Abdaal Ahtar is a 2013 graduate of NALSAR Hyderabad. Abdaal scored a Rank 35 in the UPSC Civil Services Exam 2014. Here is his interview. Interview conducted by Deepshi Singh.
Please tell us about your family background and your educational background, schooling, college etc.
My father is a Civil servant too, working for the Indian Railways.
My mother is a homemaker. Due to my dad’s job, he was frequently transferred throughout India. I spent about three years each in places like Kharagpur, Gorakhpur, Bilaspur, Vishakhapatnam etc.
Did most of my high school from Hyderabad before joining NALSAR in 2008
What prompted you to prepare for the civil services, and when did you decide that you would opt for it?
Civil services were always at the back of my mind-possibly due to the fact that I hailed from a family with a background in it.
But I suppose I seriously considered the option in my third year of college-after I had been exposed to how the commercial law scene works. Once I was convinced that it was not for me, I began evaluating my other options.
Civil Services appealed to me because of the nature of the job. It is so dynamic and challenging on a day-to-day basis. One day you could be in charge of revenue collection, the other day you are trying to turn around a corporation, the third day you are on deputation to some foreign organization.
These sorts of opportunities are very difficult to come by elsewhere. The prestige and the respect it commands in society is obviously another strong factor.
How was your college life at NALSAR, your academics, extra circulars, internships etc? Was UPSC in your mind as you planned all of this?
College life at Nalsar was a lot of fun. The thing about law school is that, it just opens up so many opportunities that no other professional course can offer.
You can be anything from a litigating lawyer to an entrepreneur and at some level law school will equip you for each of these roles.
I am extremely grateful to my college for letting me discover my own strengths and weaknesses without ever burdening me with more than what I could handle.
I was never a very diligent student-lax with notes, always a backbencher in class. Luckily I had a very bright friend circle-so never fell back on my grades.
Quizzing was (is) my great passion and Hyderabad provided plenty of opportunities for it. Some three of us made it a point to not miss any quiz weekend.
I did quite a few litigation internships-both at the HC as well as the SC. Also won the PRS Legislative Analysis competition and interned with them. Also did a couple of law firm/corporate internships.
I wouldn’t say UPSC was on my mind, but because I was not really interested in taking up employment after work, I could afford to go easy on my internships-that is a luxury not too many get.
What were your subjects and how did you prepare for them? And when did you start preparing seriously for it? Did you go for courses or resorted to self-study?
I was lucky that I have been an avid reader since childhood. Regular newspaper reading and non-fiction literature equip you for this exam like nothing else. My quizzing background also helped with the History and geography part. My optional was Law.
For the CSE this has two parts-one includes Consti and International Law, part two has contracts, IPC, current legal affairs and so. I was fairly comfortable with Consti and IPC, so left them for the last. Put in some work into International Law.
Did not devote more than a month towards preparing for my Law portion.
Since I had graduated only in 2013, a lot of the concepts were still clear in my head, so that eased up the process a bit. I think including Law and General Studies I gave a total of 4-5 months of preparation (in my second attempt.
How difficult was it to not get tempted by fancy corporate jobs and placements in top tier firms rather chose this option of appearing for the civil services?
I was tempted! When you are in fifth year, the promise of a job and a steady income means a lot. I joined a major Indian corporate in Calcutta and worked there for about a year.
I was here that I gave my first attempt and made it to the Supplementary List. It was after this that I decided to quit and prepare without any distractions.
I was lucky that the office I joined was perhaps the best place that I could have-wonderful learning experience, taught me a lot of practical law.
My bosses were extremely understanding and far from throwing a fit on hearing of UPSC, actually encouraged me to follow my heart! Couldn’t have asked for a better work environment. I would however say that not all offices will be this chilled out about this.
So if you are really interested in the Civils, you should make your choice. Sailing in two boats is never an option, as you will be doing an injustice both to yourself as well as your employer.
How did being a “law student” help you in your preparation for civil service, also do you have any advice for UPSC aspirants?
This exam is tailor made for lawyers. The General Studies papers test your knowledge of the country, its polity and its socio-legal institutions. Who else is better than a lawyer to comment and critique these?
UPSC prefers concise, crisp and to the point answers that get to the core of the issue-something that lawyers excel in (but do not usually practice).
The Ethics paper demands that you take nuanced positions on complex questions of morality-issues that lawyers grapple with on a daily basis.
Law as an optional too is extremely rewarding-a large part of it is actually covered in your GS prep too.
If any prospective lawyer wants to attempt the Civils but is daunted by the massive syllabus and the reputation it carries, I can only say-have no fear.
The UPSC means it when it says that this exam is meant to be attempted by well-informed graduates.
There is nothing here that is unfamiliar or obscure. Be well informed-both from the newspapers as well as online media, know your subject well and practice writing long answers-and you are set!