will tell you what their misery was.

They had never imagined that there are places with absolutely no communication with the outside world. But when they marched a little on their trek, they realized that they were completely cut off. The only thing left for them was to wait.

So they became friends in such a situation. He could never know whether she really liked him or it was just lack of other familiar faces but he became her confidante. They talked a lot, tried to keep each other happy and distracted from the fact that they were missing someone. While sharing their lives, he had come to know that Aarti was into a relationship.

The boy was from the same college and they had known each other for quite sometime. Initially they worked together in a firm and then both decided to enter the civil services. She succeeded but he failed.

There were other complications too. When Aarti told her parents about this, they were completely against it. The emotional blackmailing began and she was given the option of choosing either of them.

He discussed with Aarti for hours what she will do then and how they can still get their way. As an interested audience, he also discussed how they fell in love, how their relation was and how restless the boy must be now when she could not talk to him. In a weak moment, she confessed that she could not imagine her life without him.

He prayed for them and sincerely wished that their relation has a happy ending. Days passed and their trek became over. Their ‘Trek Friendship’ did not continue with the same enthusiasm and they went back to their original friends.

After nearly a month, he decided meet Aarti again. The truth was he missed a friend with whom he could share his life. He called her for a cup of coffee. She agreed but somehow he did not sense the same enthusiasm in her. They met and he eagerly told her everything that had happened in his life in last one month. And after that, she began.

She said that her relationship was over. Now she felt that theirs was an unequal relation which was destined to fail. When she herself had such doubts, she could not sacrifice the happiness of her parents. She gave a kind of philosophical talk. Among the vague words he could listen, there were that about how with time, many things change and people get mature.

He was completely lost and the only thing he remembered was that her face did not show even slight signs of strain while saying this.

She may be right, she may be wrong, but he only knew a girl who was madly in love. He thought about that boy, whose image he had formed after hearing so much about him and tried to feel his pain. That day he realized he was friends not with her, but with her relationship, and now when that was gone, he had one friend less.

After that whenever he saw her smiling, he wondered how just some time ago it was impossible for her to live without that boy!

Friday, November 09, 2007

All (Good) Things Come to an End

So what is coming to an end? My foundation course (FC) at LBSNAA.

The truth is even if I crib, I enjoyed it and FC became a part of my life. I will miss seeing 300 faces, getting up at 5 AM, working late till night, enjoying the batch gossips and making new friends. I do not know what the reason of my nostalgia is when there are still 20 days to go. Perhaps if on a Deepawali morning, you are alone and you know that in coming days this loneliness will increase, you can only feel sad.

Today I will tell you the heights of the FC. If you have been a regular reader of my blog, you may know about many of them. But I have never written a comprehensive blog devoted exclusively to entire LBSNAA activities, so here it is.

TREK: It all begins with the trek, a nine day affair, when you are left on mountains in a group of around twenty. It is a nerve testing experience. There you discover and rediscover your limits, make some really good friends or rather ever lasting relationship and see the difficult side of life. Mountains reveal many truths and make you humble; one realizes that his life, egos, ambitions etc are too small in this game of nature.

VILLAGE VISIT: The first place where you are treated as an officer; where you get to know what real India is. In a group of around six, we are sent to distant backward villages. Probationers live in the village itself and there they discover that rays of India’s shining are yet to reach many places. They realize that task ahead for a civil servant is really demanding; but yes if they work with empathy, they can make a difference.

FETE: In a team of nearly ten, we manage a shop, just like the school kids do in school fete. The shop that earns the maximum profit becomes the winner. There is this jail where you can send anyone by paying a token money, there is that music on demand, there are usual pani puris, fancy dresses and what not. And this time we also got the real Bond, Ruskin Bond. Welcome back to the school days.

INDIA DAY: The batch is divided into four zones, region wise. Each zone presents its culture, its cuisines, its dances for an entire day. Everyone gets dressed in his traditional attire. That is the time when you know how much you have missed by not learning classical music, by not knowing any dance form etc. And that is also the time one discovers why India has unity in diversity.

There are many other things a FC too. There are cultural nights by professionals. You listen to the classical Ghazals and realize that they are beautiful; you see your first Odissi performance and cannot help appreciating the dance. There are also regular physical exercises and I am told this becomes a habit and reason of good health of many civil servants.

To avoid giving you a skewed picture, the highs of the FC are evenly balanced by over demanding discipline, lullabying lectures, loaded academics, occasional show cause notices, memos, castigations etc.

But everyone tells me, FC remains the best (or the most nostalgic) part of a civil servant’s career.

To end it on a positive note, see the most popular joke here.

There is a queue of dead people and god is sending them to heaven and hell by seeing their life records. An officer trainee from LBSNAA comes there is his suit, tie, and lapel card etc. The god without even seeing any of his records sends him to heaven. People protest. They shout how only being from the academy qualifies him for heaven.

God replies: But he has already been through hell at LBSNAA!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Reality Bytes: India Revisited

What is your caste?

Within minutes of landing in the village, I faced this question and I was almost shocked. This was my first interaction with real India. So I am back from my village tour, somewhat wiser about India, little more curious about Bharat.

The village we went to was Mehandwas, in Tonk district of Rajasthan. In a way it was somewhat a developed village. It was on the national highway, so definite signs of development were present. There was eight hour electricity supply, a primary health center, four schools, many motor cycles and innumerable mobiles present in the village.

We received a royal welcome there. In fact their hospitability touched our hearts. Everyone wanted to meet us. I do not know if they trusted us but they liked that someone from government was hearing their woes. There was that old lady who took us to her house to show how bad road to her house was. Then there was that SC sarpanch who was so happy because we ate at his house against the wishes of elites of the village.

You must have guessed by now that caste was the most dominant factor in the village. And I found the caste system exactly in the way I felt was extinct in India. The village habitations were divided in caste clusters, one of Yadavas, one of Brahmins, another of Bairavas etc. And if you feel that this is it, you are mistaken.

Untouchables lived outside the village and they were treated different from schedule castes. In fact schedule castes treated themselves to be much higher than untouchables. The untouchable still had to go to the city for haircut as the village barber refused to touch them. In roadside hotels they were served tea in disposable cups!

A heartening thing to discover was that there was complete communal harmony in the village. There was no history of any communal clash. The authorities said that this is the case in nearly all villages in India. This is a big thing that urban India has to learn from its villages.

Now being a government servant, I should also talk about the government schemes. There was a great enthusiasm for National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). In fact that has made Panchayats all the more meaningful. The second scheme doing wonders is Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Now a lot of money is being pumped in mid day meal, school infrastructure and that is showing. In case you have no idea, 65000 teachers have been recruited in Rajasthan alone in last one year!

So what did we do? We tried to convince the villages that they have to be an agent in their developments. Other people can come and help them but they ultimately have to be the primary drivers. People looked to panchayat and government even for simple things. And you know what; most of the villagers were convinced.

If you want to know our concrete achievement, a lady member of our group shook the entire district administration to get a Below Poverty Line card of a widow made. Then there was this overseeing committee for education of panchayat which was meant to check teachers absenteeism, quality of educations etc. We tried to give a new birth to it as most villages complained about the quality of education in schools.

I do not say that we changed the face of that village; neither have we learned a lot. But yes, we felt that being in our jobs; we can really make difference. And trust me, even the feeling of getting just 1 BPL card made for a deserving widow is beyond words!

PS: I will write in detail about this and what I feel can be done about village development. I also have to tell what was my score in perceptions about village in last post. But in many devious ways, LBSNAA is keeping me too busy these days.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Off to Bharat

My next blog shall come after ten days. The reason is that we are going to see the real India, that is its villages. I shall be going to a village in Tonk district, Rajasthan.

It is not that I have never seen a village. My grandparents lived in a village and I used to go there every year. But this time it shall be different. We will try to understand functioning of development programs, caste dynamics, delivery of services etc.

Before going there I wish to put what I expect a village to be like. It would be fun to see after coming back if all this is true.

1. The caste will be a dominant factor in village.
2. Since the village is in Rajasthan, there will be problem of water.
3. Women will be in Purdah and more backward than males.
4. The school teacher must not be coming regularly.
5. The actual functioning and statistics on paper of development programs will be different.

Well these are only my naive perceptions. I will be happy if the village has mobile signals. Not because my mobile will be functioning, but that shall be a sign of perculation of development. Anyways I have to rush now.

Wait for the details of ‘Bharat’ till I come back

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Tip

The noises were too loud to be ignored. Though he had slept hardly for an hour, Raju could no longer continue his sleep. His landlord had come again, demanding the rent. This was becoming the routine from last seven months, when his father passed away. He was frustrated by the naggings of his landlord, milkman and the person who had given them a small debt.

His father was a taxi driver, and when he was alive they had a comfortable life. If you are thinking what comforts a driver can give, you come from a different piece of land. Isn’t having an assured meal without any worries a big comfort. No one knew it better than Raju.

But one accident changed his life. His father died on the spot and his family was given one thousand rupees in all to forget about the case. Raju whose life till now revolved around cards and friends became the sole bread earner of the family.

He adapted well with the change. Raju’s father had taught him driving long ago, after seeing his disasters in studies. So Raju got a job as a driver, by the 'generosity' of his father’s employer, albeit at half the salary. He worked really hard and no one could have imagined Raju like this when his father was alive.

Now he had to save money, save the family from continuous naggings of everyone and also put together some money for his sister who was already fourteen. Adding to this, even the health of his mother was deteriorating.

So Raju was saving in all the ways he could. He ate with half the money that his employer gave him, stopped having his ‘pan masala’ and took any additional job that came in the way.

One day he was sent to get a carwash. There was a carwash market, which had tens of shops bustling with activity. The fixed rate was forty rupees and that was what his master gave him. But Raju decided to bargain. He tried in many shops, hassled with shopkeepers, argued with them and then found one who agreed to do it in thirty. That shall enable him to save complete ten rupees.

This was going to be the way in which all his dreams will get fulfilled. Why is it not possible that he will own a fleet of taxis on day? Even if a fleet is not there, he may be able to drive his own taxi. His father always said that fortunes are built by meager savings.

Lost in his dreams, he was watching the ten year old boy washing the car. Thin as a kite, the boy had to apply all his strength to remove the car stains. He was wearing torn clothes and a big talisman on his arm. He must have been from the fleet of young boys who came to the cities from villages to get some work. There must be a family back home that was waiting for the wages of this boy.

When the work was done, Raju came and sat in his car, his dreams somewhat disturbed. He started the car but then he noticed the hollows around the eyes of this young boy. He could not move on.

He called the boy and gave him ten rupees tip.

PS: This story is almost based on a real incident. Humanity keeps on amazing me!

News for you all, my raft got toppled while River rafting. I drank at least 2 lts of Ganges water, had many up and downs in river rapids and was finally rescued after three minutes which seemed like a lifetime. Now I think I should put adventure sports to the backseat for sometime.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Snippets

I cannot resist this anymore, so here is this blog.

There are things that I want to share but they will not fit into anything specific. Why always look for order when chaos can be equally beautiful. So I decided to dedicate one blog to my unspecific, yet according to me interesting thoughts.

The first thing is about Catch-22. Not exactly the novel, but the phrase. Look around and nearly all the time we are in Catch-22 situations. I will give you examples.

One of my close friends said that each one in our friend circle is simple and good at heart. So they will be perfect for their girlfriends. But since all of us are simple and good at heart; almost no one has a girlfriend. A perfect Catch-22 situation.

Another one is about the LBS academy. The faculty here wants us to be frank and open in discussions. But they also want our behavior to be officer like. So anything that is ‘frank and open’ can be dubbed as unofficerlike and vice versa. I bet bureaucracy will have maximum Catch-22 situations.

Now I want to share something else. I know I look ‘almost’ alright or I like to believe this. The truth is I do not see mirror quite often. But when I have to get my haircut, I am made to stare in the mirror for complete 15 minutes. I keep on saying to myself ‘Gosh! you are not good’. The image in the mirror looks to be a stranger and those 15 minutes look like a lifetime.

I feel like this ghazal ‘Mere desh me, mere bhes me, koi aur tha, koi aur hai’ (In my land, in my dress up, there was someone else, there is someone else).

And to end this something that amazed me, a sort of discourse on God. Let us assume that God exists and since he is God he is omnipotent. As he is omnipotent, he should be able to do everything in this world.

Now can he create a stone which he cannot lift? If no, then he is not omnipotent hence not God. If yes, then since he cannot lift the stone he is not omnipotent hence not God. Well no conclusions from my side……..

In case you now want a statement from me now about my religious beliefs, I am somewhat between an agnostic and a theist.

PS: The ‘adventure’ at LBSNAA continues. After having rock climbing this weekend, we are going for River rafting and Para-sailing on the coming sat-sun, though I reserve my take on my interest in adventure :)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Prisoners of the Past


She had really loved Abhay. It was just a three week affair. They had met in a party and things clicked as they normally do in fairy tales. He was the perfect sort of guy she had imagined. When a lifetime also turns out to be less to know a person, they decided that there is no reason why they should not get married.

That was the beginning of problems . Her parents were against it, his parents were against it, adding to it even Abhay looked indecisive. When she got an accusing call from Abhay’s parents, having all that stuff about fooling their son; and he was still not ready to come in her support, she called it quit.

Never again, she would do such a thing to herself; she would never fall in love; it was a promise she made to herself. She decided to spend all her time in work, so as to forget the past, so as to forget herself. Being a workaholic was fun. Somehow she loved lines of a song ‘Ye Shehar Bhoola Mujhe, main bhi ise bhool gaya.’

While working she was assigned a project with another colleague of her, Dhruva. He was a different kind of person. By different she meant the kinds whose heart remain pure and unadulterated by this world. He was….what she should say….simple. The beauty of simplicity can be appreciated only if you find one.

She liked talking with him. He never asked probing questions, he never gave suggestions. She could just be herself with him. Things started turning out good. She started sharing all her thoughts with him, even the darkest corners of her mind about Abhay. She was scared of that, but Dhruva surprisingly made it all easier for her. He made her believe all that happened was none of her fault.

They liked spending time together. She tried everything she wanted to do, but had never done. One day they drank together. After that they chatted, laughed, cried, watched stars and were awake till dawn. That day she sat calmly, feeling a sense of serenity she missed for years, keeping her head on his shoulders.

Next day, for some reason she was confused. Something inside her was seeking answers. She explained to herself, Dhruva was just a friend, he would never have those feelings for her.

That day again Abhay called. Though it was just a friendly call, he did not forget to mention his plans of marriage and how good his fiancé was. In a way he blamed her for everything that went wrong. She did not say anything to him, just tried to be composed.

But after an hour it became unbearable. She was no longer able to remain alone. She wanted to scream, to smash her head on the wall. Then she called Dhruva. When he was there, she did not say anything to him. She just said I want to hug you. She hugged him and remained like that for more than an hour. No, not a word was whispered. They just went out on a long drive that day.

After that, it became difficult for her to remain without meeting Dhruva for a day. They were together most of the time. Yes, she repeated to herself he was just a friend, he must never have thought anything about her.

And then it happened. Dhruva’s eyes were saying something from many days which she chose to ignore, or never wanted to believe. But one day when she asked him, his reply was simple. He smiled and said; I love you.

But, she did not accept, she did not refuse. She was angry that he did this when he knew that she wanted never to fall in love again. She was happy because she never thought that she was worth him. But then she did not want things to change.

After that day she did not ask him anything again, she dared not to. She just pretended that nothing has happened and things continued.

As far as I know, the status is still the same.

PS: Please do tell me what you think will happen in future. And do I need to tell that I was nowhere involved in this story :)

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Journey worth Lifetime


The weather was bad from some days. But we had to start at 6 in the morning. The previous night was cold, and if you slept in a tent in your sleeping bags, you can actually feel how painful cold can be.

After walking for an hour, heavy rains came. The wind made sure that none of us could escape being wet or having a taste of the low temperature that may have been just above zero. When you are in such a situation and the destination is still ten hours away you realize what difficulties in life can be.

It was tough and we walked for ten hours in continuous rains in a steep uphill terrain. That day we realized that human endurance is much more than we believe it to be and one has to go out of his comfort zones to discover his limits. It’s the mental strength that matters more than physical.

So friends I am back from the trek, again alive and well, albeit 2 Kg. less and somewhat darker by sunburns. How do I describe my trek; …………well I can find no words for it. Let me take help of pictures.

In a village midway


Inside the Tent


Just a pose

Trying hands at meditation

We walked for nearly 140 Km in 7 days. Everyday the team started early in the morning and kept walking for entire day. It was demanding, it was tiring but yes it was enjoyable. Many things happened for the first time in my life. I saw ice on mountains and I felt the chilling water of stream coming direct from glacier. For the first time in my life, I was above a rainbow.

A Rainbow below us

Crossed many streams like this


Swargarohini Peak


The valleys we walked in


The entire team


Landslide area

And what did we learn during trek. That nothing should be taken for granted in life, even bathrooms, in literal sense. I made many records and one was how to keep going without taking a bath for 4 days in a row, actually there was no option to.

For nine days, we craved for good food, electricity, beds, and leave mobile phones we craved for just one PCO to send message back home. But we enjoyed a lot too. The first night began with cards and a game of bluff. It gave way to ghost stories and plank chit, the effect of which was intense courtesy the lone forest guest house in a dense jungle. After that we had rounds of palmistry. In the end it went on to match making and ensuring that all team members get a bride or groom.

You tend to become philosophical in difficulties. Trek looked very promising in the beginning but it was full of obstacles. The same is with life. We are enthusiastic when we begin but during the journey, life becomes difficult and far from the dreams. But when you look back with hindsight, you say both look good.

I realized once again that I loved my family, I loved my friends. I missed making just one call to them to say that I am well, to hear the same from them.

So the experience cannot be termed being good or bad,its beyond words. I have more memories of last nine days than I have of last nine months. I enjoyed it but if you ask if I want to go for it again, my reply is no, at least for now. It was a kind of experience that one may want only once.

To put in simpler terms, it was a journey worth lifetime.


Faces after nine days of trek

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Everlasting Enigma

Life has become different. But I am not going to tell you that.

I have been criticized that civil service is taking over AS and I will soon get an identity crisis. As this comment is from someone who knows me better than myself, I think I should write something else.

So today, I will tell you a family fable, one that has been a longtime favorite of my mom. It has been recited by her every time my childhood is mentioned. I remember this incident more by her narrations, than in my real memory.

It happened when I was in class second. There was this girl who sat next to me. We were friends and we played a lot together. I remember two things about her, one that her name was written on her Tiffin box and second that she could pinch really hard. So we had a lot of fun those days; leaving the times she pinched me.

Once while playing a stupid game, she mentioned that she liked bangles. After that when I went to the market with my mom, I insisted that I have to buy bangles. Though somewhat confused, my mom agreed as she was used to my weird demands. I bought golden bangles, the one with stars on it.

Next day I went happily to school and gifted them to her. She was happy too and entire day we played with those golden bangles. But there had to come a twist.

After one day, she came back and returned me those bangles. She said with a flat face that her mom has asked her to return those. I do not remember if I was embarrassed to take them back, though I get embarassed everytime my mom recites this story.

In retrospect, I feel that was this was the beginning of my 'mis' encounters with the fairer sex. It has been an unending enigma. But whenever a girl throws a surprise at me, I can feel the tinge of taking those bangles back.

PS: Since you are reading this, I assume that you are a regular reader of my blog :). So I should tell you that that I am going on a long trek this time, courtesy LBSNAA and my next blog will come nearly after a fortnight. And yes, cadres have come and mine is West Bengal.

Friday, September 07, 2007

We Will Make a Difference

Ravi had done his B.Tech from IIT Kharagpur. He had topped in all his classes and now he had the option of going abroad or taking a job with a fat pay package. But then he had other plans. He was fascinated by freedom fighters. He dreamt of Gandhi calling for Dandi march, Bhagat Singh leading the revolutionaries and Nehru promising life and freedom for India at independence. Like them, he also wanted to do something for his country. He chose to be a civil servant.

Dharma belonged to a backward community. He was poor and had suffered caste discrimination throughout his childhood. But he refused to submit. He wanted this to change, not only for himself, not only for his village but for the entire nation. For this he saw a clear path, civil services.

Shirin was a physically challenged girl. Most of her life she had heard sympathetic talks. But she wanted dignity, and she also wanted the society to change its perception about her. She wanted to prove that she was equally capable and can contribute equally in the development of nation. She cracked the civil services.

All these are imaginary names. But there are many Ravi’s, Dharma’s and Shirin’s in the 81st foundation course at LBSNAA, Mussorie. About 300 probationers have gathered in the academy here from all over India. They belong to different regions, religions, castes, sects etc. They have different educational backgrounds and different exposures. They have many other stories too. But they have one common dream, to work for India.

Many wonder that why lakhs are attracted for this job which offers the toughest competition in the world and still offers a meager salary compared to the private sector. In the era of globalization many people thought civil services will lose its sheen. They gave it derogatory names like Babudom, or the big fat clerks whose only aim is to put red tapes. But to their utter surprise, a recent survey rated civil service to be the most coveted job in the country. It still attracts the youth who want to work directly for the country.

And no one can agree to it more than we probationers at the institute. All of us suffered the shortage of electricity, bad roads and inadequate infrastructure. We stood in queues in government departments and at times felt harassed by the slow system. But then, instead of cribbing about it, we decided to change it. We believed in what Kennedy said “Ask not what your country has done for you - ask what you can do for your country”. And we chose to do our bit by becoming civil servants.

We, in the 81st foundation course believe that we are the steel frame of India. We agree that civil services need a lot of changes. It has to be lean and thin, responsive, corruption free, efficient and effective. It has to deliver to the common man. But we also believe that it has the most important role in the emergence of developed India.

In the first issue of our journal, we take a pledge that we will make a difference. Things will change in India and we will transform the image of the Government. We do not predict a revolution but we will devote our lives in making our motherland a developed nation. That is a solemn promise of all Ravi, Dharma, Shirin and others like them present in the 81st foundation course.

PS: This is an article sent by me for LBSNAA magazine. The benefit of a blog is that even if it is not published in the magazine, I can have the solace of getting readers for this in my blog :)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

These days

Finally today is Sunday. Never before I realized in my life how precious Sunday is. As the state of my mind is filled with mundane things at LBSNAA, I can write only about it :)

The major happenings were the trek, dying of election fever, memos, return of my 'lonely' attitude and ‘murmerings’ of couple formation.

Yesterday we again went for a trek to a place called Lal Tibba. We walked for nearly 20 Km on tough terrains and believe me, some of it was really dangerous. We were briefed a lot about two things, one a scorpion grass and second leeches.

Though the scorpion grass made us feel its presence, we really missed leeches. I feel that poor leeches were given such a bad name that they decided to boycott our trek. Dear leech, please forgive my instructor for painting you in such a derogatory manner.

We also had a Bharat Natyam program, and remember the attendance was compulsory there. So all went there, willingly or unwillingly. Add on to it that you have to watch it on a friday evening when you woke up at 5 in the morning and have been busy since then. Though it was not very good, but I enjoyed it.

The thing I disliked about some officer trainees was their ‘comments’ during the program. An artist must be respected. Somehow I feel they have not got over their ‘Boys will be boys’ mentality. The thing that pains me more is the general acceptance of it.

And yes, at times I have started feeling alone. It is strange that this feeling hits me more when I am in a crowd. Though it is nothing uncommon with me, but I somehow felt I will not be myself in Mussorie.

Now about those ‘murmerings’. Though in nascent stages, the signs are visible during treks. There are 'some' lucky ones, with girls and then there are many others, who are keeping records of the signs. The real game will begin once the cadres come. I think many are getting geared up for it. After all ‘Cadre Marriages’ is the only rescue of candidates sent to north east.

In case you have any doubts, on a Sunday evening, I am sitting in my room, analyzing signs of others and writing blogs, so you know on which side of fence I am.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Hullabaloo at LBSNAA

If you think civil servants are civil, think again. That certainly was not true in first week at the academy. Along with our hectic first week, we also had our elections, and elections we had.

The thing started with vying for a cream post, that’s called President, Mess Committee (PMC). I do not know if it really is a great post or the candidates were attracted by the promise that PMC may be able to escort all dignitaries who come at LBS; but many people started coming in the forefront.

And the person who tells you that it’s the participation that matters must have lost the game. So the contestants (for all posts, not only PMC) started leaving no stones unturned in ensuring their victory.

No stone unturned is a euphemism for starting all kinds of lobbying. This candidate is from north, this from Maharashtra, that one is Telugu and so on. The only thing they forgot was just a day before they had taken the oath of serving the country without having biases of caste, religion, region etc.

So, first there was order. I mean there were few candidates and they tried to have a consensus who should contest; then more arrived with their aspirations. The order turned into a chaos. And then people started lobbying.

But in this hard game, the poor voter was pulled from various lobbies. When many candidates bugged him with their manifestos and promises, he decided to do what was right. That is to vote on his own, not on being a part of a lobby. I do not claim that the candidates who won were the best. But then I can see that most attempts of lobbying failed, ‘mostly’ for all the posts.

That’s the power of democracy. It can create order out of chaos. It has the power to take care of aberrations. When the voters are pulled by various factions, they decide to do what they think is right. I ‘hope’ what they did here was right.

If our PMC is reading this, ensure that our mess bill comes down, as you are projected as the right candidate :P (Just to tell my readers, we give more than one third of our meagre salary as mess expenses)

PS: Like all my views, this article is colored by my perspective, so I do not claim this to be the truth. And yes, forgot to tell you, I won for a small post too :)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alive and Kicking

I am back. If you were worried about me, I am alive(almost) and kicking(not literally). I reached LBS academy on 17th and since then I have entered the process of becoming a 'civil serant'. I know I have to tell you a lot but now I can claim to be busy, so forgive me for this unorganised blog.

Before I tell you more, I cannot get over this urge of posting this picture of me and some of my friends(Dont forget telling that I look good, else you need to see an eye specialist).




So the academy is trying to make us civil. For that they have hanged a tie permanently to our neck. For making us servants, they are trying to keep us busy from dusk to dawn. Apart from these, I have some other things to tell you too.

1. Mussorie is too good a place to be ( especially if you have lived in a place like Kanpur); so dont wait until your honeymoon to come here.


2. The LBS Academy is 'almost' nice, I mean the facilities here are excellent. But then we are facing a kind of shock treatment. Keep reading my blogs for further details.


3. I get up at 5 AM everyday for doing exercises, yes you read it right, EVERYDAY and mostly my schedule continues till 8 PM.


4. I have TV in my room, so now you know that government is not so poor.


5. I also have a Laptop in my room. So what, I have to share it with my roommate ( I capture it most of the time.)


6. The lectures are as boring as they can be anywhere in the world, and you know what; one can get a memo for sleeping in the class.


7. I have tried here to venture into arena of politics, or to put it in other words, I am fighting an election for some vague post. Though most of it is irrelevant but I am enjoying this.


8. And yes, it is turning out very hard to connect with 'real' persons after being in 'virtual' contact with them. I mean those with whom I was in contact through internet.

So these are the major things happening in my life. My blog may become less frequent now (blame it on my training and trainers), but I will try to keep it updated and let you know about the (mis)incidences of my life.

And yes, keep coming back, I am still blogging.

See below how Mussorie looks.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dear Diary

Yesterday I went for dinner to an old acquaintance, my mom’s colleague. She praised me and praised me and praised me more. I mean I like flattery but she made me feel embarrassed. And what kind of praises, that I was so cute and so childlike. The problem I feel is that they imagine a fat, old IAS officer. Then they try to fit me in that image. After failing in that exercise, they call me cute!

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Now I will add another thing about the dinners. Why people do not bring all the items simultaneously. They serve chapattis and then they bring rice. After that they will give sweets and then bring ice-cream. Please, if you invite me for dinner, put everything on the table at the same time. By that I shall be able to manage what all I want to eat. Also I am not at all shy, so do not take extra care in serving me (a euphemism for force feeding me.)

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Got sick today, I think it is viral fever. The thing I hate most is that I am feeling cold and at same time I am sweating. Now neither can I turn on the fan completely, sit in front of cooler or take a bath, nor can I wrap a blanket and sleep comfortably. It is irritating me all the time.

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I am going to leave my home after three days. I am OK with it but still there is a tinge of sadness. When I got ill today, mom actually had my ‘Nazar Utarai’. I hope you know what ‘Nazar Utarna’ is. I do not believe in all this but I was touched. To her I will always remain a three year old kid, who can become ill by the evil eyes of the world.

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My packing has not yet started. Somehow I have managed to complete the shopping but the packaging has not begun. I am really worried how I will be able to find out the things in Mussorie once I need them. Search for socks or tie becomes a full fledged excavation of the suitcase. Also another problem is that I can wrap trousers but still wrapping a shirt is difficult. I need a crash course from my mom. And how shall I wrap suites?

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I am a little scared, little skeptical and little jubilant. A new chapter of my life is going to begin soon. I will join on 18th and then I will formally become an IAS. Well, this will be a career for lifetime. Right now I am having butterflies in my stomach.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Good Teacher

Finally I could learn driving. The details of that are not worth mentioning. They were only because of a bad teacher. I believe if the teacher is good, it can be a cakewalk. So when I had this long break at home, I decided to teach driving to mom myself. Yes, I believe I am a good teacher, any problems with that?

Now till today she has completed ten days of her learning. Can you believe it that she can drive now. OK, I agree that certain conditions apply though. The road has to be empty with no turns. Also, she refuses to go above the speed twenty. But my point is that she can drive. She can also press clutch, brake and accelerator without looking down…. ok without looking down mostly. That is what a good teacher can do to you.

Another proof of my being good at teaching is that in last ten days I have saved lives of five dogs, one cow, and two men. A good teacher is actually always alert. See, I will tell you a real life scenario. When I see someone at a considerable distance, I start saying

“Mom press the brake…....(Gently)
Mom press the brake......... (Just a little louder)
MOM PRESS THE BRAKE.” (Volume not worth mentioning)

She panics. I pull the handbrakes. See simple. Was that dangerous in any way? She has nearly perfected in using clutch and accelerator, only 'some' problem is left with the brake.

Now consider this one

“Mom, take the next turn............................(Gently)
Mom, start turning the steering now......... (Just a little louder)
Ok, no problem, we can take the next turn.” (Gently again)

So you see I am a patient teacher. Many times on a slope, she stops. Now if she presses the accelerator, she has to leave the brake. But then car starts moving back. She then absolutely refuses to leave the brakes. Well, this is when the advantage of an empty road comes in picture. I give her complete time to deal with it herself….mostly.

I tell you, when you are teaching the driving to someone, you have to tackle many things. For example, the angry glance of the cyclist who has been giving side from last fifteen minutes, or the pedestrian who is forced to move at the extreme corner, as my mom prefers to remain at side of the road.

But there are some real hindrances for which she is not to be blamed. Their culprit is Bollywood movies. I never understand why heroes always keep oscillating their steering, mostly while singing songs. Now, I have to remind her every time that she can actually drive straight without oscillating the steering.

I am still trying to convince her to come on busy roads, but I do not insist. I hope you know the reason why. In my city, where people overtake from both sides, and there are no traffic rules it’s hard to drive. If she can drive here, she can drive in any place of the world. It is a real learning process for me, to teach something to my mom, I am learning to be patient. At a slight sign of disappointment at my face, she completely refuses to learn.

But guess what, she does not read my blogs :)

PS: I know mom, the patience you have shown in teaching me everything in life was much greater than all this. I will always try to emulate that.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Date

That was the beginning of it.

He was new in the class, and she was already having her gang. To put it mildly she was different. No, not of stunningly beautiful kinds. Her laughter could be heard from half a kilometer, and one could count all her teeth when she just smiled. She at first looked to be a ‘don’ to him. That was the image that first attracted him, his complete antithesis.

Just a month had passed and they could feel a special bond. She was still always surrounded by her numerous friends and he was always trying to get her some time; alone. It was really difficult to do so. At times she made it easy for him, and at times she did not.

So that was the time when it was the game round, when they were not ‘just’ friends and not yet something else. Everyday he went school praying that he will get some of her free time. Those were the only days when he liked going to school.

It was the month of August and one day when he woke up, it was raining heavily. It was difficult to go to school, as he used public transport. The attendance was meager on such days and teachers never taught. Thus, in way it was worthless to go to school on that day. Or was it?

He decided to call the school to check if rainy day had been declared. Oops, the telephone was dead. So he decided to go to a PCO. Even if in heavily raining morning at 6:30 AM, the chances of getting an open PCO are nil, only those who had been in such a state could understand his perseverance.

After walking for half an hour he found an open PCO. He called the school and it was open. Then he dialed ‘her’ number. But alas, her phone was dead too. Now there was going to be no confirmation.

His mother told him to sit at home that day. But for some reasons, he explained to her that something important was going on in the class and he cannot afford missing a lecture (see, he did not lie :) ). His mother was too pleased to see his devotion.

So he somehow managed to reach school, of course completely wet. His heart was beating fast when he approached his classroom. But then a smile came on his face. He could hear the familiar laughter.

They shared a mischievous smile when he entered the class as if this was perfectly preplanned. That was the day when it became clear that they really shared a bond; and an understanding too. Only seven people were present that day and two were 'them'. He sat with her for eight periods, of course with none of her friends around. Oh yes, that rainy day was his first date.

Friday, August 03, 2007

She Came, She Saw, She Conquered


Yes she did that. Her conquest was complete and brutal. But I won’t talk about her conquest. It is already well known. I will only talk about the defeat. I was not the one defeated but certainly I had to bear its consequences.

I will not confuse you more. The
lady I am talking about is Ekta Kapoor and her entire ‘K’ series. Do not smile now and think that you will guess what I am going to write next. I hope my blogs are not as predictable.

I remember the time when I could actually watch television for hours. It used to be my best past time. There were serials that were interesting; there were soaps that were small and all ended after a certain time. But that was before the advent of Miss Kapoor.

The lady came and conquered the entire television primetime. She revolutionized the soaps and their entire storylines. Now wives find it hard now to manage with one husband, women never wear ordinary saris and soaps cannot do without songs.

There is this special ‘K’ series sound effect and all soaps have to revolve around family sagas. If a serial becomes popular, forget that it will ever end. It will evolve for generations, and in one year, an actor may find herself doing a fifth generation role.

Now I remain as far from the ‘idiot box’ as I can. I sincerely understand now why it has to be called so. I hate everything in these soaps, and the worst is the way their episodes end, as if there is none going to be more interesting than next.

Worse, I feel I am turning paranoid. When its special sound effects enter my ears, I feel restless. And if I see a tear in someone’s while watching these, I have no words to express my rage. It is not at the tears, but at the pathetic storyline that can bring that.

Well, I have been turned an outcaste in my own home. She is popular, she earns a lot, but let me explicitly state this; she is the one who stole my television.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Civil Services Mains Preparation: General Studies

The long promised blog about civil services mains preparation is here. Do not read this if you are not appearing for civil services. Before starting the preparation, have a look at the syllabus. A topic wise unsolved of Y.D. Mishra is available in the market and it can be of good help.

Now for each subject I have given a list of material that can be studied. The first paragraph is the material that should be studied and is mostly sufficient whereas the second one will be the additional that can also be looked at.

Polity: The best source for polity is the notes of Mr Ravindran of Vajiram. They are sufficient for getting good marks. It shall also be good idea to read the printed material (that is yellow books) of Vajiram.

Apart from this D. D. Basu’s book on ‘Introduction to India’s Constitution’ can also be read for specific topics. For a simpler reading two books of Subhash Kashyap on Constitution and Parliament may be referred. A topper also recommended me Laxmikant’s book on Polity and a book on ‘Indian Administration and Politics’ by Awasthi.

History: Bipin Chandra’s India’s Struggle for Independence is a must read if one wants to get a good understanding of freedom struggle. Also NCERT’s ‘Modern India’ is indispensable. There is a book of Spectrum on Modern India and it should be referred, but remember one needs a broader understanding and Spectrum only may not be sufficient.

Geography: Read two NCERT’s books on Physical Geography of India and People and Economy. Also printed material (yellow book) of Vajiram is good for Geography.

International Affairs: The notes of Vajiram and its printed material (published till mid September) are a must read, but try not to cram them as most candidates will be writing the same.

This is also broadly prepared from the daily reading of ‘The Hindu’. I mean just read it everyday. There is no need for making notes or cutting articles from it. Also read Frontline. One may buy ‘World Focus’ but it should be read fast. The NCERT book ‘Democracy in India’ can also be studied. Someone told me that Competition Wizard is better than many magazines, so one may have a look at it too.

Economy: For this notes of Vajiram and its printed material is sufficient.

If one wants to read a book, Uma Kapila can be studied. Also having the Penguin dictionary of Economics may be good help.

Science and Technology: Vajiram notes and material are sufficient for this. One may also read Spectrum of Science and Tech. On Thursday, Hindu has an S & T page, so keep an eye on that.

A topper told me that even reading the magazine ‘Science Reporter’ can be of great help.

Statistics: For engineers it can be a cakewalk provided a person has seen the previous years question papers. Spectrum is sufficient for it.

One may even have a look at NCERT book for statistics.

Social Issues: Read them from any source, may be Vajiram printed material or anything else. But do not skip them. The list can be seen from Y. D. Mishra’s unsolved papers.

Current Affairs, International Organizations etc: I read them from Vajiram printed material. You can choose any other source. It is better to get Xeroxed material of Vajiram and read it than sitting in the class and noting them down.

Two markers: Read them from any source you can get. There is a CST special issue for two markers published nearly in July. Even many magazines publish two markers special so keep on collecting them. Reading India Year book may also help.

People have told me that both, class notes of Vajiram and its printed material is available in the market, so it is a good idea to buy them.

Now about completing the question paper. I will tell what I had done. I prepared the order in which I was going to attempt the paper. For e.g. in first paper I decided to do Polity, then history then something else. After that I calculated the time available for each mark. For e.g. a 30 marker corresponds to 18 minutes. So I crammed by heart that if paper starts at 9:30, my first question should finish at 9:50 and so on. Thus I could keep a tap on the time and it nearly corresponded with the word limit. So I suggest start from the areas of strength and cram the various times by which you will be finishing a particular question.

I have tried my best to collect a lot of information from various sources. I have mentioned a comprehensive list of sources but it is not that I have studied them all. I have taken inputs from many toppers and I have tried to incorporate their sources. Any more queries are welcome. Happy preparation and best of luck J

PS: I thank Shammi Abidi (Rank 16), Anurag Tewari (Rank 24) and Udit Rai (Rank 25) for their kind help in preparation of this blog.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Shopping Blues

Run you ever so far, shopping will always catch you. The truth of this statement cannot be appreciated more, by those caught in a state like mine.

After evading shopping for years, it has come back to me and it is back with a vengeance. Time for celebrating my success in civil services has ended. The only thing left with me now is ‘the list’. This dreaded list contains entire shopping universe in itself. I have to buy suitcases, I have to buy suits, I have to buy shirts, and I have to buy soaps and what not.

Shopping is an activity I am really scared of. Once upon a time I bought a suit. But that was once upon a time. Now I am made to listen to the shopkeeper that this one is Terri wool, that one is 40%wool, this one is Reid and Taylor and that one is Raymond’s. And after that I am asked to choose. The truth is, for me there is no difference, apart from their different names.

I can count on fingers the occasions when I wore a tie. Now I have to decide whether this tie goes with that shirt or that suit. Choosing between two colors becomes the biggest dilemma of my life. And how I can even guess if trousers with plates shall be better than trousers without plates?

I belong to that school of thought which completely understands the pain of the salesmen. If a person in a shop shows me some clothes, I feel that it is my sacred duty to reward his hard work by buying at least one. How can I get out of the shop empty handed?

The problem of shopping does not end here. I want to get the best deal but I cannot bargain. My morals do not allow me to ask the shopkeeper to lower his prices. If I do that and the shopkeeper refuses, it becomes a big insult. Thus most of the time, I pay the first price asked by the shopkeepers. Even after that I am not comfortable and live with the feeling that I was dumb.

If you are going to say that I should take help of others, I am smarter than that. Always, I mean always literally, I have taken someone with me to shop. But till today no one has been able to do that with perfection. If I ask which one looks better, I should be told confidently “AS, this looks better on you”. I won’t even blink an eye before buying it. The problem comes when I see confusion on other’s face.

So there was a simple solution that I adopted. Do not shop. I did that for years but happiness does not last long. Now I have to makeup for whatever shopping I have evaded for years.

God gave me a personality, and he gave me a face. As an obedient man, I respected his wishes. I lived in my dreamland, completely comfortable within myself. Then why should I be put in dilemma of choosing what looks good on me?

God, I need help!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Back To the School

Recently I went back to the school. I had to tell the students about my story (read success) and how I went about it. Well this is a euphemism for lecturing the students. I had to motivate them to study and work hard. Yes, I did that, any eyebrows raised?

The hardest thing to do is to tell the kids to study and still keep the lecture interesting. Hardly a day goes in a student’s life when he has not heard the same. When I was a student, I dreaded such ‘motivation’ lectures. But it is hard to resist the temptation of going back to your school and speak as a victor.

Now I prepared a lot for it. Tried to bring in humor in my speech, add some twists and turns and try to bluff the students that studies is the most important task they have to do in life.

For example I asked them, if they criticized corruption? Now the definition of corruption came out to be, not doing the work one is supposed to do. So I said if a student is not studying, he is corrupt. Poor kids!

The common thing I found was, the teachers complaining that the standard of students has declined considerably. Now they are more concerned about other things in life than in studies. Our time used to be the golden period of studies. I do not know if this is really the truth or the nostalgia suffered by all teachers alike. When I was a student, my teachers were always telling our batch the same.

But yes India has changed a lot in last ten years or so and is effect of globalization visible on the students. That is a point to ponder. If there is a change everywhere there will be some change in the students also.

All in all it was a good experience, at least for me. I do not know if kids could take something positive from it or not. But then it gave me an opportunity to go back to school and the good part was, not for studying :)

//Next post will have to wait for some days, I am going out of station//

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reservations on Economic Lines

I am not going to discuss reservation and its pros and cons. What I intend to do here is to present my take on reservation proposed from time to time based on economic criterion.

First we should understand why to have reservations in the first place. One answer is, to provide a level playing field to the marginalized sections of the society. If this is the reason, economic criterion may well qualify for becoming the basis of reservation. But there is more to it.

Reservation is a form of penance for wrongs done in the past by our forefathers. Certain castes were deliberately oppressed for ages by the Varna system. Because of centuries of institutionalized oppression, most people from those castes remain backward even today. Reservation is an effort to give them their true share and bring them at par with other sections of the society. We now have reservations because some wrong had been committed in the past.

Now the case I keep on hearing that the basis of reservation should be economic. So we should ponder why people are poor, especially those belonging to the forward castes. Was it fault of the society, or it was some form of injustice? I guess not. People from forward castes were not prevented by the society from becoming prosperous. Their poverty was the result of reasons concerning solely themselves and not the society as a whole. So there is no penance required for a crime not committed.

In fact reservations on economic lines will mean reservations in perpetuity. There will always be poor in the society. Won’t it be a disincentive for working hard and becoming rich. Why should the family which toiled and became prosperous suffer vis a vis that whose efforts were not so great and it remained poor. It shall not be justice.

I do not intend to say that I support reservation or am against it. That is a different matter altogether. My only point is to present my case that reservation based on economic lines is a flawed concept having no proper justification for it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Just a Talk

The story was really simple. He loved this girl, the girl loved him and then there was no other issue. I mean no other issue from the parent’s side.

His parents were basically moderate and they already knew about their relationship. Wait a minute, who says. Well, they must have known by now, it had already been nine years; he had talked to her for hours on phone in front of them. But!

So there was this unexplainable problem, how to make the already knowing parents know that he was in a relationship. The meaning is that they would have never objected but still one needs to tell them formally. He belonged to a middle class family with a set of values. By values, it is meant the kind of parent’s who find it hard to utter the words like girlfriend, relationship etc. They talk about their son’s marriage to all their relatives but not with him.

Now he delayed the matter as long as he could but then it is hard convincing a girl who wants to get married. His girlfriend desperately wanted that he should formally let his parents know. I need you to have ‘Just a talk’ was what his girlfriend told him.Only those having a close understanding of Indian families can appreciate the precariousness of 'Just a Talk'.

So after days of excuses and many ultimatums from his girlfriend, he gave up. It had to be do or die. He called up his mother, talked for fifteen minutes about her health, weather, traffic hazards of Delhi etc, took a deep breadth and shot the question point blank, “What have you thought about my marriage”. See simple.

Well he had tried to smile a bit and give it a humorous look, but the effect of his voice came somewhat like a serious Greek tragedy. There was this heavy silence that followed with some heavy breathing on both sides. There are moments when to speak something, you have to move your cheeks really hard. Both of them uttered some vague words but he could not recollect them ever.

After this he took a recluse from this world. He told his girlfriend whatever be the consequences, he is never going to breach the subject again. It was a gross violation of the family norms. For next three days, the phone of his mother came and he received them well making sure that discussion is always on formal lines. They again talked about heat, weather and relatives.

On the fourth day, his mother was in no mood to give up. She must have tried really hard but ultimately she made things really easy for him and made him talk. Thus this simple story had this happy ending and he was relieved that he will never have to do this ever again.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Omnipotent

I cannot say if I noticed him when I first saw him. I had gone to a small restaurant for dinner and he was the waiter serving there. He must have been nearly twelve years of age, thin, dark, and shrill voiced; identical to thousands other like him. Thus he had nothing which attracts the attention of anyone.

I gave the order and he copied it obediently. While waiting for the order to come, I somehow noticed him staring at the dishes he was going to serve at the tables. This looked to be his usual practice. He looked hungry and was perhaps attracted by the smell of the dish.

I am no fond of giving alms, but for an unexplainable reason I felt that I should make him happy. I will not say that I had any sympathy with him. It was in a way , the desire to feel that I was great and was able to fulfill the wish of someone, similar to the omnipotent god. My urge grew stronger and I wanted to feel that I am the agent of happiness in mankind.

When he came to my table, I asked him that which was his favorite dish in the menu card. Somewhat startled at my strange behavior, he replied it was the chilly chicken. Then as an obedient salesman, he went on to describe the specialties of that item at this restaurant. I smiled and ordered him to bring its two plates.

He arrived again, staring greedily as usual at the dish. With a big smile on my face and expecting a deep gratitude from him, I told him that the extra plate was for him, a gift from my side, the self appointed Santa Clause.

For a moment he stood there, quiet, clueless, looking the chicken, looking at my face . Then he looked at the manager’s counter and said bluntly that he cannot accept it. I was shocked. This guy was behaving in such an erratic fashion and was actually shooing away the Santa Clause. When I gained some calm, I asked him the reason for refusing it when he had been staring at the plates for long.

With a blank face he told me that a customer can give him a tip, but if someone makes him to eat something, it shall be taken as a sign that one is luring him away from his job. This may look to be a sign that he can quit the work and hence is not a reliable worker. It may cost him his job.

I will not say his reply made no sense to me. But then it was too much for me to understand viewpoints; perspectives. I was not really disappointed, but I felt like a big fool. I made the payment fast and rushed out of the restaurant.

I had this urge to run from anyone who had seen me performing Santa Clause.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Civil Services Preparations: General Facts

I do not claim to be an authority on the subject. My only qualification to write this blog is that I could actually secure a good rank in the exam. This is going to be a general blog and I am writing answers to the questions which have been asked from me many times (without missing to add general gyan from my side too). I also plan a blog for something specific on mains but that shall be later.

1. Strange it may sound, but there is no ‘secret’ to succeed in civil services. It is only hard work, and more importantly done in the right direction. Do not go for many ‘strategies’ to succeed. Cover the entire syllabus, read standard books, give equal weightage to all the subjects and the chances of your succeeding will double.


2. Coaching is not necessary but it does give you an edge, provided you are at the right institute. But that is the case mainly with humanities . In technical subjects I really doubt if good help is available. Remember most of the teachers for civil services in Delhi are those who tried for civil services four times, failed and then started a coaching.


3. Do not take an attempt to see the paper. Your chance of succeeding at any stage without complete preparation is naught. Also it shall be a better idea to buy an unsolved; you may actually see more papers, than by sitting in the exam unprepared :)


4. Do not try to find statistics that chances of success in which attempt are maximum. I have met many candidates saying ‘third attempt is the best attempt’. The person who guided me, made me believe it is possible in the first attempt and I tell you the same.


5. There are no right optionals . It is seventy five percent interest and twenty five percent availability of resources. The only advantage of a popular subject is that resources shall be easily available . Also since the number of candidates appearing from a popular subject shall be more, good number of students will succeed from that subject hence popular subject remains popular.


6. For those from technical fields ( specifically my friends from IIT’s); you also can take humanities. It was not that you were bad at humanities so you took science after high school, but it was that you were good in science too and more opportunities were available there. Considering the education standards in India, you need not worry that an arts graduate will be having an advantage having studied them for years.


7. Another thing for IITians. Since you cracked JEE, you did not get the birthright to enter civil services by taking science subjects. Before opting for them, make sure that you are really interested in the subject. Times have changed and UPSC has revised their syllabus a lot, from what I hear somewhat on the difficult side. A good amount of hard work is required in them and getting marks in science subjects is linear, that is directly proportional to the effort involved.


8. When I say that I do not mean that getting marks in humanities require less effort. It is that writing style, language etc which play an important role in any humanities develop over the years, so it is your previous efforts in life which makes it appear, that humanities require less time for preparation.


9. Above all, the exam is really difficult and not completely predictable. Do not enter it if you are not very serious about it. It ruins the career of many youths. Remember only 474 guys selected out of nearly three lakh applicants. So if we compare the input and output, civil services is not a very attractive career option.


Ignore this if you find it irrelevant. There is no empirical evidence to all this and it is only what I feel. By the way, if you are preparing for the exam, best of luck :)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Brush with the system


Time is one of the most mesmerizing elements of life. This thought crossed my mind only because I am going to tell you about an incident that happened some time ago.

When I use ‘sometime’, I mean a time not long back, not in recent past. So there was a time when in India all had to stand in queues to get the railway reservation done. It was just before the digital divide took place, when men were not divided into online and inline, those having credit cards and those not having credit cards.

I had to travel and my journey was as usual, unplanned. Getting a reservation in train
was always difficult. It was so in good old time when population was less, food was cheap and trains ran on time. It was difficult now when the one billion mark crossed unceremoniously. To put it in simple terms, I had to travel and did not have a reservation.

Some people are fighters and I call myself that. I decided to get the ticket under tatkal scheme. For those who do not know, a percentage of tickets are available just some days before, of course at a dearer cost. Reservation under tatkal begins at 8:00 AM sharp and all tickets get sold within minutes.

So I decided to leave no stone unturned and reached the reservation counter at 4:30 AM to be first in the line. I underestimated my competitors and three people already present at the counter. But not bad, even after those three, I had a good chance to get the prized tatkal reservation done.

The time passed well and like common Indians, all those present there developed a bond, shared their newspapers, discussed politics and made a new cricket team. Thus we were having a good if not great time there. Wait a minute, clock was nearing 8:00 AM and reaching the counter early is necessary but not sufficient condition to get the ticket done. The clerk also has to come.

At 7:55 AM our searching eyes saw the lady clerk arriving from a distance, with serenity like Buddha on her face and the regal gait of a king. I bet no one, but those working in the government departments can perfect that aura.

The lady was meticulous; she entered the office at sharp 8:00 AM, brought a water glass for her, watched herself in a mirror, made a small prayer, ignored the murmurings of commoners and patiently booted the computer. By the time computer opened and the first ticket was made it was already 8:15 AM.

The work happened as usual and the story ends. Oh yes, what happened to my ticket. You guessed it right, did not get it and so did the two others who came before me. Even if this blog was of no help in the treatise of time, I know you must have by now understood why people here believe in god and the theory of karma.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I knew it

Read carefully, at least at some part of your life you must have experienced this.

Symptoms:

1. Watching random orkut profiles; seeing their stupid pictures most of which are ‘cute’ cartoons (why the hell do I need to come to your pictures folder to watch them), reading the boring ‘about me’ and hackneyed, mutually shared testimonials which mostly start with ‘what to say about him/her’, or even worse, roses drawn by text art.

2. Remaining online for hours, watching those who are online but remaining in guise of a ‘busy’ symbol.

3. Checking the email in every two minutes, refreshing the page every now and then to receive the new emails and having an occasional look at the spam folder.

4. Doing what you are doing just now, that is reading blogs, most of which hardly make sense (mine seriously excluded )

Inference:
1. You have a lot of idle time and a generous internet connection.
2. That means you have got a rich father, or
3. God was kind upon you and you entered an IIT, or an engineering college where there is no work and free internet connection.
4. You may also be at a liberal software organization where you work (at least in official terms).

The disease is called boredom. I am suffering from that too. I never knew why I always had so much free time on earth. The condition is serious, and believe it or not, internet hardly provides a solution. That I have been trying for years

Any remedies?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Random Muses

The truth is I have nothing concrete to write and I do not want to make up stories. I just want to remember certain recent events that touched me and are worth chronicling.

I went to my maternal grandparents place some days ago. There was nothing ecstatic about the visit but I could feel again that no one can match the love of grandparents. There is something different about it. It is independent of your success, failures, simply endless love.

There was an old lady whom we went to meet. She was the one who fixed the marriage of my parents and she was more proud of the fact, now when I was going to be an IAS. My dad ate two laddoos despite his diabetese, and my mother and I had to eat more. She recollected the struggle of my grandmother to get my father educated (my grandfather died very early) and the humble beginning of my parents. There were tears in her eyes, Ok, a little in all of us. She was so happy and so proud. Even if I leave other things, this moment was a reason sufficient for me to choose IAS as a career.

All this brought back the memories of my grandmother. I don’t remember much about her, I was just eight when she passed away, but yes, I remember her wrinkled hand, the story of ‘Bhakt Prahlad’ she kept on repeating, and I can still feel her love. I remember her angry face whenever my mother scolded me and I remember my tears when she died. Till today no one could match the love she showered upon me.

Some other things I remember too, the ancient family temple where I was taken; the feeling of distant relatives that I will be of some help to them now, and those repetitive marriage proposals. Then there were those mosquitos that left their marks every night, the flies that had the duty to wake you up with the dawn and the electricity which came at times to show that the town was electrified.

But yes, I could see my roots, beginning of my family, beginning of me.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Another Day, Another Wedding

It’s the season of weddings and yesterday I went to another wedding. The interesting thing is there are so many similar things about all of them. I agree that a wedding is a wedding but I am not talking about the rituals.

First is about the bride. I had known the girl for long. She was cute; she was simple, in a way a normal middle class Indian girl. But when I saw her on stage I could not recognize her. Her makeup made her look exactly like the Durga idols in durga puja. Natural color of the skin was nowhere to be seen.

Adding to it poor girl had to maintain an emotionless face and most of the time look at the ground. The only relaxation allowed was that she could smile a little with a special care that her teeth’s should not be seen. She played her part well and all brides really do.

Another was about the DJ. In our families this was a new entry some years before but not now. No wedding can miss a DJ. But they also invited the ‘shehnai wadaks’ so that the impression is both, modern and traditional. But alas, the shehnais had to play along with the DJ. They were at two different corners of the ground but the throat of the shehnai wadaks was no match to the 1000 watt DJ. When the bride came on stage, the shehnais had some traditional dhun whereas the DJ was playing ‘kahan teri ye nazar hai, meri jaan mujhe khabar hai.

One thing that frightened me was the liberal use of firearms for rejoicing. I never understood one thing. People fire the shots pointing the gun up. I always feel that at the place where the bullet will land it will hurt somebody. Is’nt that true?

Now the most important thing; the food. Believe it or not, for most of the persons, having dinner is the only duty they are required to perform in the wedding. So if you want that people should remain to watch some ceremonies, delay the food otherwise no one is going to watch them barring a few close relatives who have no escape.

The only good this about this wedding was that somehow three girls came to know that I have been selected in the civil services. They came to me and talked about this exam. I do not think I was able to give them any tips but it’s always better to counsel aspirants than watching the same weddings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Mystery of Sweet Boxes


I am no Arthur Conan Doyle so don’t expect a Sherlock Holmes kind of mystery from me. My mystery is simply AS’s mystery, the kind of mystery which happens in our families, surrounding any interesting event, be it a marriage, funeral, or something of ‘relevance’ for e.g. getting a job.

But my mystery was different. It had actors which were unknown to me, unknown to each other. That made the case more complex. Now when I will tell you, you will say this was obvious but not to me,not to someone who is unfamiliar with the dealings of our society.

So what happened was, sweet boxes kept on piling in my house. There were kaju wali barfis, there were gulabjamuns, there were jalebis, there were those bengali sweets and what not. And the strange thing was they came from sources unknown to me, unknown to my family. People came with distant references or no reference at all and never forgot to bring a sweet box along with them.

I enquired to my mother but she could not give a satisfactory answer. I had a doubt that she was hiding something from me. When I saw a pattern I decided to solve the case. The only change from the past was that I was selected in a competition (now I won’t mention the name). But was that the only reason.

And then I got the clue which opened everything. Many of the sweet providers were asking my date of birth and not only that, even the time and place of it. So now I know. I am not that big a naive not to understand that these things are used for horoscopes.

You might not have solved the case but it’s my detective instinct that found that these sweet boxes were for marriage proposals. But for whom, was it for me, AS. The case was not that simple. On deeper analysis I found that I or my name did not matter. The proposals were for someone who was going to be an IAS.

Dear sweet boxes, all of you will be disappointed, but no, I am not going to disclose the reason :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Meeting Anurag Srivastava, the DM

(Lot of didactic stuff, don't blame me if you get bored)

This is not meant to be a joke. The present DM of Kanpur is in fact Shri Anurag Srivastava, IAS topper 1992 batch. He has done his B.Tech from IIT Kanpur and got through civil services in his first attempt by achieving All India Rank one . I got to meet him through a common friend of family.

The first thing that strikes about the DM house is its opulence. The house that was designed during British era can in no way be called humble. From the main road one can see signboards pointing towards the DM house. It is a huge house with a bunch of policeman at the gate.

At the allotted time we are asked to enter the office. I am awed by seeing the size of the office. It is like a big conference room. There is a big table and seats for visitors, not two, not three but at least thirty grand chairs. Later I came to know that the office is also used for press conferences and meetings and hence it’s huge size. There is a laptop kept at the table, a TV and a VCD player in a side of the room.

Anurag Srivastava is a thin man in his late thirties. I am introduced to him and he is pleased to know that we are namesakes. The discussion begins and first thing at which we are amused is that both of us got poor marks at the interview. He got 120(out of 250) and I got 150(out of 300).

After some trivial talk, I arrive at the real issue “Sir, I am going to enter the IAS, what advice would you like to give me" And now starts the real conversation.

He starts by saying enjoy your stay at Mussorie, learn all what you can, be it horse riding or firing pistols. Also, study the courses well; you may need them in your job. Do no think that your studies are over. You will have to keep reading throughout your life.

Quoting his words “IAS is the best job profile a person ever dreams.” One can get to work in almost any department. There is infinite scope of everything. If you want to bring development you will be able to do that, if you want to attack
Social evils, you can do that, if you want to get degrees, you will be able to get admission in the best universities worldwide, and if you want to be corrupt no one will be able to do anything against you.

But if you want to do good work, and serve the real goal of being an IAS never bow to any pressure. This shall be very difficult for the initial years of your service. Accommodate you must, but never at the cost of your principles.

His parting advice was "Don’t get lost in this power game. Give time to your family and do what you enjoy to do. There is pressure in the job but you have to manage it.

There is a life beyond IAS and enjoy that too.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Voice of the Nation


So Pratibha Patil, the present governor of Rajasthan, is the choice of UPA and left for the post of president. We may soon have our first female president. Sonia Gandhi and many others have called it a historic event.

The thing that strikes me is the focus is on ‘first female’ president. This has become her biggest qualification. Last time NDA brought Kalam and thus brought a ‘muslim’ president. Congress made Manmohan Singh Prime Minister and hence gave the nation first Sikh PM.

No I am not claiming that these things were parochial. I just intend to know does this really represent something. Have we achieved women empowerment after sixty years of independence and hence a female candidate for post. Does Manmohan Singh represent that minorities have gained equal share in development of the nation.

Actually the answer looks to be a no to me. Yes India is secular, democratic, providing equality to all and there is absolutely no doubt about that but somewhere in sixty years we could not achieve what we dreamt. There have been aberrations and certainly some big ones. The conscience of the nation and its people suffer from this guilt. It haunts us all and things like ‘first female president’ are like assurances that we give to ourselves that all is well.

To me this is not the voice of the nation but a chimera we intend to invent. The voice of the nation says fulfill the promises made to the citizens. Make India what it was intended to be, what is its true nature from centuries, an amalgamation, a land which provides home for all, whose main feature is its diversity, respect for all beliefs, race, religion, philosophies.

Till that day comes, we will be happy with things like we are going to have our first female president.