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!