Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ek Adhpaka Sa Sapna

एक अधपका सा सपना 

एक अधपका सा सपना है ये 
स्वाद आता भी है और नहीं भी 

मेहनत का सारा अनाज तो उबला है
पर किस्मत का नमक थोड़ा हल्का है
लगन की आँच शायद मध्यम थी
या फिर जोश के मसाले की कमी है

गले के नीचे न उतरे, ऐसा भी नहीं है
पर उँगलियाँ चाट लूँ, ऐसा भी नहीं
क्या इसी अधपके सपने से पेट भर लूँ ?
या फिर से चढ़ाऊं हाँडी उम्मीदों की ?

एक बार फिर मेहनत का अनाज उबले
कटें कुछ अच्छे बुरे दिनों की सब्ज़ियाँ
आँच तेज़ हो लगन की इस बार
और मसाले जोश से भी जोशीले

ज़रा सी मेहर हो ऊपर वाले की
पड़ जाए किस्मत का नमक, अगर सही
फिर से पका लूँ उस सपने को
इस अधपके सपने में तो वो स्वाद नहीं

एक अधपका सा सपना है ये
स्वाद आता भी है, और नहीं भी

Saturday, May 14, 2011

MY Civil Services Interview 2010 (Held on 13th April 2011)

I wrote down my interview on 13th April itself, hours after my interview. But couldn't dare to post it before the results. Having qualified now with Rank 292, am posting my interview script here. As and when the interview marks come, I shall also post the marks I was awarded for this interview.

(Marks arrived on 17th May 2011. I have been awarded 213 out of 300 for the following interview)


Chandra Mohan Thakur

Academic Qualifications       :        B.Tech (Mech engg), IIT  Kanpur, 2006
    Executive Gen. Mgmt. Prog, IIM Bangalore 2007
Job Experience                    :        Areas Sales and Customer Manager, HUL (July 2006 – Present)
Optionals                             :        Sociology and Public Administration
Home City/State                  :        Bokaro, Jharkhand
Hobbies                               :        1. Member, Shiksha Sopan, NGO in Rural Education
    2. Scouting for local delicacies
    3. Reading Non-fiction books
Date of Interview                 :        13-04-2011 Forenoon Session
Interview Board Chairman   :        Lt. Gen. Nirbhay Sharma

(After doing the formalities with the documents etc, I was told that I would be the first one in my group to be interviewed. I told myself that it is good that the board would be fresh in morning and I would get sufficient attention. I asked the official when we would know about the board. He said, “Only when the first person is called. So when you go, then the others will know which board is it”. Well, that meant I would have no chance to react or plan according to the board. So I decided not to think about the board. At about 10 am, an official came and called my name and asked me to accompany him. Midway, I asked him which board was it. He said Nirbhay Sharma. “What!!! “, I screamed in my head. “Lieutenant General Nirbhay Sharma. God knows what he would ask me.” I hadn’t read much about him but thought that being an army man he would be tough and would expect me to be tough as well.

Sitting outside the boardroom, I asked the peon if there was a lady member. He said there was one. I started rehearsing in my mind. “Good Morning Ma’am, Good Morning Sirs”.

By 10:05 am, I was called in. As I walked in, I saw only 4 men and a vacant chair for the lady. I quickly swallowed the rehearsed “Good Morning Ma’am” and said Good Morning Sir. Thinking that I should have said ‘Sirs’, I once again said, “Good Morning Sirs”. Nirbhay Sharma gave a smile and asked me to take seat.

I thanked him and took my seat.)

Nirbhay Sharma (looking into my form): So, Chandra Mohan, I see your bio data is quite loaded. You have IIT, then IIM Bangalore, NCC. Hmm… Now the only thing missing is Civil Services. Huh?

(I grinned, said nothing)

So, you are working as well.

CMT: Yes sir, in Hindustan Unilever as an Areas Sales and Customer Manager.

NS:  You have been working for about four and a half years now? Hmm…

CMT: Yes sir.

(He continues…)So you scout for local delicacies (one of my mentioned hobbies)

CMT: Yes Sir. My job involves a lot of travel and so whenever I go to a place I look for some famous local street food by asking the retailers about it.

NS: and then you have a good helping of it? (grins)

CMT: (blushingly) yes sir.

NS: So, you are a foodie!!

CMT: Yes sir, I am. (Everyone Laughs).

(He asks the first member, a male, to ask questions.)

M1: Chandra Mohan, today is a Restricted Holiday. Do you know on what basis is a restricted holiday decided?

(First of all, I didn’t know if today was a holiday at all, neither did I know anything about a restricted holiday. But it was my first question to be answered. I had to say something)

CMT: Sir, I am not very sure about it, but I think Gazetted Holidays are the ones which are mandatory for all organizations while Restricted Holidays are probably optional. I am not very sure, sir.

M1: Actually, these are State specific. Well, on what basis are they decided?

(I thought, “Dude, I just said I don’t know, why are you asking again?”)

CMT: Sir, I am not aware about it.

M1: Still, tomorrow you will join the government, how will you decide on Restricted Holidays.

(I had to say something now)

CMT: Sir, I would look at the local cultural factors, the religious sentiments of the region and local festivals etc. and decide accordingly..

M1: Ok. How many type of New Years are celebrated in India?

(“Are you obsessed with holidays??” I thought)

CMT: Sir there is one Christian Calendar whose New Year falls on 1st of January (Yeah yeah… as if it was news)

M1: Is it really a “Christian” Calendar?

CMT: Sir, technically it is called the Gregorian Calendar. Then there is Vikram Samvat which is followed by Hindus and whose New Year falls on the first day of Shukla Paksha of Chaitra. There is also an Islamic Calendar whose new year I am not aware of and there is the Shaka Calendar whose new year too, I don’t know.

M1: What is the basis of these calendars?

CMT: Sir, they are dependent on different histories belonging to different religions.

M1: No no… I mean are they on lunar basis or solar basis?

CMT: Sir, the Gregorian Calendar is on the solar basis while the Vikram Samvat is on the lunar basis. I am not aware about the other calendars.

M1: When does a new year begin in a lunar calendar?

CMT: Sir, the new year begins from the first day of Shukla Paksha that is, just the day after Amavasya when the new moon makes appearance. The Months actually begin just after Poornima, but New year is celebrated on the 16th day of the first month as shukla paksha signifies new light coming in life

M1: If you see any government calendar, you would notice that there is one official Indian Calendar. What calendar is it?

(The lady member walks in. I pause and wish her good morning. She smiles and sits back.)

CMT: Sir, Pardon me. I missed your question.

M1: I was asking which is the government’s calendar and on what basis is the government’s calendar made? You must have seen the government holidays mentioned on the calendars.

CMT: Sir, I think it is the Shaka calendar but about the basis, I haven’t read much. I do not know.

M1: Fine (Points to the second member, another male)

M2: Chandra Mohan, You were just talking about the New Years (Was I?Dude, it was he who started it. Come on!!) So which New year falls tomorrow?

CMT: Sorry Sir, I am not aware about it.

M2: It is the Tamil New Year.

CMT: Ok Sir. (As if I cared!!!)

M2: Whose birthday is it tomorrow? (Oh Man!! That’s it. I am done with calendars. I had no clue one has to be so thorough on dates. I am screwed big time)

CMT: Sorry Sir. I can’t remember.

M2: Ambedkar’s. (He gave me the look as if I was the most stupid man he had ever seen who doesn’t even remember birthdays. I guess most men have such trouble remembering birthdays, don’t they? L)

CMT: Oh. Yes Sir.

M2: Actually it is a nice coincidence that Tamil New Year and Ambedkar’s birthday falls on the same day. 
Actually it is something like blah blah balh… the way it is for  Sankranti etc.. blah blah blah…

CMT: Yes Sir. (Phew !!!)

M2: So, what is the significance of today in Tamil Nadu? (That’s it. Hands up)

CMT: Sorry Sir. No idea.

M2: What do you know about Tamil Nadu.

CMT: Sir, that it is one of the most developed states of the country….

Nirbhay Sharma: Chandra Mohan!

CMT: Yes Sir

NS: There’s a glass of water kept in front of you. Why don’t you drink some water? Do not get tensed.

CMT: (trying hard to smile) No sir. It’s okay.

NS: No no. Have a sip. Water is a very good thing. It shall help you.

(I pick up the glass and felt like gulping it totally but just took a sip and kept it back)

NS: Now tell us what is happening in Tamil Nadu today which is very important?

CMT: Sir, the elections are taking place?

NS: See, the water helps.

CMT: Yes Sir, it does (Everyone smiles, including me.)

M2: Well, Chandra Mohan, when I was young, while studying Indian Economy we only studied about agricultural economy. But today it is not like that. There is no attention on agriculture and it has lost its share in GDP also. It has also affected the social setup of agricultural families. What do you think?

CMT: Sir, I think that Industrialization and growth of services sector is important for a country’s development. And with development, the share of agriculture in GDP is bound to reduce. But that does not mean that agriculture is becoming less important. It only means that today, agriculture is no longer such a wholesome occupation which can sustain entire families. While twenty years ago, entire family could earn handsomely just by agriculture and they did not need any formal education to make money, it isn’t so today. It is required that members of agricultural family venture into industrial and services sector also and thus the direct dependence of population on agriculture should reduce.

M2: But what would happen to food security? Agriculture is so important for food.

CMT: Sir, the government is very much aware of the problem of food security and necessary attention on agriculture in this regard is being given.

M2: But don’t you think, that despite having self sufficiency in food production, the issue of food security is still so much in debate. Why?

CMT: Sir, the problem in food security is not so much of production, but about distribution, storage, pilferage (M2 starts nodding his head affirmatively, still I continue) of purchasing power and empowerment.

M2: You seem to have travelled much. How do you see the different social settings today?

(I didn’t understand his question well. Still I began)

CMT: Sir I have mostly travelled in Northern India only.

M2: No problem.

CMT: Sir, should I contrast, say Punjab and Haryana, according to their social setups?

M2: No no. I am asking what impacts do you observe of globalization on the Indian Society?

CMT: Well, Sir, Under the influence of globalization, the Indian society is becoming more receptive to modern and western values like democracy, equality, individual freedom etc.

M2: Oh ho!! You are talking about polity and governance. I am asking about impact on society.

CMT: Sir, in society as well, the youth is challenging the caste system and do not go by caste even while marrying. Also, due to expansion of internet, youth is interacting with people across borders and imbibing newer modern values. Yet some of the Indian values are still kept intact for example, the value of respecting elders.

M2: What effect does globalization have on family?

CMT: Sir, industrialization had already brought nuclear families into urban society. Globalization has added to that trend. Also, a growing number of live-in relationships have also been coming up and people are becoming quite comfortable about it. The judiciary also treats it as permissible kind of family system. (An affirmative nod again J)

(M2 passes on to M3, the sole lady member)

M3: I am sorry I am late. Actually I come from Greater Noida, so I guess it is expected. I might have missed on some interesting part of the initial discussion. (I smiled and thought, “no problem lady you came in right when I was being butchered for the numerous calendars we have, you didn’t miss any fun, trust me”) So, I see you have mention about your work in Rural Education

CMT: Yes ma’am, in an NGO called Shiksha Sopan.

M3: Yes. And also you are working in an MNC in sales and marketing. First I would like to ask you about the NGO, Shiksha Sopan. I hope it hasn’t been asked already. And then I would come to the marketing part. First about Shiksha Sopan.

CMT: Ma’am. It is an NGO which was started in 2001 by some IIT Students and Prof. H. C. Verma. I joined it in 2002. It has three goals, Shiksha, Sanskar and Svavalamban, that is, education, character building and self-dependence. Presently we have a fully operational school where we teach till class 8. We also have three evening centres where we supplement the education of students of regular schools. We also have a Gahan Adhyayan Kendra especially focused on children of class 10th and 12th where we target the board exams specifically. In addition to that, we also have a fully functional Science Lab, where the children perform experiments in Physics and Chemistry. These children, whose parents are mostly agricultural labourers and rickshaw-pullers are today quite comfortable with these experiments and also go for science exhibitions. (on the science lab part, she seemed visibly impressed) When I was at IIT, ma’am, I worked as a teacher in Shiksha Sopan for four years. After joining my job, my role has mostly been confined to providing financial assistance and seeking funding for our programmes.

M3: Ok. You are working in marketing sector. So do you work on some specific products?

CMT: Yes ma’am. I look after cosmetics and premium care products like Lakme, Pond’s, Dove etc.

M3: Ok. So you would have heard about the FDI in retail. What’s your take on it?

Ma’am. There are apprehensions regarding the plan of introducing FDI in retail among the unorganized retail sector of India. As the present Indian retail sector is highly unorganized, so the small grocers and mom-and-pop stores are quite apprehensive about the entry of the big foreign retail players. But I think, ma’am, their apprehensions are not well founded. I have noticed that even after the entry of the indigenous organized retailers like the Future’s Group’s Big Bazaar and Reliance etc, these small grocers were quite apprehensive. But only few shops got affected which did not adapt according to changing times.
Most of the stores changed themselves to self service format and with their personalized relations with the customers and the facility of home delivery and credit, they have survived the coming up of the big retailers. So, they are now aware of the challenges they would be posed with entry of foreign retailers and they would be more prepared for it. (She nodded in agreement)

I think it is a ripe time when indigenous organized retail has been around for a substantial amount of time, that foreign retailers should be let into the Indian market. If there are apprehensions, may be we shouldn’t do it at a go but gradually let the foreign retailers enter the market.

M3: What are the present FDI guidelines in retail?

CMT: Ma’am, in case of wholesale, I think 100% FDI is allowed. That is how Wal Mart has come up with its Best Price shops. In terms of retail, I think 26% or 49% FDI is allowed, I don’t remember exactly, ma’am. And so Wal Mart has come up with a Joint Venture in form of Easy Day Stores. Also, ma’am, in case of Single Brand Retail there is 100% FDI and that is how Nike and Reebok have come up in India. The debate presently is about introducing 100% FDI in multi-brand retail.

M3: Hmm… You were mentioning about brands like Nike and Reebok. Don’t you think that in the name of Brand Equity, these products are overpriced and with their entry into rural markets, they would have an adverse effect on the not-so-well section of the society.

CMT:  Ma’am. I don’t agree on that.  I think the big companies are aware of the challenges of the rural sector. In fact, to take an example from my present company, our Dove Shampoo has a great brand appeal. But when we venture into the rural markets we offer the same brand equity in form of low priced sachets. This does not hit the rural consumer’s pocket very badly. Ma’am, with the penetration of media in the villages, the awareness about brands is already there and hence aspirations to experience those brands exist. If the brands deliver what they promise, then I think the rural people can also access these brands in a manner that they get an experience and it doesn’t affect their pocket also. (She seemed quite convinced)

M3: Ok. One of your hobbies is reading Non-fiction books (smiles. I smile back too). And you are in marketing. So have you read the book “Blah-blah-blah” by “Mr. So and So” (I had neither heard of them earlier nor could I hear them now). It is about marketing.

CMT: No ma’am. I haven’t heard about this book. (I felt like saying that I don’t read marketing books and giving her a list of books I read, but I found it unnecessary and so stopped at that)

M3: Yeah. Actually it’s a 1960 book, so you might not have read it. It is quite a nice book about advertising. Never Mind. (She passes on to M4, a male)
M4: (with a big smile) So, Mr. Thakur!! You seem to have a good education and you are working in a reputed company. Why do you want to come to the government?

CMT: (I smiled first and then said) Sir, the idea of joining the government came during one of the CSR Projects that I was working on behalf of HUL. It was Project Bhavishya in Maharashtra where I was posted for a month and we were to help the government in improving supply chain efficiencies in ICDS and PDS. During that one month stay, I travelled to the tribal villages of Nasik and saw what interventions the government was making in those places. I was quite surprised to see the Nasik CDPO very charged up and excited about his job. In one of our conversations I asked him, “why are you so excited about your job. After all it is just a job where you get a salary which is quite less than what I get.” Sir, he answered back brilliantly saying, “What you do in HUL changes the way people look and feel about themselves, but what I do changes the way children in my district grow up. If I work well, then children of my district will grow healthier”. I was quite amazed at his conviction and the satisfaction he drew from the job. (By now I thought, they would give me a standing ovation but they had a pretty blank look on their face.)

Also, as a part of the project we were sent to Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu where ICDS works quite well and I visited a tribal village where the excellent electricity supply and tap water facilities in all homes amazed me. I realized the potential that governments had to intervene in the social life of people and I decided I want to be part of it.  Also sir, When I read about Herzberg’s theory I realized that salary etc are only hygiene factors and it is actually the nature of the job…. (I was cut short here L)

M4: But don’t you think that people first join MNCs and then they just want to shift to the government?

CMT:  (my voice got a little firm here and I sounded offended) Sir, I did not join this company because it was an MNC or an Indian company. I wasn’t very comfortable working with machines and I wanted to be in a profession where I had to work with people. That is why I chose marketing. I am now choosing government because I think the interactions with people would be much more here. Sir I had grown up in Bihar in a time when I thought that governments don’t function. So I had plans to join the corporate sector. It was my experience in CSR that gave me the hope that governments can and do deliver well and I wanted to be a part of it.

M4: Hmm… (Gives a big smile again) But you are a science student and you have chosen Sociology and Public Administration as your optional. Don’t you think it is a bit “strange”?

CMT: (I had a bigger smile this time) Sir, In fact it is the science part which is strange in my bio data. I did not have much interest in science subjects but as parents wanted me to go to IIT so I landed up there. I did not perform too well in the Mechanical Engineering papers and it was at IIT that I first got exposed to sociology. I did three courses in Sociology and scored good grades in them and found the subject quite relevant to the happenings around me.

M4: (with a sarcastic smile) Then why did you go to IIT?

CMT: Sir because my parents told me to.

M4: And you didn’t have a choice, right? (said laughingly)

CMT: Yes Sir, at that age I didn’t have a strong conviction to decide my career on my own so I just followed what my parents said. (Everyone smiles )

M4: Also, I hear about a lot of suicides at IIT, especially IIT Kanpur. Why do you think they happen so much? It is so disturbing to know about them.

CMT: Yes sir, there are quite a few cases of suicides and it’s quite sad. In fact, in my four years of stay at IIT, I had witnessed eight suicides and all of them were because of academic reasons. I think the students who come to IITK are mostly school toppers throughout their life and are the blue-eyed boys of their teachers and parents and so they have high expectations of themselves. But at IIT, everyone is a school topper and in a relative grading scenario, some students are bound to be at the bottom. Some students aren’t able to take that downfall so easily and contemplate suicide.

M4: Is that all? Is nothing done about it?

CMT: No sir, at IITK, there is a Counseling Service which functions to ease out the stress in students’ life. A group of six first year students are assigned a second year student as their student guide who also guides them through their initial academic challenges. I was also a part of that Counseling service. Also we have a psychiatrist to counsel the students. I think the students need to understand that one grade up or down wouldn’t have such a huge impact on life. In fact, sir, once I too had scored very poorly in a subject and feared that I might get an F. I went to the professor. Dr. A.K. Mallik to ask him if I had passed the course or not. He told me very nicely that do not worry about one grade in one course because 15 years down the line it wouldn’t matter what grades you got in what subjects. Life is a learning journey and you will need to constantly perform in it.

M4: Ok. (Passes on back to Nirbhay Sharma)

NS: (after a small pause) Chandra Mohan, you were talking about brands some while ago. Have you noticed how fairness and white skin is such a craze in our society and how companies are exploiting this craze. There is this ad in which Shahrukh khan ridicules a wrestler because he uses a girl’s fairness cream and then he is shown using a lipstick also. Don’t you think such ads are quite demeaning? (I had not seen this ad, but I could guess that it is about Emami Fair and Handsome). Also in another ad, a shop girl gives contraceptives in place of change (He was referring to the Lava mobile ad, which I had seen, and also liked). Don’t you think that the morality is being ignored in such advertisements? Or do you think that it is okay in marketing to have such ads and it is just a reflection of the social change?

CMT: (I took a deliberate pause here and thought for some while) Sir, to some extent these ads do reflect the changes that are happening in our society. But I do agree that at times companies go a little overboard in an attempt to be creative and ignore the moral standards. But I wouldn’t place both the ads you cited in the same category.

NS: So which ad do you think is acceptable and which one is not?

CMT: Sir, I think the ad in which the shop girl gives contraceptives is acceptable as it shows that the youth is becoming more comfortable in dealing with contraceptives which is a good sign for the society. (He was pleased and smiled affirmatively)

NS: And why do you find the other ad unacceptable?

CMT: Sir, in the other ad, there is no social significance of such a campaign and it is just an attempt to malign the existing fairness brand (and with a grin I said) which is our brand, sir.

NS: So is that why you don’t like that ad because it maligns your brand?

CMT: No sir, I disapprove of it because of the genuine reason that it is a show of dirty competition. Also, not that our company is always on the right side. At times, we also go a little overboard in criticizing our competitors in our ads and when sued for such ads, we have to withdraw those ads.

NS: But that would happen only when the court gives the final verdict, right? By then many people would have already seen the ad.

CMT: No sir. As soon as a petition is filed against an ad, we have to stop airing it till the matter is subjudice. In fact, one of our Axe ads was challenged for being vulgar and we had to stop airing the ad. After the judgement, we had to show the ad after cutting the objectionable sections.

NS: Hmmm… you have heard about Wikileaks. What do you think? Such kind of journalism, I don’t know what will you call it cable journalism or whatever, is it a good thing or a bad thing?

CMT: Sir, While I respect the fact that Wikileaks states its intent to bring in more transparency in governance, I also feel that their focus seems tilted towards sensationalizing the issues more. In the recent  publications in the Hindu also, while the initial few articles did get some attention the later articles were merely sensationalized ones and not many people reacted.

NS: Give an example of such an article.

CMT: Sir, for example the article about Mr. Arun Jaitley’s comment on hindutva. Not many people found that it was such a crucial leak and an unnecessary noise was created around it. Also, Sir, I feel that in matters of diplomacy the national interest is paramount and if that requires some amount of secrecy, it is justified. Exposing such details which could jeopardize national security and national economies are not a healthy sign in journalism.

NS: So do you think such people should be held for creating so much trouble and should be jailed. You are about to join the government. How would you tackle these people? They are creating such ruckus.

CMT: Sir, But I also think that in India we are moving from secrecy being the rule to transparency being the rule and so we should react accordingly.

NS: But is it only an Indian phenomenon?

CMT: No sir, it is a global phenomenon.

NS: So how have the other countries reacted to it?

CMT: Sir, US has reacted very strongly against it. Cases have been framed against Jullian Assange and other charges have also been put on him in other nations. Also the military official who leaked the cables has been arrested and is being prosecuted presently.

NS: So what should we do with that official? He claims that he leaked the cables for the greater cause of humanity and he was helping cleanse the system. What do you think?

CMT: Sir, I think once he had pledged his allegiance to the army and the nation he should have stood by it. If he had strong difference of opinions, he should have probably quit the army and became a part of the civil society to raise voice against the system.

NS: So what should we do with Jullian Assange?

CMT: Sir, if he has violated some specific laws, he can be questioned in court and prosecuted as well.

NS: And what should we do with Mr. N. Ram of the Hindu? He is the one who went ahead and signed a deal with them. This way anybody would go and sign a deal and start creating havoc!!

CMT: (now I got a bit cautious and didn’t want to take too tough a stand) Sir, I think it is also a time for the government to do some introspection on the way it functions and acknowledge that the present system is more prone to openness and we need to be extra cautious.

NS: (quite displeased at this moral lecture) So we should handle our diplomacy being cautious, do you think it can be done that way?

CMT: Sir, earlier even district offices worked with secrecy but with coming up of RTI, they have changed their working style accordingly. In diplomacy too, I think it can be done although the national interests should always be paramount.

NS: Ok Chandra Mohan. That is all. Thank you.

CMT: (a little stunned with the sudden closure) Thank you sir.

(While walking out of the room I looked back again to gauge their expressions. NS had a blank look and was constantly staring me as I walked out. While closing the door, I said thank you again. He did not reply. It was 10:45 am when I came out of the room.)