In an exclusive interview with EastMojo, Guwahati native Tapan Deka talks about his unrelenting resolve to learn from failures & disappointments, and use them as ladders to success
New Delhi: Tapan Deka's story is one of commitment and determination; he has tackled various adversaries in different forms. His motivational story proves there are no limits when you are determined. Deka sat for the 2019 Union Public Service Commission Exam (UPSC) examination and emerged victorious with a 766th rank. His outstanding success is one that shows his unrelenting resolve to learn from his failures and disappointments, and use them as ladders to success.
Speaking on his life before the UPSC exam, Deka says he was brought up in Guwahati by his parents, who contributed greatly in shaping him into the man he is today. "I studied at NIT Surat to get my B.Tech degree in computer engineering," he says. "And then I did my post graduation at IIM Ahmedabad in management. I did brief consultation work at FinIQ and IBM", he adds.
As for hobbies, Deka says he likes writing and reading novels. "I also enjoy teaching", he quickly adds. "I have taught some students that are about to take competitive exams. My life's dream is to contribute to society the best way I can", he says with an emphatic grin.
There's no better way to live than to live in such a way that your life positively affects the community around you. Deka understands this perfectly; he explains that since he was young, he had always been passionate about civil service. He always wanted to give back to the community that had given him so much. He was so motivated and driven just to bring development to the underdeveloped society he had spent most of his life. This drove him to the path of civil service. He, however, was misled quite convincingly by stories of the difficulty of the civil service exams, and this made him lose interest.
It was in his second year in post graduation, he was once again motivated to take the exam although without adequate preparation, and it ultimately proved unsuccessful. Undeterred, he tried again. His second attempt was after his post graduation which he again took without proper preparation and like the first, it was unsuccessful. The third time, they say, is the charm. By the third attempt, he changed his optional subject and then cleared it successfully. He cleared the CSE 2016 with 859 rank. He then proceeded to clear it once again in 2019 to improve his rank, which he did to 766.
Deka's impressive rank has sparked curiosity in many over his method of preparation. Giving clear details, Deka says, "Everyone has their own method of preparation. Mine was pretty simple, I did not write elaborate notes while studying, but I often highlighted the parts of the book or PDF to be revisited. I often made short notes in bullet points format for easy assimilation. I didn't read from too many sources to avoid confusion. However, the little sources I used, I read over and over again to ensure permanent retention".
Before the exam, Deka states his simple approach; studying NCERTs from class 6 to class 12. He would then include studying subject-specific books and current affairs. Some of the books he studied diligently include; Indian Polity– M. Laxmikanth, Geography– G.C.Leong (NCERT 9-12), Ancient India– old NCERT, Medieval India – old NCERT, Tamil Nadu History Class 11, Modern India– Spectrum Publications, Bipan Chandra, and Environment– Shankar IAS Academy. For other subjects, he utilised several random sources, including some printed materials and online sources. By searching on Google using the important keywords he obtained from the main syllabus, Deka acquired quality materials from several coaching Institutes. He also notes mock tests, revisions and revisiting the topics he missed were also pivotal to his preparation. Deka highlighted anthropology as the optional subject for his last attempt. Prior to this attempt, he cleared the literature of Assamese language. He chose anthropology because it was easy to assimilate in a short period of time.
Regarding the method of questioning during the exam, Deka reveals, "The method of questioning has changed over time. Presently, there is only one optional subject, and a new general studies paper on ethics and aptitude has been introduced. The pattern of questioning has also changed significantly and is now more analytical and opinion oriented. In this case, having an in-depth analysis of the occurrences all around you is important. In addition, most opinions should be weighed for its positive or negative implications or for its social, economic, political, legal or ecological value."
Continuing, he says, "It is important to create new ways to present your answers by using diagrams, flowcharts, suitable examples, anecdotes, etc. For Prelims, current affairs and their linkages with different viewpoints have taken centre stage. So, I focused on covering current affairs in as much detail as possible."
As for the personal interview in his successful attempt, Deka noted his strategy was to not prepare specifically for the interview but to take it as a personality test. He presented spontaneous and original answers which felt interactive with the panel members.
On the necessity of interviews and mock tests in achieving success, Deka notes they are of utmost importance to ensure conversancy. In his own personal attempt, however, he didn't have enough time to take the tests and interviews he needed. But while preparing for the prelims, he took and revised practice tests months before prelims.
Deka says certain social media platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram groups also helped with answers to frequently asked questions but he was also careful so as not to be misinformed. With so much preparation for the exam, Deka revealed he still took out time to do the things he enjoys the most, such as driving, reading other books, singing, and playing mind stimulating games like Sudoku.
Due to the intensive nature of the exam, he not only prepared academically but also psychologically, he first overcame failure in his mind, even before the actual exam. He stated that his backup plan had he failed to improve his rank would have been to continue in the government service to people.
Through all the struggles and sleepless nights, and the entire mental and physical toll preparing for the exams had on him, Deka was lucky to have his parents, extended family, fiancée and close friends as his support system and he says being with them and having them support him is one of the best things in life. Preparing for an exam of this calibre is similar to facing the struggles in life, even when you feel exhausted and frustrated and you feel you don't have the power to continue, you get up and keep going.
Deka puts it plainly; "My message to everyone is to take failure as a learning opportunity, and to have faith in yourself. This exam is not just a test of your intelligence or aptitude, but of your perseverance, dedication and willpower. The preparation phase for this exam is a long one, and keeping oneself motivated for that long is a difficult thing to do. So, having a support system that will guide you and not discourage you is very important."