Friday, July 5, 2013

Battered, Bittered, Bettered.

At the outset, let me clearly state that this is not a success story. This is a journey. If you are here to look for guidelines, motivational quotes or any sort of encouragement regarding UPSC preparation, I would, in all probability, be disappointing you. And yet I feel the need to narrate my experience. Not because I want others to take lessons from it. But because I want others to avoid what I didn't avoid and pursue what I couldn't pursue. This is merely a story of hope, of patience, of isolation and at the most, of perseverance.

It all began in the summer of 2002. I'd just come back from the boarding school after having finished my matriculation. The days of disciplined life were thankfully over. No more 6'o clock rousers or 9'o clock preps. Home was heaven. Or at least it felt so, until my father dropped the bombshell, "What now?". Frankly, I had no clue. I'd been so engrossed in my everyday routine, board examinations and declamation contests that I'd never really given it much thought. Yet, the crucial time was now upon me. In those days, making a career choice was relatively simple. You took up Medical subjects in Plus one, if you wanted to be a Doctor. You took up Non-Medical if you wanted to be an Engineer. You took up Commerce if you wanted to be a business-person. And you took up Arts, if you wanted to be a loser. I picked Arts, and Medical was thrust upon me. No parent wants an unsuccessful child, right? And thus began my journey to jump from one professional option to another, having absolutely no clue about any but having relatively some idea of them all.

1. When I wanted to be a Doctor- 'A Doctor is the savior of lives. He is only next to God. It is a respectable profession. It does not have a retirement age. You can practice throughout your life, irrespective of your whereabouts.'- This was essentially a gist of the pre-medical advice I was rendered. The foresightedness of my loved ones was obviously the true determiner of my future. My myopic vision could only see laboratories, endless experiments and dissections worth throwing up. I clearly remember my first day in class. Physics disgusted me because it was the sister arm of Maths. I could never bring myself to balance both sides of an equation in Chemistry. And Biology was, well, embarrassing. The teacher's crude explanation of human anatomy, appeared filled to the brim with sexual innuendo. The boys winked at one another while the girls suppressed their smiles by putting up a straight face. Back home, everybody read the 'Reproduction' chapter over and over again, only to be repeatedly shocked and sensationalized by it.(Somehow, I feel this is what today's 'Breaking News' concept primarily relies upon. Shock, Repetition, Sensationalization). The solo class that I truly enjoyed was English. Our teacher was a stern South Indian man with a heavy Tamil accent. This challenged my level of linguistic understanding on very many levels. While on one hand, I had to deal with raising my vocabulary standard, on the other, I had to find a common ground between all that I'd previously learned and all that I was currently learning. I suppose I was one of those few rebels, who read Dickens wrapped in a thick brown paper and stamped, "Physics Notes". This is exactly what brought my percentage down to a meager 55 in the first year. I was rendered a 'Hopeless' case, an 'Average' student. For someone who was used to being featured in the top ten, this came as a shock. I instantly broke up with Dickens and hooked up with Newton, who, in due course of time, turned out to be an excessively dis-interesting partner. Nevertheless, I pretended to fall in love with Science- hiding my misery behind numericals and killing my hope with test tubes. As a result, I passed out with a staggering 78 percent. It would not take a genius to guess that English (where I scored a healthy 91/100) had provided the requisite thrust to my percentage. As is the convention with most medical pass outs, I appeared for the PMT and qualified for BDS. By this time I'd realized that I did not want to poke around with people's bodies, and certainly not with their teeth. I was at a precipice again. What do I do? My father was hell bent on pushing me off the cliff to join the medical fraternity in the valley, while I was insistent upon retracing my steps and beginning anew. And this is when Ratan Tata caught my fancy.

2. When I wanted to be a Business Tycoon- - Isn't it a brilliant word,'Tycoon'? So strong, sturdy and powerful. Almost, Godly. At the age of 16, the best way to turn on a rebellious stance was by defying the wishes of my parents. They asked me to look East, I looked West. They asked me to move South, I moved North. Add to it a dislike for higher studies in the Medical field and you get the sudden desire to do an MBA. I revolted against the 2 years of forced studies and decided I was mature enough to make my own decisions. The parental government finally gave in to popular will and I ventured into the premises of a certain University,(I suppose it will be sensible to keep its name under wraps), in order to do an undergraduate course in Business Administration. I figured this was my best bet. This way, I could pursue my love for Literature and yet earn enough money to keep me afloat. Unfortunately, Business was nothing as I'd hoped it would be. It had no glamour, no riches and no takers- unless you were shrewd enough to extract these out of it. I was not. And I'd realized this soon enough. However,giving up now would mean a loss of face. I felt my parents would never trust me to make a sound decision again and why should they? Wasn't I the one who'd fought my way out of Medical and chosen Business? I'd made my choice and I had no option but to live with its consequences. While I was struggling with the monotony and frustration which'd begun to define my everyday life, a bolt struck out of the blue. The University was de-recognized by an order of the Supreme Court. In an instant, my future hung loose in the gallows of jeopardy. The struggle to get through the trivialities of life had all of a sudden turned into a struggle for survival. The implications soon began to settle in. A lot of time, money and effort had been wasted. I ran from nook to corner, but to no avail- The University was clearly shutting shop. And that is when I realized the gravity of my blunder. A silent pin had pricked the balloon of my bloated ego.


They say when you have nowhere else to run, you run back to the mastership. And that is exactly what I did. One week and my life was completely transformed. From the searing heat of Pathankot where this college was located, I found myself in the soothing lap of Dharamshala, where a new college awaited me. In order to save an year from going down the drain, I was granted late admission with subjects I'd never dream of taking in the normal course of events- Geography and Public Administration. I cursed myself and gave in to my destiny, not realizing that blessings usually came in the form of a disguise. It was during my first year in college that a fleeting thought of IAS, struck me. I dismissed it as another reckless opinion of an infantile mind. However, by the time I appeared for my third year exams, my belief in civil services being a final career choice, had begun to take shape. And this is when I made another brash decision.

3. When I wanted to be on Television- - This time, my decision led me to the heart of India,or as they call it- Delhi. I chose Mass Communication as my subject for Post-Graduation and came to believe that this would be my final calling. Not only did the choice help me vent out my creative energies but it also provided me an opportunity to do everything that I ever wanted to do- Write, Read, Speak. Marvel & Excel. Things went on in an amazing manner until I was allocated to a certain channel in order to pursue my internship. That changed everything. I will not name the TV channel lest they take offense at the kind of treatment I was meted out. Nevertheless, my dreams were shattered on the very first day. It began as a jovial interview after which I was ushered into the Production room so that I could get a hang of how things worked on Ground Zero. As I entered, I felt an unseasonal chill. The room was exceptionally cold and the four people inside were wearing shawls. The artificial cooling, I was told, was undertaken to keep humidity away from production equipment. A heavy set man, probably in his mid-forties was supervising the four interns. He looked at me warily and asked me to stand at a corner and observe how others were working. I could not contain my thrill, as I traced my steps to a far off corner of the room. The way their hands moved on the control panel, The way they consistently spoke on headphones, The noise, The cheer- Watching it all caused a flutter in my belly. I was soon going to be a part of this world! At about 6 PM, the shift ended. A rerun of some poorly crafted astrology show was put up, while the four interns packed up and left.
"Sit on the Panel", the man instructed me, "I"ll teach you how to control it before the next set of interns come in".
I happily made my way to the revolving chair. As I settled, he came up behind me and pointed towards the screen. "Don't take your eyes off it", he said, "And move your hands as I tell you to". With this he placed his hands over mine and brought his face so close that I could feel his breath on my neck.
"You have a beautiful smile", were the next words that he uttered, "How about coming in for the night shift tomorrow?".
The question hung mid-air. It was as if a noose had been tightened around my neck. But, That was the last straw. I got up, turned back and angrily whispered, "Don't you dare", before I picked up my stuff and stormed out of the room. By the time I reached college, the story was already known to them. However, the version they'd been told by the channel related a trivial argument over not being offered a chair. I was beckoned to the Director's office and offered some harsh words. They never asked me my version, I did not bother to explain. I consoled myself simply with the fact that I was not going to let an idiot ruin either my career or my peace of mind. I went on to complete my course, do another internship and isolate myself for an year to prepare for civil services.

Today, when I look back at the last ten years of my life, I realize the importance of whatever happened, whenever it did. Had I not taken up Science then, it would've been very difficult for me to revisit it during my preparation. Had not the Business college been de-recognized, I wouldn't have been pushed towards taking subjects which later served as my optionals. Had I not had that 'experience' during post-graduation, I would've never discovered my zeal to set things right. All my life, I'd tried to break free, not realizing that I didn't really want to do so. All I ever wanted was to pull the chains off and yet stay put to exercise my will and assert my rights- as an individual response and as a collective force.

If you've reached till the very last of this terribly long blog post, let me only state this- As I enter upon a new phase of my life this September, I will try to live up to the standards I have set for myself and the expectations others have tagged unto me. I've had my share of struggles, my chunk of battles- unwise,immature,foolish but as an Officer of the Indian Administrative services, I will yearn to become the voice of the unheard, the light of the unseen and the compassion of the unkind.

Amen!