The 21-day-lockdown by the government in the light of containing COVID-19 has wrecked havoc with preparation of several people.
Especially those who have been preparing for quite sometime. This is a good time for first timers, especially those who are passing out this year – and a bad time for those who have been preparing for sometime now.
Losing steam, and inability to sustain hard work over an extended period of time, with little scope of physical activity, makes it all the more difficult.
It is also the time, when we get negative.
As a mentor, it is also a painful time for me to see some of the best performing people give up, get tired, lose track and give way to people who started late. So painful that I end up calling up people who I feel will flunk just because of changing dynamics – but are otherwise brilliant.
A lot of it is not hard work – trust me – they have done the hard work already. The missing link in the preparation now is to stay positive, not be depressed, and keep walking somehow.
Because sometimes, we don’t know what will kill us first – the endless wait for something – or the final outcome.
The Steam Engine is often said to be main culprit behind colonialism. It gave the British to sail to India at any time of the year – with or without trade winds – and pour men, arms and ammunition very quickly* – a key requirement if you wanted to wage wars and win them.
The steam engine was used to fuel the Industrial revolution – by supplying the raw materials from the colonies. But these colonies itself served as new markets for the finished goods. In effect, colonization was a self perpetuating machine – it was both the cause and effect of the Industrial Revolution.
Depression, something we don’t understand fully yet, is much like it – it is self perpetuating, it feeds itself, and it creates itself too.
It is not feeling a little sad
Depression is “not feeling a little sad”. Its deep melancholy. Something that Antonio, the rich merchant of Venice suffered from – in the works of Shakespeare.
Over the past years, I have come across a few hundred people , suffering from depression – sharing their stories with me.
That is one of the prices you pay for being – gifted – or cursed – take you pick – with empathy.
So many stories, that sometimes often end up rubbing on you – leaving a mark. “Occupational Hazard”, I tell myself, and to Siddharth, who came to interview me in June 2019, on a book that he wanted to write on, the suicides and crimes affecting UPSC aspirants.
If you looked at the people I meet – you would be surprised – for some of them were geniuses bordering madness, others madmen nearing geniuses. Some of them were beautiful people – with a head full of hair. Some of them were not yet successful at the Civil Services Examination , some of them were under hundred rank holders in the same exam.
Some of them had won the social battle media with more likes on Facebook than I have hair left on my head. The luckiest of them were married to the love of their lives.
And yet, like a great equalizer, negativity and depression affects all.
The torments of depression are not visible to anyone – so while your mind could be on fire – no one could ever surmise you are fighting a lonely battle.
I mean you could look like Siddhartha Malhotra – and still be depressed – and probably everyone around you would think you only have first world problems – you even have an iPhone – while you live in a third world country which has more real problems to solve than yours.
While this post of mine offers no solutions – it does offer a better understanding of depression – seen through the lens of someone who has been a co-passenger in a lot of people’s journey to their perceived public success.
#1 UPSC is not why you are depressed
Let me share a gospel truth – and dispel something at the first go. Your depression is not because of writing the UPSC examination. If it were so, candidates clearing the examination would NOT be depressed. But for a lot of people, clearing the examination does not – and cannot solve the problem of depression.
In the long run, being rich or powerful or successful – or any two of them – does not significantly improve your private life. It does, however, improve your public life – people think you are successful – and you have made it in life. And since most people equate success with happiness – they think you are happy too. What have you left to worry about?
In all honestly, the only good thing that happens to you, when you are successful is that most people talk nicely to you. At least one your face. Thats all you get out of your success.
Only that. Nothing more.
It is largely a myth that writing this exam makes you depressed. What perhaps then causes it?
#2 Depression does not have a cause
The Buddhist believe that all suffering has a cause, and when the cause of suffering is removed – the suffering is removed too. This, they call the Principle of “pratītyasamutpāda”.
Depression, unlike a physical disease , does not have a cause. Since it does not have a cause, therefore, the Buddhist principle of pratītyasamutpāda nearly fails here. You could be depressed for no reason – the weather, winds could be same.
You even are on your way to success, and you have hair on your head like a bird’s nest – and you are only 28, ( but feel like 32 ), but the world may seem to end for you.
Depression merely has a trigger. Sometimes, it ends with another trigger. Thats all that happens. Success or failure are merely trigger points, not causes. Do not mistake co-existence with causality.
#3 Its a part of growing up.
You usually go down this path at the point of late twenties or the part where you cross from your twenties into your thirties. The Commission has little role to play in it. If you were not writing the exam, you would feel no better – this I assure you.
Don’t believe me? Try not writing the exam.
( I often tell, in private that for most people, writing the exam is the easier thing to do – you have done it last year and you can do it again. There is no initiative required at all for that. What really requires some courage is to NOT write the exam – and stand like the odd man / woman out. )
The planet we live in, pushes us from the unknown vacuum of being a careless youth, to a man or woman at this age -who according to the Universe must settle down now – and to make matters worse – no one cares much about your settling down financially – everyone would probably have you settle down biologically – or socially . ( This is not entirely wrong, but I will write about that part some other time, on some other platform )
You are now no more a boy or a girl. You are a man or a woman. Try committing a crime, ( don’t really ) and see how you are reported in the print media – as a 27 year old man. You gotta be more responsible now.
#4 It makes your self worth extremely small
The one thing that depression does is that it makes your self worth feel really small.
When you are at the bottom of the sine wave, you feel that no one in the Universe has felt so bad , ever – in the history of all mankind.
You could be pretty as hell like Deepika Padukone and still be depressed. The truth is, its insolvability lies in the very fact that we don’t really know what is making us depressed.
#5 UPSC merely makes things worse.
There is nothing more painful than the simple act of waiting. The UPSC, with its three tier examination process, makes all of us wait – three times – a year – that is – if you are the successful kinds. And you wait in infinity, caught in a whirlpool of indecisiveness.
When you sign up for the Civil Services Examination, you move from the uncertainty of chaos to the chaos of uncertainty.
Unless you are cracking it in the first attempt, you are likely to smile a lot less, trust much lesser, not say yes to someone you probably like, and celebrate the least. Those things are simply taken away from you – through the years.
I once met an old friend. He had cracked the exam – the long way, first with only an Interview call, then twice in the Allied Services before landing up with a single digit rank, and a wife in the services, and a home cadre allocation.
I asked him – why don’t you speak things up? He confessed that something within him had died forever in those years that he spent – so much so that no reward could undo the damage done.
I meet some of these people at the Annual ForumIAS Community meet – and I can tell you I have trouble getting a Chief Guest for the event , becuase five years into service – we dont have someone saying good things.
You reach a point, when you refuse to fill up your bucket of happiness – one, because you think you will never be able to fill it again – and two, because you think that the bucket probably leaks.
#6 Getting out of this mess.
We have seen a lot of suicides in 2018 and 2019 in the Civil Services arena. People don’t just do it one fine day. It is the consequence of a long drawn struggle.
And that almost forced me to write this article.
That, and a conversation with the effervescent Neha Jain, who secured rank 14 last year, and came to see me asking who neyawn was, a few weeks ago. We had a very brief chat, and I told her you will never know what most people go through.
So Here is what you can do.
- Our minds have seasons. Just like there is winter, there will be summer, and sunshine. Like most things, this too shall pass.
- You will eventually experience happiness that will match the pain you are going through. You are not caught in a tunnel with both sides closed and no light coming in – except the light from a coming train. The truth is – there is no tunnel. Its your mind. Open your eyes.
- You might hate yourself right now, but the truth is, anyone would hate himself if they thought about themselves and their lives, as much as you do. Stop overthinking.
- It is hard to explain depression to people who have never dealt with it. Like explaining the concept of left hand and right hand to aliens who dont have hands – and there is no common reference point – and you cant draw diagrams either. It may be difficult, but confide in someone you trust.
- Take a deep breath. Just when you think you lungs will collapse, take a deep breath. And run. Running is a direct anti-dote to things like depression – the uneasy breath, the sweating, the fast heartbeat.
- Your mind is YOU. For all practical purposes – not only – you are your mind, but the mind and body are one. Stop treating them as separate entities. When your mind and body come together , the individual is born.
- You can succeed not despite your depression, but because of your depression. Every morning, when Shakespeare would ask himself the basic existential question – To be or not to be.  That perhaps explains his success as a legendary writer. John Gray argues that Churchill did not become a great leader by overcoming his depression, but he became one, because of it.
- Don’t try to be happy. The pursuit of happiness makes us unhappy. And do stupid things.
- Read more. Reading is mindfulness. Reading is meditation. Reading is perhaps drugs. Minus the drugs.
#7 Life is the people who love you. And you love back.
Life is not your career, your bank balance, the laurels you have earned, or the virtual social media fame you have. Life is the people who love you.
They alone matter, nothing else. You would not choose to be alive for a job, or a tag of IAS, if you did not have the people you love to enjoy it with. I should know, I know a few hundred such people.
Lastly, enjoy the rain, the sunshine, cold water on your face, the Delhi weather right now. Its March, and we have no summer, no pollution, skylarks in the sky.
And don’t worry about things that won’t probably happen.
Until next time,
Disclaimer : This article reflects the personal views of the author and does not represent the views of ForumIAS.
Any advice given above is not in the nature of a medical prescription, nor is the author a medical practitioner. We recommend you seek medical advice / professional help.
If you think someone can benefit from this article, do share it with them. These are bad times for UPSC aspirants.
If you would like to reach out to me, you can write to me at email@example.com. I may not reply to every email, but do reach all of them – some of them ten times.
Alternatively you can leave comments here. Comments are ominous. I was happy to see both Suraj ( who got IRS, IPS and then IAS this year, yes ! ) and Pushplata, who regularly followed the blog, get rank 80 this year. I am a little superstitious here.
 Siddharth is temporarily serving in new Delhi in the Indian Foreign Service before he leaves for his foreign training. He secured Rank 15 a couple of years back and was deeply affected by the suicides happening in New Delhi among IAS aspirants. He wanted to write something, I suggested him – why not make a film? I am willing to do the script and get the high end cameras, if someone just knows cinematography.
 Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare.  To be or not to be is a soliloquy by Hamlet, in the novel Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.