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.]