Yes!!! You read it right. It was actually an ENCOUNTER filled with numerous ups and downs. At times, I seemed to be defeated and at times a confidence seemed to run through my nerves out of nowhere. But, the fact is that finally I could CONQUER it. And this is what now makes me eligible to write this blog. Though my Rank i.e. 74 is not that impressive as the single digit ones, still I want to share what I always wanted to. Now, why I want to share this also has a story behind it. During the course of preparation whenever I used to become too frustrated or too excited, a sudden thought used to come- I will tell this in my media interview when I get selected. But, media persons don’t ask you the questions which you always wanted to answer. They only ask questions like – Whom do you owe your success to, where did your schooling take place, how much percentage did you score in Class 10th and 12th, where did you do your graduation from and the like. Anyway, I am okay with whatever they asked and wrote, but these obviously were too less as compared to what I had to tell.
Now, coming back to what I want to share…these are actually the INTANGIBLES- The feelings which one inevitably encounters during one’s preparation. I think there are quite many blogs dealing with which coaching is good, what the strategy of preparation should be like, which books to refer to etc. Of course, these form the backbone of preparation and hence the toppers have done an excellent job in sharing these with you. But then, there are many more confusions and dilemmas which an aspirant is continuously troubled by- the fear of failure, the pressure to give one’s best in the exam hall, the despair felt when one scores less in a test, tension when one wastes a day or two and the list goes on…So, I am going to tell you the story of Ms. X who prepared for Civil Services and could fortunately come out with what she desired. Her thought process and emotional state are very much like what all of us encounter during the course of preparation. And this is how the story goes .
Ms. X was an engineer and was one among the many who don’t join a job offered to them and instead want to try for their ‘Dream Job’ first. So, she had decided not to go for her job at TCS. And, here she was…Wandering in the streets of Mukherjee Nagar and getting awed by the huge commercial buildings which were so badly covered by the posters of various coaching institutes that the actual brick and mortar of those buildings were nowhere to be seen. Somehow, after getting several so-called expert opinions, she joined some coaching institutes and settled down. But, this SETTLING DOWN refers only to her physical settlement. Little did she know that the time for her MENTAL TURBULENCE had just begun .
Her first and seemingly funny problem made its appearance just within 5-6 days of her Delhi stay. She felt as if she had forgotten how to study for even 1 hour at a stretch. Now, this is the greatest problem one encounters if one is an engineer. Studies used to be only a side-business during her days at college, but now it was to be her primary occupation! She then decided to start with a humble expectation to study for 45 minutes at a stretch. For this, she tried tactics like entering into an agreement with her room-mate that ‘We won’t speak even a word to each other for the next one hour’ (as both she and her room-mate fell on the higher side of the TALKATIVENESS QUOTIENT). Slowly within 2-3 months, by God’s grace, she could learn how to study for quite some time in a day. So, a lesson here for IAS aspirants is to try and increase the time of your study .
Then, at times X could feel as if she is wasting her youth by sitting and studying even after having already done so for some 17-18 years. That is the time when the attraction of a HAPPENING life of some private software firm tried to take over her, and this became all the more intense if she happened to open her facebook account only to see some 20 photos of her college friends out on a trip to Nainital or in a get-together organized at places like Mumbai or Bangalore. But, this used to be the time when she had to resort to some ISHTYLE WALE dialogues like “I am here by choice and not by chance” or sometimes, she chose to take solace in the theme of ‘The Alchemist’ (by Paulo Coelho) which says that the most important thing for a human being is to pursue the dream which he desires from the core of his heart, and this is not everybody’s cup of tea. It requires a strong will power and guts to take a risk. Now, after being over-philosophical for some time, she had no option but to return to her primary occupation. I seriously believe that philosophy is a great subject- The Universal Consoler! When you don’t have anything to fall back upon, philosophy always comes to offer you respite.
Now, X encounters the most common feeling- “I am studying but I feel as if nothing is getting inside me”. Believe me, this feeling is something which has the power to suck all hopes from you. In such cases, X used to make a quick call to her parents and thus they were also dragged into her encounter with Civil Services. They patiently heard and tried to reason out. Her father used to tell that when the mind becomes saturated, then it needs some rest and so for some time it refuses to accept what is fed to it. He tried to convince her about the theory of ‘Peak’ and ‘Plateau’ which says that the brain moves from peak to plateau in a cyclical way and hence the efficiency too varies. After being convinced that it is very natural, X used to feel a bit relieved and her hope was restored. Now, the phone used to be handed over to her mother who used to speak a few confidence-building sentences and advised her to close her eyes for 5-10 minutes and calm down. Hmmm..now one battle seemed to be won. However, this feeling still kept on coming several times during her preparation and each time she was forced to force her parents to come to her rescue. Surely, they did come every time she needed them. See, this is the greatness of parents- they never become impatient even if you keep telling them the same problem again and again, they never grudge even if you expect them to do the same ticklish ‘consoling process’ again and again. [To glorify their efforts further, it would be pertinent here to mention that consoling X in times of despair is really a tough job].
As a few months passed, X came to meet many people who seemed quite intelligent to her, but still were unable to make it to this dreaded exam time and again (now X realized why it is called ‘dreaded’). This was when she, for the first time, was faced with a scary question- “What if I don’t succeed?” This really frightened her as then she could visualize her dreams getting shattered. She had always imagined the life of an IAS. She had always dreamt herself being in LBSNAA some time in life. She had always pondered over what reforms she could bring in the state of affairs. She had always felt excited by the joy her parents would get by her selection. And now this question expects her to imagine the reverse of all! So, she used to dump this frightening question in some inaccessible corner of her brain and used to play a song which most of you might have listened to i.e. the title song of LAKSHYA- Lakshya to har haal mein paanaa hai! And, that really used to pay off well. At least for the next 1-2 hours, she was charged to strive for what she had always wanted .
Now, a very important characteristic of mind is that it cannot be tamed. And, X’s mind was no different. Very often, she found herself to be lost in some thought; one thought led to the other and slowly she used to descend into her own dream-world. But, dreams have to come to an end and then she was thrown back into her real ugly world only to realize that she had already wasted 40- 45 minutes with her books open. That is the time when you really feel guilty for being so lavish with the little time you have. Anyway, the time once spent cannot be returned. So after repenting for a while, she used to decide that she would never do this again (but remember-Mind can never be tamed, so this used to be a promise made only to be broken). She then used to set a target for the next one hour and made sure that she completed it with maximum efficiency. After that one hour, gone was her repentance and so was her promise !
As the time passed by, X kept on discovering more and more problems which a student can face. As the prelims approached, there was a new problem which X started facing. It was the PROBLEMS OF SLEEP! Before proceeding further, it would be pertinent here to tell that X did not belong to the category of those good students who religiously followed the childhood dictum of ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’. However hard she tried to follow this, she could never come out of the category of those NISHACHAR type students who find it very difficult to switch off their lights before 2 a.m. Coming back to her problems of sleep, they can be divided into 3 categories:
1. Oh shit! I have slept for so long!
When due to some extraordinary exertion throughout the day, X was forced to sleep at 11 p.m. ,she slept with a vow to get up at 6. But, things in the morning used to be completely different than in the night, especially when X was used to be greeted in the morning with hot sun rays entering her room at 9:30. In that case, waking up along with the greetings of chirping birds never seemed to be an attractive option and she tended to put her alarm in snooze mode, keep it under pillow and resume her dream. Finally, she could get up only when she could sleep no more i.e. around 9 o’clock. Then X calculated the time she had slept for and screamed “Oh no! I have slept for so long!” It was the time for her to take another vow-“ Today I will study more and make up for the 3 hours of over-sleep”. The effect of that remained very intense for the next 2-3 hours, but after having studied satisfactorily for 1-2 hours, X used to feel that the objective of the vow had been more than met and thereafter it turned out to be just another day.
2. Oh no!! I have slept so less. So, now I need some more sleep!
This was the case when due to over-ambition or over-enthusiasm or merely for the sake of hostel-gossips, X woke up late till night (later than even 2 a.m.). But the time of her waking up remained almost constant at around 9:30. As she got up, she used to feel very happy by the reduction in her duration of sleep. However, the time of her happiness did not last long and within 3-4 hours, she could clearly feel an inner voice telling her- ‘The efficiency of your studies is decreasing as you have not taken a proper sleep’. Poor X! She was left with no option but to sleep again and the bitter part here was that she had to do so after feeling guilty of wasting 1-2 hours by not studying with good efficiency.
3. I will sleep just for 5 minutes!
Nobody loves studying and a person who has to appear for an exam after 20 days will definitely be the last person to love it. X, again, was no different. She felt that she could do anything- however trivial, however menial, however boring, if anyhow she is spared of studies. In such hard times, a person tends to have escapist tendency and this ‘I will sleep for just 5 minutes’ is nothing but a manifestation of this escape from studies. So X resorted to it frequently and more often than not these 5 minutes took the shape of 1 hour and sometimes if it was done after 11 p.m. it even took the form of the entire night!
In such situations, one can try only one thing to ensure that 5 minutes remain as close to 5 minutes as possible, that is, to keep your lights switched on while sleeping. Sometimes, even this did not prove useful for X and she slept the whole night with her lights switched on. This further led her to a problem, or rather an excuse, in the morning. Guess what? She used to feel as if her eyes have not got proper rest due to the lights and hence she again used to take a brief nap with all lights off before finally getting up. What an excuse to escape from studies for some more time!!
Another difficult time came in the life of Ms. X when she sat down to calculate her tentative marks in the prelims. She sat with an answer key brought out by some coaching institute and remembered The Almighty. This was the time when looking at the answer of each question seemed to be looking at the final result of Civil Services Exam. Each wrong answer made her as gloomy as John Mc Cain was when he lost the US Presidential elections; and each correct answer made her feel as triumphant as Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay must have felt when they conquered Mt. Everest! After about an hour of this adrenalin game, the time for final counting of right and wrong answers came. Anyway, by this time she could feel that she had done reasonably well and her net total came out to be around 70 marks above the predicted cut-off. She felt as if she had won the first battle!
As the exams neared, X remembered that she also needed to look for a pen by which her writing can be fast and at the same time, legible. Somewhere she had heard about ‘Uniball’ which cost Rs. 80. She was very happy to find it. She loved it at first sight more for its price than for its quality. Now you must be thinking the cause of this. Well, this was because she always wanted to write with an expensive pen in her life’s most important exam. However, things are always not as happy as we think them to be. Though the flow was good, but the ink was spreading a bit while writing. She then tried for some more pens, but all in vain- some had very large diameter and some were very narrow, some had a slippery grip and in some cases, ink colours were very light. Then, she descended down to try Rs. 5 pens like Elkos Gel or Cello MY Gel. But then, she never wanted to live her life with a guilt feeling of having written her UPSC Mains with a Rs. 5 pen. So she set out again to find some more pens costing at least Rs. 15-20. And finally, she could find ‘Cello Free flow’ and made up her mind to go with it! Must be sounding so silly of her! But these are things which really do happen.
And then came the most difficult of all feelings which X had to face. She heard that the final results had come. She immediately opened the UPSC website and found that the results were actually there. She quickly pressed Ctrl+F and typed her name in the tab, only to see ‘Search completed. No match found’. That seemed to be the end of her life! She refused to believe what she saw and started looking at each of the names with the expectation to find hers somewhere. She quickly reached 300th rank, but her troubled eyes still could not find what they were looking for and her hopes had started giving way to despair. As soon as she reached the last rank, it was all over for her! She could not feel any emotion and kept on sitting in front of that disappointing screen. Her scary imagination of “What if I don’t succeed?” ran through her mind and also ran the image of her parents. She gathered the courage and called up her parents. They too were as expressionless as her. She switched off the lights and kept lying there for hours. Actually, the people getting an interview call subconsciously start feeling as if they would definitely be in the final list and their expectation is based partly on logic and partly on their wishful thinking. They tend to reason out that around 2.5 times of the people in the final list are called for interview so everybody takes pleasure in feeling that he/she must be that 1 out of the 2.5 persons and hence stand a fair chance of success. X had also felt the same, but the bitter reality was not equally pleasurable.
However, now that it was a reality, she knew that she could not escape it for long. So, she moved out of her room and told her friends what they already knew by that time. She called up her parents again and tried discussing what to do next. Appearing for the next attempt seemed to be totally impossible for her. She felt that she simply could not study anymore. Studying the same subjects again and writing them for those 27 hours seemed no more possible. “I will not, I should not, I simply can not!” She had lost faith in her ability, in the philosophy of ‘Karma’ as propounded in Gita and in God Himself. The next 7-8 days were the hardest for her. But, God is not that cruel. He was at least kind enough to give X an excellent parents and quite a few caring friends, who after lots of efforts, succeeded in making her believe that the next attempt was not going to be one-year long; rather it required only some 5 more months of studies. Again, she became over-philosophical and remembered what she had been hearing since her school days- “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”. This gave her the courage to move on and she then decided to MOVE ON. She had overcome the ‘Static Friction’ and from then on, required only to overcome the ‘Dynamic Friction’ [now most of you must be remembering your Class 10th Physics that the force required to start the motion of a stationary body (i.e. Static Friction) is always greater than the one required to keep it in motion (i.e. Dynamic Friction)].
This time, things turned out well for X and she got a rank decent enough to get IAS. Her ENCOUNTER was now over and it ended up favouring her!
PS- The purpose of writing this so-called story is to make the aspirants realize that the mental turbulence, the fear, the disappointment, the tension and the excitement they experience are not confined only to them. I believe that all of you must have encountered at least one of the situations mentioned above and thus reading this may help you cope up better with such inevitable feelings. This exam is a test not only of your mental acuteness, but also of your mental toughness, so “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached”.
All the Best!