In conversation with Gourab Kumar Agarwal on securing All India Rank of 86 in UPSC Examination, 2021

UPSC Examination

Mr Gourab Kumar Agarwal, an alumnus of HNLU brings laurel to his alma mater with his selection in the Union Public Service Commission Exams of 2021 securing 86th rank in the all India merit list. He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador, Radhika Ghosh for SCC Online blog.

1. Firstly, congratulations on the brilliant performance at the UPSC CSE examination. Please tell us a little about yourself and your interests?

Hi, my name is Gourab Kumar Agarwal and I belong to Sundergarh, Odisha. I did my schooling from Rourkela, and Bolangir till class 10th and then moved to Hyderabad for my 11th and 12th. I graduated from Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) in the year 2020 and since then I had been preparing for the civil services exam.

My interest primarily lies in books. I like reading books and also exploring and knowing about new authors. Recently I have started reading long articles as well and that has also captured my attention. Along with that, I also like quizzing. Apart from that I am interested in movies and TV shows.

2. How was your journey as a law student at HNLU, Raipur and how much did it help to ace the examination?

I had a very good time at the university. The exposure that the university provided, be it in terms of mooting, co-curricular activities, academics, or meeting new people from diverse backgrounds, helped me gain a lot of experiences which gave me the opportunity to develop a unique personality of my own.

Regarding how it helped me ace the examination, I think my journey as a law student at HNLU helped me figure out my strengths and weaknesses. This allowed me to structure my preparation in a manner where I could capitalise on my strong points and be prepared for my weaknesses. During my time at HNLU I also developed special bonding with a lot of people who became my support system during the preparation as they were always just a call away to listen to my problems and give me advice.

Furthermore, the co-curricular activities that I participated in during my time at HNLU, allowed me to develop specific skill sets which helped me ace the examination. Quizzing ingrained in me the thirst for diverse knowledge and the analytical application of mind which helped me during the prelims exam. Also, mooting gave me the opportunity to improve upon my public speaking skills which allowed me to perform well in my personality test.

3. What were your reasons for pursuing law and why did you choose civil services as a career?

One of the primary reasons for choosing law was that I knew that I did not want to go for engineering or medicine. So, I started exploring what other avenues were available and I figured out that law was a good opportunity in terms of career prospects after college. Also the remarkable quality of legal education with the 5-year integrated course and a standardised format for admission through CLAT appealed to me.

About civil services, it was never a long-cherished dream to appear for the civil services examination. By the end of my third year, after I had done internships at various places like litigation chambers and corporate firms, I actively started thinking about civil services. The thing that made me interested in the exam was the syllabus and the idea that if nothing, I would end up becoming a better-read person. Along with that, I realised that civil services is also a natural extension of the study of law. Instead of applying the law as a lawyer, one is enforcing the law in civil services, with both requiring a good understanding of the subject. And lastly, the quality of work and the diversity of opportunity that this job provides, was according to me, suitable to my personality.

4. Please give us an insight into your UPSC preparation? What kept you motivated, and what hurdles did you predominantly face while preparing for the same?

Early on I had decided that I would not be going to Delhi and I would rather stay at home and prepare for the exam. Hence, my preparation revolved a lot around online resource. I made use of Google liberally to accentuate my notes, read newspapers on my laptop, took help from YouTube to clear any doubts I had, among other things.

Also, my preparation was structured around a very specific schedule. I would prepare framework as to how much of the syllabus I want covered in the next couple of months and accordingly I would make weekly and daily targets.

With respect to sources, I decided to keep my booklist very limited. I had learnt a mantra that I would not read 10 books for one subject, but I would definitely read one book at least 10 times before sitting for the exam.

And lastly, to keep myself from getting burnt out, I actively took out time during the day for my hobbies.

Regarding what kept me motivated, I think the desire to excel in whatever I was doing and to be better than yesterday kept me going. The feeling was that if any one person can do it, then it can be done and I would try my best to do it. Also, the idea of learning new things day in day out made me enjoy every aspect of my UPSC journey.

Having said that, there are definitely a lot of hurdles that one has to clear while preparing for the exam. Insecurity was a big hurdle. Since this exam is very unpredictable, one can never be sure of the result.

Along with that, the taxing nature of this exam does not give you the liberty to spend much time with one’s friends and family members. So slowly a gap starts to grow in one’s personal relationships which becomes difficult to minimise.

But whenever I was feeling down, I watched this speech by Harsha Bhogle in IIM Ahmedabad (HERE) to raise my spirits and get back on track.

5. How did you prepare yourself for the interview?

For the interview stage, I made sure that I was updated with everything that was happening in India. Since my first preference was Indian Foreign Services, I also needed to be up-to-date with all the happenings around the world. Apart from that I had prepared a list of probable questions around my background and my hobbies. I revised important laws and was following leading portals for legal news.

To prepare myself for the actual interview, I gave mock interviews and interviews to my friends for brutal honest opinions. This helped me in understanding my thought process behind every answer that I was giving. I also followed certain basic principles for my personality test, such as:

  1. That the interview is supposed to be a conversation and not a question answer session.

  2. That I was to hold opinions about important topics and not be ambivalent in my approach.

  3. That more than my knowledge, the interview stage is to judge my personality.

6. What immediate change do you wish to see in India as a man of power and responsibility?

I would not characterise my future career trajectory as one primarily of power but more of a responsibility. Having said that, an immediate change I would wish to see in India would be the freedom from want. To ensure that all people in the society have equal claims to the right to prosper and develop according to their own requirements without being subjected to artificial discrimination and challenges.

7. What advice would you give to our readers who are currently aspiring for civil services?

That during the entire preparation you would be bombarded with the cacophony of advices, but do not pay heed to them without making an independent evaluation of your own based on your own strengths and weaknesses. You might be told that it is not possible to clear the exam with the law optional, or that the manner in which you are preparing will not pay any results. But ultimately you have to make a decision for your own self and do it sensibly. Finally, it is worth remembering that this exam is difficult but not impossible to crack. With a single-minded focus and hard work coupled with smart work, one can devise his/her own strategy and ultimately ace this exam.

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