My religion

In the absolute blindness of the night
When i cannot recognise who is the one next to me
I gaze upon the starry sky…
This is not what I have seen in the countless nights since my birth
The numbers are mind blowing
Some shine bright; maybe a young one
Or one nearing it’s death
Some seem ages away,
Having died since it let this light which I see
The constellations which I can make out shine out of the background

I gaze upon with overwhelming humility
The sight that has inspired the most illustrious of my ancestors
Lying on green meadows and on top of buildings,
The best of my tribe has asked themselves
The questions that would become the beginnings of the scientific method

The boom, the bang and everything afterwards,
The creation of galaxies and planetary systems
The birth and death of stars and all it’s descendants
The smelting of all elements from the concoction of hydrogen and helium
I see everything unfold in front of my eyes,
Through the collective wisdom of all my tribe
I do not feel small or worthless
I feel big and strong
I do not feel like a cog in a wheel
But an explorer charting my own course
The sight doesn’t overwhelm me
But fill me with the need to unravel the millions of mysteries that yet remain

Oh Galileos and Copernicuses,
You are my prophets and the product of your thoughts, my religion!

Welcome to the land of coconuts

Land in any airport in Kerala and you will be welcomed by the lush green canopy of the coconut trees. So unlike many other places, even outsiders dont face any issue in identifying the origin of the name of this beautiful stretch of land, Kerala; The land of Kera or coconuts. Malayalees are an enterprising class. Contrary to popular perception, it is not that we work hard only outside the state. Such misconceptions arise only because of the inability of others to understand the intricate way in which the Malayalee mind works. The basic thumb rule is as follows: when outside Kerala, the Malayalee works hard; when inside Kerala, he get things to work for him. It was this that led our great grandfathers to discover the potential of the coconut tree and plant them all over Kerala and even name the place as such. It is undoubtedly a wonder tree. Every bit of the tree can be put to good economic use: the nut, the husk, the wood and so on. But the best part is yet to come. You get one of the best form of natural liquor from the coconut tree called kallu. Now I guess you have got a feel of how the Malayalee mind works.

The story seems to lead to a happy ending. But there is a twist. For the benefits that you get from the coconut tree, there is one huge problem. The tree grows upto a height of 30 m on average. The nut weighs around 1.5 kg. A fully grown nut when it falls down will touch the ground at around 80 km/hr velocity. At this speed and weight, dont have any misconception, a falling nut can be your ticket to the other world. As the canopy spreads out, a radial distance of 2 metres from the trunk can be safely classified as ‘High risk zone’ and a further 1 metre can be classified as ‘Potential high risk zone’. So far I have talked only about falling nuts. If your head is fortunate enough to intercept the path of a falling coconut leaf, (this requires a footnote for the uninitiated. A falling leaf brings very pleasant imageries in our minds. But the leaf in question here is a bunch of leaves connected by a truck. It weighs some 10-15 kgs. So a falling coconut leaf is just as good as a falling tree) your loved ones will be spared of the expenses of burial. The safety hazards are so scary that this happened when Barack Obama visited India in 2010.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11684382

But still we plant it everywhere. Not just in groves and plantations but on front of and behind our houses, in front of commercial complexes and so on. Even when the economic return from the sale of the nut has come crashing down, we keep on planting. The emotional attachment is also playing its part here.To obviate the concerns on the potential risks posed by the tree, our great grandfathers created a proverb also (the intricate malayalee mind at work). ‘Thengu Chathikilla’, The coconut tree will not betray you. So you hear countless stories of how the coconut fell just inches away or the leaf coming crashing down a few seconds after the person left the place etc.

But all these beliefs and concern for the tree breaks down the moment your neighbour’s coconut tree mischievously pokes its head into your compound. The infamous hypocrisy of the Malayalee at work? Sociologists need to go deep into this. People start running from pillar to post to get the tree out of his compound. Starting from the panchayat to invoking the provisions under section 133 of CrPC, some even go upto the High court filing a writ petition. This is independent of the number of coconut tree present in his own compound. Risk to kids playing in the compound, damage to the roof tiling…The arguments and counter arguments just dont end. This is disservice to our great grandfathers who discovered a tree as great as this and even went to the extent of finding a proverb to displace possible fears.

But dont worry, the Malayalee mind has already started to work on this. We have not only identified rubber as our next big crop, but even leads the country in terms of research and better cultivars, something very rare to find in the agricultural scene of the country. Rubber meets all the conditions previously set by the coconut tree: good returns, the whole tree can be put into good use and so on without any of the safety hazards posed by the former. No falling death traps, no need of any reassuring proverbs. No wonder that coconut groves across the state is being replaced by rubber plantations. So do
not be surprised if you find the state named as ‘Rubberum’ some 100 years from now. It is just the Malayalee mind at its best.

Confessions of a battered suitcase

This is an extract of the privileged communication i had with my faithful VIP suitcase which carried my heavy luggage during our mandatory Winter study tour as a part of our professional training to become able administrators…

I was born in a hot, crowded and happening factory somewhere in the outskirts of Nagpur. Even before I could figure out what was happening, I was transported to a small, sleepy town called Palakkad where I waited with my siblings for someone to come and adopt me. I am a VIP suitcase and I am going to tell you my adventures in the last two months when my owner took me on a journey of a lifetime.

I waited for days and months on end but no one chose me. “This suitcase is too big”, most of them would declare. My long wait ended when this boyish looking guy came with his dad to get a big suitcase. My owner was a new recruit to the Indian Administrative Service named Gokul. Others said. ‘He will take you around the world during his official tours’, my peers said with a tinge of envy. I was happy beyond words. But he had other plans for me. As soon as I landed up in Mussoorie carrying almost 40kg of his things, he locked me up in a corner of his cupboard. He went for treks, village visits and other outings. He took my friends, the black American Tourister bag or the Reebok backpack on these journeys. I lay in one corner, unnoticed. On December 16, I was taken out and once again stuffed with things. I weighed around 30 with that. I thought Gokul was going home. It was when I was taken up to the academic area on that night that I knew that I was going for a two month study tour across the nation.

While there were only 16 Officer Trainees in our group, there were around 50 of my compatriots for the two month adventure. These included the ‘twice born’ laptop bags also. They were never kept on the floor and always enjoyed the coziness of their owners lap. Let me introduce some quirky characters in our group. One is the fake Jaguar bag which Anugraha madam picked up from somewhere in the busy corner of Karol Bagh. Being a fakie, he was mistreated so badly that he can’t even stand properly on his feet now. My peers were the American Tourister and Samsonite bags which belonged to Dr. Vijaykumar and Aravind. We were the biggest in the group and always supported the rest of the group when we were fitted into the luggage compartment during our tours. There was this bag that belonged to Sourabh Raj that was just 3/4th of my size but carried at least 5 kilos extra.  Some of them always ended up on the heads of porters in the railway station but I was always carried around by my owner.

My first adventure came with the army attachment with the Gorkha rifles in the northern part of Sikkim. I was put on a 2.5 tonner truck along with my heavier compatriots. We were escorted by the soldiers of the Madras Regiment on the journey. The full day journey from New Jalpaiguri to Lachung was tiring but the company of the soldiers who kept on telling about their adventures in Kashmir kept all of us entertained. They told us that in case of an emergency this was the same route that would be taken by our soldiers to reach the borders while the Chinese soldiers can reach the border in half the time from Lhasa. Our owners seemed to have forgotten us and sped away in Innovas. So we took our sweet time and stopped to enjoy the beauty of the Teesta valley as we progressed along its banks.

I hate air travel. You will be unattended for a long time and the staff throws you around like anything. On top of all these you will be thrashed for being overweight. Fortunately most of our travel was by train. Gokul would bind me to the rail berth to prevent some unsuspecting souls to explore what secrets I am holding. The few air journeys turned out to be eventful. The first one was the journey between Guwahati and Aizawl.  My owner frantically took out stuff from me and filled it in his Reebok backpack. The Reebok was bloating with things sticking out on all sides and reduced my weight to 20 kg. But on reaching the airport, it was found that the free limit was 15 kg. This prompted more frantic rearrangement and I was looking sleek at 16kg. The aircraft was a sight to behold. It was a small ATR 42-300, a trifle larger than a mini-bus. The cargo cabin was like that of a Volvo bus. It felt more like a chartered flight as the cargo cabin contained just 2-3 bags other than 25 of us. One of the rare occasion in which we were treated good in a flight. I hope our owners in the flight cabin were also treated well. After all, Air India is in serious financial crisis as per newspaper reports and you can’t expect they airhostesses to be pleasing when they have not been paid their salaries for the last 2 months.

Another interesting thing happened during the flight from Port Blair to Chennai. This time the trainees decided to pool in their luggage and do group check in. I tried warning them of the possible free rider problem that may crop up due to this. I overheard this while they were doing combined studies for the FC exam. The final weight tally came to around 40 Kgs in excess of the free limit and they were made to pay Rs.10,000 for that. While people were vey careful in the previous journeys and carried 2-3 hand baggage, many were simply strolling into the aircraft this time carrying just a book. I think they deserve the amount lost for the carelessness.

Getting all us out at railway stations was a major task and let me tell you that within 1-2 stations, the trainees had devised a fool proof and efficient way to do this. The task became more difficult when the stoppage time in the station is 1-2 minutes and we had to give way for passengers to board also. This was put to test in Chandrapur station in Maharashtra where the stop was only for a minute. We were split into two groups and were taken out through the two exits of the compartment. One trainee would hand a bag down to another standing down. He will hand it to the next one who will keep it away from the train. I timed the whole process once and they were able to completely take out around 50 bags and 16 people in 55 seconds. Necessity surely takes efficiency to newer heights.

Uttar Pradesh sprang up a different surprise. There were around 10 policemen to receive us at the railway station, some of them armed. In a land where lawlessness is the law and people get killed in open daylight, I wondered why such a huge contingent was needed just to escort ‘not even confirmed’ trainees holding no independent responsibility to their hotels. We had lesser number of people guarding our backs in the naxal affected Gadchiroli. But of course, IAS officers know their job and U.P is supposedly the best cadre. So I guess I will find out the reason sometime later during my long association with my owner.

I got back to Mussoorie after a short visit home on 19th February, 2012 with just a few minor scratches and discolorations here and there. It was an incredible 2 month journey when I travelled over the mountains and the seas and saw people and places I may never see again. I hope my owner takes me out for more such adventures as he is getting ready to lock up in a similar cupboard two floors above my old room. Till then, Adios…

Public Administration for CSE

Disclaimer: Let me start off by posting a disclaimer!! The preparation strategy and methods for Public administration varies from person to person. This is my experience with Pubad which gave me 337 in my first attempt without coaching. <Disclaimer ends>

Public Administration is one of the most popular optionals in the civil services exam. It has a very short syllabus and it overlaps with the syllabus for general studies. Also, a good understanding of the topics in paper 2 can help you in essay and interview also.

The preparation strategy and books varies between people, but from what I understood, the focus should be on understanding the basics, supplementing it with recent developments and reports and presenting it properly. Answer writing is a very important part of Pubad preps. Sufficient time should be devoted to this before you go for the mains. Even if you manage to attempt all questions, the quality of answers can stretch the range of your marks between around 280 to 360.

It’s advisable to use as less standard books as possible. Questions in paper 2 and in section B of paper 1 will be general in nature. Make notes on all the topics mentioned in the syllabus and be ready to answer any question that may come from that topic. For eg, The syllabus says ‘Citizen Charter’. The questions on that topics may be ‘How does citizen charter help in reducing corruption’, ‘Has Citizen charter empowered the ordinary citizen vis-a-vis the govt. employee’ etc. Your notes on citizen charter should give you the basic idea to tackle this question while your answer should be spot-on. It should not be a short note on citizen chapter, but a crisp, direct answer to the question.

Book List

Paper 1

  • Public Administration : Theory and Practice By Sharma & Sadhana
  • Administrative Thinkers By Prasad & Prasad
  • New Horizons of Public Administration by Mohit Bhatacharya
Paper 2
  • Indian Public Administration by Ramesh Arora & Rajani Goyal
  • Indian Adminstration by S R Maheswari
  • Reports of 2nd ARC
  • Other recent reports of administrative reforms committees

I read a few topics which are missing in these books from the BPA material of IGNOU. Check out previous years’ papers to see how questions are asked in every sections.

Strategy

As the questions asked are mostly general in nature, I thought of using as less text books as possible and write general answers quoting from current affairs and recent reports. The problem with PubAd is that most of the aspirants would have read these books already and thus writing good answers can be a difficult proposition. So try to improve as much as possible.

1. Studying:

Paper 1 : Sharma & Sadhana is a fat book that contains almost all the topics of PubAd. There are other fat books like Fadia & Fadia. Please stick to one of these fat books. Read topic wise from these books rather than going cover to cover. Add on to that by reading the relevant sections from Mohit Bhatacharya and IGNOU material. IGNOU material will have good diagrams also. All the chapters of Administrative thinkers have to be studied except for the one on Karl Marx.

Paper 2: A good understanding about the constitution is needed for this paper. This would be already covered if you have read DD Basu. Use Goyal & Arora for studying about Chanakya, Mughul administration and evolution of Indian Administration. For the other topics, read from Goyal & Arora and read the relevant section of 2nd ARC. ARC has given constructive solutions to the major administrative problems that we face. For eg, under the topic, ‘District Administration’, Goyal & Arora will give you an idea about district administration in India and will highlight the major issues. The report of the ARC will give you the solutions for these problems. Hence the report can be a major add-on.

2. Answer writing

  • Write crisp introductions. Finish it off in 2-3 sentences for 20 markers. Write a small paragraph for 30 marker and a fairly large paragraph for 60 marker.
  • I started off in a paragraph. Then wrote under various sub-headings and then concluded in a paragraph.
  • In the body, be precise and to the point. DONT BEAT AROUND THE BUSH.
  • Draw some diagram for every question. Even basic block diagrams is fine. After all there is no harm in adding a diagram. You can prepare some diagrams under some topics before hand. Use your imagination and believe me, Google image search will also help.
  • Conclude by putting forth your view again to the question asked.
  • Use your GS knowledge extensively while writing. Write from an Indian perspective. Quote examples from recent happenings as much as possible.

That is pretty much all that i did. I spent more time on Physics. I did self-evaluation for my answers after K.Biju (IAS, 2006) gave a broad idea about answer writing. I could see my answers improving. You can take professional help at this stage or if confident, go for self-evaluation. All the best!!

Cost analysis of civil services preparation : Is the fees charged by coaching institutes justified

Option one: You study back home

1. General Studies

Books : Rs. 3000 – 4000

Newspapers : Rs. 250 monthly ( Total : 6000 for 2 years; you will anyway subscribe, whether you are preparing or not)

Periodicals : Rs. 650 for frontline (2 years) + Rs.900 for EPW ( one year)

Net connection : 250 per month ( Total : 6000; you will anyway subscribe, whether you are preparing or not)

Total Cost : Around 17000 ( over 2 years )

Total Extra cost : Rs. 6000 maximum (minus newspaper and net )

2. Optionals:

Books: 4-5 books for humanities optionals  ( Mostly Indian Authors). Total cost : Not more than Rs. 3000.

7-8 books for science optionals. Total cost: Not more than Rs. 5000 ( If you are not downloading pirated copies).

Total Extra cost : Rs. 14000 ( Highly liberal estimate and spend over 2 years). Use library, old books or pirated copies and you can bring that down to a few thousand rupess.

Option two : You go to Delhi to attend coaching.

1. Coaching fees :

G.S : Rs, 50,000

Optionals : Rs. 30,000 each

Total : Rs. 1,10,000 (spot payment)

2. Periodicals, newspapers, net for personal use : Rs. 13,000 over 2 years.

3. High rent and cost of living : Around 10k every month.

Total extra Cost : Around 3 Lakhs ( Conservative estimate; multiply with no.of  failed attempts, extra fee for extra coaching etc). And even after paying such huge, exorbitant costs, the quality of teaching ( as i get to know from fellow aspirants) may not always be up to the mark.

Preparing General Studies for civil services

A good base in general knowledge is important for clearing the civil services exam and for the career ahead. As i had mentioned in a previous post, this job requires broad-based people with a good understanding of the things happening around them. As far as the exam is considered, 600 marks in the GS papers + 200 in essay + 300 in interview depends on your general knowledge base. And off late, the second paper in Public administration is more like a GS paper 3. Thus around 1100-1400 marks depends directly on your general knowledge base.

Preparation for general studies is composed of two parts:

  • Conventional topics.
  • General knowledge and current affairs.
Before I go into the books, some general points on preparation and approach:
  • Make notes as you read. It’s impossible to come back to the text books during revision. Notes should be so comprehensive that once you are done, you would not have to take the text-book again.
  • The basic approach should be STUDY-REVISE-IMPROVISE.
  • Dont use guides, standard preparatory material or NCERT text books.
  • Keep on referring to previous years papers to check if you have missed any topic.
  • Prepare for the subjective papers ( i.e mains). Note down extra facts for the prelims as you make descriptive notes. Prelims is just a necessary evil.

Conventional Topics:

It is composed of:

1. Indian History :

Pre-modern history (before Europeans) has lost significance. Last year no questions were asked in mains. Besides, it is too bulky and is not worth the effort. One need to have a good understanding of the National movement(1800s-1947).

One also need to study about the expansion and the decline of the other Europeans, the expansion of British empire and the administrative development in India during the British period ( 1650-1857). Try to get some book on Indian History from the library to make short notes. Brief notes will do for this section.

2. Geography:

Use NCERT books only for geography. Non- geography optional students don’t have to go in-depth. Read

  • Indian Geography ( NCERT class XI)
  • Fundamentals of physical geography (NCERT class XI)

Google and make notes on unfamiliar terms you may come across in the newspapers.

3. Indian Constitution:

Any good book on the constitution is fine. ‘Introduction to the constitution of India‘  by D.D. Basu is the book that i used. Read it also cover to cover.

4. Indian Economy:

One needs to know about some basic terms of economics like repo rate, reverse repo, CRR, SLR etc. These are needed for understanding articles in newspapers also. Just google them when you come across then in the papers and keep a separate note-book. Read one good book on Indian economy. I used Indian economy  by Dutt & Sundaram. The book by Uma Kapila is also a good one. In both of these books, each chapter deals with an issue. So make notes keeping in mind the requirements of a 20-30 marker. Download the latest Economic Survey of India and update the stats as you make notes. Also leave some space after each chapter to add new info from newspapers as and when they come.

Also read Chapter 1 and the chapter explaining about the government’s poverty alleviation schemes ( chapter 11 in 2010 survey). Follow the budget. Read some business newspapers at that time and also read the summary of the budget which will be posted in the net.

5. Government policies and programmes:

Make notes on the policies that you come across in the newspapers. But this will not be exhaustive. Use India yearbook published by the Publications division for an exhaustive approach. It’s a huge book with a lot of unnecessary facts and details which should be skipped. Just make short notes on the various programmes ministry-wise. Anay dwivedi ( AIR-5, cse 2009) has this to say about reading the Year book :

If you already read the IYB for prelims, just go through what you underlined and revise your notes. But if you did not, then apart from the GOVERNMENT SCHEMES and agricultural data, read the following chapters from IYB 2010:

Chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11 (NCES only), 13 (terms like FIPB, FCCB, ECB, ADR/GDR, FDI, etc), 18, 24, 25 and 28.

Note: I have not specified chapters 16, 17, etc as I have assumed that you must have covered all the government schemes such as NRHM, JNNURM, etc irrespective of where they are given in the book.

In Mains 2009 many questions could be answered on the basis of information provided in the IYB, e.g. significance of coastal regions, UMPPs, BSUP, fruit production in India and NNRMS.

6. Science and Technology:

Use wikipedia extensively for this. Find out about new topics as you come across them in the S&T page of The Hindu. Also, make short notes on emerging technologies and recent nobel winning technologies from these pages

Exhaustive preparation on these topics can be very hard. Try to cover as much ground as possible and hope for the best. When writing answers, try to point out the applications rather than elaborating on the technological part.

General knowledge and current affairs:

This is where you have to use newspapers and current affairs magazines. This is perhaps the most important part because if you see the 2010 GS paper, questions are asked about the Palestine crisis, Sudan civil war, Cambodia, CWG etc. I recommend The Hindu and Frontilne. The Hindu has less unwanted news and has a balanced perspective on issues and is pro people. You shouldn’t be an ultra leftist or a right-wing hawk when writing the answers. The editorials and Op-eds present a very balanced picture on issues.

When reading newspapers, go beyond the issue. Use the newspaper as a guide to broaden your GK. So when you come across something you don’t know in the newspaper, google it up and make a comprehensive note on the topic.For eg, if the news item is “Pakistan Prez visits India”, I will google about India-Pak relations and make notes on it with a historical perspective and also leave some space to update future news. If the news is ‘ Jacques Diouf assumes charge as head of FAO’ , I will make notes on FAO and other UN organisations from Wikipedia. The advantage of using wiki is that when you read about one topic, you can move to other topics by clicking on the ‘Related’ links. Follow the references in wiki if you want to go deeper or confirm something.

I had kept two separate category of notebooks. One for noting down the events, date wise and the other for noting down the issues after researching in the net. The advantage of keeping the second type of notebook on issues is that when you revise you will have a complete picture under each heading, i.e, the historical perspective + all the events in the last 2 years. This should be done on a daily basis without any gap until the interview is over. You will need 2-2.5 hours daily for this initially. You can bring down the time as you progress with your prepsReading topics of Indian economy and op-eds from any one of the business newspapers will also help. I used Business line. I had also subscribed EPW after my prelims and read articles selectively.

Extra Reading

Also make notes on topics that you come across in previous years papers from wiki and net.

Note:

  • Just exploit the internet. You have all the information you need at your fingertips. The coaching institutes and magazines also make their notes using the information available in the net. Why take secondary info at exorbitant costs when you can get the primary info and the whole picture free of cost.
  • There is not strict boundary between conventional topics and GK. You should update your notebooks with new info as and when you come across them in the papers.


 
 
 
 

To be or not to be : Choosing civil services as a career

A career in the Indian civil services is still one of the most coveted job in the nation. The number of applicants for the 900 odd posts every year is increasing exponentially. Just about 6 lakh applied for the 965 notified vacancies for CSE 2010. After a one year gruelling process, the UPSC recommended 920 for appointment.  Of which only those who end up in the first 100 will get the coveted IAS/IFS and the remaining may end up appearing for at least one more attempt!! And even after getting through, you work under severe constraints. IAS and IPS officers works directly under the supervision of elected representatives. Their decisions are to be guided by political sensibilities as well as real-time requirements. Added to all this, there is no fixed tenure at any of the posts. The not so favoured among the officers may end up getting 3 or 4 transfers every year.

So one should be very sure about the requirements of this examination and well as the requirements of this service before deciding . Given the competitiveness of exam, there is no other way other than full-time preparation. One need to start 7-8 months before the prelims and the exam process takes one whole year. Thus atleast two years need to be completely devoted towards the preparation. While we hear about the inspirational stories of the toppers and the successful civil servants, what is lost out in the noise is the failure of tens of thousands of aspirants and the intense dissatisfaction with which many officers continue in service.

So I request the would be aspirants to spent some time contemplating on these:

  • Know about the services. Talk to serving and retired bureaucrats. Read memoirs or articles. There is more to the services than Lal bathi and huge bungalows. Be sure that you will fit into the service.
  • Know about the requirements of the exam. Make a realistic assessment of the efforts that need to be put in. People don’t start as equals as far as this exam is considered. People with a good general knowledge base, opinions and ability to express their views definitely stand at an advantage over others.
  • Make a rational self assessment. Dont do it based on your past laurels and achievements as this exam is not testing intelligence as defined in the conventional sense. Its looking for broad-based individuals with opinions.
Thus be very sure before taking the plunge. But once you have made the choice, there should be no looking back. You will face failure, pass through highly depressing stages, doubt your ability to make through, may have to start from square one after reaching upto the last stage….Thus is it a test of your mental strengths as much as it is of your intellectual abilities. The whole process of preparation and exam is a life changing one, whether you come out successful or unsuccessful. You get to read and learn about things that you would not have done otherwise. There is nothing other than knowledge that makes you feel more humble by the virtue of having more. I feel much more closer to my family, my close relatives and my friends than ever before. Think and discuss before starting. All the best for the aspirants.
@Aspirants.I will be writing about my experiences and strategies for each of the subjects in this page. Please refrain from sending me messages and friend requests in facebook. I think it is not the right platform and I also prefer to keep it personal. Please follow this blog and post comments if you want to clear any doubts. As someone who found it hard to get proper guidance in the beginning, I am only happy to help. But please use this blog as the platform.

I am not yet into the service but…

Technically, I am not an IAS officer yet. I have only been recommended by the UPSC for appointment into the IAS. The Government of India has to send me an offer of appointment before I am formally inducted into the IAS. 9 months of Preliminary training awaits me before I get my first field posting as Asst. Collector (Under Training). But I was shocked to know that bribing doesnt always wait for all these formalities to end to reveal itself. Was also surprised to know the subtle forms in which it comes. Yes you have been misguided. Villains dont walk into your office with a huge suitcases loaded with cash. Bribing, small or large has its own subtle forms. I recently received a phone call from a popular civil services magazine which i didnt use and i strongly disapprove from the examination perspective. This was how it went:

Rep: We would like to take your interview for our xyz magazine.

Me : Ok. But i cannot endorse your magazine as i havent used it.

Rep : Thats ok. Its a questionnaire. Plus we are also giving you a cash award for your achievement( I later got to know from another source that the amount works out to be 5000 rupees).

Why the hell should they give me a cash award?? Every year people top the exam. I havent even used their magazine. The catch is in the questionnaire that we are asked to fill. “Apart from our magazine …… what else did you read?”, “How long have you been reading xyz magazine” were some of the questions to name a few. They also change some of our answers to suit their ends too. In the end, the interview would turn out to be an open endorsement of the magazine by us and the so called ‘cash award’ a payment for that!!

Thanks to Supreet singh IAS who had blogged about this here, i could call their bluff. Still i couldnt give him a firm ‘No’ when he called and said “I will call back in an hour”. I called back some 20 minutes later and said I would neither endorse their magazine by appearing in the interview nor accept any monetary reward from them.

He has rightly titled the post as ‘…Warning to the future toppers…’ But many in the rank list may be either too naive to know or may find it ok due to the prospect of reaching out and inspiring more people. By the time it is discovered that the interviews have been distorted and we have been made to endorse their product, it will be too late. And also the  ‘cash award’ will ensure that they dont create any problems afterwards.

It seems the training for being an upright civil servant begins even before you reach Mussourie. Firm ‘No’s’ to such invitations, felicitation events organised by shady individuals is only the beginning of a very long journey.

My CSE marks

This was how it turned out for me. My correct attempt was 555 in physics (280 + 275), 580 in PubAd (280 + 300), 490 in GS (240 + 250). Expected more in GS 2. But it seems that most of the candidates got lower marks than what they had expected.

Book review: India Development and Participation by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze

The book cover

The amazing growth story of India in the new millennium and the countless problems that we face have spawned a cottage industry of books about the opportunities and the challenges faced by the nation. It has become very difficult to get the right book that identifies the challenges in the right perspective and suggests constructive solutions.

One way to choose is by looking at the profile of the author(s). Hence the work by the renowned economists Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, who also have a good field experience in India was an obvious choice when I came across it in a book fair. The book India: Development and Participation is one of the most comprehensive work on the challenges faced by the nation in the socio-economic front.

Citing statistics and making comparisons with other parts of the world, it talks about the challenges in education, healthcare, women emancipation, liberalisation and decentralisation. The authors expose the myth of the inclusiveness of our growth story by showing that we lag behind sub-Saharan Africa in most of the  health and nutritional indicators. The inter-state disparities is also brought into picture. Each chapter ends with a case study of the state in India that has been able to make definite progress on the subject when compared to the other states. A comparison with China, which has similar problems like us also help us in putting things in perspective.

Are we on the right track?

Even as they applaud China for its success in the socio-economic front, the authors are unambiguous in their disapproval for the authoritarian methods used by then to achieve the ends. By noting the achievements of Kerala which has better indicators than China, they call for local, community based approaches to the major issues.

The chapter on women emancipation talks about an issue that is conspicuous by its absence in other similar discourses: the problem posed by widowhood and prospective widowhood that leads to choices like male-child preference. As the life expectancy of females are higher than males and because of our patriarchal norm of large age gap between the wife and the husband, this is a very serious issue in India.

The current edition was published in 2001. Hence the statistics are old. Interested ones can dig up the latest statistics from the original source that is given under every table. Also having written in 2001, it doesn’t talk about Naxalism which has become a serious problem off late. Being a result of the socio-economic and governance problems in the rural hinterland, an additional chapter on Naxalism can be added in future editions.

Hence as a whole, this book is one of the best written books on the socio-economic challenges faced by India. Written by eminent authors with good field experience, backed by authentic statistics and put in the right perspective, the book is a must read not only for people interested in public service but for every Indian so that we are not blinded by the glitz of our ‘growth’ story and lose sight of the humongous challenges we face.

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