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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 29, Dated 21 July 2012
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  
    PERSONAL HISTORIES
    Manish Raj

    A series on true experiences

    CIVIL SERVICES

    ‘I had spent four years in dingy rooms of coaching institutes’

    By Manish Raj

    Illustrations: Samia Singh


    WINNERS DON’T do different things, they do things differently.” I blinked my bleary eyes at the speaker, who had been a mentor to many successful candidates of the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) examination. As he rattled off clichés from Shiv Khera’s book, I wondered how to implement the already burdened life with virtues of patience, perseverance, and determination. A blow of hot air landed on my neck. The person behind me had exhaled deeply, acknowledging the magnitude of the quote.

    The hall resembled a stuffed cattle shed, with 150 students jostling for space on creaky plastic chairs. The air conditioner was outcompeted by the determined firebreaths of aspirants who dreamt of becoming the “steelframe” of the country. I told myself I would not let these sub-human conditions snuff out my ambition of becoming an IAS officer. After all, Lal Bahadur Shastri swam two miles to attend school, Dr Rajendra Prasad studied under street-lamps and Madam Curie had fainted of hunger during her experiments. My struggle was easy, very easy, I was told.

    The notice board outside the classes had numerous newspaper clippings paying glowing tributes to the institute. Entering and exiting the hallowed coaching institute took almost 30 minutes. End of class saw hordes of students pour out onto the street. Once an auto driver asked me —“What show is it?” I replied, “Mr Ravindran’s.”

    And to watch this ‘show’, I had once stood in a queue from 10 in the night to nine in the morning, to obtain a token for admission to the coaching institute. After securing the token, I had to pay Rs 30,000 to study the nuances of General Knowledge.

    The room, rather the shanty, where I lived, was a makeshift, cardboard-separated camp of around 10 students per room. The food consisted of wafer-thin rotis, two rings of onions and watery pumpkin gravy, red with pungent tomatoes. We were charged Rs 5,000 per month for food and accommodation. I prayed to the souls of Curie, Prasad and Shastri for strength and succour. If they could endure the vicissitudes of life, why couldn’t I?

    Three attempts later, I realised that four years of my life had consisted of dingy rooms, coaching classes and colossal failures. Like belivers going to the shrine, I had adopted the ritual of visiting Dholpur House that houses the UPSC office. I stared at the building and imagined myself going inside, seeing my name in the list of successful candidates and emerging — redeemed and victorious.

    I failed in all my three attempts. Then, the format of the civil services exams changed. The stress of the exams and the gruelling study schedule of 10 hours a day had left me with hypertension, anxiety and depression. I had squandered my mother’s hard earned money on an exam I never would have cleared, and for a job I had never wanted to do. I was paralysed with fear when I thought of my mother’s crestfallen face and the taunts of my friends.

    But I had to make a decision. Did I want three more years of this?

    When I got back home, I did what I loved doing the most — writing. My angst took the shape of words. It was an escape from reality, from overburdened dreams. I had been wanting to be society’s perfect boy, living up to my neighbour’s expectations rather than my own. I mustered the courage to tell my mother that I did not want any of this.

    Before I left for the interview at a journalism school, I dutifully tore the admission tickets for the Provincial Civil Services Exam into bits. It gave me a strange sense of relief. I felt ready to take on the interview and, perhaps, even the world.

    Manish Raj is 30. He is a journalist based in Chennai.


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 29, Dated 21 July 2012
 
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