Taking stock of what I did for two months while waiting for mains result

I basically wasted away all my time, as evidenced by my previous blog posts on the subject. Rumours are adrift that tomorrow the 17th of February the result might finally be declared which means all my hopes can be shattered in the single click of a button or if the heavens are kind then my dream might have a fighting chance of realization after all.

Anyway, to feel like I wasn’t totally wasting my life these past two months, I thought I’d make this list – more to reassure myself than for anything else.

Books read-

  1. The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  2. Readings, by Michael Dirda
  3. Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
  4. Green for Life, by Victoria Boutenka
  5. The Diary of a Nobody, by George and Weedon Grossmith
  6. The Scope for Happiness, by Vijay Laxmi Pandit
  7. Scrolls of Strife, by Pradipta Borgohain
  8. Conquering Heart Disease, by Harvey Simon

Movies watched-

  1. La la Land
  2. Florence Foster Jenkins (two times)
  3. The Fundamentals of Caring
  4. The Way Back
  5. Marmaduke
  6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (third time)
  7. Notting Hill (fourth time)
  8. Sense and Sensibility
  9. Unbroken
  10. The DUFF
  11. As Good As It Gets (nth time)
  12. Fukrey
  13. Sicario
  14. Daddy’s Home
  15. Ex-machina
  16. Annie
  17. The Godfather (second time)
  18. Zombieland
  19. Man Who Knew Infinity
  20. Pawn Sacrifice
  21. Braveheart
  22. Father of the Bride
  23. Hacksaw Ridge

TV shows binged-

  1. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
  2. Veep
  3. Mom (a couple of seasons)
  4. Stranger Things
  5. House of Cards

Places visited-

  1. New Delhi
  2. Guwahati

Pizzas Eaten- 3

Hair masks experimented- 3

I guess not a bad use of a couple of months after all.


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Aimless, listless drifting

I wake up at 7:30 am everyday. There’s too much activity around and I’m a private person. I don’t like anyone watching me sleep, even if it’s a glance in my direction. So I wake up when the maid is about to enter my room. Usually I’m pleased if I am able to jump out of bed when she enters the house, but at the very latest I jump out when she enters my room.

My first trip is to my study table to check my email and make sure UPSC did not release the result at night during my fitful sleep. Then I drift into the kitchen where my mother hands me my cup of tea – sweet and milky in the winters, light and black in the summers. I sit in the drawing room with that day’s Indian Express, just glancing through the headlines. I usually like ginger biscuits to dip into my tea, but my family has raided my stock, so today I have to settle for a Parle G which inevitably breaks and settles down in a lumpy mess at the bottom of my cup. Gross.

I put on my shoes to accompany mother on her morning walk. We leave the house with my sister, who has to walk a little to the end of our lane to catch her school bus. Mother and I proceed to the park and talk about how difficult it is to raise my sister, what with her tantrums and defiance. With my college-educated wisdom, I patiently give my mother tips on how to raise a difficult child. We do some stretches, pluck a few Tulsi leaves from the plant in the park, and return home.

My morning chores include making the beds and packing my parents’ lunches for work. It doesn’t sound like much, but takes up a half hour. I make my own breakfast – cheese tomato sandwich with olives and capsicum, and mustard and barbecue sauce. It’s quite delicious actually and I feel very healthy eating it. I think to myself that I want to transition to becoming vegan, for the sake of the environment, and it would be easy except I don’t know how to give up butter. Cheese I could still force myself to, but butter is life. I make sure to feel extra appreciation for the sandwich in my hand, which is buttered on both sides.

My parents leave for work, I shut the door behind them and go back to check my email for any word from UPSC. None. I think to myself what I should do. Invariably, I open Youtube. I scan through that day’s recommendations. They mostly consist of American talk shows with myriad celebrities, some UPSC prep videos with annoying toppers from last year, and beauty and lifestyle videos which are my shameful indulgence. I open my selection all in new tabs and settle down for the next hour to watch them each in turn. The American talk shows are funny these days on account of Trump. The UPSC prep videos are tired and repetitive. The lifestyle videos allow me to daydream of another world where I have all the time in the world to worry about my hair and my skin and what I eat and what I wear. I love my hair though, so I do take out time to take good care of it. It’s not the best hair in the world, there are more than a few greys on account of all the stress I’ve been under. But I love them locks.

I glance at the clock and it’s 12 noon. I’m a little hungry so I go raid the fridge. Our house is south facing so the balconies are always flooded in sunlight. I take my snack and go out to the balcony. I tie a scarf around my hair to protect it from the sun and sit down on the floor. For the next hour I think. I think about how great life will be in LBSNAA. I think about all the interviews I will give (and some which I will refuse) upon clearing the civil services. I try and draft a speech I will make to future aspirants and the tips that they should keep in mind. More than anything else, I dream about how my life will finally begin once this exam is over and done with. John Lennon’s words creep to mind – Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans – but I dismiss them out of hand. Sitting idly on a balcony, eating a carrot, staring into space like a hobo cannot be my life. This cannot be it.

Before I know it, it’s 2 o’ clock and time for my sister to come home. This is the part I despise, when I have to heat up lunch for both of us, but it’s part of my daily chores. My sister rattles on about what all happened in school that day. I try not to think of what I did all day (nothing). After lunch, she has to take a nap otherwise she gets her dreadful headaches. I return to my computer to quickly check the UPSC website. Nothing. Nada. I return to Youtube. But everything interesting I’ve already watched. So I go switch on the television. Bruce Springsteen’s song comes to mind – 57 channels and nothin’ on. I switch off the TV again.

I return to the book I’ve been reading – The Scope of Happiness, by Vijay Laxmi Pandit. I hope to follow in her footsteps some day. She was the first woman President of the UN General Assembly. I daydream about becoming the first UN Secretary General from India. That would be one for the school textbooks for sure.

The maids come and I have to give them instructions, passed on from my mother. Once they leave, I wake my sister and give her a glass of milk as her evening snack. I take one myself. I’m going to turn vegan soon, I tell myself. Better to stock up on all the calcium now to avoid getting osteoporosis in old age. We eat some buttered bread along with it. Switch on the television in the vain hope of finding something interesting, but no luck. My sister is on her phone, scrolling through Instagram, telling me about the latest Internet sensation (“I can’t believe you haven’t heard of Bea Salt yet! There are so many memes about him!”) I walk around the house, restlessly, aimlessly. I know I should start studying, but I cannot bring myself to it. I check for my result again. Finding nothing else to do, I send a quick, innocuous email to Khushboo, which says a lot but means nothing. It’s just a bait to hear back from her and feel for one minute like I am doing something.

My parents come back late at night, around 8-8:30. They are bankers, which means they are the front line soldiers dealing with demonetisation. I ask them about their day. My mother asks me what I did all day. I mumble a lie about how much I studied. She accepts it but I can see it in her eyes that she is not wholly convinced. But she understands. She’s waiting for the result too.

9 pm is my favourite time of the day. i don’t know the name of the channel but it’s 816 on Tata Sky and the program is called Raina Beeti Jaye. It plays old Hindi songs for the next three hours, with a very elegant commentary from two hosts who speak very polished Hindi. I love listening to them and I love watching the songs.

My chores at night include cooking the rice (we have an automatic rice cooker so it basically means pouring the rice and water in it and shutting the lid), laying the table, and filling up the drinking water. We then sit together as a family at the dinning table and eat dinner together, watching TV. My sister sometimes interjects to talk about her day, and my parents talk banking jargon, but I mostly sit quietly, speaking only when spoken to.

I was at an airport recently and came across a book called the Happiness Project. I read the first 10 pages of it I guess before keeping it back. It was a B-grade book, not worth the attention, but something it said struck a chord – “The days are long but the years are short.” I contemplate that line as I eat my dinner. Another long day gone by. Another to look forward to tomorrow.

And still, no news from UPSC.


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The Mains Result Is Nigh

So I was like, the new year is here and I haven’t inaugurated it on the blog yet, and also, I should probably write something before the mains result is declared. I suppose I should write my thoughts on how the exam went, and then maybe a brief update on what I did the past two months. May I will learn lessons for next year form this analysis – fingers crossed though, that I don’t have to appear next year.

Thoughts on the exam-

  1. Nothing prepares you for the amount of writing you have to do. It is only the adrenaline that keeps you going for six hours everyday, pouring your heart, soul and crap out on every page. There was that one day I remember, when tears were welling up in my eyes because my hand hurt so badly and the little voice in my head kept saying, “leave it, leave the paper, come back next year, this is too painful….” I was very sorely tempted to listen to it. I swear, if this had been my first attempt at the exam, I would have listened to it in a jiffy. But this being my third attempt, and there being a very noticeable crop of white hair on my head as a direct result of the stress this exam creates in my life, I was like, nope, keep crying and carry on.
  2. Write plenty of mock exams and take them very seriously. It’s okay if you don’t take the mock tests for prelims very seriously, as long as you have gone through the questions a few times. But believe me, the way you perform during your mock tests is exactly the way you will perform during your final exam. I used to be like, yeah, whatever, lets not draw diagrams or finish the paper, it’s only a mock. I’ll bring my A-game to the final. Nope, that didn’t happen. All that crap I was dishing out during the mocks was the exact crap I ended up dishing out during mains. Didn’t draw diagrams because was not in the habit of drawing diagrams.
  3. You know when people say, writing is more important than reading, and you look at them suspiciously, not wanting to believe them because, c’mon, how can you write without reading first, right? Well, wrong. Apparently they were on to something. This exam will bombard you with the randomest crap questions ever and you’ll be like, goddammit, I have no idea about this and will have to invent stuff now and I’m not particularly imaginative so I am just going to end up writing puke. No matter what you do, how much you read, in about fifty percent of each of your papers you will be compelled to invent puke. You will be well advised to practice inventing puke from before hand so that at least it’s realistic looking and not like a fake movie prop.
  4. When you are reading (and you have to continue reading of course, you can’t just be writing all the time), make sure you diversify your sources. I know people tell you to stick to a source and own it, but that’s only for the static portion for prelims. On all other occasions, diversify, diversify! I mean, UPSC is not beholden to you to give questions from your special chosen source. Although even when you are diversifying, it is better to diversify more among government sources and then move on to others. Although I’ll be damned if any government source mentioned anything about McBride Commission whatsoever. That was a low blow.
  5. You know everyone is like, you don’t need coaching centers, you can do it on your own? Everyone is lying. You absolutely need coaching centers. What you don’t always need to do is fill their coffers with lakhs of your money. Be smart about it. You don’t need coaching centers to teach you stuff in a classroom, books will suffice. The free current affairs compilations many of them provide will also suffice. You don’t need them to check your papers, because average answers suffice in UPSC, as long as they are multidimensional. Just make sure you join a test series and write a lot of questions, and consult the test series of many different coaching centers to assemble a diverse question bank of probable questions. For interview, I guess mock interviews help somewhat, just to muster the confidence through experience of facing a panel of five-six people and speaking in front of them like a boss. I wouldn’t know though, I’m still awaiting my first UPSC interview call.
  6. As I said before, your answers in mains are fine even if they are only average. But make sure they are multidimensional, that’s the key. If you are writing puke, write about it from a political, economic and social angle. Make sure you finish your paper. Quote stuff, like the Economic Survey, don’t just write down facts and figures like a boss and be all, “So, what of it?”.
  7. One thing I’m really worried about is that in many places where I’ve written the most spectacular answers, I have written way less than the word limit. And although the coaching center mock tests assured me that the quality of my answers were more important than their length, similar reassurance was nowhere to be sighted in the actual UPSC exam. Mostly, I have done this in 10 marks questions which required 150 words and I wrote 80 words and came. So…that might work against me. If I make it through though, then you may safely take it to be true that UPSC really does not care about the length of your answers.

What I did these past two months-

  1. A lot of macrame. I made tons of friendship bracelets with really cool designs till my mom put a stop to it saying I was becoming a zombie, knotting away.
  2. Read a few books I guess. Nothing to completion sadly, so won’t mention them here.
  3. Watched some TV shows. Gilmore Girls A Year In The Life was not that great shake, but at least it was nice enough to want to watch it to completion. In the original series I could not get myself to watch seasons 6 and 7 because they were so bad. I mean, I can’t believe the writers didn’t realize how bad the writing was. If not the writers, then at least the editors should have said something. It had deteriorated into one person speaking a really lengthy and not witty dialogue about something, and then another person repeating what they said verbatim to a third party. Of course, it was new stuff for the third party so they were amply interested. But the audience, for whom the show was intended, was having to listen to the whole thing a second time. Not cool. Oh, drop everything and go watch Veep. Like, right now.
  4. Lots of movies too. Haven’t watched Lala Land yet, so can safely say that Florence Foster Jenkins was like the best movie of 2016.
  5. Visited Guwahati to see my grandparents. they are the coolest, awesomest people I know. They are likely much smarter than even you.
  6. A friend from JNU visited and came to stay with me. She kind of invited herself and I was like, ugh, I do not feel like hosting at all. But I kind of ended up having a decent time.

Which brings us to now. I have decided to hell with my chances, I am going to start preparing for interview regardless. Till now it has mostly consisted of reading transcripts of other people’s interviews.

I am worried because I wrote learning languages as a hobby, and all I know a little bit of is spanish. But this other guy a year or two ago with the same hobby knew like 22 languages and I was like, what if the board thinks I am an impostor in comparison? It has been most distressing these past two days.



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My Life In Emails ~ 15

From: Mr. Terry Eagleton

To: Khushboo, you all know her well by now

Subject: Book recommendations because we are bored to death whilst awaiting mains result

nahin, i didn’t know about the hot air balloon thing. but if i tell my parents about it they will want to go too. we shall try to keep it pedestrian. okay, will start brainstorming movies for the next marathon. my girl is definitely one movie to watch. i think coming of age movies are a genre universally enjoyed regardless of the actually quality of the movie, so research more along those lines.

 i haven’t read any of garcia marquez yet because i figured i would simply read the original spanish when i got good enough in it. but yeah, magical realism is kind of really annoying. i don’t know what to recommend because i read the randomest stuff both good and bad. so i shall recommend from the general repository of all my readings till now rather than from my recent reads. one book i know that everyone really likes regardless of personal taste is angela’s ashes by frank mccourt. if you are feeling snobbish, then you’ll be pleased to know he’s a pulitzer prize winner (i think). it’s a memoir of growing up in ireland but it’s the writing that makes it so good. 
my all time favourite book to read over and over again is catcher in the rye. it’s a coming of age book about this angsty teenager who uses the word ‘phony’ too many times. although I don’t think this is a good time to read it – in between slogging it away for upsc – because the basic premise of the book is – what’s the point of anything at all?
 And I’m sure you have read a bit of PG Wodehouse but I don’t think you’ve read any of his Psmith series? I presume that because those are not as readily available on bookshelves as bertie woosters or jeeves wala series. anyway, Psmith is one of my favourite fictional characters of all times. But that’s only if you are looking for some light, funny reading and not for anything with gravitas. 
I am usually not a fan of graphic novels, and i think i’ve already told you about this one but Kabul Disco blew my mind. I love afghanistan for one thing, and this book is really funny and well written and teaches you a lot about lives of expatriates in Kabul. Can’t recommend it enough. The price was steep for me relative to the size of the book so I just sat one day in crossword and finished it in 4-5 hours. but now i’m thinking i wouldn’t mind owning it. 
if you’re looking to kill two-three birds with one stone – enjoy a good fiction that’s a classic but is not very long, learn something new about a different culture and history, impress upsc board with the depth of your reading, then i think what you need right now is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I don’t even know how to describe it so you had best google it i think. but it’s about the europeans making inroads into this african village which was till now free. it’s told from the perspective of an african man and it’s got a very clash of civilisations vibe to it. the last few pages just blew my mind because it makes you realize that that must have happened with indian history too. it sounds like heavy stuff but it’s actually very light reading and can be finished within a week. highly recommend it, it’s a classic. 
so i don’t know if your request for recommendations was just cursory, but i seem to have given you a whole article on it. you know how celebrities employ stylists to recommend clothes to them? i wish there was a job to recommend books to people. i guess there already is and it’s called a librarian. sigh…
i forgot to tell you, today i was telling my mother all righteously what indian express reported – that they didn’t build a basic perimeter wall around the uri cantonment but had enough funds to build a golf course. and my mom was like maybe golf courses are cheaper than walls and i was so infuriated with her for dousing the fire of my righteous indignation that i went and googled it and old reliable google says that it costs 10-20 lacs per acre of golf course and a standard 18 hole golf course is around 150-200 acres so that’s like 300 crores around of army’s funds. and then my mom was like, well that’s certainly enough money to build any kind of wall at all and i was like thank you, finally. and then she was like, well you shouldn’t come to me with passionate statements made in the air, you should come to me with facts. which makes me think that people shouldn’t bother burning their money down journalism schools, they should just live with my mother.
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My Life In Emails ~ 14

From: Mr. Terry Eagleton

To: Aaranya, senior in college and one of the most well read and balanced people I know in life

Subject: Happy New Year!

I hope you are well! I thought I would say hi and wish you a happy new year! 
As of now, I’m still living with my parents, not working, studying to take the civil services. I’m one step closer to clearing it, so please spare a prayer for me that I get through this time!
Do you know that quote by Marx about how he wished for an ideal society where production is taken care of and humans have the luxury to take up any activity as they wished, to fish in the afternoon, herd cattle in the evening and criticize after dinner, without being labelled a fisherman, a herdsman or a critic? That’s the kind of lifestyle I have really begun to appreciate and that I now enjoy. I stay at home all day and can do as I please although I admit I don’t make the optimum use of all my time (american sitcoms get in the way and eat a lot of my time – which reminds me, Veep is a really brilliant political satire if you are ever interested) but all in all I feel productive. Of course, anyone with an iota of ambition in public life cannot stay satisfied with such a lifestyle for long, so I am also a little restless sometimes. But my point is, that I have had time to do a lot of reading and develop new hobbies. i am grateful for this time to do all of that. My favourite book I read all year was this graphic novel called Kabul Disco. I suspect you have already read it but if you haven’t and especially if you are looking to gift a book to people in your life generally, I am sure it’s something almost everyone will really enjoy and I assure you they will be very impressed with your selection. I remember I was recommending The Kite Runner with the same gusto to everyone about ten years ago, but this one is superior to the Kite Runner in my opinion. For starters, it’s actually very funny.
Do you still live in Colombo? I bet the weather is wonderful there? I live in Jaipur and I am constantly amazed by how perfect winters are here. The nights are appropriately chilly, so that you don’t worry about global warming playing havoc with your climate too much. But around eight in the morning the sun is fully up in all its blazing glory and pierces through my windows to light up my whole room with its bright warmth and its that most delicious combination of a chill in the air offset by the warm sun on your face. The whole day is like that, and around evening time the cold sets in again. But that’s typical desert climate so what else was I expecting, right? There are a couple (or three? I haven’t seen the third one in a while though) of peacocks (one peacock and one peahen) that live near my building and everyday they emerge from the trees close by to peck at grains and bugs right outside my balcony. I spend a long time gazing at them and analyzing their chemistry and behaviour. Did you know that peacocks shed all their feathers after the rains and grow them back over the year? At first I thought maybe someone plucked them out for horrendous selfish reasons, but last year I actually observed the shedding.  
Please tell me how your year went and what you do these days? Also, would you tell me how Akshi is? I used to write to her but it’s generally hit and miss with her replies. I have been always fond of her since our school days. Also, please tell me if you’ve read any books lately that you really enjoyed. You know how little school children feel sometimes when a whole group of their friends knows a secret that they are not in on? And how it can drive them crazy they start to cry? That’s the way I feel when there’s a new book out that everyone is talking about being so brilliant and I am not clued into the hullabaloo. Of course I don’t cry, and I don’t even nearly read as much as a lot of people. But I like to be in the know about what books are good and popular. 
I hope you had a really good 2016 and I wish you the best of tidings for 2017! I hope to hear from you soon!
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My favourite flotsam on the Internet

The whole point of this blog was the exam which just got over last week so I thought at least one post on my thoughts on said exam was warranted.

Before that, may I please list out my five favourite websites on all the Internet that literally saw me through the dreary months of preparation? I don’t include Youtube because it’s less website and more video search engine, but please know it’s one of my happy places on the world wide web. Anyway, here’s the list, in order of preference-

  1. India Uncut – the most fabulous blog I have ever laid eyes on  and if the author was even within twenty years of my age range I would have proposed marriage a long time ago. The subject is mostly India and broadly economics, and the style is all wit and humour.
  2. The Browser – It curates the five best articles on the Internet everyday on myriad subjects, and if you ever meet me in real life and think to yourself what an interesting person I am, well, I have this site to thank for it. And also RadioLab, but that’s a podcast and doesn’t fit in here.
  3. Crazy Guy on a Bike – Okay, this is a more niche website. It’s a place to write and share cycle touring journals and I love reading about other people’s adventures while dreaming of my own.
  4. Wait But Why – This guy likes to procrastinate and fill up his time learning about the most interesting things in the world with a truckload of humour and wit. He’s also within my twenty years age range and qualifies for a marriage proposal except he has a girlfriend I think, and probably has adoring fangirls all around the world so I don’t really stand a chance.
  5.  Scroll.in – is my most favourite news website on the internet to learn about India, especially from the civil services exam point of view. It basically covers the news in a holistic and integrity-filled way with an impartial viewpoint that is necessary for any self respecting, well read, Indian to know.


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My Life in Emails ~ 13

From: Mr. Terry Eagleton

To: Khushboo

Subject: Weird ass essay paper

yaar, which ganvaar has made this paper tell me? someone who is more interested in rhyming than in making sense. i also did not read the hindi version and thank god did not even think about attempting it. i just scanned the dictionary right now and it does not say anywhere that it has vaguely to do with women at all. except of course, my mother being who she is, said one of the synonyms of engender – procreate – does make it somehow related to women. but i don’t have time to argue with her. 
plan was to start studying from 1. but i came and slept. so now i begin.



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