Anudeep Durishetty ranked 1st in the IAS (UPSC CSE) 2017. This was his fifth attempt at the exam where he made it to the final cut-off list. According to him, the main hurdle with the entire exam process for him was securing good marks in the Mains segment. He had made it to the interview round once before and had scored 204.
The Interview Board consisted of Retd. Air Marshal Ajit Bhonsle (Chairman) and four other members. It was conducted on 21st February 2018, in the afternoon session. He was the 2nd person to go in. The interview continued for 30-35 min. The marks secured eventually for the IAS interview round alone was 176.
The interview began with terms of reference shared by the Chairman. The rules as he mentioned were simple. There is no right or wrong answer and I could take some time to think of the answer. It is to stay calm. Pencil and paper can be used as required and this is primarily going to be an assessment of my suitability in the post. I responded with a “Yes Sir” to all these points.
Chairman: So, let me first ask you this- Are you happy to be here? (Henceforth referred as “C”)
Anudeep: Yes sir. Rarely anyone gets a chance to interact with a panel as experienced.
Chairman: (with a smile)
Yes, everyone in the panel is an expert from their respective fields so you are interacting with a panel of highly experienced members.
A: (smile and nod)
C: Your resume mentions you are a sharpshooter. When did you get this award?
A: Sir, for a month I was a part of NISA as a part of the IRS training. The basics of drills, weapon handling and safety and physical training were given. I received the award for best officer trainee in the batch.
C: Tell me what are the qualities required to be a sharpshooter? (while gesturing a gun with his hand)
A: Sir, the first and foremost rule is to never point the muzzle at something you do not intend to shoot. Till our sight is aligned with the target, our finger should not be on the trigger, breath regulation and control is very important for a shooter for accuracy along with smooth trigger operation.
(There were a few more questions from him which I cannot recall)
Member 1: Durishetty or Anudeep- which is your name? (Henceforth referred as “M1”)
A: My surname is Durishetty and my name is Anudeep.
Member 1 while going through my DAF:
You have chosen anthropology as your optional despite graduating as an Engineering student. (I steadied myself to answer why I made the choice till he posed the actual question.)
Tell me about the origin of the people in India.
A: (The question followed with unconvincing answers as I was not sure if that is what he wanted and fumbling from nerve-wracking nervousness and I took a considerable time t think and frame the answer)
Sir, one school of thought suggested that the Indigenous south Indian people are the original inhabitants of India. Then migration from Europe and central Asia and eventual mixing of the races gave rise to a combined gene pool we witness today.
Other opinions based on Mitochondrial DNA argue that there is very little difference between the Northern and Southern Indians. Strong waves of migration from Central Asia probably did not happen as strongly in this case. It is a subject of Debate.
M1: Have you heard about Mongols, Tibetans and Chinese and their immigration to North East India? The yellow peoples?
A: I am not aware of it sir.
M1: You are presently undergoing training as an IRS officer?
A: Sir, my training for IRS is complete and I am working as Assistant commissioner in Hyderabad for GST.
M1: Why IAS now that you are already an IRS officer?
A: I have got many wonderful opportunities to give impactful services as an IRS officer in the past two years. For instance, I have had opportunities to recover taxes from defaulters and give refunds to exporters which in turn was contributed into the government exchequer that is used for the development of schools and hospitals. My part in the process made me happy. I hope, as an IAS officer, I will continue to get more such opportunities.
M1: Have you heard about hate crimes?
A: Yes, sir.
M1: What is your understanding on this matter?
A: A crime motivated by hate towards another person based on their caste, religion, and race are called hate crimes.
M1: Can you tell me the motivation behind such crimes and what might be contributing to their increasing rate all over the world?
A: I believe the one primary reason behind this animosity is social media. It has created increasing animosity towards different cultures as fueled opinions get more and more extreme.
(I fumbled a bit at this point to phrase my answer correctly)
M1: If you are the deputy commissioner, how will you prevent this? What will be your approach, keeping aside the factor about social media?
A: Sir, strong deterrence and stricter laws with higher conviction rates so that it deters people from committing such crimes. Also, more awareness and more interactions between people from different cultures can build more trust between them. Collective festival celebrations for inducing a feeling of togetherness are also important.
Around this time, the chairperson tapped the table with his pencil indicating member 2 (M2) to take over. From the corner of my eyes, I noticed that he was constantly scribbling through the period.
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M2: What do you know about race theory, being a student of anthropology?
(I did not know this one and fumbled yet again- I paused for 5-10 seconds to regain composure)
A: Sir I have very basic knowledge of the subject and am not aware of the specific postulates.
M2: It’s alright. Tell me what you know.
A: Sir it says that race theory is not just biological but also a cultural concept. It means that the difference is not limited to genetics but also created by the environment, intelligence, character, etc.
M2: lately, researchers are demolishing race theory and claiming that there is no major difference between the races and that there is only one human race. Are you aware of these studies?
A: I am not aware of specific studies and researches on this subject.
(The member frowns and appears disappointed and frowned before proceeding with the next question.)
M2: What is your idea about race being a cultural concept?
A: Sir, it has been concluded through scientific researchers that different races originated as the gene flow between two groups of people is either non-existent or because of geographical barriers and migration. For example, the black race is tracked to the USA because of the slave trade from Africa.
However, the race is a purely biological concept. Just because one belongs to a specific race, does not make them superior or inferior to others in terms of intelligence or character. As you have rightly pointed out sir, that we are one human race because when our lineage is tracked, it shows we have evolved from one common ancestor.
M2: So we can conclude that race is a kind of social barrier, can we not?
A: Yes it is.
M2: Can you recognize other social barriers that we see in our country?
A: Sir, in our country there are social barriers based on one’s caste, gender as well as religious identities.
M2: How can these differences be eradicated?
A: implementing progressive laws, and ensuring the prevalence of equal opportunities irrespective of their class, caste, gender, religion and financial status is one way.
Also, apart from these, lessons on values of oneness from an early age be it at home or school can help to overcome these barriers right from their roots. Children should be inculcated with the understanding that the superficial differences between different strata of society hold no value and we are all essentially the same.
M2: What level of education should these teachings be included? Primary, Secondary or graduation?
A: Sir, I feel this education should be begun even before primary, before any formal education. I can share the example of my childhood where my father has a great influence on shaping my beliefs and values.
M2: What do you think are the three things that youth in our country are aspiring for today?
A: I feel taking into account the demographic dividend that youth in our country are desperately in need of formal employment. Employment must be increased as one job can transform the employee and the lives of their family members who are depending on him or her.
Secondly, i feel there is a lot of potential in innovation among our youths, especially in the rural regions. But opportunities to tap these opportunities are limited. So more opportunities have to be developed.
Effective public service like transport, roads, electricity and a more transparent governance is, I believe, the third requirement of the youths in our country, sir.
(At this point, member 3 takes over as i sigh in relief)
M3: Do you have any idea on mindfulness meditation and what it is about?
A: The art of paying attention to our moment-to-momence including our breath, thoughts, sounds, thoughts etc. is known as mindfulness meditation.
Earlier i used to get carried away by my emotions- it can be of any kind. I wished to change this and hence consciously chose meditation as a hobby. It definitely changed me for the better,- better mind and person.
M3: What impact did this practice have on your role as a civil servant?
A: Sir, back in the days when i was working for Google, a stiff deadline would stress me out. Hence, I was unable to concentrate on the work at hand.
But as an IRS officer, meditation helped me to control my mind better and stay calmer while focusing on the present tasks.
M3: As you mentioned “deadlines”, isn’t effective work all about sticking to the tasks and getting it done efficiently? What role does meditation play here?
A: I believe that hurdles are inevitable in whatever task we are trying to complete sir. But our method of tackling the hurdle makes a difference. Deadlines can be met through effective work but one must have commitment and determination to finish the task despite the hurdles. Medication helps to cultivate the mindset to focus on the present.
(The next question was a long monologue and it took me a few minutes to process and answer to it)
M3: In one of your past answers, you spoke about changes. This means you believe that we can change. But changes rarely happen if you notice it. As a nation, we have barely undergone many changes. Consider the concept of swachata. Mahatma Gandhi had emphasized on the importance of cleanliness many years ago. But even in the present days, we still need huge government programs worth crores of rupees just to make people aware and instigate them to use proper toilets. So you can see changes are not easily achieved. It is in fact, difficult for people to change- even impossible. Do you agree?
A: Sir I beg to differ from this idea. I believe that learning is a lifelong process and people can change their habits based on their experience and learning over the years. For example, I always strive towards understanding my shortcomings and finding ways to improve.
I would like to narrate an instance in my own office regarding swachata. Our department had recently participated in the swachhta pakhwada program. Our office premises were not as clean as they should be with many rooms full of unusable furniture and other items that should be disposed of. I formed subcommittees that are headed by one superintendent instead of taking it all on myself. As these committees were put to action, the task was completed in two weeks and all the garbages were removed. Those officers who participated in these committees were given a swachata appreciation letter. Now there is a remarkable change in the attitude of all those in the office regarding cleanliness.
As you mentioned sir, the change is difficult but it is not impossible. With proper education and incentives, we can achieve it.
M3: Do you think incentives are the only options to promote any positive changes?
A: I believe that Incentives are great for motivation but not the only tool to get positive changes. Awareness, evidence of positive outcomes from changes and education can also motivate people to imbibe good habits. For example, besides giving money for building toilets, we must also educate people on sanitation and hygiene that is involved in the process.
M3: To motivate people to embrace changes, the first thing to be done is accepting things in you that need to change. You say, you have undergone many changes for the better. But how can you convince someone to change who believes they are flawless?
A: Sir our attitude and behavior is chosen and I believe no one is perfect. I once read a book that educates you through many scientific studies that our mindset can be changed through reason, education and evidence. The book was called “Mindset”.
(The last member who seemed more amicable and cheerful than the others posed the next question)
M4: You mentioned earlier that you are inspired by your father. Can you elaborate on this?
A: Ma’am, my father was from a poor and humble background from a remote village but came up in life through his hard work despite the odds. He ensured that I received a good education and instilled values that always inspire me.
M4: Google is considered one of the model employers. Why did you quit to be in the civil services?
A: I have had one question during my career choice since i graduated and that is where i can make an impactful contribution to society, maam. I joined Google because I believe my work on a day-to-day basis has an impact on millions of people across the globe. I thoroughly enjoyed my role in google but it also made me realize that i will enjoy the job requirements of civil services too.
M4: Tell me about your interest in artificial intelligence.
A: Ma’am our intellect is the most important asset we have. We are a dominating species on earth because of our intelligence. Through Ai, we are giving that resource to an artificial body and its consequences can be serious. This question has fascinated me always and hence I pursued this specific technology.
M4: Do you feel artificial intelligence may take over human intelligence and is it desirable?
A: I believe AI will become more accurate and competent over the years with more precise pattern recognition and even in health diagnosis. But I think replacing human traits with Ai will be difficult as mimicking physical movement, caring, and emotions are not really possible through AI.
I feel this is why our Skill India and Made in India programs should be reoriented to adapt to the shift towards skills that cannot be taken over by AI in the future.
M4: What are your thoughts about the prospects of life and intelligence in other parts of the universe?
A: I have read about the Fermi Paradox concept that states that there are billions of galaxies and planets in the universe. Even with the most conservative probability estimate, the number of planets like the earth is really high. So, I do believe there is intelligent life out in the universe, ma’am.
M4: Should we contact them? Stephen hawkings believe that it should not be done. What is your opinion?
A: I believe we humans are meant to be explorers and I am optimistic about the consequences of encountering aliens. I feel it will be an exciting event to find out about them in our lifetime. ( and smiled)
M4: (smiles and nods and signals back to the chairman)
Chairman: You have rightly said that change and learning is a lifelong process Anudeep. We all must strive towards being a person more than what we were yesterday.
A: Yes, sir.
That is all from our side and we conclude your interview. Thank you.
With this, I stood up and thanked ma’am, the chairman and then the other members and made my exit.
*The article might have information for the previous academic years, please refer the official website of the exam.