Started at the Age of 28 and Cleared in Second Attempt
Atul Vikas Kulkarni
I hail from small town, Gokak, Belgaum, Karnataka. Then at the age of 8, due to various compulsions and acute difficulties in life we had to move to Bangalore. I joined Sudarshan Vidya Mandir school in Bangalore. Initially I found it difficult to adapt to English medium school, but here is where my teachers and Principal laid the foundation of my school life even though I faced several difficulties in my childhood days.
Later, I did my engineering from The National Institute of Engineering, Mysore in Computer Science, 2003-07. I then joined software company, Mindtree Ltd, Bangalore. After one year of my work, I found the corporate world very boring and mundane . But then, in Mindtree I got opportunity to have mentorship of Mr Prashanth Kamath, a differently abled person with cerebral palsy . Interaction with him showed me how with such disabilities he could do wonders since several of his software applications have got patents and awards. I was also part of Mindtree Green community where I got exposed to several Environmental NGOs in Bangalore and I started to volunteer over the weekends. Also, a great tragedy happened that I had a near death experience, which shook my sub-consciousness. This also triggered the thought of being a civil servant to serve the disadvantaged sections of society and nation at large. I was in the dilemma as to whether jump directly into preparation or join any professional college which would give to a proper foundation for civil services.
Then, I got opportunity to join Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai to the course on Urban Policy and Governance. With my poor financial background and family circumstances I decided to join TISS and postpone by full time preparations for civil services. It was a wonderful journey in TISS. On one hand, we had scholars teaching us, on the other hand, I was exposed to ground realities as we had field visits to slums, homeless, water issues, sanitation, poverty that opened up my eyes and shook my consciousness. I, witnessed that poor migrate from other geographical areas to the city in search of livelihood for meager income to penury. Without any support structure to fall back upon, these unskilled people begin living on open pavements, under over-bridges, road dividers, small unhygienic makeshift hutments and so on. Homeless people, visible at night and missing during the day, they sleep on public land. I listened to stories of slum dwellers, harassment of women and children on pavements and many more. All this motivated me to become civil servant.
Experiences Which Motivated Me Further:
I also had several opportunities in TISS and also won many national awards, such as , I represented India in the 1st SAYC, 2011- South Asia Youth Conference(SAARC) held in IIM, Bangalore in 2011. I was Finalist in International Business Summit, IIM Calcutta, Antyodaya for a concept of “Environment Museum” on Sustainable development, selected for Tata Jagriti Yatra, 2010- is an ambitious train journey of discovery and transformation that took 400 of India’s highly motivated youth on an 18 day national odyssey, National winner of Mahindra’s “Spark The Rise” competition for project “Smart Sanitation and Solid Waste Management: A Holistic Approach”, “Water Ambassador” by World Bank in Water Hackaton event , winner in Vodafone Mobiles for Good programme 2012, project titled “Locating and Rating of Public Restrooms in Indian Cities” and many more.
I did my thesis on lakes in Bangalore Title: “Land, Water and Local People: A Case Study of Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor” which involved field visits to 10 villages around Bengaluru, mapping of the lakes in BMIC region, study of traditional water management, Water rights of lake users etc which won Best dissertation award in TISS, Mumbai and was published as a book in LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing. This thesis won Best Dissertation award in TISS, 2012.
I, then had opportunity to work in CRISIL Limited, Mumbai as consultant at Nashik Municipal Corporation on JNNURM project. My job was to work with Municipal Administration headed by Commissioner, A senior IAS, to provide support and co-ordination with departments for implementation of reforms such as Administrative, E-Governance, Accounting and other reforms under JNNURM, attend various meetings at State/Central Government level etc. This gave a first hand experience on working on Government.
Later, I joined Arghyam, an NGO based in Bengaluru working on water and sanitation issues across India. I was working on projects such as Management of Water Quality through process re-engineering, diagnostic tool developed by the Water Integrity Network (WIN) to Assess Integrity and Governance of WASH interventions in Schools, Wastewater reuse network etc. I had the opportunity to visit more than 10 states across India. At certain junction, I realised that being outside Government I was not able to give solutions at larger scale. When I met a District Collector and presented our ideas, he willingly accepted the idea and agreed to scale it across the District and state level which could improve water situation for more than million lives. This fired the imagination of I becoming a District Collector and I discussed with my boss and he encouraged me to quit and do part time job along with preparation.
With just 1 month left for prelims 2013, but missed prelims cut-off by 0.66 marks. It was disheartening. With 2014 being my last attempt (as I would cross age of 30 years by 2014, until recently it was increased by 2 more years) I took a hard decision to give it as 1st and last attempt and invest my time, energy, money, effort in my preparation along with independent consulting job. How many of you would quit a good job at age of 28? I gave first and last best attempt. If your answer is “No”, please move out of your comfort zones and be fully motivated for civil services. If I could do it, then everyone else at younger age can definitely do it.
Examination Framework and Study Strategy
It is my pleasure to share whatever little I have and opine that the purpose is served if it helps the aspirants to whatever extent possible. Before starting the preparation, it is very important to have a complete understanding about the exam process, its structure and the various aspects related to the preparation.
The following points should be kept in mind while doing preparation:
- The focus should be on gaining basic clarity in each topic, which will come only through lot of logical questioning. This is most important for clearing the prelims stage.
- For any topic, try to do a horizontal and vertical reading of all the related topics which will definitely help to cover any topic holistically.
- A thorough analysis of the previous year’s question papers and the recent trends so that one is in tune with UPSC recent trends.
- Discussing elaborately with teachers, successful candidates and seniors so that one is on track during preparations.
Newspapers, Magazines, Journals, Internet (Most Important), and books of general reading. NCERT school books of history, geography, polity, economics, sociology and all humanities and arts (excluding languages, mathematics and science) from class 7th to 12th. Science NCERT school books of only class 9th and 10th.
History – NCERT textbooks, history of modern India – Bipin Chandra and Spectrum publications and any other books on Indian history of general interest.
Geography – NCERT textbooks of class 11th and 12th, physical geography by Go Cheng Leong and an ATLAS. Referring maps is very important.
Polity – Indian Constitution by Laxmikanth or D.D.Basu, NCERT school texts.
Science and Technology – The Hindu S&T page (weekly), Science Reporter by C.S.I.R., What, How & Why by C.S.I.R., Internet, NCERT 8th to 12th science textbooks.
Economics – NCERT 10th, 11th & 12th texts, Economic Survey, Indian Budget, Sriram Class notes, Mrunal.org, Pratiyogita Darpan special edition on Indian economy and any business daily.
General Knowledge – India year book, Manorama year book (Not to concentrate on unnecessary details)
Current Affairs – The Hindu, A business daily, InsightsonIndia, Mrunal.org, Gktoday website, Frontline, Yojana, Any competitive magazine, Websites – India.gov.in, India development gateway, Pib.nic.in, UNO website, Ministry websites, RBI, SEBI, etc websites, Indian Embassy websites and whatever other sites you can source authentic and concise information from.
Make use of Google Documents, Google Reader, News and such other internet tools to prepare notes online and for greater, better and easy accessibility. Making notes online helps in cutting down time and must be done on a regular basis without fail.
During preparation, one needs to focus on writing a good answer? So what is a good answer, is a million dollar question? Mains exam questions reveal many things about word limit, keywords like analyse, critically comment etc, analytical demand of question etc.
Here is where InsightsonIndia, made a game changer for my preparation. I wrote answers on daily basis from Insights Secure Daily Answer writing Challenge — where questions from important articles from The hindu, Business Standard and other important papers are posted. This helped to mould and chisel my answers to suit the demands of mains exam.
I strongly recommend the future aspirants to take answer writing on daily basis very seriously and practice to improve their writing skills, structure, speed and time management so that one can get maximum marks in GS papers.
Few more points on mains preparation are
- More time should be spent on thinking about the topic and making innovations, rather than on reading too many study materials available in market.
- The previous papers should be thoroughly analyzed to understand the trends and the expectations of the examiner.
- The preparation should be focused and all the hard work should be channelized in the right direction.
Common mistakes to be avoided while writing in GS mains papers
- First, try to address the question in the introduction rather than giving irrelevant answers
- Second, A balanced approach in answers are usually missing, either it will be very critical or totally out of context.
- Third, most of the times, aspirants was unable to fully understand the requirement if the question
- Fourth, most of the times,only few of required aspects/dimensions were covered in answers
- Fifth, write in points so that you can more marks rather than writing same point in big paragraph.
Few tips for better GS Mains answers
The competition is highly relative, our answers in the mains examination should not only be correct but also different with a touch of creativity and relevant to the question that is asked. Basics with clarity will come when there is lot of questioning while studying. The topic has to be studied in a logical manner.
The creativity and innovation is not something that you will get in the textbooks. They have to be developed on your own. It requires lot of thinking and observation. By innovation in answers what is meant is –
- Catchy introduction which addresses the question head-on
- Diagrams- so that one can break a monotonous answers
- Graphs- to better represent data.
- Flow charts
- Maps- draw India or world maps in geography/history papers
- Contemporary touch and applicability -use current affairs to strengthen your argument
- Catchy conclusion- giving solutions
Completing the GS papers
I too wrote almost all my answers in points but still I gave a proper introduction, proper headings and sub-headings and then a conclusion.
I have followed a “7-8-9” strategy for each paper of General studies.
|3 hours paper||finish __ questions|
|Total||25 Q x 10m = 250m|
As writing speed in slow initially, one can complete 7-8 questions in 1st hour and compensate that in last hour. Thus one can finish the paper.
What does UPSC expects in your from the essay? Why are they asking u to write essay, while they already have GS papers and subjects to know how knowledgeable you are and how well you know to communicate?
The answer is that, UPSC wants to know your general traits. When you are asked to write 10 sentences about a topic, how u write discloses lots of things about you! So, UPSC want to know who you are, than knowing how much you know! Your traits like, positive attitude, imagination, innovation, etc come out on the essay! The major difference between essay and others papers is: While the other papers are based on knowledge and logic, essay is based on imagination! Thats why essay question never seek factual answers.
Once the question paper is received, choose either 1 or 2 topics which you feel you have more points. On the last page of the answer booklet make note of topics and points under following headings
- Intro – try to write a quote, story, poem etc so that it catches the eye of examiner
- Different issues under this topic such as history, present status and statistics, impact-social, economical, biological, ethnological, political, psychological, cultural, religious,historical, geographical,etc
- Pros n cons
- Relate the topic to present day social conditions prevailing.
- Closing remarks n conclusion
This should take about 30 minutes for both topics.
- Choose topic where more points n better grip of subject is held.
- Start the essay with good beginning-quote/anecdote/song/statistics/some witty phrase made up
3.Anecdotes in as many parts as possible.
4.Sub heads can be given.
5.Language and grammar are important.
6.Points must have a flow. They must not appear disconnected.
- Underline some key words/stats/quotes/names of ppl,etc and emphasize on neatness of handwriting and no scratching in the main booklet.
Sociology optional Papers
Approach to sociology optional papers is quite different. As I had background from social sciences in TISS, I also faced lot of problems from moving from engineering background to social sciences. Try to study the thinkers part in both papers very perfectly and get a clarity on all the sociological concepts.
While writing sociology answers, try to keep in mind 3 things, Thinkers and their ideas, coherent arrangement and expression, and using contemporary topics in answers. Thinkers should be used in all answers . Arrangement of answers means the contents with a definite structure to be framed.
The structure must be exposed indirectly through the flow of writing with interlinking of sub topics and paragraphs explaining the scope meaning, description and discussion.
One needs to give the powerful and logical conclusion which is the consequence of everything discussed earlier. It must be balanced and free from prejudice.
My Interview Experience
Indian Forest Service Interview, 2014
Board: Alka Sihori madam
- Some question in Hindi on water scheme( which I couldn’t grasp)?
- Your hobby is lake cleaning?
- How do clean lakes?
- What was your role in cleaning lakes?
- In Bangalore, there are Ulsoor lake, Yediyur lake, why are they polluted? Can you clean them?
- What is Eutrophication, allotrofication?
- Can you eutrophic lake is converted to oligotrophic lake?
- What is the difference between lake and wetland?
- What is the chemistry of eutrophication? Can you tell the chemical reactions?
- What is water hyacinth? Where did it come from? How can you eliminate it?
- How in forest area, a lake can be cleaned?
- Tell how many national parks are there in India?
- Name any 10 national parks in India?
- Name a national park where lake is there?
- Name the highest altitude lake in India?
- Are you a water activist?
- Name few water activists in India? Ans: Mr Rajendra Singh
- What award did he win?
- Where does he work? What are his achievements?
- Tell me more about lake eco-system and water hyacinth?
- Can it be eliminated
- Your other hobby is handmade crafts? Do u still practice it? What u do?
- How can you promote handmade crafts in india?
- What are old age homes increasing in India?
- I can understand these technical answers of yours, can you explain lake eco-system in layman terms? ( I explained , but again he asked same question, Chairman intervened as asked Member4 to move to next question)
- Name the wildlife species in south Indian forests?
- Have you seen wild dog?
- Can you mention few critically endangered species in South India?
- Where else have you worked? Can you tell about your previous job?
Chairman intervened and asked about my work in Arghyam,an NGO and about projects in Chhattisgarh tribal areas)
Back to Chairman
- You have done Computer Science engineering long time. I shall ask few questions on it
- What is TCP/IP?
- Difference between TCP and OSI layer?
- Name seven layers of OSI model
- What is embedded system?
- Can u explain me the mechanism of elevator?
My interview lasted for 30 to 35 minutes. The board was chaired by a Alka Shirohi madam. I was asked about my hobby which are lake cleaning, handmade paper crafts and visiting old age homes. Chairman deliberately asked me on lakes and water issues which was my strong area. Certain questions were tricky, however, I managed to keep my cool and not give irrelevant answers. The trick I think is not to get caught and be proven self contradictory, but to maintain the same tenor and vigor throughout, without any diffidence. Overall got a good score.
BUT I DIDNT CLEAR IfoS exam and I missed by 10 marks. I was very disappointed and hope I could clear CSE exam.
CSE Interview, 2014
Board: H C Gupta + four members ( all gents)
Date: 19 May 2015, 4.30 PM
Duration: 30 minutes
Chairman: Read out my educational and employment details from DAF
- Which NGO did you work?
- What sectors does it work? ( drinking water and sanitation)
- Which projects on sanitation did you work. Please explain
- Who is the founder of Sulabh International?
- What is Sulabh model of toilets
- Is there any other alternative sanitation models?
- Tell me about the recent Karnataka High Court verdict? ( Jayalalitha case) What is her full name?
- Why did Tamil Nadu HC transfer the case to Karnataka?
- Why is Lokpal needed?
- What is Lokayukta? Who is current Lokayukta in Karnataka?
- How do you curb corruption in India?
- Among all the rights based approach which scheme you think is best? (MNREGA)
- Is MNREGA successful? Tell it loopholes?
- How do you create better community assets?
- What is intellectual property?
- What is Geographical Indications?
- Why is Indian GIs less successful than EU GI like wine etc
- Tell me about USA GI. How are they performing?
- Why negative balance of trade is bad for India? We can very well import goods?
- Why our exports not competitive? ( Long question , he gave example of automobile industry being competitive)
- Case: Your are District Collector, there is a calamity( floods) all crops are destroyed and there are no official records about cropping patter in our office? You have to start from scratch. What are the steps you will take? (long question)
- How will you finance the crop losses? Tell about National Calamity fund? National contingency fund? Differences? Who gives funds?
- Why Urban local bodies not able to self finance urban projects?
- What are the sources of funds for ULBs?
- What is percentage of property tax collection in ULBs?
- How can you overcome the shortfalls in tax collection?
- What is Solid waste tax and water cess?
- Why are old age homes growing in India(My hobby is “visiting old age homes”)
- What will you do if children abandon their parents and send to old age homes? What is the age of your parents?
- What are the laws related to it?
- Which war movies have you seen? Did you watch any 16th- 17th war movies( This is NOT my hobby)
Chairman: Your interview is over.
It was kind of a stress interview. Chairman after asking questions went to toilet and it was a very strange feeling. Some members were sleeping and not looking at me at all. Some members would object to whatever I say and deny it. But I had to substantiate my stance. They would cut me short in between and jump to another question without listening to what I am saying. To my disadvantage not much was asked from my DAF and my work experience.
To go to Delhi or take coaching classes?
I took a hard decision to start preparing for civil services at very late age of 28 years. I had to invest my time, energy, money, effort in my preparation along with independent consulting job as I still face financial difficulties(I am still working even after getting Rank 180. I laugh at my fate). Many who are from poor rural background need not venture out to New Delhi or attend any coaching institutions. One can study on their own and If I could do it, then everyone else at younger age and who are better off financially can also definitely do it.