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.


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 )

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.