Tuesday, 28 February 2006

One Chapter from my book " Three Generations"

Accident & Opportunity

My exam was not very good and I was quite skeptical about getting through. Anyway I waited for the details of the Mains results so that I could analyze my failure. Meanwhile I had to handle stress. I had learned Transcendental Meditation™ along with Girijesh while we were preparing for the Mains exam. Now I had a lot of time so I did TM for an hour. I also went for jogging and played football in the evening. One of these days I was very upset with something and while playing football that evening I came in someone’s way. He hit me at my knee accidentally. I could not move. My brother was also playing with me. He with the help of others somehow took me to the hostel, an ambulance was called and I was taken to the hospital. X-ray pictures showed a hairline fracture in my right knee. I was sure it would be alright in sometime but doctors had something else to say. They plastered my leg and ordered 6 weeks rest. It was another shock for me besides not getting through the Interview. I had never been in bed before even for a week and now six weeks mandatory lying down on the bed…it was too much for me. I was crumbling from inside and felt helpless. This accident added to my stress and I started losing my temper very quickly. At this point of time I received the details of my final results. I found I had done well in Geography and General Studies but done badly in Psychology. In fact my scores were extremely low in this paper. At once I decided to put in more effort in Psychology while lying in the bed. Thus I converted my accident into an opportunity. Here I got more time and could concentrate better. Every thing I needed, my brother got them in my bed. I felt peaceful. That time I developed some spiritual insights. A strange kind of calmness and peace descended on me at times that I had never experienced or felt before in life and have never felt till now since the day I got out of the bed. Only strong memories bring back that feeling but never like the one had I felt during those days I was in the bed. My learning improved and I started feeling at ease in Psychology. One day someone told me about the prelims results while I was in the bed. I had got through once again. Tears rolled out of my eyes. I felt one with God at that moment. I had an intuition that now nothing could stop me from finally getting through what I wanted. I asked everybody to leave me alone and I cried for a while. All my fears and stress were washed away with those tears. I remained in the bed; I had developed a kind of liking for it. I celebrated my success silently and worked harder since the next day. After2 or 3 weeks I was taken out to the hospital again to change the plaster. I saw the outside world from the ambulance and found it very fresh. Everything looked new. I envied people who were walking. Walking appeared to me a luxury. I thought for a while how good would it be to walk once again! During this time my brother was always with me. He brought me food, took me to the toilet with the help of some floor-mates, got me books to read and anything I wanted. Without him perhaps I could not have had the good time I had during those 6 weeks. After the 6 weeks my plaster went off and I thought I could walk instantly. I was mistaken. I could not move an inch. My plastered leg had grown weaker and I could not bend it. Doctor told me to do some exercises and massage. So I was still in bed even after my plaster got off. I had no choice; I did the exercises and waited for the right time to walk. On the other side the results of the M.Phil entrance exam had been declared and I had topped it. It was a wonderful surprise as I was not expecting even to get through. I had been consistent in getting bad grades during the 4 semesters of the MA course and had rubbed enough professors on the wrong side. I was sure that even if I managed to get good marks in the written exam the professors will give me low marks in the viva. Therefore getting through in this all-India entrance was out of question for me. Topping was shocking to me but that was the reality and no one believed it including myself. My brother completed the admission formalities for me as I was in the bed and got a new hostel for me as I had already exceeded the allowed duration of my stay at the present hostel. I was staying there with a special permission of the Dean of Students Professor Qureshi who personally knew me. My health condition did not allow me to leave the hostel yet. I stayed for a week with my brother who had stayed in the same hostel. He helped me to exercise properly and massaged my leg with ointment. Finally I started walking, first with his help and later on my own.
I shifted to a new hostel. I had a new roommate. He never looked around while I entered the room, just concentrated on his books. It was strange for me because I had never studied like that. In the evening his girlfriend came to visit him and they laughed exactly for half an hour and then everything turned silent. He went again into his books and never looked left or right. I had lost my team long time back and there was no chance to revive it. Girijesh had not been able to make it to the Prelims this time. Ajay had made it but he wanted to study alone. I was on my own too this time, studying alone. There was no fun in it but I carried on. I had developed the habit of studying Psychology alone when I was in the bed. This habit helped me to cope with the new challenges I had ahead of me.
I faced financial problems as I did not feel good asking money from my father though he never said no. I guess it was changing times which made me feel bad to take money from my father anymore. I felt grown up suddenly. I wanted to earn my own money. I decided to find a job for myself. I tried the booming industry of call center jobs in and around Delhi but they rejected me at the first instance. Probably my English was not Americanized enough or may be some other reason which they never told me and I never got to know. Failures after failures were coming in my way and they were scaring me. During these trying times I looked towards the newly sprouting coaching institutes with hope to get an opportunity to teach Geography. I had scored well in the last Civil Services Mains exam in Geography and I was confident that I can teach this subject. In the news papers I saw an advertisement of a coaching institute called IDP3. I thought they are new and might need a person to teach geography as it was one of the most popular subjects among Civil Services aspirants. I called them up to find out whether they needed a teacher or not. The lady Director of the institute spoke on the phone and said –“you may come to see me tomorrow evening, please bring your mark-sheet of the last civils exam along. You sound young. How old are you?”
I said “twenty-two mam”. She said “you are too young to teach but come anyway.”
Next day I was there sitting in front of her in the evening. She asked-
“Why do want to teach?”
I said- “because I have to revise my own subject and I need money”
She further asked-“don’t your parents support you?”
I said “yes they do but I need to earn my own money. I feel too old to ask for money from my parents.”
She said-“you are too young. Many of my students whom you will teach are older than you. How will you manage this situation?”
I said- “I know age matters but more than that what matters is my ability to help them learn geography. Please give me a chance. Let me take one class. If students find it good and are satisfied I would be very happy to continue.”
She said-“alright you have a chance. Go ahead. Come tomorrow evening prepared in any area of your choice and we’ll see then.”
I thanked her for giving me the opportunity and came back to the hostel. I prepared a topic in human geography and went to the class next evening. There I found many faces, young men and women. They looked older than me except two. I felt a bit nervous but soon I got back my calm and composure when I started interacting with them. I introduced myself putting emphasis on my score in Geography in the last Civil Services Mains exam. Some faces became more curious and they asked several questions related to the preliminary and mains exam itself. I was source of first hand information. They had other teachers but no one had come straight to teach after just writing the Civil Services exam. If I could read their faces right they liked me and I took advantage of this and started discussing the Geography Syllabus for the Prelims and the Mains exam and the strategy to complete the whole syllabus in a limited time.
Some students asked –“sir, how many hours a day is good enough for civil services.”
Some asked-“sir how many hours did you study everyday”
Some others asked-“how can we score maximum in Geography in minimum time.”
I replied-“each one of you is a different individual with different requirements and needs a different approach, a strategy of your own as I have developed over a period of time an approach or you may call it a strategy of my own. I call it ‘time-target’ approach. It means that it’s not important how many hours you study a day. What is important is the amount of content you must know or study. You can decide how much time it would take checking your own pace of learning. You should also focus only on the content mentioned in the syllabus and the past year question papers. You can make an intelligent guess from the questions asked in the past which questions may most likely appear in future. Please also keep an eye over the currents events related to geography like environmental change, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, population explosion and depletion, discovery of earth’s natural resources etc.”
They looked satisfied with my answers. I was also satisfied with my performance. It was like meditation. I had my full concentration while answering their questions. I met the director again. She ordered two cups of coffee. She asked- “how was the class? Would you be able to teach them?
I smiled and said-“yes I would”. I have just discovered that I enjoy teaching.”
She thanked me for taking the class and said-“I’ll talk to the students and give you a call tomorrow.”
I thanked her once again for the wonderful opportunity she gave to me and returned to the hostel, went for a post-dinner walk.
The next day I got a call in the afternoon. She said-“come prepared in the evening to teach. You are part of the faculty now. Students want you here”
I really needed this job. I was so happy. It was beginning of a success story. It felt great that students wanted me to teach them. I revised the topic twice before starting off to the institute. Reaching the class I said to the students-“here I am not to teach you but learn together. I believe that each one of us here can be better tomorrow than today. Let’s start now.”
They all said in one voice-“we’ll learn together”

I had developed a very good rapport with them in the first class itself and since then the job was easy. We enjoyed learning together.
I went for the classes in the CSRD for the M.Phil. course and prepared for the mains exam. It was just a month away and I thought to join a coaching institute for the General Studies paper. I used to limp that time and though it was difficult for me to go on my feet I tried to go there for a month just before the mains exam. I expected that my scores would go up slightly than the previous year if I join the coaching institute. I was putting efforts for Psychology and had formed a team with a college time senior Chetan who lived in the North Delhi Mukherjee Nagar. He had also studied Psychology from the same coaching institute and had the same Mukul Pathak notes. Nevertheless his notes were so well made that I could not stop myself requesting him a Xerox copy. He was a gentleman and gave me his notes with pleasure. I made most out of them. Overnight studying Psychology became easy and my problem got solved.
Everything was ready. I could walk properly and even jog now. The world felt so good as if some precious gift had returned to me. I was ready for the exam now. I took a break from the IDP3 to write my mains exam with a promise to soon come back. My papers went well. Nothing was difficult or tricky except the statistics part in the GS paper. Psychology paper was interesting and I remember it was fun writing it as out of five questions I had guessed three beforehand and prepared and mugged up their answers well. After the exam got over I was back to my students at the coaching institute and also to the center (CSRD) for the M.Phil classes. Professors at the center were looking for me since many days. I had not gone to attend classes because of my Mains exam. They knew it already so did not ask me many questions but looked at me as I had done something awfully wrong. I became regular in the class and made up for the lost time reading from the previous notes of the class mates. In the M.Phil class there were a few new faces but the large part was the old stock from the M.A. days. One among the new faces was D. Shravan, a boy slightly younger than me from Hyderabad. He lived in the new hostel where I had shifted and one day we met in the corridor. He introduced himself and I instantly found a friend in him. Since that day we became bosom buddies. Together we went to the classes, ate lunch, played table-tennis, had chai at the dhaba and went riding on his bike to the stadium for the evening jog. Life once again felt good and relaxed. During this time I read many books. I truly enjoyed reading “Glimpses of the world history” by Jawahar Lal Nehru and learned a great deal about what happened around the world in last 5000 years. It proved just to be an appetizer. The main course followed after this. I started reading books written about India by various authors. “India an emerging power” by Stephan P. Cohen proved to be a milestone, a book which I recommended to many who wants to understand India better. “The idea of India” by Sunil Khilnani was another good book I read at that time.
Time flied during those relaxed few months and it was time to face the result again. My Mains had gone well and I was almost sure, you can never be fully sure about the unpredictable results of the Civil Services, to get a call for the Interview. I did get a call again to appear for the Interview. This time it was on Thursday. Just a few days before the Interview day I had read a book by Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam “Ignited Minds”. It was such an inspiring and strength-giving book that I kept it with me all the time those few days. When I went inside the interview hall where students were waiting for their turn, I kept on reading it. I felt strong and motivated. Rajesh bhaiya was also appearing in the interview at the same time and I read him a few paragraphs from the book. It had magical impact on him. He was feeling nervous but soon started feeling positive and confident after I read a paragraph from that book to him. His turn came first so he went in. I waited for another few minutes. My turn came and I entered the room wishing all the members ‘good morning’. There were five persons inside. In front of me across the oval table was seated the chairperson Mr. A.K. Banerjea, there were two members on each side of the chairperson. On my left sat a lady who kept watch on my body movements and I rightly guessed she was a Psychologist. They asked me to sit and I thanked them.
The chairman started-“why did you come from Nalanda to Delhi for doing graduation, why not even Patna?”
I replied-“sir, Nalanda does not have a university anymore as it used to have a very reputed Nalanda University, centuries back and the educational institutions in my state do not finish the courses at time. Exams are delayed, publication of results is also delayed and students lose lot of time in these circumstances. For example a three year degree course takes more than four years to complete. Not only that even the standards of teaching have gone down. The college campuses are highly politicized which takes lot of a student’s time.”
He was not very satisfied with the answer and asked to speak more. I could not think of many other things except that-“sir I always wanted to study in Delhi University.”
He shifted to my hobby- Transcendental Meditation or TM in short. He asked-“what do you while you meditate, just go off to sleep?”
I said-“sir, meditation is an active process, very different from sleep. Its sleep-like but one is conscious, a train of thought pass through ones mind and one does not focuses or stops at any one thought, lets all pass through as a train passes.”
He asked-“what is TM?”
I replied-“ it’s a special form of meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi which is very easy to practice and can be practiced any time of the day for a duration of fifteen to thirty minutes, at any place even while traveling. A person first repeats a word, many times which he holds dear to himself and which means a lot to him. Slowly the person loses that word and gets lost in the train of thoughts running through his mind. After some time even these thoughts which are the remains of the day disappear and an absolute calmness descends on the person. The body gets relaxed and peaceful. In the end when the person wants to come out of this state he starts increasing the breathing speed. After some time the person returns to his previous state.”
He asked-“what happens after that?”
I said-“it’s like a mental bath. All the thoughts which clutter ones mind are washed away. Mind feels fresh once again.”
He looked satisfied from my answer and moved to another question.
He asked his colleague on his left to ask me questions. He looked at the information I had given in the Mains written form and asked me about debating and my experience in the world debating at Manila. He asked me to speak for and against any topic of my choice. I chose to speak for and against removal of Saddam Hussein. He looked satisfied. Then he continued asking- “where did democracy appear for the first time in the world? What kind of system did it follow?
I answered-“the world’s first democracy appeared in Lichhavi Republic which is present day Vaishali in Bihar. It had Sabha and Samitis which helped in governing the republic.
Next he asked-“what do you prefer ‘democracy without development or development without democracy?”
I said –“for me democracy and freedom is like water for the fish, I can live without development but not without democracy.”
He cited the example of China which was growing so fast because it was not a democracy and did not have to deal with many institutional requirements before taking decisions.
I gave the example of India which has so much diversity and yet a functional and developing society because it has chosen democracy.
He did not ask any more questions and looked at the person sitting next to him. He asked –“can you tell me the name of the celebrity who is associated with Transcendental Meditation?”
I answered –“yes, Paul Mc Cartney of Beatles fame.
He looked happy from my answer and continued asking- “why did you opt for Indian Foreign Service?”
This question I had well prepared in advance because I was expecting it. I replied-“ today India’s profile in the world is rising fast and with it are rising needs of energy, commerce and political influence… diplomacy can be vital instrument in putting India on the path of peace and prosperity and as a diplomat I can actively participate in that process.”
He looked satisfied from my answer and continued asking more questions. He asked-“are democracies perfect and is there any perfect democracy today in the world?”
I said-“no, democracies are not perfect and there is no perfect democracy today in the world including United States. Democracy is not a point but a continuum. Somewhere it reaches up to 85 % while in other places it is below 45%. Continued endeavor should be made to take democracies towards the higher side of the continuum, making them more democratic in different parts of the world each with their own unique qualities. There is no democracy today in the world which cannot be more democratic.”
He looked happy and looked at the lady sitting on my left. She appeared to me a Psychologist because she was closely monitoring my body and hand movements since the beginning. She asked me-“please tell me one principle or theory of psychology which you have applied to your life?”
I replied-“it is Maslow’s theory of motivation, though I have not fully applied it to my life, I am in the process of applying it. My physiological needs are already met. What I need is ‘to belong’ and if I join Indian Foreign Service, even this need would get fulfilled. Then I would give my best each and everyday and may be one day I would achieve ‘Self Actualization’ as well.
The answer took her and the rest of the members by surprise. I realized only after finishing that it was a master-stroke on my part and the lady on my left did not ask any more questions. Now the last guy’s turn came. He asked me questions from geography viz. “what is the length and breadth of India?” He asked a tricky question in the end which I could not answer. The chairperson said it was a googly and answered himself. With that ended my interview. I felt satisfied and walked back to the waiting room smiling. Many who were waiting there asked me about the Interview and I narrated as it had happened. Soon I got out of building and came on Shahjehan road and took a deep breath looking back at the dome of the building. I had always been in awe with it. Today I had come out of it feeling triumphant. I took an auto and headed for JNU.
My friend Shravan had come to pick me up from the Shahjehan road. I found it when I reached the campus. I felt as if I had done some great mistake, I should have waited for him but I just hurried up. Anyway he came back and I said sorry to him and then we spent the whole day together talking and strolling, drinking many cups of tea and meeting different people in the campus. They all wanted to hear about my Interview and how did it go. I narrated the whole sequence many times since that day whenever someone or the other asked about my Interview. Now I had to start preparing again for the Prelims which was going to be in less than a month time. I went for a walk in the evening and jogged in the morning for keeping myself healthy and stress under control. I played table-tennis regularly as it is always fun to play it and waited for the final results.