BALAJI D K: Rank 36, CSE – 2014: Story of Perseverance and Hardwork
Many of you might have dreamt of becoming an IAS or IPS officer when you were still a child. You are pursuing that dream now through your own struggles and hardships. But here is a story (for us it is an extraordinary story though) where a small boy dreams big and chases it no matter what obstacles he faces in his way.
D K Balaji, coming from a small town, studying in dilapidated government school, learning English literally on his own, today has realized his dream overcoming many struggles. For you he has written an interesting and motivational article explaining how the seed of his dream was sown and how he brought it into fruition. He was inspired by many toppers when he was a child. Today across karnataka, especially in rural regions, he is inspiring a generation of school children (on mission mode) to chase their dreams. We are proud that he was once a student at Insights.
Disclaimer: He too has praised us – which we do not deserve much. We reiterate that it was his hard work and will power which has secured him his rank. We were just facilitators at max. His words reflect his humble nature. We thank him for his words.
Chasing My Dream
I come from Koratagere, a small town in Tumakuru District of Karnataka.
It was mostly 2000. I was 10-yr old. UDAYA TV (Kannada TV Channel) used to telecast news at 8:30pm. At the start of break time, a GK question used to be asked. Answer would be given at the end of the break.
One night, I had some fight with my dad around this news time. He was beating me. That he was very furious was evident from his red eyes. I was crying. As every night, at the start of news break, a question was asked – Mahileyarige mathadaanada hakkannu needida vishwada prathama rashtra yavudu? (Which is the first country in the world to provide voting rights to women?). In the midst of cry, I just screamed NEW ZELAND!!. (I had read it somewhere earlier). My dad just got curious. He stopped beating me and waited for the CORRECT answer at the end of the break. He realized my answer to be CORRECT. Anger gave away to surprise and happiness. He smiled. He hugged me with all love. A thought just crossed my mind – ‘Learning GK would help me win anyone’s heart’. That made me read GK books. My GK knowledge had given me a special place in my school. Then I was prodded to ask every elderly uncle – Jaasthi GK knowledge bekiro exam yavdu? (Which exam needs a lot of GK?). The obvious answer was ‘IAS’ by many. This is where the seeds of IAS were sown in my mind loosely, if not deeply.
Later, my high school tuition teacher by name SACHIDANANDA RAO used to inspire me saying, a man has to live in such a way that s/he would be remembered for at least four days by four persons, post-death. I got to know that IAS is one profession where I can live as said by guru.
Around same time, another high school teacher by name KS JAGADEESHIAH used to narrate the success saga of IAS aspirants. These things made me look towards IAS a little more seriously.
However, the determination to be an IAS officer took concrete shape in 2005 when I had just written my 10th standard exams and was awaiting result. A gentleman from my town by name KG JAGADISH cracked CSE-2004 with AIR 58. Immediately I decided, MY GOAL IS TO BE AN IAS OFFICER.
My 10th standard results came. I secured 93.76% with 100/100 marks in Mathematics. I had stood first to the district amongst Government School Students. Then came the most unconventional decision of my life. I decided to take up HUMANITIES to pursue my IAS dream, when everyone ran behind SCIENCE. I told my parents my decision. My dad just asked if I was ‘determined’ to become an IAS officer. I firmly said, YES. Both my parents happily agreed. They were rebuked by their friends, relatives and everyone else for not preventing me from taking up HUMANITIES. But they remained firm. I’m indeed blessed to have such parents. I’m happy that I have lived up to their faith in me. Thanks a lot Amma and Appa (Mom and Dad).
I joined Pre-University with Humanities in Tumakuru, 26-km from my hometown. I commuted everyday. One evening, while returning from college, I just passed by a book shop. That shop had displayed the magazine ‘Competition Success Review’ (CSR) with the photos of Sri S. Nagarajan (CSE 2004 – AIR 1) and Ms. Suja K (CSE 2004 – AIR 4). I bought the magazine. But I could not understand anything in that. (My English was very poor or may be even pathetic. I had done my high schooling from a government school. Even though my school had the best of the teachers for all subjects, English teachers were not proficient. But I indeed have loads of regards even to them). That evening itself I realized the necessity of learning English to chase my IAS dream. I decided – ‘I will learn English, come what may’.
Then, everyday I made a point to commute only by video-coach buses, even if that meant waiting at bus stand longer to catch such a bus. A few days I waited as long as 1 hour to catch video-coach bus. In bus, I used to translate Kannada and Telugu movie dialogues to English in bus. Whatever I couldn’t translate, I noted such dialogues down and pestered English lecturers the next day. I kept on thinking in English. I always formed English sentences in mind. My mind never kept quiet. While eating, bathing, almost all the times, I thought framing English sentences. Reading CSR in parallel helped me acquire a lot of new English words. I tried using new words in my own sentences. Doing this continuously for about 3-4 months made me learn good English and acquire reasonable command over that language.
For 12th standard, I joined hostel. Seeing engineering people being placed in MNCs with nice pay packages did worry me for sometime. Then my Principal cleared my worries and suggested me to pursue further studies in MANAGEMENT since that would mould my personality suitably for a civil servant. I prepared for CAT (challenges faced while learning Quantitative Aptitude, Reasoning is yet another story, which I don’t wish to touch upon here). This rigorous CAT preparation didn’t help me get a seat in any of the IIMs or any of the topmost B-schools but it was to help me in CSAT in future.
First Attempt at Civil Services Exam
Fast Forward to July, 2012. I finished my MBA. I was all set to jump into IAS preparation. I was under the impression (or false impression) that one could clear CSE only if coaching is taken in Delhi (Usual Delhi-mania that every prospective aspirant would have) I met Mr. Nakul (CSE 2010 – AIR 32). He convinced me that ‘going to Delhi is not required’ and I decided to stay back. Sir’s one tip was to become guiding light to me throughout my preparation. Both of them (individually) said, “Read just one book for each subject. Reading one book twice is better than reading two books once.” Ms. Amulya (CSE 2011 – AIR 609) also gave me the same tip. It reinforced my faith in this useful suggestion.
At this point of time, one more incident happened. I got to know that my community offered free civil services coaching in Hyderabad. I was happy and excited. I went to meet associated persons in Bangalore. To my rude shock, my competence and uptill-then academic performance were mocked at and I was abused in ‘below-the-belt’ language. But, it strengthened my determination. Later, they offered me seat. However, I was upset with the lack of organization in their training program. They clubbed my batch with an earlier batch. I was forced to sit all classes, even though I knew I didn’t need them. Study environment was non-existent. My optional Kannada Literature was not taught there. All this made me take a tough decision – give up free boarding, lodging and coaching in Hyderabad. It also meant spending own money to sustain in Bengaluru. But I took that decision and it has indeed borne fruits. Risk I took by giving up such facilities has been suitably rewarded.
There were two Optional subjects then. I decided to take up ‘Public Administration’ and ‘Kannada Literature’. I bought reliable books for Pub Ad and started self-preparation at home. After every chapter I read, I used to answer the questions from that chapter asked in previous years. One Pub Ad trainer and Mr. Narendra (IFoS and the one who had prepared Pub Ad with AIR-1 Shubra Saxena) appreciated my answers to the core. I was reeling under lot of confidence. But a bombshell in the form of Pub Ad Mains Question Paper for 2012 fell on me. I didn’t understand most of the questions only, forget answering them! I started fearing as to what if a similar Pub Ad paper would come the next year too. I decided to stop Pub Ad preparation for about a month or so and search for a better guide (preferably an aspirant not a trainer). Meanwhile, change in the pattern of CSE was announced. And I had to choose one optional and I decided to drop Pub Ad and go with Kannada Literature. But all this wasted some precious 6 months. Perhaps this waste is one reason why I could not even get an interview call in my first attempt.
Then I decided to focus only on aPrelims, since I had only 5 months left for it and I had practically ‘zero’ preparation for Prelims. Study of Humanities during 11th and 12th std came handy to me since I had fair understanding of basics and need not have to go through all NCERTs. (But I strongly recommend every aspirant to read each and every NCERT as they are ‘bible of CSE preparation’. I skipped reading all NCERTs, not because they were of no utility, but because I didn’t have time). Then I studied following books for Prelims, religiously and thoroughly.
- Indian Polity – Laxmikant
- A Brief History of Modern India – Rajiv Aiyer (Spectrum Publications)
- Sri Ram IAS ‘Indian Economy’ material
- Economic Survey
- Geography NCERTs
- Certificate Physical and Human Geography by GC leong.
While reading, I made a point to consciously think of nature and content of possible questions from that portion of reading. It helped me a lot. I did a lot of discussion with friends and revised multiple times. Polity, Economy and History didn’t pose much problem.
However, I started finding lot of difficulty in understanding Geography concepts. I requested JICE institute in Bengaluru to provide me only Geography coaching, not the whole prelims program. They agreed. Geography classes at JICE helped me a lot.
I wrote test series at JICE.
Rigorous preparation for 5 months helped me clear prelims. My CAT preparation did help in CSAT. I ended up scoring 108 in Paper 1 and 170 in Paper 2.
If I have to figuratively describe my state while approaching Mains for the first time, ‘I was a blind who searched for a black cat in the night’. I didn’t know anything except the pattern. Nor was there any preparation, be it for GS or optional. I firmly believe ‘the best way to do multiple things at a time is to do one thing at a time’. Accordingly, I decided to focus on my Optional Kannada Literature first few months and then focus on GS. (I shall detail my Kannada Literature strategy in another article). I did the same, but I did not get through mains. In fact, my friend Kavya suggested me to write answers on www.insightsonindia.com ‘Answer Writing Challenge’. But I did not take that seriously. I feel the following are reasons for failure in first attempt.
- Kannada Literature took more time. I could not concentrate on GS much. (Nevertheless, I scored decent marks of 221 in Kannada Literature)
- I had not written even a single essay before exam. I wrote the essay, “Be the Change you want to see in others” (incidentally, I scored only 70 in essay). What went wrong with my essay?
- I interpreted the statement in two ways and started writing it. After writing about two pages, I realized that one of the two interpretations might be inappropriate. I should have struck off the wrong interpretation and moved ahead. But, I felt striking off would send a wrong signal to the evaluator and hence went ahead building the essay around single interpretation.
- I filled my essay with mere examples, with hardly any amount of analysis.
- I did not write a proper test series for GS. Evaluation was unreasonably delayed with baseless excuses and feedback offered hardly any insight into how my mistakes could be plugged and improvement could be realized. (I secured 45, 52, 56 and 78 in the four GS papers respectively).
Despite bad, nay worst preparation, I was expecting an ‘Interview Call’. How foolish I was!!!! The evening I got my Mains result of failure, I became absent-minded and worried for about two days. Then I decided to introspect my preparation to identify the mistakes and correct them and move on for second preparation. All the three mistakes that I quoted just above were realized during such introspection.
After about two days, I only realized that I was thinking too much. I consoled myself thinking of aspirants who would have spent 5-6 years in this preparation. Finally, I decided to give one more serious attempt by rectifying my mistakes. I thought I must have fared badly in my optional, Kannada Literature and started working on it. (‘How I worked on it?’ would be covered in a separate article.)
Second attempt preparation made things fall in place for me, themselves. My friend Kavya who was in Hyderabad during my first attempt returned to Bangalore and she and her mother rented out a home in my locality. In her I had found a very good friend with whom I could discuss at length and revise the concepts. Everyday I studied in library till 1:30 pm and then went to home for lunch and discussion. We drew up a proper plan. We drew up a timetable. We decided to read only few authentic sources and revise the same again and again. I convinced her to stick to the sources I had studied in my first attempt (mentioned above). Additionally, we studied only the below:
- Environment material by Shankar IAS
- Old NCERTs for Ancient India and Medieval India (Even though this did not help much)
- Some notes made from insightsonindia.com
We also wrote ‘Career Launcher’ mock tests at JICE, Vijaynagar, Bengaluru.
Our focused as well as strategic preparation made both of us clear Prelims.
Meanwhile, I started thinking of moving to Delhi for Mains preparation. Only thing that made me think so was that I could write mock tests there. No Mains test in Bengaluru was satisfactory. My experience during first attempt had amply testified the same.
But, Kavya said, ‘www.insightsonindia.com Vinay Sir may give proper test series. Let’s mail and enquire once.’ I agreed with her. Surprisingly, we instantly got reply and got to know that ‘Insights’ Vinay Sir would offer offline test series. Immediately, I dropped the idea of Delhi. I had immense faith in him and had nursed a feeling of respect towards him for his relentless efforts to help lakhs of aspirants to sit wherever they are and prepare for this exam.
One more miracle happened (of course, it did not seem to be a miracle then). An aspirant by name Mr. Maneesh Nayak whom I had met a few times at a mess where I used to have dinner approached me and informed me that he would shift his optional from ‘Geography’ to ‘Kannada Literature’ and sought my help. It was indeed a blessing in disguise. I had found a person for whom I could teach Kannada Literature from scratch. This was indeed a heaven sent opportunity, since it offered me a chance to understand my optional even better.
Prelims got over. Before starting off my mains preparation, I decided upon a few principles:
- I would not ‘read’ much, but ‘think’ most
- I would give first preference to ‘revision’ and second preference to ‘studying new things’.
- I would prepare a separate notes for compiling the information that I would have to use for substantiating my points in exam (such as statistics, research findings, illustrations etc)
- I would write all GS tests religiously, even if I would not have covered the prescribed syllabus.
- I would stay calm and poised throughout the preparation.
- I would not be overconfident or under-confident with respective better marks or worst marks. I would just be ‘normal’.
I planned my day like this. Every morning I studied at library or my room. Then, had discussion with Kavya. During night, I went to Maneesh’s room for teaching him Kannada Literature. This made me keep myself occupied for the whole day. Since I spent my day at three different places, it did not create any boredom.
I wrote all Insights tests religiously without missing a single test.
I decided to take ‘Essay’ paper very seriously, since I had scored pathetic 70 marks in my previous attempt. I realized my mistakes in previous attempt. First mistake was that I had filled my first attempt essay with only examples and very less of analysis. Mistake #2 was I had not arranged that essay properly. So, in my second attempt, I decided to write more analysis and use examples only for quoting purpose. Thus, I made a point to write the content in the paragraph and end the paragraph with example in the last sentence.
To ensure logical connectivity, I formulated a plan – conceptualizing an essay as being made up of many ‘components’ and ‘sub-components’. To elaborate, such components may be causes-course-consequence-steps already taken to mitigate negative consequences-steps to be taken to remove negative consequence; or the structure can be infancy-adolescence-youth (used this structure in mock essay on ‘child rights’ given by Insights); or the structure can be primary sector-secondary sector- tertiary sector – social sector (used this in a mock essay on ‘women and Indian Economy’).
Again, I used to divide every component into sub components. Mostly, sub-components include social, economic, political, scientific, technological, cultural and other such angles. The first three angles used to be mentioned in almost all essays. Thus, I could organize my essay very much logically. Other important thing is that I developed the habit of using ‘conjunctions’ or ‘linkers’ profusely. Profuse usage of linkers like ‘as mentioned in the above paragraph….’, ‘however’, ‘ as against above…..’ etc made my essay automatically connected.
Diversity of essay topic questions asked by Insights mock essay tests acted as fertile ground for me to experiment my strategy of looking an essay as made up of many components. Vinay sir offered his valuable suggestions if my strategy was appropriate. The day before essay exam, over phone, I expressed my decision not to write any essay on philosophical topics. Vinay sir told me not to have such mental blocks and one should be psychologically prepared to write any kind of essay. His words gave me strength and his words rung in my ears when I saw the first section of essay paper that asked to write an essay on one of the four topics, all of which sounded like philosophical. His words made me not to get shocked and just approach the essay positively. Thus, it did wonders. I could write a decent essay.
For GS 1, I just referred to the standard books.
For GS 2 and GS 3, I strictly struck to the ‘insightsonindia.com’ compilation of Secure answer writing challenges. I made my own notes from that compilation and just studied that again and again. I intend to mention that my notes were not just the copycat of Insights compilation. I used to condense the information in the form feasible for me to remember and revise easily and quickly. To elaborate, I used to write only key words pertaining to a concept. While revising, I used to think deeply on those key words and internalized every issue. Those key words made me think of the actual issue, but in my own way. So, answers in exam did not flow from brain’s memory. They just flowed from my heart’s understanding!!!!
For GS 4, (most of you may not believe), I didn’t study any specific book even for a single day. My intuition said that UPSC would not check our ‘knowledge about ethics’, but it would test my ‘ethical competence’. So, I started thinking a lot. I thought very deeply about my life. Whenever I was free, I tried to recollect my past life and incidents in which I had demonstrated ‘ethical competence’. I recollected even as insignificant incidence as of returning excess ‘change’ received at hotel, offering seat to needy in bus and others. I also often put myself in the shoes of an administrator and used to think of hypothetical scenarios that I might have to encounter if I get into civil service. My first GS 4, mock test at insightsonindia.com proved my strategy to be correct. I could answer all the questions in the test even without any study. Vinay sir had set paper to check ‘ethical competence only. It reinforced my faith in my strategy and I went ahead. My continuous thinking made me answer case studies in multi-dimensional ways. Finally, the result – I have scored 121 in GS 4, even without any study. I did all my case studies from Insights website and from Insights mock tests.
Thus, jam-packed preparation for 3.5 months made me confident about Mains. Insights guided and motivated me very much during this phase.
The role of insightsonindia.com’s offline test series in helping me score well in this exam is immense. With below average GS scores in previous attempt, I have now ended up with above-average GS scores in this attempt, across all papers. This is not a eulogy. I must say, I would not have even got into the list, without this test series, not to mention of getting fantastic Rank 36.
The best part of the test series was it was conducted systematically and even timely. Each and every word was read and feedback given accordingly.
One more thing worth of mention is that last round of tests were conducted for 300 marks. And I was prepared to answer 30 questions satisfactorily in 3 hours. Surprisingly, in exam, I got just 25 questions (GS 1) and 20 questions (GS 2 and 3). Thus, I had adequate time to think and answer sensibly in mains.
Last word, I would not have written this article, if I had not written Insights’ offline test series.
I don’t want to write much about my Personality Test. This is because I have been awarded just 151 marks. But I just want to mention the reasons why, as I think, I may have got such low marks. Reasons;
- I had been selected as RBI Grade B officer and I was very casual about IAS Personality Test.
- In an attempt to stay ‘cool’, I stayed ‘supercool’ and this made me give some unwarranted answers. To illustrate, I was asked, ‘What should we have to do to bring every child to school?’ I answered, ‘GER has already reached almost 100% and almost every child in school”. Interviewer: “Don’t you think it is just on paper?” I – ‘Sir, I RESPECT government statistics and believe them to be true’. Now, I feel, this one answer, coupled with lot of carefree attitude that must have been demonstrated without my knowledge must have pulled my score down.
Last Word to future aspirants:
For Prelims, revise as much as possible. For Mains, write as much as possible.