Delhi History Walk: Chiragh Delhi

Sufi saints and Delhi go back a long way. The greatest of them, Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, made Delhi his home during the reign of Iltutmish. Qutb Sahib, as he was popularly known, was a disciple of Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer and laid the foundations of the Chishti order in Delhi. The reverence in which he was held can be gauged from the fact that the Sultan himself led his funeral prayers and that Emperors and Kings ranging from Sher Shah Suri to Bahadur Shah Zafar paid his shrine in Mehrauli a visit. Many of the later Mughals are in fact buried in his dargah compound which is the largest such royal graveyard in Delhi.

Qutb Sahib’s status as Delhi’s patron saint was challenged only by Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Nizamuddin was a disciple of Baba Farid Ganjshakar of Pakpattan (now in Pakistan) who was himself a disciple of Qutb Sahib. While Chishti saints lived simple lives, they nevertheless stayed in the cities where they had a huge following. It was probably a measure of the troubled times in which he lived that Nizamuddin Auliya left the city of Delhi (i.e Mehrauli and Siri) and settled in a village some miles to the east known as Ghiyaspur. The name of the village refers to the Sultan, Ghiyasuddin Balban, who ruled during Nizamuddin’s early years in the City. Before long the original name was forgotten and the village came to be called Basti Nizamuddin Auliya-a name that holds even today.

Inspite of his fame and reputation for piety, Nizamuddin Auliya ran into difficult times with some of the Delhi sultans-notably Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq who was notoriously insolent to him. A popular Delhi myth recounts an instance where the Sultan prohibited the sale of lamp oil in the City to dissuade Delhiwallahs from working on digging a baoli (a step well) for Nizamuddin Auliya. It was then that the saint’s disciple, Nasiruddin, filled up empty lamps with water and the wicks miraculously lit up. This earned him the sobriquet- Roshan Chiragh e Dehlvi (the Illuminated Lamp of Delhi).

Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlvi succeeded to his master’s place after the latter’s death. Originally hailing from Ayodhya, he came relatively late to the Sufi life-becoming Nizamuddin’s disciple at the age of forty. He had a more orthodox reputation and frowned upon the use of music in Sufi sa’maas. It was possibly this orthodoxy that compelled him to leave the eclectic environment of Basti Nizamuddin and move some distance to the south. Before long a small settlement had grown up around the saint’s hujra (residence), mainly to house his close disciples and cater to the pilgrims who made the trek to see him. These were the days of Muhammad bin Tughlaq and the famously eccentric Sultan was on a building spree having abandoned his father’s citadel of Tughlaqabad along the river. The scattered ruins of Jahanpanah are all that remain of this period of frenzied construction. It is not possible to determine where exactly the walls of Jahanpanah ended but it is quite probable that the saint’s residence either lay along the city walls or just outside it. Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlvi died at the age of eighty in 1356-deeply mourned by the people of Delhi and the Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq.

The village of Chiragh Delhi is now firmly a part of South Delhi. Administratively, it remains one of the Lal Dora urban villages where municipal by-laws and regulations do not apply. The villagers lost their agricultural land during the construction boom of the 60s. This land is now occupied by parts of Malaviya Nagar, GK III and Masjid Moth.

While it is easier to access Chiragh Delhi from the Outer Ring Road, I have always preferred to walk the couple of kilometres from Malviya Nagar Metro Station. The walk along Press Enclave Marg takes you along another urban village called Khirki that houses the Khirki Masjid-one of Delhi’s largest. It is the only Sultanate era covered mosque in all of North India. Some distance ahead is Satpula-an earth and rubble dam built to provide drinking water to Jahanpanah during the Tughlaq era. The stream it dams is the Naulakha-once Delhi’s most important water source. It arises in the foothills of the Aravallis beyond Mehrauli, feeds Iltutmish’s Hauz e Shamsi near the Dargah of Qutb Sahib before disappearing into a nullah near Sainik Farms. It then re-emerges beyond the MB Road, skirts Chiragh Delhi, bisects Panchsheel Enclave and becomes the broad stinking drain that welcomes people to Defence Colony-where it has now been covered over by a park. It finally ends its journey in the Yamuna near ISBT Kale Khan and is spanned shortly before that by the Barapula-a beautiful bridge built during Jahangir’s era and now taken over by vendors.

The Anicut (Satpula) on the Naulakha Stream, Press Enclave Marg

Returning to Satpula, it was the practice for pilgrims coming to Chiragh Delhi to bathe in the Naulakha here before walking along the stream to the village. That road is inaccessible now and one has to walk all the way to Shaheed Bhagat Singh College before taking a left and then a right at a crumbling gate built by Firuz Shah. One is now in the village proper and it is possible to appreciate how a Hauz Khas or a Shahpur Jat would have looked like before gentrification obscured all traces of the years past. The entire village was once walled-only traces of this remain now. The narrow, twisting streets inexorably turn to the right highlighting the fact that the village is oriented vis a vis the saint’s dargah. A crumbling tomb wall with an AC protruding out is the only thing of interest before you suddenly end up in the broad village square. Elders on charpoys smoke hookah under a couple of trees while a street is occupied by the main market of the village. Immediately looming to your left, at the end of a lane selling agarbattis, chaadars and flowers is the white, domed gate of the dargah.

Chiragh Delhi Village Gate
The Tughlaq era Chiragh Delhi Village Gate

Unlike the heavily commercialized Nizamuddin, the dargah is an incredibly peaceful and serene place. There are no touts offering to show you around, no kebab sellers, no throngs of people and none of the hustle and bustle. Instead all you find is a huge khirni tree that shelters the dargah compound and a few people lounging about. Occasionally a mother would get her ill child along who is then ‘treated’ for possession or nazar by the khadim of the dargah offering her an amulet. The village lost its entire resident Muslim population in the tumultuous days of 1947. The saint’s descendants had left much earlier, possibly sometime before the Mughal invasion. They moved to Gujarat, attracted by the opportunities at the court of the Sultans there. Some of them may still be found in Ahmedabad. The local residents, all Hindus, nevertheless, share a deep bond with the shrine-their families having lived here for more than a century. In one corner of the compound is the ruined wall of a mosque built by the Emperor Farrukhsiyar around 1715. A garish new mosque has appropriated much of the older structure. The Mehfilkhana or gathering hall, probably built by the Lodis, has also been ‘renovated’ and its antiquity is hardly recognisable.

Chiragh Delhi Gate
The entrance into the Dargah. Firuz Shah’s Domed Gate
Bahlol Lodi's humble tomb in Chiragh Delhi
Bahlol Lodi’s humble tomb in Chiragh Delhi
Chiragh Delhi Mosque
Farrukhsiyar’s Mosque (1715)-now dubiously renovated. The Khirni tree is also seen
Chiragh Delhi A
Graves in the Dargah compound
Chiragh Delhi Compound
Lodi tombs (white plaster) with modern construction
Chiragh Delhi Mausoleum
The tomb of Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlvi (background) with that of his disciple

The compound is a veritable graveyard. Apart from the main shrine of Nasiruddin Chiragh Dehlvi, there are two other domed graves that allegedly belong to his disciples. In addition, there are numerous graves spread around-mostly those of old village notables or some pious soul from Shahjahanabad who had willed his burial here. A Lodi era tomb is used as a temporary storage facility and another unidentified Lodi building has people living in it. The domed gate is probably the oldest extant building in the compound and was built by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. It is a classic Tughlaq building-heavy, sloping rubble walls with a half dome. Exiting from the same gate and going behind the dargah compound takes you to the humble tomb of Bahlol Lodi who founded the Lodi dynasty out of the mess left behind by the later Tughlaqs and the Sayyids. It is a flat roofed, multiple arched building with a central cenotaph-now used as a wicket by local children playing cricket. There was another tomb nearby but that has been subsumed by some recent construction.

The village of Chiragh Delhi does not have much to recommend itself in material terms. But if you come here in the monsoons when the gloomy grey skies turn the weather sombre and the rain has washed the tombs clean, it is possible to forget that you are in South Delhi-in the middle of 15 million fellow humans, and just for a fleeting second step back into time with nothing but the timeless gravestones and the broad canopy of the khirni tree for company.

Delhi History Walk: Jorbagh

Long before Edwin Lutyens received his commission to design New Delhi, Delhi was a rather small city restricted to Shahjahanabad and a few outlying suburbs. The vast bulk of what now passes for the City was open plain, dotted with ruins and villages. Even as late as 1931, Robert Byron could describe the area beyond Lodi Road as “flat country-brown, scrubby and broken…quite [like the] Roman Campagna: at every hand tombs and mosques from the Mughal times and earlier, weathered to the colour of the earth-bearing witness to former empires”.

These ruins still dot much of South Delhi. They are today enclosed by colonies, parks, markets and roundabouts. Some are well known-like the Qutb, some are shadowy figures that are seldom visited-like Masjid Moth. Still others are known by sight, like the solitary tomb that stands under the flyover near Nizamuddin. There are countless others that have barely survived the ravages of time. Their crumbling walls flit by as one drives through post 1947 Delhi, their names too insignificant to feature on maps and guidebooks. This post is the product of late afternoon’s rambling walk through one such South Delhi colony.

Getting off at Jorbagh Metro Station, one can wander right into the Nursery next door. This is the last surviving remnant, though in a modern avatar, of the Bagh-e-Jud, whose trees gave its name to the locality. Throughout the later Mughal era, this area was a part of the estate of the Awadh Nawabs, the second of whom-Safdarjung, is buried in a magnificent tomb on the opposite side of the Qutb Road. The village here was then known as Aliganj and the site now occupied by the Nursery was a graveyard where Delhi’s substantial Shia community ended their Muharram taziyah processions. The practice was stopped for a few years after Partition but resumed soon after, though on a smaller scale. Today the much reduced graveyard occupies a portion of the plot. In its centre is the distinctive tomb of Mah e Khanum (around 1725 CE). The tomb structure is nothing but a gateway and the burial chamber lies deep underneath. The Farsi inscription on her grave describes her in rather flowery language as ‘the brightest star in the zodiac of chastity who hid her face in the cloud of God’s compassion’. On most afternoons, there is nobody around save an old caretaker who moved here from Western UP in the 80s.

The graveyard in the Nursery compound
The graveyard in the Nursery compound
The descent into the real burial chamber
The descent into the real burial chamber
The external gateway
The external gateway to the Mah e Khanum Tomb

Taking the exit to the east of the graveyard, one passes a Mughal era wall mosque. Much like an Eidgah, these have only a western wall indicating the direction of Mecca. Mehrauli is dotted by plenty of such structures. The one here now has a brand new shamiana covering it along with signs of recent construction. This flurry of activity has to do with the simmering dispute between the management of the graveyard and the people who run the Nursery. Tempers have been frayed in the last couple of years and stone pelting was reported barely a few months ago. A couple of rifle toting policemen are always around to maintain the peace. The very idea of communal violence seems incongruous in this homely, lower middle class colony named after BK Dutt, the revolutionary who was Bhagat Singh’s accomplice in bombing the Central Assembly.

In the centre of the locality is the Shah e Mardan, Delhi’s best known Shia shrine. Like such shrines all over the world, this is not an actual dargah. Instead it symbolically commemorates the Caliph Ali and his wife Fatima, the son in law and daughter of Prophet Muhammed, respectively. The building is all gleaming white marble and contrasts sharply with the filth around it. Grimly smiling Shia Ayatollahs with flowing beards look down from posters. A gateway is all that remains of the original structure that the new shrine has replaced. For such an important shrine, it is remarkably deserted. The Shias who originally inhabited the area moved out after Partition. The Punjabi refugees who inhabit the colony now have little to do with it. Right next to it is the tomb of a child saint called Sayyed Arif, again late Mughal. In a case of questionable judgement, it has been covered all over with bathroom tiles.

The bathroom tile covered facade of the Sayyed Arif Ali Shah Dargah-the miraculous child saint
The bathroom tile covered facade of the Sayyed Arif Ali Shah Dargah-the miraculous child saint
The much altered wall mosque outside the graveyard
The much altered wall mosque outside the graveyard
Dargah Shah e Mardan-Delhi's holiest Shia shrine
Dargah Shah e Mardan-Delhi’s holiest Shia shrine

It is easy to forget in this secluded and poor corner of Central Delhi that posh Lodi Road is barely a five minute walk away. Lodi Road marks the southern boundary of the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (as seen in the helpful ‘Welcome to NDMC’ boards that you come across after crossing it). While its present name dates only from the last century, it is one of Delhi’s oldest roads-having been continuously used in one form or the other since the 14th century. In the Sultanate era, it took a more northerly route and connected the capital at Jahanpanah (near modern Green Park) to Firuz Shah’s citadel at Ferozeshah Kotla. The tombs in today’s Lodi Gardens came up along this road. The eastern terminus of this road gradually shifted to Nizamuddin (known as Ghiyaspur then-after the Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban) as the dargah became a preferred pilgrimage spot and Kotla fell to ruins. Akbar’s spectacular Athpula in Lodi Gardens carried one of the offshoots of this road over a minor stream to somewhere around Purana Quila.

Around the time that Safdarjung’s tomb was coming up at the western terminus of Lodi Road with the old Qutb Road, a village called Khairpur grew up around the Lodi tombs. A hundred years later, the railway leading south from Old Delhi Junction bisected this road about halfway through (the railway station of Hazrat Nizamuddin was located at what is today the 13th fairway of the Delhi Golf Course). The original plan of New Delhi envisaged the retention of this line and a station in the centre of Connaught Place. Better sense however prevailed and the railway was realigned. The villagers of Khairpur were evicted-many of them to neighbouring Kotla Mubarakpur, and their land taken over by the Lady Willingdon Park-now the Lodi Gardens.

My Tryst with the Civil Services Exam V: More Model Answers

In this post I reproduce some more of my answers from Civil Services (Mains), 2014. This is a work in progress and will be updated over the next few days. These include both GS as well as my optional, Law. As stated in an earlier post, do not go by the facts here-they may be incorrect. My sole aim here is to put up, as accurately as possible, answers written in the real exam.

GS-III: Question 2: Employability and Job creation

The Theory of Demographic Dividend postulates that a younger, growing but stable population is not an economic burden but a force for good as it increases productivity in a society. India stands to reap this demographic dividend as more than half of its population is under the age of 30 years.

However the utilisation of this dividend requires skill set development to boost employability. Routine mechanical jobs requiring no special skills will not be productive in the long run as these will inevitably give way to mechanisation. By ignoring this vital area, we will end up with nothing other than disguised unemployment or under-unemployment as these members do not make value additions commensurate with their abilities and can be easily replaced.

The question of finding jobs is a vital one that requires a relook at the development paradigm. Clearly, heavy industry based manufacturing growth will do nothing to solve unemployment as our experience in the 50s and 60s shows. Unemployment can be addressed holistically only if we encourage manufacturing based on our core strength-agriculture. This includes food processing, industrial use of agricultural products and encouragement of exports here. This will also prevent the growing stress on urban infrastructure and boost rural wages.

GS III: Question 16: Radicalisation in India

India stands as a solitary example in the post-Colonial world that adopted a secular, liberal model of democracy at birth and has stuck to it for more than six decades since. However this polity is increasingly under threat from both domestic and external factors.

The growing tide of Islamist fanaticism across South Asia in the last two decades has been a spill over from the Superpowers’ ill-advised meddling in Afghanistan coupled with Pakistan’s tacit support to it as a tool against India. The fact that it has found little support among Indian Muslims is a tribute to India’s citizenship model that protects and promotes minority rights. However, certain vested interests have used this external factor to fan communalism among a section of the majority populace in India. India needs to address the two together-a firm disassociation of majority communalism from nationalism coupled with a clear and visible promotion of constitutionally guaranteed minority rights.

Radicalisation feeds on real or perceived maginalisation. This may be economic or social. Anti-discrimination legislation to outlaw biased practices in the housing or job market can be another effective tool.

Law Paper I: Question 1 (e): Separation of Powers

Montesquieu’s doctrine of Separation of Powers is popularly known as the theory of Checks and Balances. It means that the three branches of the Government-the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary are independent of each other and do not intrude upon each other’s turf.

However, this notion of strict separation is not applicable in India. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has remarked in Ram Jawaya Kapur that checks and balances in the Indian Polity do not translate to absolute separation of powers. The Executive here is a part of the Legislature and is directly answerable to it. It stays in power till it enjoys the confidence of the House. This is unlike the situation in the USA where the President is not answerable to the Congress. Delegated Legislation is the norm here and on occasions even the Supreme Court has joined in (for eg-the Visakha guidelines). Therefore while the Indian Constitution promotes answerability, it does not adhere to doctrinal notions of Montesquieu.

My Tryst with the Civil Services Exam IV- The Interview

The Mains Results were declared when I was driving down from Jaipur to Delhi. I received a message from a very dear friend asking me to check the results. An agonising ten minutes followed before Airtel’s internet could be coaxed to download the file. I wouldn’t say I was over the moon on seeing my name there. After all, I had appeared for the Interview last year too without making it to the Final List. So my preparation this year was (ironically enough) in a lot more relaxed frame of mind.

I did not do any intensive preparation for the Interview. I read the newspaper daily and looked up websites like barandbench and legallyindia for recent updates regarding the legal scene (my graduation subject being Law). This was apart from preparing for the standard questions like how to reform the Indian legal scene, make it more accessible etc. I also looked up Wikipedia to refresh my GK about my home state and district. More importantly, I signed up for Hamdard Study Circle’s mock interviews. I gave a total of four mock interviews there and the encouragement I received from the panel comprising some of India’s finest ex bureaucrats like Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Mr Nasim Ahmed, Mr Salman Haider and Mr Naved Masood was a big boost to my confidence.

I dressed up conservatively for the big day-a dark grey suit with a white shirt and a deep purple tie. You can, of course, choose to skip the suit but it does convey an impression that you are taking this event seriously. My interview was in the morning session and I was informed that I was the first one up at Ms Alka Sirohi’s Board. In hindsight, being first up probably helped my nerves a bit as I never really had time to get the jitters about the whole process. After some small talk with my fellow interviewees, an assistant escorted me to a chair in the corridor and asked me to wait till called for. Scary comes close to describing my feelings at this stage. After about five minutes, the massive door was held open for me. I politely asked for permission to enter before walking up to my seat and wishing the Chairman followed by a general Good Morning to the other four members.

Chairman: Please take your seat, Mr Akhtar

Me: Thank you Ma’am

CM: So you are a lawyer. What is happening in the legal field these days?

Me: I am sorry Ma’am. Is there anything specific you have in mind?

CM: There has been a lot of activity in the commercial law scene these days. Salaries are going through the roof, recruitments have taken off in a big way. What are the reasons for this?

Me: Ma’am perhaps it has got something to do with the proposed entry of foreign law firms. Indian law firms are therefore trying to shore up their manpower with attractive offers in order to be competitive.

CM: That may happen. Something that has already happened?

Me: India’s largest law firm, Amarchand and Mangaldas just split up. The two new entities are aggressively recruiting to enter each others markets.So a lot of lateral movement has resulted as a consequence.

CM: Yes. That is correct. Why did this split up happen?

Me: (General gyaan about the mother’s will being contested and the elder son getting her entire share)

CM: So you think this is a one off? Or will the salaries trend continue?

Me: As we compete with global law firms, I see the salaries only increasing as these firms compete among themselves to retain the best talent.

CM: So don’t you wish to be a part of this windfall? Earn 15 LPA salaries now, move up to 50 LPA in a half a dozen years?

Me: (with a smile) In my own way, I have seen a fair bit of the commercial law life Ma’am. While the money is no doubt excellent, I don’t find the job interesting or challenging enough. As I see it, the Civil Services offer a much more diverse and influential job profile for somebody of my interests.

CM: Oh there are challenges alright. Especially if a deal is to be closed…

Me: (interrupting) Obviously I refer to my own work environment in a corporate..

CM: Alright. We will come back to this topic (motions to the first member)


M1: Since you were always interested in the Civils, you should have done your graduation in some other subject, saved a couple of years and become an IAS at 21! Why do Law for five years?

Me: You are quite right Sir. But in my opinion, Law provides me a distinct advantage in the Civil Services

M1: That being?

Me: It has familiarised me with the Constitution-the Bible of administration in India. It has taught me the notion of natural justice and reasoned decisions. It has also taught me to weigh my options and cautioned me against taking absolutist stands on issues. As far as degrees go, I cannot think of a better one!

M1 asked another question that I cannot quite recollect. The Chairman stopped me midway through my answer and asked M2 to take over.


M2: We read about some refugees in the Bay of Bengal area these days. Any idea who they are?

Me: Yes Sir. These are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who are fleeing the country to avoid persecution

M2: Right. Why are they being persecuted?

Me: Sir, for many Bamars, Rohingyas are Bengalis due to the language they speak and the religion they follow. As Myanmar moves towards democracy, there is a lot of social upheaval. It is probably feared that the Rohingyas will get a deciding say in the politics of the Arakan. That, and economic competition is another factor.

M2: Are you aware of a principle in International Law that says refugees may not be turned back?

Me: I do not know the exact phrase Sir but it basically states that while there is no right to asylum, refugees facing imminent threat to their life may be provided temporary shelter before the UNHCR arranges for…

M2: (Interrupting-with a smile) Non refoulement is what it is called..just trying to help you a bit.

Me: Yes sir. I am sorry. I think that is the principle.

M2: So why aren’t SE Asian countries accepting them? Are they afraid they will have blood on their hands if they repatriate them?

Me: Not really sir. In my opinion they are afraid of the fiscal burden they perceive these refugees to be. Also the whole angle of social tension in their countries which anyway face ethnic issues.

M2: Correct. Moving on. Trainspotting seems to be one of your interests! How did this come about?

Me: (Tell him about IRFCA, growing up in a railway colony)

M2: (Smiles and nods) So when did the first train run in India? And your favourite route?

Me: 16th April 1853 Sir. From Bombay to Thane. And Konkan Railway.


M3: What is Climate Change?

Me: (General gyaan about global warming, climate change)

M3: Is Ozone a greenhouse gas or a CFC?

Me: It certainly is a greenhouse gas but I think its not a CFC

M3: Effects of climate change?

Me: Most importantly for us, a rise in sea levels compounded by unseasonal rain and flooding. This will put coastal communities at risk around the world and lead to large scale migration that will have cascading social consequences.

M3: Tell us something about your former employer’s environment protection measures?

Me: (Tell them about ITC’s carbon positive buildings, ground water recharging)

M3: Something more? ITC has been doing a lot of work in this field.

Me: Sorry sir. Cannot recollect anything else right now.

M3: Why are we having difficulties with bringing back Black Money from abroad?

Me: Sir it is primarily due to privacy laws which stipulate that those who haven’t broken any laws in these countries will not have their financial information disclosed to their home countries.

M3: Suggest some ways in which we can remedy this.

Me: The best measure we can take is to tighten the screws before the money leaves Indian shores sir, especially by cracking down on benami transactions and unreported income, because once it is out of here, it is very difficult to get it back..

M3: But America has managed to…

Me: With all due respect Sir, America’s bargaining power is also much more stronger than India’s. It can leverage its diplomatic and financial muscle to get the Swiss to talk..


M4: There is a lot of talk about encouraging industry. What should be done here?

Me: Sir, for one, we can start with abolishing many unnecessary remnants of the licence permit raj that make setting up a business difficult. A single window system of clearance would be a great help..

M4: And in the labour law field?

Me: Some reform is needed in the Apprentices Act to make it easier to hire and fire contractual labour but the broader principles of safeguarding labourer interest through the Factories Act and the ID Act must be continued.

M4: Talking of hire and fire, what is a Golden Handshake?

Me: Sir a generous severance package given generally to high ranking managers when they quit-usually before their time is up.

M4: What role should the judiciary play in the development process?

Me: It should try and deliver speedy justice in all cases Sir. While at the same time realising that it must always keep the interest of the weakest in mind who usually have no bargaining power of their own and do not possess the voice to speak up.

M4: Any specific suggestions about making setting up of industries easier?

Me: As I said earlier Sir, abolishing the concept of multiple permits..

Chairman (interrupts): But that has already been done. You just need a couple of them..

Me: Not in the sector I was working in Ma’am. The Pollution Control Board, for eg, needs about half a dozen

Chairman: Its a sector specific thing then.

Me: Yes Ma’am. It very possibly may be.

CM: What is the JUSBRL?

Me: (Takes me some time to figure it out)

CM: The Jammu, Udhampur…

Me: Yes Ma’am. The Kashmir Railway Project.

CM: What are the challenges being faced there?

Me: (Gyaan about terrorism, seismic region, snowfall, broad gauge line at high altitude, rivers, terrain etc)

CM: How many bridges are there in total? Any other feature?

Me: I think more than a hundred major ones Ma’am. And Asia’s longest rail tunnel too.

CM: You cooked up that bridges figure just now didn’t you? (smiles-for the first time)

Me: An educated guess Ma’am. (They all laugh)

CM: What is happening in Nagaland?

Me: Apologies Ma’am. A lot is. Anything specific that you wish to ask me about?

CM: Is all fair under God’s kingdom there?

Me: Well, there are talks going on with the insurgents, NSCN (IM)..

CM: Name them.

Me: Isaac Muviah

CM: The other faction?

Me: Khaplang

CM: Why aren’t we talking to Khaplang?

Me: Our sovereignty is non negotiable. Any autonomy must be within the Indian Constitution. Khaplang refuses to compromise on this.

CM: Should we be talking to some other country?

Me: Myanmar Ma’am. It acts as a conduit for weapons, drugs money to them..

CM: Any other reason?

Me: (Cant think of any)

CM: What is Nagalim?

Me: Greater Nagaland Ma’am. Includes parts of other Indian states and Myanmar. One of the goals of the NSCN is to establish a sovereign Nagalim.

CM: Thank you Mr Akhtar. You may leave now.

I muttered a thank you to all before making my exit. I was informed by my fellow interviewees that this had lasted for close to 45 minutes which wasn’t surprising since I was the first one in. Considering that I hadn’t been able to answer all my questions satisfactorily, the general reputation that this Board enjoys and my couple of unnecessary interruptions during questioning, I was very happy with my final marks of 193.

For a process as personalised as the Interview, there are few tips to be given out. You cannot fashion a new personality for yourself or become somebody that you are not. However there are a few general suggestions that will work for anybody:

  • Retain your cool. The Interview Board treats you as an equal and expects you to show your maturity in a stressful situation.
  • They are not out to unnecessarily needle you. Both my interview boards have tried to help me whenever I fumbled.
  • Do NOT EVER lie. A funny answer when you don’t know an exact fact is fine but please don’t lie. It destroys any impression that you may have created till then and you are sure to get caught out. A polite “I apologise Ma’am/Sir. I am unaware of this” is all you need to say.
  • Do dress up smartly. Make an effort to find a good tie, proper shoes or a well pressed sari. A shabby appearance makes you appear disinterested
  • The lesser the hobbies in your DAF, the better your chances of not being led down a dangerous alley of specific questions.
  • Do not badmouth your former employers, if any, or your college. Nobody likes a mean backbiter.
  •  Do try and make eye contact with all members. But this may not be possible in some rooms with a circular table. In that case only occasionally nodding to other members is also fine.
  • Smile. It may be a big day for you, but just another interview for them. Do not let them remember you as a moody grinch.

My Tryst with the Civil Services Exam-III: Sample Answers

All of your preparation can come to nought if your actual answers are not upto the mark. UPSC provides two guidelines:

  • Word Limit
  • Content is more important than length

Taken together, these mean that you need not write a full 150/200 words for an answer. If you have exhausted all you have to say, do stop right there. I must have exceeded the word limit in around half a dozen answers in all. But this is a very bad idea. It eats into your time and may also lead to trouble should UPSC become stringent about word limits.

I underlined important parts of an answer in all papers where I could. I used a pencil for this. There is no need to stick to paragraphs or points. Where the question asks about the salient features of a scheme or programme, points are probably the best bet. Otherwise, paragraphs are just fine.

You can certainly draws charts and diagrams if you want to. I drew a comparison table in GS Paper III where it was asked to differentiate between various forms of IP. There was also a rough diagram of the Karakoram Highway in the same paper. I wouldn’t recommend this though, unless it is absolutely a must. You end up spending a lot of time on one answer this way.

What follows are reproductions of some of my answers in CSE-2014 to the best of my memory. Some of the facts may be wrong but that is because this is exactly what I wrote in the exam too. I hope it gives you some clue about structuring an answer.

GS 1-Question 4- Reason for battles fought at Panipat

Panipat has been the site of three major battles in Indian history-1526, 1556 and 1761. The reasons for this primarily have to do with its strategic location vis a vis Delhi.

Any Army proceeding from beyond the Indus would take the Grand Trunk Road to access the North Indian Plains. Near Panipat, this road is bound by the Yamuna on one side and the outcrops of the Aravallis down south. There are no other natural defences till Delhi. It is therefore an excellent point to block an invader’s advance. With its back to the river and the Capital not too far away, the defending Army can be assured of its supply lines not being disrupted.

The level plain of Panipat also provides ample scope for maneuvering massive armies-a traditional feature of medieval Indian warfare. However, in all the three instances, the smaller, more mobile invading forces prevailed.

GS 1- Question 9- Suez Crisis and Britain

The accession to power Egyptian President Gamal Nasser changed the power paradigm in the Middle-East. Nasser’s popular appeal to pan Arabism and Non Alignment led to the dilution of British influence in Jordan and Iraq. He further antagonized the UK by nationalizing the Suez Canal-vital for British energy shipping. PM Eden decided that given the strategic importance of the Canal, Nasser posed a potent threat that had to be neutralized, inspite of US warnings to the contrary.

The impasse that developed after Israel, UK and France captured the Canal meant that oil supply to Europe was shut down. Fearing a tilt towards Communism in the Islamic World, the US, backed by the UN, applied financial and diplomatic pressure on the Allies to withdraw. Faced with the realization that it could not do without US support and that it lacked the military projecting power of old, UK had to beat a humiliating retreat.

GS 2- Question 2- Federalism in the Indian Constitution

The Indian Constitution has often been described by scholars as a ‘Federal Constitution with Unitary Features’.

Some of these Unitary Features are:

  • Supremacy of the Union Parliament in Articles 246 and 254 of the Constitution making conflicting State Law redundant
  • Emergency Powers of the President under Article 356 dismissing State Governments in the event of a ‘breakdown of Constitutional machinery’
  • Single citizenship
  • No separate State Constitutions
  • Power of the Rajya Sabha under Article 249 to declare that a State List matter may be legislated upon by the Parliament
  • Unified Judiciary
  • Union distributing funds to the States
  • Power of the Parliament to create new States and modify boundaries of existing ones.

These features owe their existence to the fact that the Indian provinces, unlike in the US, were never sovereign entities. They did not come together to constitute the Union but rather it was the Union that recognized them. The Indian Constitution is also a pragmatic document that takes into account the ground realities in India and seeks to discourage fissiparous tendencies in the far flung provinces. It may be noticed that many of these features are for exceptional situations and the basic federative notion of autonomy for States is respected.

My Tryst with the Civil Services Exam-II: Law as an Optional

Law, a hitherto less popular optional, has been steadily gaining new converts in the last couple of years. Some of it has to do with the perception that certain popular optional subjects get ‘butchered’ in the Mains. Some of it probably comes from the realisation that in the post 2013 pattern, GS Papers II and III cover a lot of the same ground that the Law syllabus does.

While I would unequivocally recommend Law to all law graduates, non-lawyers may consider the fact that Law has a substantially wider syllabus than many other optionals. Parts of it, especially Paper II, have a very technical feel to them-with a lot of linguistic hair-splitting. There is hardly any good coaching available and memorising case law and section numbers may not be to everybody’s liking. What goes in Law’s favour is that at its root, it is nothing but common sense. No legal concept is so dense that it cannot be understood from the standard text books. It is also one of the two optionals where the difficulty level is not of Honours level. The subjects that most students in Law School dread form no part of the UPSC syllabus. Little wonder then that many non-lawyers have aced the CSE with Law over these two years.

Law Paper I comprises of Constitutional Law and International Law. Law Paper II has the Law of Torts, the Law of Contracts, the Law of Crimes and Contemporary Legal Developments.

LAW PAPER I (Marks: 148/250)

Law Paper I along with GS Paper I is my personal favourite among the many that UPSC makes us write. This paper consists of two separate portions-Constitutional Law and International Law. You need to attempt two each from both the portions along with one more from either of the two.

There is no substitute to reading the Constitution. Do not be daunted by the 400 odd Articles there. You only need to know about a hundred of them. Together with the bare text, you need an excellent commentary. For UPSC purposes, MP Jain or VN Shukla are the best. I would recommend VN Shukla for the lack of jargon though MP Jain is more exhaustive. Remember to read the syllabus well and restrict your preparation to that part. Indiscriminately trying to mug up the entire Constitution is going to be an exercise in futility. Always proceed topic wise. For eg-if you are doing the part on Judiciary, make sure to correlate what you are reading about the SC with parallel provisions regarding the High Court even though there may be a hundred other articles in between. Case Law is an absolute must. You only need to know the landmark judgments though. If you are a law graduate, you probably already know the important case laws for each part. If you are not, Bakshi’s Bare Text of the Constitution includes important case laws along with the Articles. As a rule of the thumb, High Court judgments may be ignored, unless they lay out a whole new paradigm-like Narsu Appa Mali or the Naz Foundation case.

The last five topics of the Constitutional Law portion deal with Administrative Law. This may be done from IP Massey’s book. Read it as you would a story and remember to jot down a couple of important case laws here and there. Massey deals with these rather extensively but remember that the UPSC at best would only require a broad based understanding of the same. So do not stress about the numerous case laws, examples, exceptions and so on. The side heading along with a couple of lines should do for most.

Try and be updated regarding latest case law from Gautam Bhatia’s excellent is rather dense but very useful for those interested in the subject.

The International Law syllabus is perhaps the easiest part of the Law portion for a non-lawyer. Starke or Malcolm Shaw are the recommended textbooks if you are doing this subject for the first time. However, if you already have a base in this, SK Kapoor on International Law should do for UPSC purposes. It is written like a guide, parts of it are outdated and the grammar is nothing much to write home about, but it is concise and heavily features the Indian angle-both major plus points for the CSE. Case Law is a must but you need not try and memorise every tiny detail-the name and 3-4 major features should do just fine. This is also true of most Treaties. Do remember that Kapoor does not explain the topics very well, so you may need to fall back on Starke/Shaw if your concepts are not clear. For international bodies and environment, the best source is the Internet as it is a very dynamic topic.

LAW PAPER II (Marks: 116/250)

This paper is hardcore law and your concepts need to be absolutely clear. I used the following books:

  • Indian Penal Code: KD Gaur
  • Contracts: Avtar Singh
  • Torts: Bangia

These texts need to be supplemented by the Bare Acts (except Torts of course). I used to read the section first and try and represent it in a linear manner so as to bring out its key elements. Only then did I read the commentary on it along with the case law. It is quite possible to go offtrack here considering the large number of sections. Therefore, do read your syllabus carefully.

Memorising the names of leading cases is a given, but you also need to know the facts of many others, especially in IPC. This is because many of the questions in the UPSC papers directly reference the facts of some case or the other. So it makes sense to invest in another book for the IPC, maybe a Pillai, only so that you can read through the facts of all the cases there that are not mentioned in KD Gaur.

Try and make extensive notes in the Contracts and IPC portions. The commentaries are very long and you will have a hard time during revision if you do not have succinct notes. You can, of course, memorise the entire Contracts Act, but even if you don’t, do try and do so for atleast the first 75 sections. These are the broad principles and you can quote them even in questions that do not directly deal with them. Remembering the IPC sections is a lot easier (or was for me). Do not leave out the sections that deal with aggravated offences-like theft by house breaking, for eg-many a times, the questions refer to these particular sections.

You may invest in DU Law Dukkis for the remaining topics like Sale of Goods, Partnership Act, NI Act and Arbitration and Conciliation Act. Do not ignore these as a couple of questions are sure to come from this part. Another excellent source for revising this portion is the AIBE material. For the other Acts mentioned, you will have to rely on the bare text. Knowing the broad features should do.

Contemporary Legal Developments may be done from the Internet. Cross reference it with the Bare Acts where you can. Again, this portion cannot be ignored as it supplies a question or two almost every year. More than the sections here, the broad theory is important, especially for, say, Competition Law. This would include problems with the current regime, changes possible or maybe even expounding on its development over the years.

For both the Law papers, it would be a very fruitful exercise to practise previous years’ papers. Try and solve as many of them as you can. The theory of law does not change and there is only so much variation you can have in your papers. Solving the last ten years papers alone should help you master atleast a third of your syllabus.

In addition, you may look up some of the Law Commission’s important reports (like the 156th, 200th) as well as the report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution. These may be quoted in your 20 markers, but are not a must.

In my next post, I will try and put up some of my GS answers as best as I remember them.

My Tryst with the Civil Services Exam-I: GS Book List

I have received numerous mails asking me to share my strategy for the Civil Services Examination since the results were declared. This is especially true of my fellow law graduates, many of whom are unsure about the rather risky optional that Law is. Since I received a lot of help from Riju Bafna (IAS, 2014) and Ashutosh Salil (IAS, 2010) blogs while preparing, I hope to continue the chain here. This is easier said than done. While there is plenty that I have learnt from my two shots at this exam, a foolproof strategy to successfully tackle it is not one of them. So I will do my best to make this post factual and only dish out “expert” gyaan that has worked in my case. Please notice the use of “MY”. Truth be told, this exam is about as random as it can get. Your chances depend not only on how you perform, but how your fellow aspirants do, what sort of frame of mind you were in while attempting it, the mood of the examiner while correcting your papers and (most importantly) how your half an hour long interview goes! So take this post with a large teaspoon of salt and do not treat it as anything more than a rough guide.

I did not prepare for Prelims GS and Mains separately. I used the same books for both. The book list here is comprehensive. You can, of course, choose portions out of it if you want to concentrate exclusively on Prelims GS for now. With CSAT becoming only a qualifying paper now, I don’t think it needs any specific tips. Practising plenty of mock papers should do the trick there.

ESSAY (Marks 151/250)

There is no specific preparation exclusive to Essay. A reading habit is a useful tool for this paper but is not an absolute must. What is actually important is to choose the right topic. This year was the first time UPSC wanted us to attempt two essays of about a thousand words each. The first set of essay topics was rather philosophical, while the second set was mostly factual. I prefer to write on topics where there is a factual basis on which I can build my essay. So I was in a bit of a quandary regarding the first set. Two of the options (Great power..greater responsibility, Words are sharper than two edged sword) were immediately ruled out as I could do nothing but make obtuse philosophical points here. I had absolutely no way to choose between the remaining two topics. I finally chose the Competition topic after jotting down possible points for each. There were some twelve separate sub headings that I could think of for it as opposed to only eight for the other. The second essay was on improving India’s performance in Olympics as I had, rather serendipitously, read an article on the topic barely a couple of days ago. This exercise of choosing the right essay took atleast 15 mins-time very well spent, in my opinion.

How you structure your essay is entirely upto you. For my first essay, I decided to look at how a skewed perception of the job market was leading parents to push children into already saturated professions. This harmed their intellectual growth and also made them susceptible to various social evils. Reference was made to coaching factories, the progressive deterioration in the Arts syllabus, a tendency to view achievement solely in terms of money earned etc. The second essay was relatively straight forward and needs no explanation. I ended both my essays by proposing solutions-the second essay was a completely solution oriented one. I am not too sure of exactly how much weightage the UPSC gives to the conclusion part, but it surely leaves a positive impression on the examiner if you don’t end on a note that is completely negative.

GS PAPER I (Marks: 111/250)

This was the paper I was most comfortable with. History and Geography are subjects that have been my favourites for a long time and for the most part all I did here was revise concepts that I was already comfortable with.

  • Indian Art and Architecture- Wikipedia
  • Modern Indian History- Satish Chandra for the Decline of the Mughal Empire, An Advanced History of India (Majumdar etc) is the best for a comprehensive look at early modern Indian history (Warning: It is very detailed), Bipan Chandra/Sumit Sarkar for the Freedom Struggle (Alternatively, S Bandopadhyay’s Plassey to Partition-though I found the book rather shallow), India After Gandhi and India: The Siege Within for post Independence. (Needless to say, these are all books that I had read long before I started preparing for the exam as such. I cannot think of a short book that can sufficiently explain this very important portion of the syllabus in the requisite detail. NCERT textbooks (old ones) are good for the basics)
  • World History- Revised from Wikipedia alone. Using the NCERT book as a base, started from the Seven Years War and ended with the current mess in the Middle East. This is a very time consuming part and if some prior familiarity with the topic helps a great deal. Vajiram’s printed module on this is good if you are pressed for time.
  • Indian Society- Did not specifically prepare for this. All of us have some idea about these issues anyway.
  • Role of Women, Poverty, Development etc- Vajiram’s printed modules were handy. Many of these topics were covered while preparing Economics for GS Paper III
  • Effects of Globalisation- Again general gyaan that does not require intensive preparation. Linked this with rural to urban migration. Googled up a few articles online
  • Social Empowerment, Communalism etc- The Idea of India by Sunil Khilnani is an excellent primer to the notion of the Indian Nation-State. Also presents a robust defence of Nehruvian Secularism. If pressed for time, Vajiram’s notes are handy.
  • Geography- I referred to GC Leong, though NCERT is equally good. Looked up Wikipedia for information on Natural phenomena. Used to watch Geography related PBS NOVA documentaries on YouTube in my spare time. These are extremely interesting and are worth your time. The key to doing well in Geography is to know what to study. A subject that comprises barely a third of one paper can end up consuming a lot of time if you are not careful with your Leong. Basic fundae about permanent winds, climatic zones, pressure belts etc are a must. But do not spend your time reading up on types of wind erosion, the subtle differences between an anticline and a syncline or the predominant rock in lava. Do read up on specific terms that relate to common phenomena-for eg, temperature inversion, microburst, El Nino/La Nina and so. Be thorough with the Atlas as far as South Asia is concerned-both for economic geography as well as to answer questions related to climatic patterns(like reasons for belt of low rainfall around Vidarbha). This means studying the Atlas in such detail that you would be able to mark out all the physical features on an unmarked physical map of India. Increasingly, UPSC looks to be asking questions from historical geography too (like why so many battles at Panipat?). It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get your Atlas out when important names in history like Panipat, Buxar, Plassey, Assaye or Seringapatnam crop up. Try to relate their physical location to their strategic importance. The Atlas is also a very useful tool to understand cropping pattern in India. Some of them actually carry small maps listing the growing areas of major crops.

GS PAPER II (Marks: 104/250)

For somebody with an optional like Law, GS Paper II should be a piece of cake. Much of its syllabus is covered under Paper I of Law. I believe the same may be said of optionals like Pub Ad as well or GS Paper III and those with Economics as an optional. Yet this familiarity with the syllabus can be a major drawback if we lose sight of the fact that GS papers, by their very definition, are not meant for specialised gyaan. In 2013, I doled out a lot of law specific gyaan in what I thought was an easy GS Paper II. My final marks were a pathetic 51. So the major lesson I drew from that underwhelming performance was to ensure that I write for an examiner whose familiarity with the subject is of a different nature than mine. I avoided jargon completely and stuck to simply sentences.

This is a relatively easy paper to prepare as far as sources are concerned. Laxmikanth on Indian Polity is indispensable. Since I was anyway doing most of the polity part for my Law Paper I, I used this book very sparingly. For those who need help with concepts that are not adequately explained here, VN Shukla’s Constitution of India (edited by Prof MP Singh) is a great book to invest in. It is a standard law textbook but is thankfully free of all jargon. You can ignore the unimportant case laws and read it as one would read any other book. Do remember that it is a rather bulky book and doesn’t come cheap. However, as a guide to the Constitution, I would recommend it anyday.

The second must have for this paper is the Report of the 2nd ARC. There is no need to read (nor is it possible to) all of it. Just scroll down to the last part of all individual reports and you would find a succinct summary of the recommendations made that should do for your needs. Do look up the full text if you wish to understand the context of a particularly important recommendation. A large number of my answers drew from this Report.

I did India’s foreign policy entirely from the Internet. There are a number of excellent sources online that should suffice. For a quick summary, Wikipedia is often enough. Considering the dynamic nature of this part, it is best if you do not rely on some outdated textbook. I only looked up static concepts like Panchsheel, NAM etc from Vajiram’s Study Modules.

The Internet should also do for International bodies and salient features of the RoPA. I did not study the latter though.

GS PAPER III (Marks: 73/250)

This was the paper where I, excuse my language, screwed up. While I have no clue where I actually bungled up, I think it must be to do with my horrible memory for facts and figures. I do not remember quoting a single figure anywhere, for the simple reason that I cannot remember dry statistics. This was also a paper where I had to hurry up as I spent a lot of time on a couple of difficult questions and had to really push towards the end.

I used two different books for this paper. In 2013, I had used Dutt and Sundaram’s bulky classic. It took up a lot of time but provided me with a strong base in the subject. In 2014, I used Ramesh Singh. I, however, daresay that it would have been rather difficult for me had I not read Dutt and Sundaram the previous year. Agriculture especially is best done from Dutt and Sundaram. Newspaper reading is extremely important here. I frequently read the Indian Express and kept an eye out for economic developments. I used Vajiram Module for topics like Infrastructure development that were covered in a bit too much detail in the standard books.

There is no book as such for Sci and Tech. Coaching material that you can pick up from ORN or Ber Sarai can at best cover only a portion of the syllabus. You need to be up to date with recent developments in this field. I dedicated a whole day in November to this part and read up everything I could find on the Internet about recent scientific developments.

Disaster Management was from the ARC Report. Security challenges was done from Vajiram module and the Internet. The South Asia Terrorism Portal has a great amount of info on terrorist activities in this region that you can sift through. The remaining outlying topics were again done from the Internet.

GS PAPER IV (Marks: 83/250)

Again a performance not quite upto the mark. It was a rather similar story in 2013 as I secured only 78 in this paper. Maybe my distaste for purely opinion based philosophical papers is the reason.

I used the material recommended by Gaurav Agrawal (IAS, 2014) on his blog. Read up 2nd ARC Report on this as well as the Vajiram module. Used the Internet for views of thinkers and philosophers-mostly Greek and Indian. All my answers in the Case Study portion were usually overly idealistic and included some reference to the Indian scenario. Referred to Roy Choudhury and Subba Rao’s book and found it pretty helpful.

I will write about preparing for the Law optional in my next post. Feel free to add in your comments, corrections and suggestions here!