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Story of my UPSC Journey |Utsav Gautam (AIR 33, UPSC-CSE 2017)

Dear All

I am Utsav Gautam (AIR 33, UPSC-CSE 2017)

It’s been more than a month after CSE 2017 result and I have been pondering in what ways I can contribute towards civil services aspirants. I have decided to start from motivation front and move towards GS and mathematics.  If even one person gets motivated  by reading my story, I think the purpose of this activity will be achieved.   I will be sharing my GS notes as well.

Before starting I must warn you that this article is going to be unapologetically long. However it will be very easy to read, though there can be some grammatically mistakes, thanks to my limited English skills.

I was born and brought up in a middle class family in Agra. Being from  education department, my father gave good attention to my education. My mother also used to take keen interest in studies (she still does). As my house is not far for DM residence and collectorate, passing through collectorate during childhood days used to give me inspiration. My father also used to encourage me that civil services is good platform for bringing positive change in the society. So I developed some liking for civil services. I got into IIT Patna in 2009 after passing intermediate exam the same year.

That time there were two optional in civil services.  I thought of reading electrical engineering diligently, so that it could be one of the potential optional for me. In first year during Btech, I used to read a lot toppers blogs. I was pretty much impressed by then topper Sh. Shah  Faisal Sir AIR-1 CSE- 2009. My plan was simple, that I would write CSE-2014 and would qualify it in first attempt. I later realized that it was highly ambitious target. In 2010, when I was in Patna, I got call from my father in the evening that he had been diagonised with Ideopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. He was supposed to go to doctor the next day, so he meanwhile asked me to google it and tell about its treatment. When I did some searching, I found out that there was no cure to this disease. This disease is very rare (1 in million type) with currently no medical justification for occurrence of this disease. My father had never taken a Supari (betel nut) in his life, what to talk of tobacco etc.

I cried, then called my father. While suppressing my emotions, I told my father the truth. Judging by my voice, he asked me not to cry and told me “If I am not losing courage, why are you losing courage, don’t worry we both will face this collectively”. After wandering in Apollo, Ganga Ram and realizing that treatment at these places will be very costly and non-reliable, luckily we got into AIIMS delhi. Doctors, there are quite competent and they write minimal medicines and they don’t have any vested interest. Since it was a rare disease, my father used to get attention of HoD of Pulmonary department at AIIMS Delhi. I was not in Agra, hectic schedule at IIT didn’t allow holidays, so that I could go home. So my mother used to accompany my father to delhi for treatment. My mother has faced all problems pertaining to my father illness very bravely.

I was worried what would happen to my father and the dream of becoming IAS which me and my father saw together. So I started avoiding the life of fun which transpires especially in IIT campus. In my third year I got a paper published in IEEE conference in cape town because of which I was offered an internship in a good university in USA. I decided not to accept that, to do an internship for namesake in Agra and to invest those 2-3 months for UPSC preparation. I joined BSNL for internship, completed Indian history and differential Equations (maths optional) in that summer.

In my fourth year, I got selected into Indian Oil Corporation as part of campus placement. My father was firm that there was no need to join because we have to become IAS. After finishing my Btech, I left for Agra. After some 10 odd days, my father developed intense back pain which was due to Rheumatic Arthritis. This was caused due to the lung disease my father had been suffering with. He got admitted to a hospital, after around 10 days he got discharged from the hospital. Soon I received joining letter for IOCL. It contained a bond of 3 lakh for 3 year. Contrary to the general practice of distributing sweets when one gets joining letter, my whole family had no food that day. I sincerely wanted to try myself in UPSC, my father wanted the same but my mother wanted me to join the job because of the prevailing circumstances. There was no financial problem throughout my preparation but, the human propensity of not taking risk during averse situation was the reason for my mother opposition. I obliged to my mother decision but promised her that I would leave the job if I don’t get the time to prepare.

In the initial five months I was there in Panipat Refinery, IOCL. I used to wake up at 6:30am, and leave for refinery at around 7:30am. I used to come back at 6:30pm after very tiring job, I used to study for 4-5 hours daily and sleep at 1 am. It was six day job.

In December 2013 I got transferred to Mathura refinery. I became co-incharge of Old units which were commissioned in 1982 with Soviet Union help. Since it was all old stuff, there were lot of electrical faults. My job became very hectic. It included climbing columns of 20 storeys, writing reports, studying circuit diagrams etc daily. In short, that posting was both mentally and physically exhausting. I used to leave for refinery at around 7:30am and come back at 9-10pm. Many times I used to go in the night as well, when some electrical equipment used to malfunction. I was unable to study even for 1 hr daily.

From January 2014 my father used to call me almost daily, asking me the same question everytime “When are you leaving the job?”.  He was very clear and firm that I should go for the greater good instead of not trying for UPSC because of his illness.  He even asked that I need not worry about the bond amount and he would pay. I started exploring the option of early exit and decided in Feb, that 30 April would be my last day in IOCL. I left Mathura refinery on 30 april, my father and sister came to Mathura to bring me home. At that time his condition had deteriorated a bit, he started taking oxygen through mask for 6-7 hours daily. In June, I went to AIIMS with my father and mother, there head of Pulmonary department told us that the maximum life that a person has in this disease after diagnosis is 5-6 years. We knew that around 4 years had passed.

I decided that I would not join any coaching classes.  Since I had read a lot of toppers blog, I thought that I knew all the areas where an aspirant could do a mistake (I was totally wrong on this). I was almost alone in this journey, preparing at home. After prelims I used to talk to my college friend Ankit Tripathi, who was also novice like me. We both had mathematics optional. That time I didn’t know how deep were the waters I was venturing into.

I gave prelims in Aug 2014, that time due to poor answer key of coaching classes,  I calculated my marks bit low. Because of which I could not maintain enough momentum. Result came, I cleared the prelims (when marks came, I got 16 marks more than cutoff, but thanks to wrong answer key of coaching, I got disheartened that time).  Since not much time was left for mains, I gave mains with zero answer writing practice. I practiced my optional a bit, scored good marks proportional to time I had invested.

After writing mains, from Jan-April 2015, I wasted 4 months in reading 2nd ARC report, Puncchi commission report (it had very low cost to benefit ratio for general studies). I missed mains 2014 cutoff by 93 marks. Due to strategic mistakes I was doing in 2015, the history was bound to repeat itself. I wrote mains and again missed the gen category cutoff by 40 marks.

This was a new experience to me. I had never faced back to back failures in my life in this manner. Me and my friend ankit tripathi realized that giving attempt in 2014 without any preparation was our biggest mistake, because of which we were strangled in this exam cycle rather than getting time for capacity building. We also realized that it’s too late to think all this. I got some satisfying marks in GS-II and GS-III, which gave me some hope, on the other hand I came to know that my essay writing skills are not good and I need a lot of hard work into this. My hope of becoming IAS was only possible if I perform very good in mathematics, which included making no silly mistakes, this was contrary to my nature and habit. I also needed very good score in GS as well. I didn’t have much hope from my essay paper.

I wrote 2016 prelims, was getting good marks in it. My friend ruined his paper, which meant that I would be preparing alone for mains this time. In August, there was sudden downfall in the health of my father. He was already taking artificial oxygen 24×7 since past 1 year. After 15 days, he stopped talking medicines. He used to remain in state of unconsciousness/deep sleep for majority of day. Me, my mother and two sisters used to persuade him(sometimes angrily) to take  medicine. He once said “pehle bhi dawaai khane se kya ho gaya?, taking medicines has not made any difference earlier, then what is the point of talking medicine now.”  Like my all family members, I was very sad. I used to curse myself, why I have not cleared this exam? I could have given this happiness to my father. On 9th September 2016, he passed away. We concluded that he knew that his body was about give up, that’s why he had stopped taking medicines.

I became emotionally vulnerable. I had to console not only myself but, my family as well. I felt like leaving this world, I didn’t want to live in my home that time. I used to project as if I am very strong, so that they get some courage. Mains exam was there after about 2 months. So much time was not left also. I decided that I have to clear this exam at any cost, so as to give tribute to my father. I started studying with all might that I had. I used to cry solitarily so that my mother and sister didn’t see that.

Before mains I got cold and fever. During exam I used to take paracetamol, shiver in first half and was drenched with sweat in the second shift because medicine started showing its effects. After writing mains, I again made a strategic mistake, I started reading my hobby Astronomy a lot, as if I am going for Phd in it. I cleared mains this time (34 marks more than cutoff). But because of poor and directionless preparation, I ruined my interview. I needed only average marks in interview to clear the exam, but I scored very low marks (146).

When the results were out, I was very sad. I cried many times, I had missed the chance to give tribute to my father, I didn’t have almost no food for 3-4 days. That time there was not much time to cry also, because prelim 2017 was only 18 days after the result of CSE-2016. I saw the video of movie MS DHONI in which dhoni didn’t get selected, he goes to friend shop and says “ Ka hua ?, ekdum shaant pad gaye aap log. Selection nahi hua hai, pata hai humko. Dekhiye iss tournament se humko itna to  pata chal gaya hai,  ki itne se nahi hoga, humko aur mehnat karna padega. Islye aaj ka din humare liye bahut hi important hai, ye singhada balushahi ka party isliye hai, kyunki hum aaj ka din nahi bhoolna chahte.” I have seen this video atleast 1000 times.

This line “itne se nahi hoga, humko aur mehnat karna padega i.e. this will not suffice, I have to work hard more” got engraved in my head. I again started working hard with more vigour. I used to recollect the instance during 2003 cricket world cup, when in India Vs England match, Ashish Nehra vomited when he tried to generate extra pace and bounce, he took 6-23. Like him, I decided that I will cross the mental and physical barriers, that were there for me. I refrained from every activity which didn’t aid me in exam.

In mid sep I developed severe pain in my right hand and I was unable to write tests. This wasted my precious 20-25 days. Things improved around mid October. So I wrote few tests, but disturbed the plan that I had set for myself.  Mains exam were starting from 28 oct’17. I was supposed to leave for Delhi on 27 oct. My grandmother passed away on 22 oct. It again gave me a shock. It is considered highly inauspicious for a person who has performed last rites, to leave the town before the 13th day death ceremony ritual. Thus many relatives advised my mother that I should not do last rites of my amma. But since it was wish of my amma (grandmother), I perfomed the last rites and left for delhi.

I was  feeling very determined that I will not do any mistakes that I have done in general studies in previous years and I would not do any silly mistakes in maths paper. Mains went well, I again did some silly mistakes in maths paper(though it was much less compared to last year). After reaching Agra, I started the interview preparation from the next day itself. I focused on the mistakes that I did last time promised myself  that I would not repeat them. I used to practice with my friend Praveenchand over the skype. I used to record and watch my videos again and again. I shifted to Mukherjee nagar after the mains result, so that I could give mocks and there is no need to do up-down from agra-delhi.

My interview was on 20 march FN, which gave me plenty of time to prepare. It was Prof P K Joshi Sir board this time. He has a reputation of giving low marks, but I believed that if I don’t do any blunder, I will get atleast average marks. Interview went well. Based on assessment of my performance I had faith that I should land up in double digits. On 27th april it got confirmed. I thanked god, my family for everything.

Many relatives, neighbor who criticized me and my parent’s decision to leave job said that they knew that I would clear it. Many relatives and known people who were not there in difficult times, came and became my well-wisher. It reminded me of famous shayari couplets which goes like this

आज गुमनाम हूँ तो जरा फासला रख मुझसे…!
कल फिर मशहूर हो जाऊॅ तो कोई रिश्ता निकाल लेना…!!
I guess the world is like this only. This is the harsh reality. Anyway it doesn’t affect me. The only thing that affects me is that fact my father is not there to witness my success. Some people said to me that you father must be watching you from heaven etc etc. But my faith in astronomy, big bang, multiverse and The Stephen Hawking doesn’t allow me to believe these thing. I believe firmly in god but not in this swarg-narak type of concept.

I wish I haven’t read that much astronomy so that I could have believed in these explanations. I might have got some solace then. Had I not committed any strategic mistakes I might have got selected in front of my father. This also reminds me of that day when me and my father were watching Sachin Tendlukar scoring century against Kenya in 1999 world cup after sachin returned from his father’s funeral.

Overall this journey has been an immense learning experience and it developed a lot of character in me. I have/will always admire the strength with which my father faced his illness, the unconditional support that my mother and sisters gave me throughout my preparation. My whole family used to reserve me for studies and my sisters used to do task regarding taking care of my father, bringing medicines, going to doctor etc.

My parents always emphasized on Bhagwat Gita, i.e. doing what is there in one’s hand. Therefore I believe journey is more important.

Life is very big to be defined by a success/failure in one exam. Ultimate aim of life should to get content and satisfaction from whatever big or small we do. The bliss is within us only. Therefore the focus should be on  becoming good human being, it doesn’t matter in the end whether one is rich or poor, whether we have power or not.

Gandhiji said “Glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it.”

Thanks for reading

Source: XM

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