Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Civil Services Interview Experience at UPSC

(I have just copy-pasted my facebook note here, but the formatting is horrendous. So better read and comment in my fb note itself)

Friends, many of you wanted me to share my interview transcipt.. I'm sharing here the whole experience.
Even after knowing Mains result, I was lethargic in starting to prepare for the Interview for I was convinced that i would get my call only by late March . However all of a sudden I learnt on Feb 28 that my interview was scheduled on March 11. So had little time and also the anxiety din't allow me to make good use of the time. I just gave some mocks and got their feedback and tried to improve my presentation alone.
And then came the day. The last time i attended an interview was when I was 3 years old, to get admitted in my school. So this is the second interview of my life.  I wore a suit, for the first time in my life. Then went to the UPSC building, showed the letters, proofs etc and was ushered into the waiting hall. It was an air conditioned round hall ( something like the Oval office :P ) at the center of the Dholpur house. The rooms of the board members and the Chairman of UPSC are radially (?!) located from this center. And there were 7 tables and 6 candidates were sitting in groups in each table. Mine was the very first table and I was the last one to arrive. I had forgotten to take a pen, so I borrowed pens from my group mates for signing, filling up etc. 

After the verification process was over, the lady from our group offered us biscuits and broke the ice. We introduced ourselves and came to know we represented a 
miniature of the country. The lady was from Bengal and there was an IRS officer from UP, two Maharashtrians - one Dental surgeon and an engineer and one engineer from Karnataka. We all started talking about the boards, our stay in Delhi, our apprehensions etc. And this made me at ease, and all the anxiety and stress had vanished.
By 2:10 pm our group was informed that our board will be chaired by Ms Rajni Razdan. Ah, at least half of the interview transcripts i read online used to be chaired by Ms Rajni Razdan and now i'm going to her board too. One of our mates started that "Mam gives only extremes.....", another said something and one guy was like " stop it.. it's no use talking about it now.. we shouldn't speculate.....".. he was very firm on not discussing about the board. I liked that.

So by 2:30 pm the first candidate from our group (the IRS officer) was called in. He came after 20 minutes and seemed not to be very satisfied with the interview. Suddenly a suit wearing candidate, apparently from Bihar, approached our group and asked us if we knew who was the recently appointed governor of Bihar. Not getting a favourable reply, he then proceeded to other tables and asked the same. Don't know if he got the answer. Next went the dentist and then the lady from Bengal. When she returned from the interview, the lady who was the most cheerful in our group, left in such a haste and was astonished that they asked her such silly questions like "how many languages are there in the rupee note"... I and the Maharashtrian engineer were the only ones left in our group in the waiting hall, and without fail, we verified from our pockets, that there were 15 languages..! And the gentleman from Bihar too exited the waiting hall having finished his interview. He was not asked about the new governor of Bihar.

I was called by around 3:45. I wished a lady ,who was waiting outside another board, all the best. This was the first time in my life i did something like this, and i got a very nice 'feel good' feel. I don't know why but i was very happy. The guy from Karnataka now exited the board with a big radiating smile and he wished me luck. Within a few minutes i heard the bell.. it was a long tune...


Basic details from my Summary sheet and DAF :

Optional I :   Political Science & International Relations
Optional II :  Sociology
Place and District of Birth : Kumbakonam , Thanjavur District
State : Tamil Nadu
Schooling : Campion Anglo Indian HSS, Trichy - 2006
Graduation : BE Mechanical Engineering -                                     
                  Anna University - 2010
Hobbies : Reading Fiction and Non Fiction                            
              Watching World Cinema
Service Preference : IFS, IAS, IRS(IT), IPS, IIS, .......
No of Attempts : 1
Legends : RR - Ms Rajni Razdan (Chairperson) , M1,M2,M3,M4 - the 4 other members of the Board


Me : May i come in Ma'am...
RR : Yes come in..
Now i just went near my seat and was standing still for some 2-3 seconds. "Ah, they haven't offered me a seat yet. So this is a 'stress interview'. Wow. you are so alert that you din't sit without being offered the seat. and you are maintaining your poise while standing too.. great" i congratulated myself.. but it soon hit my head that i haven't even wished them... 
RR : Please sit down
Me : Good afternoon Ma'am.. Good afternoon Sirs
now this was very awkward, but they wished me nonetheless
RR : Name? Roll No? (showing me my photo) is this your photo ?
Me : Yes Ma'am
RR : So you like to read books?
Me : Yes Ma'am
RR : What is the last book you've read ?
I thought of mentioning God of Small Things or Animal Farm or 1984 as my favourite book... but last book? i haven't read a book in the last one year.. yet, out of the blue, appeared a book...Me : Ma'am the last book i read was "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo
RR : Victor Hugo? he's a playwright isn't he?
Me : No Ma'am. He's a french novelist of the early 19th century...
RR : Alright. What was the message from the book ?
Me : Ma'am, the message is external beauty alone doesn't matter. The hero of the novel is considered to be very grotesque in appearance. But even he, who is scorned by the society for his looks, has a noble heart in him.. and true love can bloom even in the hearts of.......i blabbered something 
RR : Ok. What is the last non fiction work you read ?
Me : Ma'am. By non fiction, i meant not just books, but even newspaper articles, travel columns, historical accounts, wikipedia etc...
RR : [interrupting] Tell me the difference between e-books and normal books ?I blurted out, without pausing to think
Me : Ma'am, e-books are becoming more popular with the younger's compact, easy to carry (?!*), easy to download etc... But traditional books still haven't lost their popularity. People still buy them for the very feel of possessing them, they like that aesthetic feel, they can display them in their 'showcase' and can also underline their favourite lines, which can't be done in e-books...
RR : But the main difference is e-waste...
(Ma'am explained something about it which i wasn't unable to get.. i was just waiting to say 'Thank You ma'am')
Me : Oh.. Thank you Ma'am

Now the members took over..
M1 : You've mentioned watching world cinema as your hobby. What's your definition of world cinema..
Me : Sir, my definition of world cinema is any cinema, from any language from any part of the world other than my mother tongue...
M1 : So, how about Hindi cinema, is it world cinema for you?
Me : Sir... (blushing) it could be too...
M1 : Ok so you are from Kumbakonam, Tanjore District.. Tell me about these places...
Me : Sir, Kumbakonam and the larger Tanjore District have a rich cultural, historical and religious heritage and significance, stemming from the Chola era. They have lot of temples including the World heritage sites of The Great Living Chola temples..
M1 : Where are they located?
Me : Sir the main one is the Briahadeeswara temple in Tanjore.. then there is the Airavaitheeswarar Temple in Darasuram and another Temple in Gaingaikondacholapuram. 
M1 : There is a big temple in Tanjore dedicated to Lord Shiva, do you know about that?
Me : Yes sir. It is the Brihadeeswara Temple also known as Big Temple in tamil....
M1 : Kumbakonam is known for many temples, each dedicated to the 12 stars.. he was explaining about the 12 stars etc etc....
Me : Sir, i'm not aware of that. But there is the famous Mahamaham festival that takes place once in 12 years in the Mahamaham Tank in Kumbakonam, which attracts millions of devotees all over the world.. and it is believed that all these 12...things (!!! the word 'stars' evaded me) descend on that tank and also all the holy rivers of India are believed to be present in that tank on that day...
M1 : (nodding) Tell me, what percentage of Tanjore district is irrigated?
Me : Sir, i'm not aware of the figures. But since Tanjore disctrict is known to be agriculturally flourishing and with lots of distributaries from the Kaveri, lying in the delta, i think the district is fully irrigated
M1 : Fully irrigated ?

now i got restless, i'm no way related to Tanjore.. i was just born in Kumbakonam which happens to fall in that district
Me : Sir, i'm not sure.. and Tanjore is only my district of birth sir. I'm from Trichy, actually
M1 : Oh i see... You are from trichy... ok tell me about Trichy
Me : Sir Trichy too is a city of cultural and historic significance. It is part of the Chola heritage too. It was an educational hub during the British times, and it still houses many renowned educational institutions. It is a Temple city too. And there are also many industries (i was very conscious of not mentioning the names here, for i dint want the interview to be diverted to engineering, bhel etc). It is a highly literate city.. (and thinking of something more).. and it lies on the Kaveri river too
M1 : Kaveri river ! can you tell me what's the recent development about this Kaveri river?Me : Sir, both the peasants of Southern Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are heavily dependent on Kaveri river water. And now that the monsoons have failed in both states, drought like situation prevails in Karnataka while there is huge deficit of water in delta region of TN....bla bla bla..... and now the Centre has notified the Award in the gazette....
M1 : What award?
Me : Sir, Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal award... 
M1 : You have mentioned you've studied in an 'Anglo Indian School' what is that?
Me : Sir, in Tamil Nadu there are many schools called 'Anglo Indian' schools. They were established during the British era to cater to the educational needs of Anglo Indian community who were, at that time, socioeconomically relatively backward. But after independence these schools started accepting all Indians,
but they function under a separate board of curriculum called Anglo Indian Board.
M1 : So how long is this board functioning?
Me : Sir, i'm not aware of that. But i think this board was establishes soon after independence. However 2 years back TN government created a common State Board for all schools in TN. So Anglo Indian board is no longer there.  
M1 : Alright. There is one temple in your city where Lord Vishnu is in the sleeping posture. Are you aware of it?
Me : Yes sir. It is Ranganathar Temple in Srirangam, a famous Vaishnavite Shrine.
M1 : And there's also another temple that's located on a hill, isn't it?
Me : Yes sir. It's actually located on a rock, called Uchipillayar Koil. It's called Rock Fort
M1 : Have you been there?
Me : Yes sir, i've been there many times.  

Now M2 who looked like a white foreigner took over...
M2 : You know, in political theory it is said................................David Easton, Daniel Wharton (??? i haven't heard these names before, so concluded that he was asking something out of the syllabus).... what was their theory ?
Me : Sir........ they are not in the syllabus of the exam, so i haven't heard of them...
M2 : They are not? Systems Theory is in the syllabus...
Now i sensed that RR ma'am was suddenly taking notice of this development. Oh no, i thought... "INTEGRITY, HONESTY is what the board looks for in the candidates" this was the message in all the mocks. Now they'd have perceived me as a dishonest liar.. i imagined RR mam cutting 40 marks for my dishonest nature.
Me : (smiling face and apologetic tone) Oh yes, systems theory is there sir. But i'm sorry, i don't remember anything from it sir and i haven't read about these theorists...

M2 : "Greatest happiness for the greatest number" have you heard this?
Me :  (perplexed mind but pleasing countenance ) sir i did read this, but i need to recollect.....
M2 : it was said by Bentham
Me : (interrupting) Jeremy Bentham! yes sir.
M2 : Why was it criticized ?
Me : Sir, the later thinkers who criticized this thought.........(what the hell did they say???)... they said happiness alone doesn't matter.....
M2 : It is the quality that...
Me : (in a chorus) quality that matters and not the quantity of happiness
M2 : What is Behaviouralism
Me : (after three seconds of profound contemplation).. sir, i'm sorry i did read about behaviouralism, but i'm unable to recollect now.
M2 : and post behaviouralism....
Now RR Ma'am seemed to be upset at M2 asking too many theoretical questions and told M2 to stop..

M3 sat to my immediate right and was the most pleasant person in the board.

M3 : You have taken International Relations as an optional. What made you chose IR? Me : Sir, right from my childhood i was interested in political maps, countries, their histories, cultures, societies and how they interact with each other. It is this interest which made me aspire for Foreign services.. and i chose Pol Science and IR out of interest........
I brought the IFS thing into the answer very deliberately, and desperately. I wanted the interview to move into IR, diplomacy etc.. and fortunately it did
M3 : Oh you have IFS as your first preference. very well. Tell me about the Arab Spring. Why did it start in Tunisia?
Me : Sir, the spark for Arab Spring was the self immolation of a Tunisian vendor (?!) who felt he was ostracised by the system, he felt that the economy and the state of Tunisia was against him. His act of self immolation was the spark that soon ignited many people who were fed up with the dictatorial regime of Tunisia.
M3 : How did this spread to other countries?
Me : Sir it soon spread to other countries like Egypt, Libya and even to Asian Arab countries. All these nations were headed by autocratic leaders and the kind of state was... police state that was harsh on the citizens.. and there was no sign of democracy.. and the rulers did not have any legitimacy, so the anger of the people soon mounted and people wanted freedom and democracy.........
M3 : At that time many opined that India too needs an Arab Spring... is that correct?
Me : Sir, the Arab states and India cannot be compared at all. Those were despotic regimes where people did not have any say in the functioning of the government. But we are a democracy, sir. ( ah, come on, go ahead and wax eloquence on India, said my mind voice) We have many noble principles like Secularism, the rule of law and above all our Constitution that guarantees the people.....bla bla bla... We sure have many problems sir,  and i believe it will take time for our democracy to....zzzzzzzz.. but surely we are on the right path and we cannot compare ourselves with Arab states, sir.
M3 : Ok, tell me.. nowadays you see many countries interfering in other sovereign states. Like Libya, Syria..... what's your take on that ?
Me : Sir, ideally no country should interfere in the internal matters of a sovereign state. However in certain situations, when the particular regime is despotic and without any legitimacy, when the people of the state themselves want their despotic regime overthrown, then we can surely give a thought to doctrines like "Right to Protect".....
M3 : So can we interfere in Maldives. Tell me, you are the Indian envoy to Maldives. What will your advice be?
Me : Sir, as of now, i think there is no need for any hard action on Maldives. The elections are due later this year and i believe Mohammed Nasheed has popular support and has fair chances of winning the election. So i think the situation in Maldives will become normal in the coming months.
M3 : Why has SAARC not been able to achieve it goals?.. why.........?
Me : Sir, unlike other regional groupings, South Asia has many peculiarities. There is one large nation called India and all others all small ones. India's economy, population, military might is many times larger than our neighbours, so there is a fear about India, that is natural.
M3 : Is it because by action or is it just in thought?
Me : Sir, it is purely their perception. We should try to address that.
M3 : Good. Pointed to the next and last member

M4 : So you are a Mechanical Engineer... 
Ayyo.. this is the moment that i never wanted... 
Me : (smiling) Yes sir.
M4 : TN is the hub of automobiles....
Me : I nodded and gave out a feeble yes sir
M4 : There are many latest innovations in power systems in automobiles called euro (???) .... ( i no longer heard what he said.. i was thinking of the most polite and confident way to say "i dont know" )....
Me : I'm sorry sir. I'm not aware of it.
M4 : (Smiling) You're a Mechanical Engineer and you're not aware the recent developments?
Me : (letting out a radiant smile) I'm sorry sir, i should have followed them. But i don't know sir...

Now M4 with a smile turned to the Chairperson.

RR : Your interview is over. Thank you.
(she smiled... don't know if it was a smile of appreciation or sympathy)
i felt the end to be a abrupt. And i stood up.. 
Me : Thank you Ma'am.. Thank you Sirs.

For a second i was about to take some file that was lying in front of me. Then i realized i din't bring anything inside the interview room.

And while exiting the room i had a sense of relief. I wished the last candidate from my group (did I, i'm not sure) who was waiting outside. I felt happy, i felt so light despite that heavy suit... it seemed as if a huge burden i've been carrying for a long time was just thrown away in that room.

Now looking back, i think i have done many blunders in this interview.. So don't know about my marks.. Frankly i'm not much worried too. I find blessed and fortunate to have just attended this interview. Sitting in the hall and the day later at medical tests, i saw how people, mostly from prestigious institutions, having sacrificed their lucrative careers to test their luck in this exam. Most of them were in their third attempt or more. I think i was the only first attempt guy there. Looking at their perseverance i felt very humbled and inspired. In this grand game called civil services exam few succeed, most don't...  This year, i don't know where will i belong, but i feel happy and thankful to God that i too, contended.


Lochan said...

Your interview was fine according to me. I had the same board this year. I think even the members of the board were the same as your's.

Johnnie said...

Thank you. I got only average (or below average ?)score of 150. among the 5 others, 2 got good scores and 3 got less than 100. So much for 'testing the personality' in 10 minutes. Hail RR