IAS 2009 TOPPER INTERVIEW
- D DIVYA (Rank 37)
“Remain Positive and Carve Your Own Path”
An engineer by qualification and a humanitarian by choice, she has an insatiable yearning for knowledge and a deep-rooted desire to serve the masses and that is what led her to the top. Meet D. DIVYA in a heart-to heart talk with Competition Wizard.
Q. To whom and to what do you credit your success?
A. To my father, who instilled the joy of serving others and nurtured the aspiration for joining the Civil Services in me. To my mother, who is a role model to me, being a successful woman both in the professional and personal front in spite of tremendous hardships she faced. To my husband, who inspired me by his sensitivity to the oppressed and made me stronger to face the challenges that life has to offer. To my teachers, who made this learning process enjoyable and to my friends who stood by me during the difficult times.
Q. Why did you choose Civil Services as a career?
A. I choose it for three reasons: To bring the change I want to see in the world; the job offers possibility of immense satisfaction and the diversity in job assignments.
Q. How should one assess oneself before deciding to opt for Civil Services as a career?
A. If you have a deep yearning to serve and you derive satisfaction from non-monetary incentives, this is the right path for you.
Q. When did you consciously start your preparation for this examination?
A. In my final year of college.
Q. When should one ideally start the preparation process?
A. At least one year before the exam.
Q. It is said that the Civil Services examination requires constant and sustained hard work. How did you keep yourself constantly motivated? What was your source of inspiration?
A. Learning is fun and if one imbibes the joy of learning new things, it can make the exam preparation a fulfilling exercise irrespective of results. For instance, when I learnt how and why the winds blow, earthquakes and volcanoes occur, why was the 3rd battle of Panipat fought, how the poverty line is computed etc, it gave me tremendous joy. Secondly, this exam is a means to a larger end. When one envisions the joy of living the dream of becoming a civil servant, the sustained hard work one has to put in becomes endurable.
Q. In your opinion, how crucial is the selection of Optional subject for success in the examination?
A. It is quite crucial. Unless one has the aptitude for the subject it is very difficult to excel in it.
Q. What should be the criteria for selecting them and how should one go about it? Should one opt for the subjects studied at college or go for new ones?
A. The criteria should be based on the following: Interest, aptitude, availability of reading material and guidance.
The factors for one choosing optional other than her/his graduation subjects are vastness of CSE syllabus, uncertain scoring pattern and lack of aptitude in the subject. If this is not the case, then one should definitely opt for graduation subjects and cash in on the familiarity and experience.
Q. How should one prepare for Prelims, Mains and Interview?
A. Prelim: Basically in Prelim, it’s the problem of plenty and one should develop the skill to eliminate. A thorough analysis of previous years’ papers and syllabus and then selecting the material to study is mandatory. Conceptual understanding is becoming more and more important in the recent times.
Main: UPSC is increasingly moving into the domain of testing the analytical power of the aspirant and her/his ability to offer progressive suggestions. It is no longer just “define” questions, but more of questions which require the aspirant to think on the spot, adapt and form inter-linkages across topics. Factory made answers are out. It is also breaking the myths of “safe topics” and going into hitherto untouched areas. So as the exam evolves, we need to evolve too. This can be easily handled by preparation without prejudices, and open mind, geared up to adapt etc. Of course simple questions will also feature in the question paper, which have to be fully capitalized.
Interview: Preparation for interview is re-discovering oneself. One needs to have good knowledge of whatever she/he has mentioned in the interview form. Forming opinions on various issue of current national/international importance is also essential. This can be developed by reading different perspectives from news magazines, watching discussions in news channels etc.
Q. What are the areas in GS Paper I and II in the Main examination in which the candidate can score marks easily?
A. With the changing pattern of exams, it is really difficult to delineate the scoring areas.
Q. Did you commit any mistake during your preparations?
A. In the quest for perfection, I wasted a lot of time. I didn’t take the 2008 attempt as I was not immediately ready to go through this exam process all over again.
Q. How many hours should one devote for the preparations regularly?
A. According to me, there is no standard formula. The only thing that should be kept in mind is productive study and smart work.
Q. Could you please give the aspirants a list of reference for essay/GS/Optional I/Optional II and Interview?
A. Apart from coaching institute reading material, magazines and internet, I referred the following books:
For General Studies:
History: Old NCERTs especially 11th and 12th std, Spectrum’s Modern India.
Polity: Wizard Indian Polity and Constitution, Laxmikanth’s Indian Polity, DD Basu, PM Bakshi for articles.
Geography: NCERTs, Wizard’s Geography for GS
Science and Technology: Wizard Science and Technology spectrum S&T
For Public Administration:
Laxmikanth’s Public Administration, New Horizons of Public Administration by Mohit Bhattacharya, Nicholas Henry, Organisational Behaviour by Stephen Robbins, Arora & Goel, IGNOU notes, relevant IJPA journals, and Fadia and Fadia.
NCERTs of 11th and 12th std, Geography Made Simple by Rupa Publications, G.C. Leong, Majid Hussain’s Evolution of Geographical Thought and Geography of India (TMH), Selected chapters from Savindra Singh, D.S. Lal, Ramachandran, Dutta and Sundaram.
Q. Besides text books what newspapers, magazines, novels and books of general interest should one read?
A. Since newspapers and magazines have a tendency to lean towards certain ideology, it will be better to read different perspectives and understand for oneself which is the acceptable and rational analysis. In the era of telecommunication, I enjoyed watching discussions on news channels and listening to All India Radio news analysis at 9 pm. BBC and Al-Jazeera have a wealth of documentaries. Internet can also be used extensively for preparation. Everybody Loves A Good Drought by P Sainath, The Red Sun by Sudeep Chakravarti, Inspite of the Gods by Edward Luce, India Since Independence by Bipin Chandra were some of the non-syllabus books I read during the course of my preparation.
Q. How one should read newspaper?
A. Newspapers should not be read only to collect facts. The op-ed page which gives the analysis is the most important page.
Q. What is more important for this exam, intelligence or hard work?
A. Intelligence + hard work i.e smart work.
Q. Do candidates with a technical background have an advantage over general students?
A. According to me, an intelligent, aware and inquisitive person from any field should stand a good chance.
Q. Where did you prepare for the examination (at what place)? Does the place of preparation matter?
A. I did most of my preparation from Delhi. The place of preparation matters to the extent that quality guidance and access to civil service related books is available.
Q. In the course of preparation one is faced with many problems, queries and difficulties. Where should one go for help, especially the students staying in remote areas?
A. The UPSC website and employment news are the authentic source of basic information about this exam. Topper’s blogs and interviews are useful in planning strategies. Many e-forums are operational in social networking sites like Orkut to know the views of thousands of fellow aspirants. But these forums have to be accessed with caution as public forum will have genuine and bogus information.
Q. Do coaching institutes help? If yes, how should one select, when there are so many of them?
A. Yes. Experienced faculty help understanding concepts in shorter span of time which otherwise would have taken longer with just books. This is especially true for those choosing optional subjects other that their graduation subject. It helped a person like me, who loves to learn by listening and clearing the doubts through discussions and debates. But, it is extremely crucial to choose the good faculty, Feedback from those who have attended these institutes help. It is better to attend open seminars and attend one or two classes before plunging in. It is extremely important not to be carried away by fancy advertisements.
Q. In which stage should one ideally opt for coaching?
A. If one chooses optional subjects other than graduation subject, it is better to start the classes one year in advance.
Q. Why did you choose ALS in the first place?
A. Feedback from college seniors who had taken geography classes from ALS.
Q. What is so special about ALS?
A. I had an enjoyable learning experience in ALS due to the faculty. Shashank Sir’s pedagogical style was to help us experience Geography and not just learn it. His way of inspiring us to be extraordinary human beings fascinated me a lot. Jojo Sir simply made learning fun and brought humour in even the most mundane topics. Panda Sir was helpful by being accessible to aspirants and his meticulous training in map pointing reaped huge benefit.
Q. Do you think that with increasing levels of competition, the preparation for Civil Services is getting too expensive?
A. I feel immense pain that these facilities are available to only a select few like me, who could afford the coaching fee that is unthinkable for the disadvantaged sections. But I believe UPSC is trying to dissolve such relative advantages.
Introducing systemic changes and breaking this vicious cycle of only people belonging to certain section/region/class/gender getting through should be seriously considered by the stake holders.
Q. Could you suggest some ways of cutting down on expenses?
A. The major cause of inflated expenses is accumulation of unnecessary reading material and enrolling hastily in bogus coaching institutes in the zeal to succeed. One should be extremely choosy in both. Forming study groups of serious aspirants and sharing resources can help a great deal.
Q. Seeing the stiffness of the competition, is this exam meant for everyone who takes it?
A. It is for each aspirant to assess his/her strengths and weaknesses before delving deep into the cycle of exams.
Q. Is UPSC really unpredictable?
A. Well, UPSC will want to keep the aspirants guessing. But it has one huge constraint, the syllabus. Hence a thorough preparation of topics mentioned in the syllabus will minimize the unpredictability to a large extent especially in the optional subjects.
Q. What all do you think is needed to make it to the top?
A. Intelligence, hard work, confidence, a clear understanding of the requirements of this exam and a bit of favourable circumstances, these are the ingredients of success in this exam.
Q. How would you rate luck as far as success in Civil Services is concerned?
A. Well, the subjective nature of the exam, non-uniform platform with multiple optional subjects and scaling, 25-minute interview does make success in this exam dicey.
Q. How was the atmosphere during your Interview?
A. Quite lively I would say. Not a dull moment. One member of the board plunged in to make me feel comfortable whenever the situation got too hot to handle.
Q. What do you think is the right way to face Interview Board confidently?
A. Confidence arises from the strong foundation of knowledge. Aspirants should take care to do thorough ground work on their bio-data, and form opinions on the issues of current national and international issues. Slackening after Main is a usual phenomenon which needs to be avoided.
Having a positive attitude during stress tests definitely help. Polite yet firm replies will help in driving home our point without causing unpleasantness.
Q. What types of questions did the Board ask?
A. The questions covered a wide range of topics from international affairs, science and technology, women issues, hobbies, optional subjects and current job.
Q. What is the most important thing one should keep in mind while facing the Interview Board?
A. The board is probably looking for a confident, intelligent, aware, sensitive and honest individual. Make sure that you let the board know that you are all of that thorough your answers.
Q. During the Interview, did the board member(s) ask you any tricky question(s)?
A. Yes, I was asked about Iran’s nuclear aspirations, to tell whether Bush or Obama administration is better for India, Reservation policy of the Government and to take a stand on women’s reservation etc.
Q. How do you foresee your future as an administrator?
A. I would like to be an administrator who is able to deliver effective solutions to the people, a change agent and a facilitator for the oppressed to get their rights.
Q. Would you have a final word for the student community?
A. Learning is fun. Don’t just endure the preparation but enjoy it too. The sheer number of aspirants and subjective nature of this exam might make success elusive. Remain positive and carve your own path. All the best!
Name : D Divya
Sex : Female
Date of Birth : 13 December 1983
Father’s Name : K Devarajan
Father’s Occupation : Chief Engg, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (Retd)
Medium of Exam : English
Optionals : Public Administration and Geography
Rank : 37th
Exam Institution Year %
Xth Sindhi Model Senior Secondary School 1999 94.6
XIIth Sindhi Model Senior Secondary School 2001 95
Dual Degree BITS, Pilani 2006 8.67
B.E. + M.Sc
(Electrical & Electronics)
*CGPA : cumulative grade point average
Number of Attempts : Three
Marks obtained in this attempt (optional and only for the purpose of analysis).
Essay GS Public Admn. Geography Interview 96 266 330 341 210 Total 1243
Service Preferences : IAS, IPS
Earlier Selections in Competitive examinations
(including Civil Services exam) : IRAS, 2007.
Games, Sports &
activities : Rural Entrepreneurship and SHG formation, Creative Activities.
Hobbies/Interests : Watching Documentaries, Reading, Yoga, Foods that heal.
Board Chairperson: Mr. Purushottam Agarwal (MP)
DD: D. Divya
M1 (Member 1): Science expert
M2 (Member 2): International affairs expert
M3 (Member 3): Lady Member: Social issues, hobby
M4 (Member 4): Optional subjects I jumped at the sound of every buzzer. Only the peon knew which “The welcome-in call” is. He happily whispered, “Madam, ek lady adviser bhi andhar hai.” He thought he was comforting me. I gave him a matter-of-fact nod and borrowed the new issue of Frontline from some UPSC staff nearby. I saw Fatima Bhutto in a sari and a never-seen-before bindi, flashing an enticing smile which said, “Buy my book India.” The words blood and sword caught my eye. Then there was an article about a spurious drug racket in Tamil Nadu and another on Sri Lankan Parliamentary elections. My mind raced as I retrieved the 13th amendment from my memory. I recollected some of it and then kept the magazine aside. The welcome bell rang. A happy looking boy emerges out. “Bahut co-operative board hai, All the best,” he says. I thank him and go towards the door.
“May I come in?” I ask and after getting an affirmative nod, I walk in and with a big smile greet the Chairperson, “Good Afternoon Sir,” and then look at others and say, “Good afternoon Ma’am and Sirs.” I don’t recollect if they asked me to sit, but I did, although, with a slight thud because the chair was lower than I expected. I wonder if anyone noticed that.
Well, MP looks at the resume and asks, “So you are still a probationer in the railways. Where are u posted?”
DD: “I am under training, Sir. Every two weeks we train at different locations. Currently I am at Palakkad, Kerala for on-the-job training.”
DD: Divisional attachment Sir. (MP nods)
MP: You have written that you enjoy watching documentaries, discussions and debates on TV channels, If you are training at different places, how do you manage to watch them?
DD: It’s quite difficult, sir. Since I have a mini laptop and a wireless broadband connection, I get to watch them from the news channel’s website.
M1: These days you can watch with mobile too. (M1 gives a big smile)
MP: So, which documentary did you like the most? Describe it.
DD: It is about the Bhopal gas tragedy called “It happened in 1984”. Since I was an infant in 1984, I wasn’t aware of the details of the tragedy. I was eager to know more. This documentary gave me a lot of insights. It tried to recreate the events with various victims giving detailed account of what happened. I was totally shocked to know that the chemicals from the abandoned Union Carbide plant are still polluting the ground water and soil in the adjoining areas and babies are still being born with disabilities. Neither the company nor the Central or State Government is taking responsibility to clean up the toxic site. It is extremely unfortunate.
MP: What else did you observe?
DD: That the perpetrators of the crime have not been brought to justice yet, even after 25 long years. The victims haven’t been adequately compensated. Mr. Anderson came to India. Got a bail and went back to the US, scot-free.
MP: Is it the failure of our criminal justice system, international diplomacy or administration?
DD: Well, I would say it’s a combination of all of those, Sir. First of all, we gave Anderson bail and allowed him to leave the country. And since then we have never been able to bring him back.
M2: Did we ask for his extradition?
DD: I am not sure whether we pursued it, sir (I should have known). But I’m sure he has not been extradited.
M2: Last year I was in long Island in New York. Anderson is very much there hale and hearty. It’s just that we don’t want to nail him.
MP: Why talk about people in another country. There are people in India who have an arrest warrant against them. Cops say that they can’t find them and they happily come out to address public gatherings. (The entire board smiles and nods in unison)
M1: Divya, do you know who the chairperson is referring to?
DD: (why guess and get into controversy) No Sir.
M2: There was a nuclear summit in USA recently. What were the decisions taken?
DD: Sir, the summit was basically to garner International support to prevent the non-state actors from getting access to the nuclear material/technology which can prove detrimental. Various Government heads pledged support and outlined their strategy to ensure the same.
M2: Well, nuclear material exists since the last century and there have always been non-state actors. Why the summit now?
DD: Sir, earlier the number of countries having nuclear capability was low. Moreover, the non-state actors have now started to have a global outreach; the situation is especially worrisome in Afghanistan, where Taliban is having its influence in Pakistan which is a nuclear state. Finally, I think Obama administration is pro-active in the issue of nuclear safety and disarmament.
M2: There is also a nuclear summit planned by Iran. The US has asked countries like India to refrain from attending it. What is it about?
DD: Sir, Iran is claiming to develop means of harnessing nuclear energy for its energy requirements. With its animosity with the US and the other Western countries, Iran is bound to face sanctions in doing so, as they are accusing Iran of developing nuclear weapons and WMDs. In order to garner international support for its nuclear energy aspirations and non discriminatory nuclear non-proliferation plans, it is planning a summit.
M2: I have a problem with your argument. Obama says, “Iran is flooded with oil and natural gas resources. If at all it is trying to develop nuclear technology, it is for weapons purposes. The energy security is just a gimmick,” what’s your take?
DD: (few seconds pause) Sir, fossil fuels are exhaustible resources. They are also polluting fuels which cause much more harm by polluting the air and contributing to the global warming. May be, Iran is exploring different sources of energy which is less polluting. Secondly, it can’t wait until its fossil fuels are exhausted to develop nuclear technology. It needs to begin now. Finally, I believe it’s every country’s prerogative to have freedom in choosing the energy mix it wants to have. It’s unfair to interfere in those decisions. (M2 shows a gesture to the chairperson denoting he is done with me)
MP: (all charged up) Among the Bush administration and Obama administration, which do you think is good for India?
DD: Sir, Bush administration was closer to India. We were favoured by him so much so that the historic nuclear deal was signed. Outsourcing policy was liberal. We were de-hyphenated from Pakistan and considered a unique strategic partner. Having said so, I would still say that the Obama administration is better for India. Bush brought war in Afghanistan and Iraq and has destabilized the entire sub-continent region. We are suffering from heightened instability and terrorism is spreading across borders. At least Obama is talking about resolving those issues.
MP: The US secretary of state has gone on record to claim, “Pakistan’s struggle is our struggles!” Do you think it possible for India to work with such an administration?
DD: Well, Sir, Democrats have always been not much pro-India. And adding to that they are fighting a losing war in Afghanistan for which they desperately need Pakistan’s support. So such statements are bound to crop up. But I guess we need to wade through such differences to work together. Sir, I also think that it’s just not India that needs the US, the US also needs India for various strategic reasons. (I get a few nods from other members).
MP: (Still not convinced): I don’t think such differences are easy to be worked out.
DD: Well sir, it will depend on the strength and maturity of our diplomacy to work the situation to our advantage. Finally sir, I feel we have forgotten our ideals of non-alignment which needs to be revived.
MP (Still raring to go): Non-alignment is a deed concept. It’s spoken only in seminars and conferences. It was never there and never will be. So let’s not go into it.
But M1 intervenes. “Sir, she feels it now rests with our seasoned diplomats to work out the strategy. Let’s leave it at that.”
MP indicates M1 to proceed.
M1: I see. What is Trichy famous for?
DD: Kaveri Kollidam River, Kalanai dam and Raganathar temple.
M1: Something else, like education?
DD: Now NIT Trichy.
M1: So, you are a physics graduate? Can you tell me what a spectrometer is?
(MP gets up and goes to an inner room. Since I experienced this last time too, I didn’t panic. But next day, an athletic girl was inconsolable. She told that MP was absent for a while during the interview. I reassured her that it happened with every candidate.)
DD: It is an instrument used to measure/study different properties of light like intensity, wavelength, frequency etc.
M1: Ok. What is 3G spectrum?
DD: It is a term used in the telecommunication sector. It is a spectrum that can support 3G technology. Higher bandwidth is required for this purpose. 3G technology means 3rd generation technology which supports video telephony, better multimedia services through mobile telephony.
M1: Good. I am done.
(MP returns, indicates the lady member to take over)
M3: Since you are a woman, I am tempted to ask about women’s reservation. What was the percentage of girls in BITS, Pilani?
DD: I’m not sure about the exact number, but I can make an intelligent guess, it was around 30%. (GAU jokes that how can a guess be intelligent. So, I correct myself and say a reasonable guess) But I heard that it has come down drastically now after the introduction of the entrance exam, BITSAT.
M3: That is quite a low representation. So, do you think that women need reservation to get better representation in general?
DD: Well, in general I feel reservation is an enabling tool for better representation of the disadvantaged sections including women. But, I have issues with the way it is implemented. Usually there are allegations that the reserved seats are cornered by the elite when blanket criteria of gender, caste class or religion is used. I found the method suggested by Yogendra Yadav to be effective to overcome this problem.
M2: Isn’t he the statistics expert?
M1: He also analyses election results.
DD: Yes Sir. He suggested a matrix method of awarding disadvantage points based on multiple criteria. For example, if I am a poor, Dalit woman from rural area, studied in Government school and with parents as daily wage labourers, I get higher disadvantage points. So, while giving reservations, those with high disadvantage points can be chosen. With multiple criteria like caste, gender, economic status, area of residence and schooling, employment status of parents etc., used, this can ensure the most deserving or most disadvantaged gets the seat.
MP: Who developed this method?
DD: Sir, I am not sure who initiated it, but I heard Yogendra Yadav discussing this in a news channel about 3-4 years ago.
M3: So, do you support women’s reservation whole-heartedly?
DD: (She was looking straight into my eyes, that look which says “do you really mean it”) Yes Ma’am. If implemented to favour the disadvantaged!
M3: So you have mentioned “Foods that heal” as your interest area. What do you mean by that?
DD: Well, in general certain foods naturally have properties of healing or preventing certain ailments. Usually some associate this terminology with some rare herbs, but according to me certain food items we use in everyday life have healing properties. Some of those practices are being lost to modernization. If I may take a practical example – Many children in our country suffer from acute anemia, especially in the tribal regions. If these children are given a diet of Ragi and Jaggery through the mid-day meal scheme or ICDS, it is rich in iron, protein and calcium which can help heal and prevent anemia, calcium deficiency and protein-energy malnutrition.
M3: You forget the fibre content of these coarse grain cereals. Also, what about adulteration? Jaggery usually is adulterated indiscriminately?
DD: Strict quality control is an issue that the government/school authorities need to ensure before serving it to the children.
M3: What creative activities do you do?
DD: I like creative writing – essays, short stories, poems, painting, decorating, cooking etc.
M3: Has any of your creative writing been published?
DD: Not really Ma’am.
M1: Wait until she becomes famous. Then magazines will queue up to publish her work.
DD: (I smile and blush)
M3: (Not very amused, starts to prod more)
MP: (signs of urgency, gives indication for the next panelist to take over)
M4: Is April 22nd any special day?
DD: Today is World Earth Day, Sir, a day a highlight the need for conservation and sustainable development.
M4: So you are working for the Indian Railways. I want you to compare its energy efficiency.
DD: Sir, do you want me to compare it with other modes of transport or with the railways of western countries?
M4: Other countries.
DD: Sir, we are still using diesel and most of our electrical energy from thermal sources for traction. Western countries use electrical energy.
M4: I’m looking for some other criteria.
DD: Sir, is it the energy efficiency of the engines, hauling capacity – number of tones or passenger units carried per unit of energy used?
M4: That is a design problem. You are not even close to what I want you to discuss. Never mind. So your optional subject is Geography and you are an engineer by training. Tell me how are coastal areas measure?
DD: I am not sure how exactly it is done Sir. But if I can take a reasonable guess, the remote sensing satellites can be used to map the area and then costal areas can be computed accurately using software tools.
M4: No, I want you to think like an engineer!
DD: (I drew a blank. Thoughts were racing in my mind – Curvilinear surface, integration, Mathematical formulae, Theodolite, area computation)
M4: What is a Richter Scale?
DD: It is a scale used to measure the magnitude of an earthquake.
M4: What is the difference between Richter 6 and 7?
DD: It is a logarithmic scale. So, Richter 7 is much higher than 6.
M4: Come on, if it is a logarithmic scale, how much higher?
DD: 10 times
MP: Ok that’s all. You may go.
DD: Thank you Sir. (Inadvertently I pick up the plain sheets placed in front of me. I realize that and place it back again and give a sheepish grin to MP, before I leave)
I walk down the winding corridor and reach the gate. My husband, Sudipto Muhuri (Rishi) is pacing up and down the pavement waiting for me to return.
Rishi: So how was it?
DD: Well, it was Purushottam Aggarwal again.
Rishi: Oh great. So did you crack it?
DD: Not really. This time it was totally different set of questions and some were controversial areas.
I ramble on, recollecting the interview question by question. When it comes to the reservation question, Rishi stops me.
Rishi: What? Did you say Yogendra Yadav! It was Purushottam Agarwal who popularized this matrix method. What a comedy! You explained the method to the same guy who proposed it! Hilarious!
DD: Is that so! Oh God! I truly didn’t know. Are you sure it is Purushotam? Well, I know that Yadav discussed it.
Rishi: Reasonably sure! Yadav might have also been in the team.
DD: Well, the whole board must have cracked up the moment I left! They would have had a good laugh. Now I understand why the chairperson was keen to know who proposed this method.
I got the verdict in June 2010: Interview score – 210 (5 marks less than 2008). Rank – 37.
MY STORY SO FAR:
I remember that the seed for my aspirations to join the Civil Services was sown in my mind right from childhood. My father was an electrical engineer working with the state electricity board. He always described the happiness he got to see on the faces of the farmers on receiving electricity in their villages which enabled them to use pump sets or on rural electrification. He would tell me that a District Collector can solve many problems of the farmers and bring joy and convenience to many aspects of life for these underprivileged and oppressed masses and the satisfaction at helping them is phenomenal. This made me yearn to join the Civil Services.
The path to my ambition of becoming an IAS officer was not a cake walk. The very first hurdle was my graduation subjects – Physics and Electrical Engineering. Although, I was interested in them, I was not confident in opting for them as optional subjects in CSE. So, in my final year of college (Thesis semester), I commuted between Pilani and Delhi seeking expert guidance and coaching every 15 days. I thoroughly enjoyed the general studies classes and the pain of travelling seemed to be masked by the joy of learning. I took my first attempt without much preparation in 2006 and didn’t even clear the Prelim. Between June and September 2006, I took coaching classes for the optional subjects.
At this juncture, I decided to take up the job I got through campus placement. I joined Indian Oil Corporation and worked in Manali Refinery in Chennai for five months. The pay and perks were great, but my heart was not in working with electrical machinery. I quit the job in February 2007 to prepare full time for CSE. With just three months for Prelim and being far away from Delhi, it was a big challenge for me mentally to believe that I can make it.
After Prelim, I realized that I had done quite well looking at the solutions circulated by coaching institutes. I decided to go to Delhi for preparations for Main. After appearing for Main, I came back home fed up with months of preparation. I joined Aid India, a reputed NGO, as a volunteer and helped in their primary education project in Government Schools.
The Main result was positive and I went for my interview. I did poorly in the mock interviews because of losing touch with current affairs in the months after Main current affairs in the months after Main exam. This jolted me and I started preparing with full vigour for the interview.
I got Purushottam Agarwal’s Board and interview went well. Most of the situation based questions asked in the actual interview were based on the premise that I was a District collector. This gave me a false hope and made me slacken a bit. When the results came, it was a shock for me. Although my interview score was 215, I got 503rd rank, the last general category student to be selected. The Prelim was just a day away and I wasn’t mentally prepared to take it.
I skipped the 2008 CSE and joined the Foundation Course in Hyderabad. My commitment to training reaped results and I was judged the Best Officer Trainee there. It was a big morale booster.
I got married in December 2008 and joined the railway training within a week. My husband soon left for Germany to pursue his Post-doctoral thesis. I enjoyed learning about the Railways, but as time passed I started worrying about the 2009 attempt. There was a no option of taking leave for preparation as the rules didn’t permit it. I walked from pillar to post, knocked the door of all possible officers who could help me get leave for exam preparation but was met with disappointment. I finally decided to quit my job, but to my absolute shock, I couldn’t do so because of the bond that I had signed which bound me to serve the Railways for 3 years. This was the most trying time of my life.
I took my Prelim and then went to Europe for a month on leave-without-pay to stay with my husband. After a refreshing break, I came back to India to start Main Preparation along with my training. It was extremely difficult to move with bag and baggage every 15 days to a new place for training. I was extremely upset and tired mentally and physically. I just pushed myself to squeeze time and motivated myself to take the Main. My parents took good care of me during Main and writing the exam from Chennai at least relieved me on the emotional front.
GS paper came as a shock and I just about managed to attempt 450 marks. I was devastated. Essay and Public Administration went reasonably alright. The next challenge was taking Geography paper back-to-back with Public Administration. It tested my physical and mental endurance to the fullest. I was quite disappointed with my performance and didn’t expect much. I cleared Main and to my pleasant surprise. I got Purushottam Agarwal’s Board again. This time around the questions were tougher but I managed to do reasonably well. But this time I knew Main marks matter.
When the results came out, it was a huge surprise for me. There was a sense of jubilation but more than anything else it was huge sense of relief that I didn’t have to take this exam again. The marks surprised me further, I scored well in the subjects I thought I did badly in. Well, relative performance can never be judged, I suppose. So, in this attempt, where I had lesser preparation, I got 37th rank, I wondered how I could pull off this rank. I hindsight, I think two things clicked. This time around I focused more on strategy which helped. Second, I guess, the complete change of pattern put me on level field with people with years of preparation.
Finally, I have been given the opportunity to perform. The journey begins now. What I do from now on, matters most.
Courtesy: Competition Wizard
IAS 2009 TOPPER INTERVIEW
- D DIVYA (Rank 37)
“Remain Positive and Carve Your Own Path”
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