April 04, 2008

My First Civils Interview

2nd April 2008. I gave my first civil service interview just two days back...i say 'first' because I am quite optimistic that UPSC will again make the mistake that it made this year. I can't, in any case, say the last -because I am not one of those who give up that easy.


My interview was scheduled for the forenoon; i reached upsc well in time before 9 AM and had a chance to meet some other candidates I knew. We were let in sharp at 9. What I found surprising about the reception was that it was extremely cordial and student friendly. I had expected a long line in which I would have to stand before my certificates are checked, other formalities done etc. We were escorted into a huge circular hall in which some nine table-chair configurations had been made. We were total thirty five in number, divided into seven boards. Mine was the seventh board. We were seated into seven of the table-chair configurations as per our board.

Though the ambience was good, the atmosphere was tense. I got to meet other four of my board-mates and had a healthy chat. That partly reduced the tension. Part of the tension was reduced by the presence of a cool chick in the sixth board. Unlike the other girls, her dressing sense was cool (all girls had come in saris -something I think was dumb; a salwar could have been as suitable but more comfortable for the situation). She had, it seems, invested heavily on a beauty parlour and looked exceedingly gorgeous. Seriously, I rarely find girls look so yexy in sari.

I did, of course, decide not to hit on her... but what occurred to me was that she may get some 20-30 marks more than we guys just by her looks. Lucky her! Old men, though low on libido, appreciate beauty as much as we guys do. (You may find my views on this pretty irrational, but many others will agree)

Soon, the call for first candidates to appear before the boards came. It turned out that the chick-in-sari's board would be chaired by Miss. Parveen Tahla (he he he!). But my pleasure didn't last long. Board 7, that is mine, was to be chaired by D.P. Agarwal.

DP! DP? DPPPppp... The dreaded ganglord from IIT Delhi with supposedly cannibal instincts. That DP? His name brought back to my mind flashback of cruel times... of those days in laboratories of department of electrical engineering, IIT Kharagpur -instrumentation lab, high voltage lab, power engg lab et al -when I was subjected to third grade torture by a panel of ruthless professors. The memory of such sends a shock down my spine till date. In deed, these aren't memories but nightmares (ok a little exaggerated) that came back to my mind then. Is DP Agarwal like them? I could have consoled myself with the false reasoning that IIT Delhi is a better, more humane place than IIT Kgp. Unfortunately, deeds of DP have already reached far and wide. According to legends, he asks only factual questions, wants only objective answers, conducts stress interviews, can grill you on any point you have made, can ask you out of the room in the middle of an interview...and the list continues.


DP was unusually cool. Cool doesn't mean he was happy or cheerful etc. He was just neutral in expressions and didn't seem to be ready to pounce upon me. His room was smaller than I had expected it to be, due to which the other four members were sitting very close to me. DP was sitting right in front of me at the other end of the table. To my left was sitting a lady at very close distance. Henceforth, lets call her lady because she deserves the title. By her side and to DP's right was sitting (rather sleeping over the table) a gentleman who looked like PV Narasimha Rao but slept like HD Deve Gowda. Lets call him PV Deve Gowda. To my right was a smart, chill looking gentleman in his early fifties. He was smiling mysteriously, the way P. Chidambaram used to before presenting his budgets. Lets call him Chidumbaram. By his side and to DP's left was sitting a South Indian gentleman who spoke not so clearly (in fact the chairman had to translate his words and communicate to me more than once) but nevertheless a kind, pleasant guy. Lets call him Speaking Dravid.

I found DP's strategy of taking interview very maverick. He didn't seem to look at my biodata... nor did he ask any of the traditional questions.
"So your name is Smarak Swain. What does Swain mean?"
"It is an Oriya title sir"
"Its a very popular oriya title" the lady observed "What does Smarak mean?"
"Ma'am it means a memorial"
"But you know, your title is very similar to an english word...have you heard of something spelling S-W-I-N..." DP observed. Before he could complete, I said "S-W-I-N-E sir. It is a slang for pig"
"You know, this may create problems..." DP observed. I was looking at him right in the eyes and it was he who wasn't maintaining the eye contact. I was playing offensive.
"DP if u r really interested, then listen. There is a school of thought that believes that my name is an insult to pigs. Usually the good-for-nothing animal lovers have this view. Another school of thought pertains to the fact that I am not so bad as to be called a pig. There is still a third school of thought members of which call me just smarak" I did NOT say this. I simply looked attentively at him and he dropped the issue.

"So, when did you decide to come for the services?"
"In my final year sir"
"What are you doing?"
"Sir I worked in Tata Steel for a year. I left it last year and am preparing solely for civils"
"I didn't get much time for studies plus I wanted to come to Delhi"
"Why Delhi"
"I could get better interaction with other students, library facilities and coaching"
"What coaching did you join?"
"Ramaswamy for Sociology and Vajiram for current affairs"
(Actually I didn't get much time for doing the full course in Vajiram, so somehow managed to get into the current affairs that was meant only for ex-students)

"Since you want to do civils, you must be having an idea about the hierarchy of it. Brief me on any one department's hierarchy"
I hadn't prepared this. But I had read Kishan Rana's Inside Diplomacy and so had good idea of foreign ministry.
"Sir I can tell you about the hierarchy of foreign ministry" I said.
"Is that your first preference?"
"Yes sir"
"Ok. Go on"
I tell him about FSI, then first foreign posting as third secretary, learning new languages etc. He doesn't seem to be interested and passes on to the lady.
"Which language would you want to learn if given a choice" she asked
"Ma'am I would prefer Spanish"
"It is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world"
"Do you know Spanish? Anything about it?"
"Ma'am, I just know senor and senorita...nothing much"
"DO you find it a beautiful language?"
"Is it a sweet language?"
"Have you read any Spanish novel? Or seen Spanish movies?"
(I have read Paulo Coelho -who hasn't? -but that doesn't strike me. I mumble something about the movie Spanglish...
"Any Spanish painter or musician you know?"
(I couldn't say Picasso bcoz I got no idea of what kind of painting he drew...in deed i didn't know if he was spanish)
"Ma'am, I want to learn Spanish bcoz of the flexibility in posting it will give me; bcoz of the exotic carnival I could participate in; bcoz of the Havana cigars I fantasize myself smoking after cheating on a latin girl. What do you mean by sweet language? Is there any bitter language also? It is just a way to communicate" I did NOT say this.

"Do you know which is Spain's capital?"
"Madrid ma'am"
"Is Spanish only followed in Latin America?"
I tell her about Portuguese in Brazil. I forget to mention that Hindustani is followed in Suriname and Guyana...that would have been a plus...
Then she asks me about SAARC. I tell her all that I knew about SAARC, though see didn't seem to find what she wanted. As she was a real lady, she wanted to give me a chance. She asked me what all countries India shares boundary with. I tell all the names, including Afghanistan theoretically.
"Does Afghanistan share a boundary with India?"
"It has a boundary with a part of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistani occupation"
Here I was trying to direct the interview into Paki, kashmir issue. But the panelists were too damn smart. She asked me some other things before passing on to the chairman.

DP: What will be your responsibilities once you become an IFS officer?
"Sir, in the country that I am posted I will look into bilateral relations, better people-to-people contact, cultural diplomacy, see the market prospects for Indian industries in the said country, do research and analysis of economic and strategic relations..."
Before I could finish, DP asked "How will you do research and analysis?"
"Sir, I will collect data from various sources...like ASSOCHAM...they must be having such a body in their country, then there is the economic survey and statistical reports. In cases where data is not available, I will employ market analysts to get me the data"

Now guys, I didn't say as fluently as you may feel. The problem in the board room was that it was extremely difficult to form sentences. Secondly, I was surprised that no one was asking questions like: 'why do you want to do civils?', 'why civils after engg?', 'don't you think we will be losing a power engineer' stuff on which I had invested lots of my limited literary talentin past few days -stuff that I had mugged by heart and prepared in front of a mirror. What the pock is happening???

"Can you give any specific example of how you will increase trade between India and any south American country? Answer only if you know something concrete" DP says
"I ain't doing no course in international trade ..." I did NOT say this
"Sorry Sir, I don't know". This is what I said.

Then he passes on to Speaking Dravid. Speaking Dravid asks me many questions in one go.
"When was UN formed? In what conditions? What is its organization?" and some more questions I don't remember.
"Ach Cho0l, this is a personality test. Why are you asking me questions that I was very good at answering when I was in school?" I did NOT say this.

I explain him some stuff about UN but am unable to say anything about the UN Charter. He then asks me about the trusteeship council and its function. At times, DP had to interfere and repeat his questions because he wasn't clear. Then he asked me about criminology (sociological theories etc)...then about clemency. I tell him about President's power to pardon etc. Though my answer isn't structured, nor am I fluent, he doesn't mind.

Then I am passed on to Chidumbaram. He is a smart fellow and knows a lot.
Chidu: "Recently there has been a debate between social justice ministry and supreme court. SC says that if a father is non-Dalit and mother Dalit, son can't be. But Social Justice ministry says he can be. Considering yourself a member of social justice ministry, give your arguments"
The news had come just a day back. Even though I hadn't thought over it, I managed to say a few points about patriarchal families, about manusmriti etc.
He gets excited about Manusmriti and asks me about the type of marriages -anuloma, pratiloma etc -mentioned in there. I give satisfactory replies but he starts an argument on whether hypergamy is allowed between sub-castes within a caste or between castes. My stand point was that it is allowed only between sub-castes -if a Brahmin marries a Shudra, the child is a Chandal. He becomes insistent and I finally give up...
He then asks about matriarchal families etc...I give satisfactory answer.

PV Deve Gowda wasn't really in a mood to talk when DP encouraged him to do so. He looked at me with dreamy eyes as if accusing me of forcing him to ask questions.
"Let me ask some questions on some different topic" he said slowly "Do you know Vikram Sarabhai"
"Sir, he was a pioneer in space research in India" I say. I know nothing more about him. He keeps looking at me (or may be lost!) with out giving a response. Sensing that I may have to say something more, I say "he was a founding member of ISRO"
After an instant he asks me "Who was Homi Jehangir Bhabha?"
"He was a pioneer of atomic research in India"
"Damn you! Why ask me such dumb questions I can't answer in more than one lines?" I did NOT say that.
"Please name me some sources of power?"

Am I a kid? Or do I look like the dumbest graduate in electrical engineering? A Professor at Kharagpur had once asked me "What's the difference between choke and starter in tube light?" Everyone in the lab had laughed at him for this but as it turned out, he was smart. I couldn't tell him the difference. At that time he had called me the dumbest of electrical under-grads...anyways, this question was too simple for the son of one of the few power plant commissioning specialists in India. I started off and listed the various sources.

Then he asked me questions like "Which is the cheapest source of power?" "What is multipurpose project?" "Why is india power deficient if we have so much potential?" etc. I give quite satisfactory answers but nothing extra-ordinary. PV Deve Gowda falls back to his sleepy posture. Getting the cue, DP started off again.

"There are some people who believe Delhi Metro isn't the best option for Indian cities. What are your views?"
I start with some broken sentences and give some arbitrary answers. Not satisfied, he says "Now-a-days many IIT professors are complaining about Metro. One of them gives a new statement to the press daily. I guess being from IIT yourself, you must be aware of the technicality"
I knew nothing about it...so I pass on. The lady member tries to give some hints by talking about the metro loudly with Deve Gowda (who I am sure didn't care, even though I was maintaining eye contact with DP).
"How will you go from Cuttack to the western Ghats?" DP asks.
"Sir, I will take a train to Mumbai and hire a jeep from there"
DP looks perplexed at my answer.
"Can you name some places on western ghats"
Guys, its ok if you think me dumb...I just blacked out. Not even a single name came to my mind.
"Sorry sir. I am unable to recall"
"You don't have to. Just visualize the map of India"
"Visualize a pocking map while five pairs of hungry eyes ogle at me? How do you think that's possible DP?" I did NOT say this. I simply stayed quiet, trying to visualize the map of India which sometimes looked round, sometimes like a square etc.
"OK. Thank you. Your interview is over"

When I was about to heave a sigh of relief, Chidumbaram requested DP to let him ask me some questions. DP complied.
Chidu: India has a national emblem. Do you know?
I can't remember the word 'ashoka stambha'. So I say "there is a pillar in Sarnath constructed by King Ashoka. The structure atop that is our emblem"
Chidu: India also has a national animal. Do you know that?
I: Sir, royal bengal tiger
CHidu: Is it royal bengal tiger or only tiger?
I: "I am not sure sir" I say, smiling.
(I said this because my strategy was to remain on the safe side and not to say any answer wrong)
Chidu: India also has a national bird. DO you know?
I: Peacock sir

Then he lets me off the hook. The chairman thanks me etc. 35 minutes all in all


While leaving UPSC, my assessment was that if not very good, my interview was 'above average'. Then I came back to my room, had my lunch etc. After seeing a movie in my room, I went off to Siri Fort Auditorium for the last movie of Chinese FIlm festival. While on my way, all those silly questions I couldn't answer came back to my mind. I concluded that my interview went just 'average'. Average score, according to people, is 150 and that is what I should expect.

After seeing the chinese movie, I was coming back when something suddenly dawned on me. Why did Chidumbaram ask me those silly questions in the end? It could be only because he considered me silly. My appraisal of my performance fell down to 'below average'.

The next day i.e. yesterday, I had gone for my medical check. I got a chance to interact with others who had given the interview. Everyone agreed that 'average' for DP is 130. And I am 'below average'. So now you know why I have called this topic My First Civils Interview.


viru said...

dear sir.....
first of all, wishing you an unbeleivable success.....what i'm feeling is that.......your interview went above average.....but as you already know...it depends a lot on ur performance in written papers......

anyway.....good interview......

our haan.....aapki english wakai main kabile tarif hai....ise dekhkar kaha ja sakta hai......you're going to get optimistic result very soon......

Abhishek said...

hi smarak .... ur interview was a great read ,especially ur inner thoughts after every question ,do not be over critical of urself n DP is known to be a hard task master ,my interview was on 31st (9am) n by Parveen Talha Madam's board ...it was cordial ....wishing u all d very best .....
(my interview)
tk care

Ashish said...

Hi Smarak
Well I'm not qualified to judge... but the general feel was that it was "Above average" and could have been "Good" if not for the 'western ghats' blunder(I can feel the pressure when one blanks out ;-))...nevertheless as u know that the marking pattern is unpredictable...so I wish u all the very best....may u succeed with flying colours this time only...
I am a felow aspirant...will b landing in Delhi in May for preps...hope to have a chat with u..if u r around...Thanks again for sharing ur experience...( U may not realize but it really means a lot to us aspirants...)

Somanchi said...

i know nothing about UPSC .. but all i can say is what you said in the end was true .. if you are asked questions like what is India's national stuff .. bah something is seriously wrong :P .. but the other aspect is that the way you handled the interview was fair enough thats 140/300 .. berserkly calculated ... the panel showing interest only means the known fact .. that either extraordinary or extraordinarily dumb :P... good luck :)

coolhound said...

Quite cool ur interview is! How many marks did u get in the interview?

sandeep said...

210 in this interview...vow..!!

SWAYAM said...

I enjoyed to the fullest while going through this article. Kudos to your command over language and presentation style.
With regards....

Sushma Thota said...

Your writing style is superb. If u become a writer then I will be first in line to read u r book. BUT My optional is not Psycology :)

Manisha Choudhary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.