Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ranbir Kapoor Urban Employment Generation Scheme

The star-power of the Gandhi family. An unending supply of funds courtesy the national exchequer. The glamour of economists like Jean Dreze & Amartya Sen. A proven intellectual like Dr.Manmohan Singh.
All of these contributed to create the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
Now, replace . . .
1. Gandhi family with Kapoor family
2. National Exchequer with Sajid Nadiadwala
3. Jean Dreze & Amartya Sen with Deepika Padukone
4. Dr Manmohan Singh with Imtiaz Ali
What you get is Tamasha. A movie that makes you question the very purpose of film-making. The movie was very thought-provoking in the sense that there were umpteen moments throughout when I would sit and wonder - why did they have to make this movie? And every single time, I came up with the same answer - MNREGS.
Imtiaz Ali, by now, has a reputation as a good director. The incumbent Kapoor is Ranbir. Glamour-flavour of the season, of course Deepika. And of course, Sajid Nadiadwala for money. So now they hunted for a plot. Of course, boy-accidentally-meets-girl-in-exotic-foreign-location. That is ok, but hasn't it been done to death? Ummm, ok. So let's make it intellectuaaal (Banno tera swagger lage saaaxy). We'll try to intellectualize emotions. You know, both will be common folks. But they'll meet at this god-awesome exotic locale and be completely filmy characters. Then they'll come back to India and become normal again. Then there'll be emotional turmoil. Oh yes and plenty of scope for "acting", at least for Ranbir.
I understand split personality, I understand multiple personality disorder, I also know of special children. But Ranbir's acting transcended all this. In that he tried to exhibit one or more of all this and ended up portraying himself much beyond any of this. And ends up irritating you to nails-scratching-blackboard levels.
Deepika has had the same steady level of acting since her first movie. When the camera's not focussing on either her superbly-toned legs (there's this hilarious moment when she wakes up from bed fully clothed - a kurti on top and leggings upto her ankle. Then she sees Ranbir playing football with a couple of kids. She goes down to get coffee after changing...into hot shorts :D) or her dimples, she's trying to emote in that perennially half-choked voice of hers.
The thing with Prem Ratan Dhan Payo was that it didn't take itself seriously. It was a dumb movie from end to end and made no pretense about being otherwise. It didn't take itself seriously which contributed to some hilarity from time to time. Tamasha, while attempting to be fun, is not. It's a movie which (apparently) seeks to explore the finer nuances of human emotions blah blah.
Tamasha could very well be renamed RKUEGS.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On How Our Hidden Insecurities as a Society Surfaced thanks to #ChennaiFloods

Pardon me for being cynical but this whole business of "all communities rose as one", "Muslims serving Hindus meals", "Hindus staying inside mosques", "Muslims, Christians & Hindus together fight the floods" is getting a tad too exasperating. Are we such a failed state that we have to seek not only solace but joy at such things?

I know Chennai is among the more communally peaceful places in the country, and I am every bit proud to be a Chennaite, but do you mean to say Muslims & Hindus in Mumbai would have fought with each other when faced with a disaster of such mammoth proportions? I'm amazed at our level of insecurity as a nation. It is understandable if our media does this job of hyping up trivialities (for want of a better word), but it's plain sad to see the common people hype up what is *expected* in a mature democracy, or at least in any state that aspires to be and sees itself as a major world power.
The common man on the streets might not match your level of intellectualism in drawing room debates but he is definitely high above the incredibly low standards you set for him - that he would indulge in petty faith-based fights & not help when the very question of humanity and survival has arisen. I'm saddened that you thought so lowly of him. I didn't. And I'm glad he didn't prove me wrong.
Another thing - all of you saw what all Chennai is - all these weeks. Now here's an example of what Chennai is *NOT*.
  • Chennai is not the stereotype this article portrays us to be. I've faced my fair share of stereotyping by my North-Indian friends but even the most ignorant among them did not paint such a picture of us.
  • I can understand that you want to flood people's homes with positivity but this article is really scraping the barrel.
  • And the saddest part - the last paragraph. One of Mudhalvan's most classic dialogues was "Kadaiseela yennaiyum arasiyalvaadhiya aakkittaangaley!" (In the end, they have made me also a politician). How sad that after all the stories of heroism, valour, determination & courage transcending caste, creed, religion, sex, Rasheeda Bhagat had to make this to be yet another story of Muslims Vs the Rest!

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Primer on life as a Probationer – for all first-timers

First of all, congratulations for having cleared one of the most prestigious examinations in the country. You are in one of those confounding situations where your life will both dramatically change as well as remain the same in a matter of months. How you react to both the change as well as the sameness will determine w̶h̶o̶  what you are.

That said, the next 1-1.5 years of your life will be one of the most interesting and will lay the foundation for the rest of your career (and in some cases, your life as well). Given below is a compendium of things I wish I’d known before joining. I wouldn’t call them “do’s and don’t’s” in the strict sense of the word, rather a breezy peek-in into how life will be as a probationer. I hope you find this useful. Here goes!
  1. Training is a whole lot of fun and more! Assuming you’re coming here after some work experience, this is college all over again and a bonus fun period. Make good use of it. This is where you will (hopefully) build bonds that will (possibly) last a lifetime.
  2. Spend time in the academy. Localites tend to go home at the drop of a hat, I’d suggest spend time at the academy getting to know people or better still, plan weekend outings.
  3. Never be preachy. Folks, especially in the Service and that too, during probation, tend to stay away from preachy people, particularly from batch-mates. You are not here to correct others. Correct yourself if you can.
  4. Keep your rules to yourself. More specifically adherence to rules. Don’t be overly loud about your adherence to rules. People are, in general, allergic to rule-adherence. Just like how justice should not only be done, but seen to be done, likewise, you being a strict follower of rules is one thing, but to be seen to be a strict follower of rules is quite something else.
  5. You will constantly be judged whether you like it or not. Funnily, it is not only your actions but your inactions as well that will be judged. Also, people will, within a few interactions, sub-consciously stereotype you. It is an inherent trait. Why, even you will see yourself doing it. People are more comfortable bracketing you into groups/cliques.
  6. Try to get a conceptual understanding of whatever law is taught. Theory can always wait, be as hands-on as possible, especially when interacting with seniors. Field-experience always helps.
  7. Regionalism exists. Deal with it.
  8. There will be ample opportunities to travel. Use this to go to new places, not to go back to your home town (unless you have pressing reasons). You will never get the opportunity to travel free with no pressure in your mind and deadlines to meet.
  9. Love-Life – Ahem. It’s great if you manage to find your soul-mate here, but ideally, get committed once both you AND your girl/guy are both settled in a service (whether same or different). Umpteen stories abound of couples forming in FC/training only for them to go down the drain a year later because one of them got a different service. Muchly avoidable heartbreak.
  10. At all times, be cognizant of the fact that you are being paid. Try to do at least a little justice to the salary the government pays you.
  11. Take initiative. There is much you can do here. Do not worry about how small or insignificant your initiative might be. Every initiative is welcomed here. And if it is useful to your batchmates, nothing like it!
  12. Stay away from negativity. There will be no dearth of people cribbing about stuff – whether it be the salary, the service, Sarkar, whatnot. Negativity is contagious, positivity isn’t quite. Be positive – That is the only thing that will keep you going.
  13. Identify problems, but constantly keep looking for solutions. People with solutions are always wanted, especially in Sarkar. And this is the kind of people we need, if we want to take the nation forward.
  14. Don’t have sky-high expectations from your batch-mates. Your batch is, after all, a microcosm of the nation at large. Elitest, intelligent'est, etc. you all might be, but there will be generous doses of hypocrisy, biases, groupism, revulsion towards rules, jealousy, pettiness, narrow-mindedness etc. This is important because it helps you prepare for what you’re going to face for the next 25-30 years.
  15. Be receptive to change. Food, clothing, habits – if it helps you improve and be a better individual, government servant or citizen. Or simply if it is more convenient to you. :)
  16. There will be periods during training when you’ll feel bored, pointless, etc. Always be involved in some kind of activity or the other – whether with the academy or among your group of friends. There is too much to be learnt, understood and done for you to be bored. And mind you, I’m not talking about class or studies!
  17. All said and done, your batch will comprise of probably the most diverse set of people you would have ever come across in your life. The diversity is so staggering that it might sometimes overwhelm you. This is diversity in its most comprehensive sense – geography, caste, religion, region, social standing, etc. You’ll meet people with incredible stories, crazy profiles and awesome personalities. Each person is a source of wisdom, intelligence and knowledge – in most cases how to be (and in a few, how not to be too :D).
  18. Treat everyone with respect – irrespective of their designation. It is quite natural that our newly acquired designation, fancy as it sounds, along with the power it entails, might disorient us and make our heads heavy, however treat even your subordinates with respect.
  19. Leave a legacy – to your institution, your service and your juniors. One of the fundamental problems in India is how bad we are at knowledge-transfer, thus causing your juniors to repeat the same mistakes you did. Committing the same mistakes is a crime. There should always be novelty, even in mistakes. :D
  20. Have loads of fun. Make the best use of your training. You have a challenging 2-3 decades ahead of you. Make good friends in your batch. When the chips are down or when drinks are on the house, there should always be a batchmate just a phone-call away.
All the very best! Bharat Sarkar welcomes you!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

From Books & Book-Worms to Conservatives & Liberals

Contrary to popular perception, I am not a particularly well-read guy. I am very nitpicky about books and don't have the patience to devote a chunk of time on any one cause at any point of time. Now this has been a source of much embarrassment for me, because for some reason (probably because I talk a lot or because I somehow successfully portray that I'm knowledgeable-because-I'm-well-read or both) people tend to assume I've read many books. On many occasions, I've not even heard of the book or the author. Enough of narcissism, onto the actual topic - despite being badly-read, I've always held books in high regard and well-read people in higher regard (don’t ask me why. Is that a bad premise to start off with – Probably. But indulge me for a bit). Sadly though, though I still swear by books and continue to try to have “reading books” in my “must-do” list, I can’t say the same about the latter. Now generalization is something we Indians love to do (for example . . . :D). But in the recent past, I’ve come across a lot of well-read people who have deeply disappointed me. As an individual, I place a lot of premium on attitude and behaviour – and I guess I can even go on to say that building both these constitute one of the essential goals of life. Which is probably why my attitude towards reading is – though reading in itself is a pleasurable and a quite praise-worthy activity, if your reading doesn’t help enhance your attitude and/or behaviour, it’s really a shame. Over the past many months, I’ve come across many well-read folks/book-worms who have exhibited one or more of the following –
  • Air of superiority – I don’t know how this comes about - whether it is because of the knowledge acquired by reading books or the conscious feeling of having read many books, but it is there.
  • Utter Conviction about their point of view – They are so convinced about the opinion they hold that there will not even be any seeds of doubt that will make them entertain or even consider a contrary point of view.
  • Contempt for people who are not well-read but who venture to voice their opinion on issues they might otherwise have knowledge on/exposure to.
  • Mad Obsession – I’m by-and-large a moderate in most spheres of life (*wink wink*) and a strong believer in balance and not being overly taken in or consumed by any one particular person, cause or event. So I find it a little disconcerting when I see folks reading their books with complete disregard for other potentially important things. For instance, I’ve seen folks immersed in books on deep philosophical/existential issues when there’s a poor Commissioner who’s travelled hundreds of kilometers just to handle a class on how to issue show-cause notices, how to stay honest, etc.
Initially I thought these were just outliers, but pretty much every well-read person I have come across unfailingly exhibited one or more of the afore-mentioned characteristics (Ok the sample-size is so small I won’t disclose it, but take my word for it, will you? :D).

*bias alert* Another interesting observation/hypothesis I have is that these well-read folks invariably tend to be liberal. Now I’m not sure if this liberal streak is a conscious or sub-conscious development. While it is a pretty agreeable generalization that conservatives are usually not well-read (Internet Trolls for example) and liberals are well-read, it’s also a shame because there is so much literature conservatives can lay their hands on, without fear of having their political orientation changed (this fear, I am told, is one of the many factors hindering conservatives from reading up). This also probably explains how/why though the “senior” conservatives are comparably (to “senior” liberals) well-read, your average-Joe conservative isn’t anywhere as well-read as your average-Joe lib.
[On a side-note, this is also probably why I tend to lean on the conservative side slightly more often than not. ;-)]

Now we get to another interesting observation – that of how the number of articles/blogs/social media posts by average-Joe liberals on contemporary issues is more than those by average-Joe conservatives (who are more comfortable sharing the few articles written supporting their point of view. Oh how convenient!) – Yakub Memon’s hanging being a case in point. What’s interesting about this is that online social activism costs but a few pennies and a few books/articles. A software engineer-by-day becomes an expert on Yakub Memon’s hanging by night because he’s read a few articles by “investigative” journalists about how Yakub bhai turned himself in voluntarily, RAW had a deal with him, etc. The only time you spend is on reading books/articles. You don’t need to spend valuable time doing research, collecting data or learning the nuances of law. Classic example for this being Shashi Tharoor’s fantastic conclusion that – given that from 1990-2000 there were more hangings as well as a higher incidence of murder while from 2000-2010, there was just one hanging and the murder rate had substantially reduced – hence capital punishment is *not* a deterrent for murder. QED.

I realize I have digressed. To an alarming extent at that. But let that not take away my fundamental grouse with the “well-read”, which is what I had wanted my post to be about when I started. :D

Confession: For a change, I’ll de-generalize and say that this attitude towards books I have talked about here is purely personal – that a direct outcome of reading books should be to improve one’s attitude/behaviour towards the world/people. I completely agree that people’s motivations to read voraciously might range from “acquiring knowledge for the heck of it” to “getting a high for no specific reason” to “acquiring knowledge to acquire an air of superiority” to “personality development”. Given this, each person is completely justified in being arrogant, supercilious, condescending, etc.
But UPSC clear kiya hoon yaar, well-read or not, opinion to rahega na!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Jai Bajrang Bali!

It is probably an indicator of the sorry state of Indian cinema (as a whole) that you're left wondering in amazement if you've really seen two back-to-back Indian movies that not only *didn't* make you cringe, but actually left you with a contented feel when you exited the cinema theatre.

Stripped to its bare essentials and bereft of all intellectual over-complications, a movie can be judged by how it left you feeling when you take those few steps from your seat in the movie hall till you exit the building. Unless you are one of a handful of people in this world, the probability of you reviewing the movie in those precious few minutes tends to one. And this is quite a definitive opinion to hold.
And by this method, both Baahubali​ and Bajrangi Bhaijaan​ are resounding successes.

Since reviews/opinions of Baahubali are dime a dozen and the fact that I agree, by and large, with most positive reviews, I'll dedicate this post only to #BajrangiBhaijaan.

Shortly after the movie starts, your first impressions of the movie (after, of course, noticing how cute the girl is) are -
1. Bhai's dance steps reminded me of Rajinikanth's dance moves ever since he turned 50. And what's with the constipated look? Was he trying to be funny, cute or both?
2. How Kareena Klux Klan is still eye-poppingly attractive in those chudidhars so many years after Jab We Met.
3. How it must be such a hard time to be a left-liberal these days - if Baahubali's not-only-unabashed but also in-your-face Hinduism wasn't enough, we now have Bhai playing a Hanuman-bhakt who keeps chanting "Jai Shri Ram", even to Pakistani Rangers. #BurreDin indeed. :D
4. Sallu bhai, however your subtle point about the RSS being a political body was not missed. Like at all. ;)

And then Harshaali Malhotra takes over. And HOW! Her initial cuteness is merely a smokescreen to unprepare you for how she would later tug at your heartstrings. We all know how humans have this inherent *inability* to *not* fall for cuteness in children (notwithstanding the "all children are cute" epithet). Now add generous doses of innocence to that cuteness (it may be personal, but innocence has always ranked high on my list of attractiveness). Top that with mind-blowing expressions for every situation. What you get is the simply irresistible visage of Shahida.
At some point in the 2nd half of the movie, you reach a stage where every time she appears on screen, you either go "Awww" or there's a few droplets lurking in the corner of your eyes (monsoon has officially set in, no? :) ). It doesn't help that the cuteness gets compounded by actions such as her piggybacking on Bhai, her head-shake, her hand-shake, her holding the corn, her dropping the corn on the road, her curled up next to Bhai, her recording him on the video camera - so that's basically most of the scenes she appears on screen - you get the drift right? The girl carries the entire film on her fragile shoulders. Politically incorrect though it might be, but the movie wouldn't have been half as effective had the girl even been half as cute. However, credit where due - simply being cute would hardly have sufficed. And that's where all that I've said above comes into the picture.

Sallu bhai has played very well. No not his role, but the overall scheme of things - a role which doesn't require much histrionics (KKK fell in love with him in approximately 4.5 minutes and 3 scenes) but allows him to express essential emotions at strategic locations - a fight, an intro dance - just about enough to establish his mass'ness.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui​ is officially my favouritest character artiste today. I have begun to adore him as much as I felt Irrfan Khan​ was overrated. The screen lights up every time he appears. Life's unfairness hits you when you see him and Salman Khan​ share screen-space and you realize how famous each person is.

And the rest - well Harshaali is simply awesome to take over. But credit again to Sallu bhai for choosing such a script. By the end of the movie, there would probably have been 3 people in the movie hall who didn't shed a tear - all 3 being the security personnel waiting to show directions.

A movie has won if the audience know what's going to happen in the climax but are waiting for that exact same thing to happen with the eagerness of a child - which is exactly what happens here.

With all the essential ingredients taken care of (Harshaali, her looks, her expressions, her actions), the director just needed to ensure he didn't mess up the other aspects. And he doesn't.
A movie with an excuse for a story, a superstar for a hero and an angel for everything else - #BajrangiBhaijaan is a tear-jerker alright but a tearing succcess all the way!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

To two Gentlemen Officers With Respect

"Officer-Like Qualities" or "OLQ" are one of the first things one hears of after entering the Services. Though there exists no textbook definition for the same, by popular perception, it is identified and understood. If you are one for discipline, sincerity and a stickler for rules, you are in for a rude surprise when you enter the Services. As much as it requires passion, dedication and consistent effort to get in, sadly, once inside, very little of that translates to behaviour *towards* the Service. It isn't about implicit acceptance of the System (however 'flawed' it may be) as it is about respecting the rules of an institution.

These days, it appears as if the default "setting" in many individuals is "unacceptance" of established rules (as opposed to norms, convention, etc.). While not wearing sunglasses when receiving the Prime Minister might be a norm, attending classes regularly, avoiding usage of phones during classes, attending PT's in the morning, etc. are closer to "rules". Besides, incorrect thought it may be, there is this tendency to think that obedience to these rules, especially in a severely lax environment, reflects the sense of idealism and commitment an officer has (to have) - towards the service, society and nation.

Swapnil Tembe and Prianceu Pandey are two of those rare officers with full possession of such "Officer-Like Qualities". I am not sure if his ITBP background (in Swapnil's case) contributed to his officer-like persona or if he has always been this way, but both were among the few who you could look up to - a constant in the morning PT sessions notorious for mass bunking, two guys who stood by the very principles you came to the Service expecting to see - be it in attending classes or not using unfair means during the exams or back-biting about other batch-mates. They were two of the few who shared my sense of idealism - towards the Service, Department and the Nation, despite a bleak outlook for especially the first 2. Barely 2 days ago, we were talking about how it'd be great if this "idealism"-based group (of 5-6 of us) could be together in whichever service we got/remained and promote/propagate it. Fortunately or unfortunately, Swapnil was the only one to get into the IAS, while Prianceu got into the IPS. But fate has its way of binding people and both these chaps ended up with the same cadre.

In a batch notorious for its delinquent behaviour and studious violation of rules, principles and general sense of idealism, Swapnil and Prianceu gave hope as fellow comrades - someone whose thoughts you could echo, someone with whom you could share your disillusionment without fear of being ostracized as an "inconvenient idealist", "pro-establishment guy", etc.

Farewell Swapnil and Prianceu, both of you were people I had (and will continue to have) tremendous respect for - the two of you were right on top of the list of people I wanted to get through to the next stage - be it IAS or IPS. I am sure you two will make fabulous officers. Have that sense of idealism running high and remember our motley group of "idealists". Would love to exchange notes with you two from time to time and look forward to working with you guys some time in the future!

One Final Time . . .

5 hours. 300 minutes. Or thereabouts. The tension. The anticipation. The exhilaration. One final time. There are moments in your life when it all boils down to one specific incident. At the risk of over-hyping UPSC (technically, it's "just another part of life", "exam", etc. Yeah right. Try telling it to the 3000-odd folks who gave the interview :D), one has to admit that these moments do impart that extra zing to life. You know...adrenalin rush and all that.

30 is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, it signals coming out of experimenting with life (that's how I'm thinking of it right now at least ;)). I know there will definitely be more exams. I know there will be more moments of tension. Hell, there might (or definitely will) even be a life-altering event or two. But few that will come announced-yet-unannounced. Few that would have had your prepare for years. Few that would have 3000 others waiting with bated breath, with you. And to add to the intrigue, UPSC announces, probably for the first time, the exact date the result would be out.

Which brings me back to these twenty hours.

Truly one of a kind. Irrespective of what happens at the end of these 20 hours, and I know I'm repeating myself, What a pulsating journey it has been.

May the best man (ok woman too)! smile emoticon

*tick tock* *tick tock* *tick tock*

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Adieu NACEN!

I wonder if it is the inherently sentimental nature of us Indians that even 5-odd months are enough for us to get attached to a place. Or it might be the kind of people you meet and/or the kind of involvement you had in the activities of the place. For many of us folks who joined the Academy with a passion to be part of ‪#‎BharatSarkar‬, the National Academy of Customs, Excise & Narcotics, Faridabad was our first brush with bureaucracy. And it was disappointing, exciting, motivating, fun - all at once. But of all the things Academy was, the sense of warmth it induced in us - it gave us the feeling of belonging and ownership only a family member can.

What friends we made! What fun we had! What (all) stuff we did! But yes, I must admit that though I did make a few *good* friends, I could never quite get those one or two *inseparable* friends - (you know, the kind whose company you can't live without *and* [more importantly :D], the kind who love your company just as much!), whether for good or bad, I don't know, leading me to occasionally wonder if I should've spent more time on people around me than the plethora of activities I was involved in. Khair, being in Bangladesh, I did try my best (or at least that's what I would like to think wink emoticon. Plus anyhow, I did have tons of other wonderful company - be it the guard-dogs which barked me all the way back to my room at night from Alaknanda or the beautiful little squirrels chasing one another across the road or the mynaahs that kept chirping away to glory.

Starting with early-morning PT's in the freezing cold at the tennis court, then shifting to neighbouring Police Lines, frantic rush to get attendance (and in some cases, put proxy...sshhhh!), finally dwindling to just 2 or 3. :D)

No post on NACEN, Faridabad is complete without mention of the stupendous Mess food we had, so ably managed by our wonderful Mess Committee (shortly to be elected unopposed in Hyderabad) - such delicious food that any PT we did would be immediately compensated for!

Well, I guess that's enough nostalgia and emotion for 5 months. I know we're going to be coming back for our refresher in another 6 months (or not! wink emoticon, but our first love will always remain our deepest, truest and most heart-rending love. And for all of us from the current batch for whom NACEN, Faridabad was our first destination in #BharatSarkar, it will be our first love.

Adieu, NACEN! You will be missed, if only for a while, but loved . . . always!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Buying my peace

Assuming the journey began in August 2011 when I officially started preparing (June 2010 if you consider my return to India for the Services), it is with a sense of relief, fondness and of course, the inevitable regret that I reach closure. Exactly a year ago, I got selected into the Services and just short of 1 day to the year, I have had my final tryst with UPSC. Though I started off aspiring for the Foreign Services (which has hence been overshadowed by the Administrative Services smile emoticon ), I have realized that there is much constructive work that I can do in the Revenue Services as well. The constant sense of negativity and dissing of the Service by a few "blessed" souls notwithstanding wink emoticon , I am confident that as long as one is resourceful, motivated and initiative-driven even in our blessed service, there is much we can achieve, both at a personal as well as professional level. I would definitely have liked to sign off on a high, but what with yesterday's semi-disaster of an interview, I realize fairy tales like Ivanisevic's Wimbledon are, but rare. Besides, in the words of a friend, in the pursuit of a "better" service, we overlook the basic point of "public" service that we are here for.
Farewell UPSC, it has been a memorable journey with you! Though I did feel shortchanged on both the occasions I was privileged enough to enter your hallowed portals, and despite a few complaints about your process, I have nothing but respect for you.

Friday, June 12, 2015

My 2nd (and Final) UPSC Interview

Date: 11th June, 2015
Session: Afternoon
Board: Vice Admiral D.K.Dewan

Chairman – Can you tell me your roll number?
Me - ******
C – So K*****k, are you working currently? Let me see, ah so you are in the Trade Services?
Me – Sir, I was allotted the Trade Service, but I have since been upgraded to IRS (Customs)

C –      1. Can you explain the issues with drones?
            [Vague answer. Mentioned privacy concerns, regulatory issues. Thought security
concerns were applied, mentioned in passing. He seemed interested in Security &
2. In the Arab Spring, which are the biggest and smallest countries?
[Answered Egypt and Tunisia. Apparently smallest nation was Bahrain.]
3. Are you sure? What about Bahrain? What is the name of the square in Bahrain?
[Had no idea about the Square in Bahrain. He compared it to a more famous
square where a massacre happened. I answered Tiananmen Square. One of the
members asked the square in Egypt. I answered Tahrir Square]
4. Ok, which are the countries in the Arab Spring which were ruled by monarchs
and which by dictators?
[Started off with Hosni Mobarak, answered Monarch, then changed to Military
Ruler. Somehow didn’t go farther.]
5. Do you know about India’s strategic oil reserves? How much quantity of oil
reserves do we have?
[I didn’t really understand reserve. Answered Bombay High & KG Basin. Turns
out he was specifically expecting “reserves”. And location of our strategic
reserves are in Vizag, my birthplace.]

M1 –    1. You have read the Customs Act. Can you tell me which are all the
organizations that are empowered under the Customs Act to use its laws?
[I could think of only NCB. I asked him a few more questions about NDPS Act,
arrest provisions, etc. but organizations none other.]
2. You are from Vizag. In recent times, there have been extremes of floods along
the AP/Orissa coast. Why do you think this is happening?
[Global Warming, Climate Change, El Nino.]
3. While the loss of life has been minimal, there has been significant loss of
resources, amounting to many thousands of crores. Why do you think this is
[Regulations are in place, but not followed. Gave example of Uttarakhand floods
where many homes/buildings built close to the river bank were washed away. He
asked if we didn’t have regulations. I said we do, but they are not followed.
Implementation and regulation was an issue.]

M3 (Lady) –    1. You have worked at **** as a Software Developer. What kind of
software did you develop there? (then repeats the question for my 2nd
[Trading Software to enable proprietary traders to trade in the market]
2. How will you use this experience in your Customs Department?
[Gave example of NIDB, prediction of potential smuggling cases]
3. Can you give specific examples?
[Gave a small example wrt shady importers importing small amounts of a
commodity frequently.]
4. Who was awarded the Bharat Ratna recently? What was his
contribution? He has a major contribution.
[Of all the people, I remembered only Malviya and totally forgot
Vajpayee. Told Malviya was a great educationist. Didn’t tell he founded
BHU. When the member prodded me and told he founded something, I
finally blurted out BHU.]
5. Your department is notorious for having a large number of cases getting
quashed by the higher judiciary. Why does this happen?
[Answered that 2 reasons – 1. Our officials do not follow the procedure
meticulously leading to many good cases being washed out on
technicalities. She asked if problem with law. Specifically told her that
law is fine, just that people are not careful enough to follow procedure
meticulously. 2. Superiors do not strike down frivolous cases for fear of
vigilance action, hence many bad cases reach higher courts and get struck
down there.]

M2 –    1. You have been in the US for 4 years. You also have Public Administration. Can
you give my out-of-the-box (repeats this to stress on it) solutions for public
service delivery?
[Explained that main problem in service delivery is presence of middlemen. Gave
a convoluted solution of having an efficient e-Governance system where
consumer can file requests online, where it is processed without human
intervention. Also, a token number is generated for each customer which reaches
the head (say Commissioner, Collector, etc) who checks on a periodic basis, how
many pending, why a certain case wasn’t completed on promised time.]
2. Your suggestion is already implemented in some places but hasn’t seen any
major success. There are many states currently legislating on public service
delivery. Can you explain how effective they are in some states?
[This was too detailed and vague, flatly said I hadn’t seen any such schemes at
ground level to comment.]
3. Recently, an American broke a World Record. Do you know what it is?
[I had no idea. Asked him if it would be Michael Phelps. He said it was in Athletics. Then I thought maybe he wrongly thought Usain Bolt was an American. Wasn't Bolt either. Then asked me if I knew where the 2008 Olympics was in. I said Beijing.]

C - Do you know a recent news about Michael Phelps?
[I said I didn't. Apparently, Phelps is participating in the 2016 Olympics after 8 years.]

M4 –    1. You were a “Student Orientation Leader” at Illinois Institute of Technology.
Can you elaborate what you did there?
[Helping new students get used to surroundings, help them complete paper-work,
explain US culture, enable them to acclimatize, show them around Chicago, etc.]
But that is not the definition of a “leader”.
[Just smiled.]
2. You have studied Computer Science. Can you tell me what are some of the
recent developments in Server Technology?
[Crazy random. Had no idea about servers. Just blurted out that latest technology
in servers was servers that let out much lesser heat and didn’t need AC’s. He went
on to PC’s that heated up. I explained about processors and heat sinks. Basically
meandered there.]

C –      1. Tell me who wrote the US Constitution and when.
            [Could only remember Benjamin Franklin. Date was towards end of 1700’s.]
            2. Do you know how far is Cuba from the US?
            [I said Cuba was very close to US, but I wasn’t sure of exact distance. He was
surprised and asked me if I had not visited southern part of US. I told I’d been to
the East & West coasts, but not to the southern coast. Interview ended abruptly
there. He said “you can go”.]

My Take –

Very average at best and borderline disaster at worst. Though most of the questions pertained to my background, somehow they were never close to my strengths or were so vague that I couldn’t come up with a convincing answer (or at least one that I was satisfied with). Plus a whole lot of factual questions that I either messed up or didn’t know much about. Halfway through, I was visualizing IAS & IFS slipping away from my hands. Will be a miracle if I cross 170. Personally, I’d be happy if I got last year’s score.

[For the transcript of my interview last year (ironically with the same board), click here.]

Sunday, May 10, 2015

UPSC and My Best Friend

UPSC preparation is never a solo-effort. There are so many people who have contributed to your preparation, directly or indirectly, one way or the other. Arguably the one guy who both backed me to the hilt in my (potentially crazy) decision to return to India to prepare for the Services *and* helped me in much of my preparation is @keshyperion
Particularly in the one year when I spent working as a Probationary Officer in a govt bank in a remote village in Tamil Nadu with a population of some 800 people with 8 hours of power cuts everyday and hardly any net access around, my one link to the outside world (apart from my phone) was my bank email. In the bank, only the intranet would work, apart from official email. What @keshyperion used to do (rather, I made him do :P) was to meticulously copy-paste all mrunal articles (the daily email digest contained only a snippet of the full article) by email, apart from other UPSC-related links I used to send him (almost on a daily basis).
Why am I reminiscing this now? I had an epiphany when, over the past few days, during the course of interview preparation, I've been asking him to email/DM me the many links shared on whatsapp in the groups so I can read the articles properly (for the uninitiated, my phone is such a collector's item that apart from whatsapp & fb, using any other app would eat into its memory and cause it to stop working. When today's smart phone-sizes are in terms of GB's and screen-sizes are in terms of 5-7 inches, my vintage item has a grand total of 15 MB for internal memory and a screen size of 2.4 inches, respectively. For whatever reason, I'm obstinately sticking on to it. :D).
And then I realized that I'd never officially ever thanked him. As they say, better late than never, no? But then again, with best friends, thanks are hardly needed, are they? smile emoticon

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bitten by the Bombay Bug!

In a memorable coincidence, on our way back from Shirdi/Nashik early Sunday morning, on the last day of our attachment, just as we had paid the last toll and were entering Mumbai, the MP3 player started playing “Bombay Bombay- Tararararumpum”. Little would anyone have thought that in a matter of just 2 weeks, we would be overcome by so much nostalgia and emotion – the city does this to you – and *that*, coming from a die-hard Chennai’ite, is quite something.

Here’s a quick recap of what I did over the last 2 weeks, apart from hectic work-days, gold seizures, interrogations and snooping that is. wink emoticon
Day 1 – First Vada Pav
Day 2 – Kailash Parbat + Marine Drive
Day 3 – Siddhi Vinayak + Bandra_Shopping + Carter Road
Day 4 – Bade Miyan + NH10 Premiere
Day 5 – Mahalakshmi + Haji Ali + Gulshan-e-Iran
Day 6 – Some_ mall_in_Bandra + Service Dinner
Day 7 – Daman
Day 8 – Juhu Beach + ISKCON + Santa Cruz + Carter Road (again)
Day 9 – [Airport Night Shift]
Day 10 – CST + Holy Pilgrimage of Mumbai Local at Peak Hours
Day 11 – Mumba Devi + Gateway + Leopold Café + Taj + Double-Decker
Day 12 – Farewell Call on C’s/ADC’s
Day 13 – Shirdi + Nashik + Shani Shingnapur
Day 14 – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Maratha Mandir) + Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (Rajdhani Express)

What I find immensely satisfying is that on most days, I returned to the academy much after 12 AM and travelled by the local as much as possible. Though I find it a little embarrassing that having spent 2 weeks in Mumbai, not a single disco/pub finds mention in my “hung out” list, given that I’ve been occupied enough even otherwise, I think I’m excused.
grin emoticon
Being part of Zone 3 meant that our default_hangout_group size was reduced to 5, but despite that, I did manage to spend time with many others as well. The only regret I have is that I couldn’t spend more time with more people. Still, I loved the time I spent with whoever I got to. 
smile emoticon
Wherever there was company, it was wonderful and wherever there wasn’t, I could tolerate myself enough not to feel bored or irritated. grin emoticon

On the professional front, the Mumbai attachment well-and-truly marks our arrival into the Service – while we had our share of fun, it is the work ethic that we learnt in this city that impressed upon most of us.
As the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani chugs out of Mumbai Central, each of us is sure to have left a small part of us behind and taken a large part of Mumbai with us, hopefully thopefully to return some time in the not-so-distant future.
smile emoticon

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Tale of Two Best Friends

Exhibit 1
It was yet another busy morning for friend and her husband - cooking, packing lunch for work, getting their 1-year-old kid ready for playschool and themselves getting ready. Yet, something was amiss. Li'l S, usually pretty sure-footed, was falling once too often. Once, twice, thrice and R was getting exasperated at this regular tripping of his lovely daughter. He exchanged quizzical looks with B, who, despite sharing her husband's concern, had little to add to the mystery of S's trippy day. But then, work beckoned and both got going. Though both worked in the same company, they went separately for logistical reasons. B reaches work first and gets a call from hubby R - "You're such a sweetheart and I love you so much." B, despite knowing something was amiss given that such an early-morning-expression-of-love-over-phone was happening, couldn't help but blush 2 shades of red. Then recovers from the assault and "What happened, R?"
R - "I just dropped S off at the playschool. And guess what, she tripped a couple of times here as well. That's when Mrs.C (the caretaker) figured out that you, my sweetheart, had interchanged her shoes."
Exhibit 2
It was a regular evening. K was returning by the air-conditioned public bus after yet another exhausting week. "TGIF", he muttered to himself as he hopped on to the bus, head-phones in place. After settling into his seat and ensuring the Harry Potter audio book started playing, he quickly attained office-commute-moksha. So intense was his sleep that an even more intense dream ensued in double-quick time - where a thief locks his arms (he's in the bus in the dream also) from behind, ensuring he can't move. Our friend, though bulky of build, demonstrated uncharacteristic suppleness and in one swift move, straightened his arms so they slipped out of the thief's lock and once free, acquired a 90-degree shape and whammed into the thief's ear, knocking him out cold.
The next thing K knew - he heard his neighbour cry out loud, shattering both his dream and his sleep. K had just delivered a stunning elbow-slam to his co-passenger. Outside of the dream.
With best friends like these, who needs TV Sitcoms or Movies for entertainment?