Give me an idea about your personal and professional background
I’m from Bihar, I’ve done my schooling from my village at Buxar. Then I got selected for Navodaya Vidyalay from where I finished my schooling. Then I got selected for one scholarship program conducted by an NGO in Bihar, who give scholarships for IIT JEE preparation. I was sent to Ranchi for 2 years and then I appeared for engineering examination and then got selected for MERI (Marine Engineering and Research Institute) Kolkata. In 2007 I did my tenth, 2009 my 12th. From 2009 to 2013 I did my engineering. Then I got the job and worked for around 5 years. My work was mostly outside India and my company was based in Hong Kong. I started reading book during the job. I had this hobby of reading books, mostly non-fiction, so I thought that I might as well prepare for UPSC. So I prepared along with my job and attempted for the first time in 2016, after preparing for just 2 months. I missed by one mark. In the second attempt I reached till the interview. Then in 2018 I quit and prepared solely for UPSC.
Since you attempted while doing a job, do you think it is possible to crack this exam while working? What can a working professional do to crack this exam?
I have a habit of reading since my college days. This helped me to increase my speed and build my vocabulary. It also helped me in GS Paper 3 and essay as well. So this base helped me. While working I used to get 3 to 4 hours to study. I used that time very well. It is not impossible for a working professional to crack this exam, if they are focused. They have to take it as a well planned strategy, they must know how they have to study, if they do, they can do it.
What inspired you to go for UPSC in spite of having a well paying job?
I come from a small village in Bihar, and the social conditions there and the prestige that we attach to the civil services made it a prime motivator for me. This is a special job and the prestige and responsibility attached to it and the change that a person can bring has inspired me right from childhood. I never consciously thought that I would become a civil servant, but the thought was there sub consciously. But since our financial condition isn’t that good, our first priority is getting a job as early as possible. So once I was in the job and my economic condition stabilized I could quit and prepare for the exam. Before getting the job I thought that the economic benefit will be everything, but while working I realized that I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to do in my job. Then I realized that money was not everything, so after doing my duty towards my family for 5 years I decided that it was time to do something for myself and my society. So one thing led to another and I started preparing for UPSC.
Did anyone guide you for your preparation?
Apart from GS II paper I have mostly prepared from the internet.
What’s your view about preparing for the UPSC from the internet? According to you can it be an alternative to preparing through books?
In my case my entire preparation was through the internet. In today’s days you cannot entirely rely on books. The material is so diverse that you have to utilize every resource and use your time very efficiently. One should not run after every resource. People should choose resources wisely. I believe that the internet and the tablets are the best modes of preparation.
How do you shortlist or filter a good content on the internet?
The coaching industry works by paying content developers to develop content for them, so coaching centers pay good money for content; those coaching centers get good content developers and thus good content. We have to also see if the coaching center is producing content for every kind of exam or whether they are dedicated towards UPSC preparation. But I would suggest that one should follow the basic sources, like Yojana, Kurukshetra, Science Reporter, and newspapers. One should go to these basic sources if one has the time.
What online sources did you refer to?
I took the vision test series but only 1 or two questions came from there. So students should not expect 20 to 30 common questions to be there if they take a test series. The test series is only to understand how well the preparation is going. Apart from this I used to rely on online content for current affairs as well.
Do you think it is necessary to go to Delhi to prepare for UPSC?
No. It is very expensive to stay in those cities and to pay the exorbitant fees. Only very rich people can afford it. Today the internet has become a great leveler. They can use the internet. If one can sit undisturbed, and is focused and systematic, then there’s no need to go to Delhi. It definitely helps to join these expensive institutes, but this is not the only way that you can crack UPSC. I have studied from my home in a village in Bihar. So it isn’t essential to go to Delhi to succeed.
What is important? Covering the new or the analysis? What can you do to analyze that news?
I think it is best to let any event unfold. You will see something happens and then everyday there’s an article on it. So there’s no need to study the same article everyday for 15 minutes. Be economical with your time and choose what you will read in the newspaper. See the past papers and understand what is relevant and which type of news will be asked about. There’s no need to read every detail of every case. For example if a case is being fought in the Supreme Court, just read the few good writers from Indian Express. I have seen some people invest 5 to 6 hours on newspapers every day, but you have to use your time wisely, you can’t try to read everything.
There are 3 things in UPSC, covering the vast syllabus, study planning and developing critical thinking suited to UPSC. Which of these do you think is important?
All of these are important, but developing critical thinking is most important. In UPSC you cannot give a single view point in any answer. You have to give multiple view points. It is a quality of a good mind that it can entertain an idea without accepting it. A UPSC aspirant needs to entertain ideas even when he disagrees with it. So he has to read, assimilate and analyze ideas and finally write the answer. A UPSC aspirant also needs to unlearn so many things before they can start learning.
Do you think it is better to start preparing early?
Maturity comes with age and experience and UPSC is looking for maturity. The main thing is how you are preparing. For example if you are talking of personality development, just reading is not enough. You need to read many books by good authors. This will develop your thought process. For those who are deciding early to sit for UPSC, rather than focusing on completing the syllabus they should widen their knowledge and read extensively. As a graduation student if I am reading the news about the conflict in Syria, it might not make any sense to me. I might know what is happening but might not understand why things are happening. So I must then pick up a history book and read up on the history of the Middle East. Then I will no longer look at the conflict only through the lens of religion. By the means of what the author has written, I will get a more holistic view.
Do you think preparing for UPSC transformed your views?
I always had certain core values of social service that UPSC looks for. However, I also had many prejudices, many political views and many stereotypes in my mind. But as I started reading extensively, I realized that things aren’t that simple. There is your version, my version and the truth. Once you start preparing for UPSC you start to recognize the rigidities is yourself. While rigidities are fine, but you need to know that you have those rigidities. When I started preparing I thought I was very smart, now I know that I have so little knowledge and I have so much to learn. The UPSC preparation is designed in such a way that by the time you become an officer, your views would have changed considerably. I have also become more patient and more caring as a person.
How do you keep yourself motivated and avoid distractions through this long journey?
I have interacted with a lot of poor people who have very few opportunities and have motivated them. So when interacting with them I used to realize my privilege. I realized that a billion people do not have any opportunities. I knew I had the opportunities, I knew what issues are there and I could change them. All these kept me motivated to do something. UPSC gives us a platform to do something. My hobby is reading books so instead of watching movies, TV or going on facebook, in my free time I always used to read books. Books motivated me.
The other thing is that distractions are always there. But I believe that you need to prioritize things and decide what your priority is. You need to divide your time based on that priority. Nothing is wrong, only the timing is wrong. I can do the other things once I get selected.
What was your strategy for prelims? Did you read one book or many books? Did you take mock tests?
My strategy was to focus on the static part. For that I used to read one source many times. I used to make notes and I used to revise my notes. Many students have a problem remembering and differentiating between so many government schemes. I had the same problem. I cannot retain anything unless it is told to me in story form. So I started reading Yojana following the advice of some friends. In Yojana all this is told in a story form. So it became easy for me. I have solved mock tests twice from 2 sources.
How did you prepare for Essay in the Mains?
As I said I had a habit of reading. So whenever I would find a quote or some saying I would copy it from there and make a note. So I used those notes very early. I gave an example from an essay called Mother by Gorky. I used to make the essay interesting with a story.
Why did you choose History as your optional?
When I was in college, I had developed a habit of reading history books, especially world history. So when I started preparing for UPSC I took history because I thought I would do better in history. But if someone is not from a history background I won’t suggest them to go for history. History requires a lot of time. Subjects like Sociology and Anthropology are better for spending that time on. In UPSC you’ll have to write 100 words for 10 marks in history. It is not worth it. If someone had guided me and told me not to take history, I wouldn’t have taken it.
How did you prepare for your interview? Did you have a strategy?
I revised whatever I had studied for the last interview and tested myself. For interview your communication and English has to be good. So every day we used to meet for 2 to 3 hours and converse in English only. We had a strategy to tackle each issue every day and we would discuss them. This increased both our knowledge and communication skill.
What is your success mantra?
Going to the root cause and digging into everything.
The habit of reading.
Learning from my mistakes.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses and work on them.
Any advice that you would like to give other UPSC aspirants?
Have a hobby, any hobby. Reading is a good hobby.
Keep yourself motivated.
Would you like to dedicate your success to any one?
Definitely my family. My family has suffered a lot because I am not from an economically strong background. So definitely I would like to thank them.