[Topper’s Interview] IFoS-2013/Rank-27: Akash P, First Attempt, B-Tech, IIT Madras, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

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  1. Biodata
  2. Education
  3. Introduction
  4. Electronic vs Paper material
  5. Tempo
  6. Approaching Prelims (CSAT)
  7. Mains: Fixed space- Blank Answersheet
  8. Mains: Attempted all Questions?
    1. IFoS Mains English
    2. IFoS Mains GK
    3. IFoS Mains (Optional Subjects)
  9. Civil Service Mains 2013
  10. Your Physical test
  11. Your interview by UPSC
  12. Final Marksheet & afterthought
  13. Some controversial issues about UPSC:
    1. #1: About merging of IAS and IFoS Prelims
    2. #2: About Delhi protests
    3. #3: About Aptitude paper & injustice to rural candidates
    4. #4: State cadre Preference?
  14. Career Backup
  15. Insecurity about profile
  16. Wisdom
  17. Credit: Friends/family
  18. Bogus Marketing Propaganda


IFoS-2013-AIR-27-Akash P

Rank in IFoS-2013 27
Roll No 086809
Age 22
No. of previous attempts in Forest service exam 0
No. of previous attempts in Civil service Exam 0
Work-experience if any I rejected a campus placement offer as a business analyst at CRISIL and therefore no work experience.
Details of other competitive exams, including success/failures: NSOs(National Science Olympiad), NMOs(Mathematical Olympiad) occasionally cleared first rounds but lost in finals; NTS Scholar (2007); KVPY (2008) passed aptitude test but miserably failed in the interview ; IIT JEE (2009)-Rank 866; Kerala Engg Entrance Rank 2; AIEEE AIR 960 and State Rank 15; CAT(2012) Exam epic failure -72 percentile!
Details of coaching, mock tests, postal material for any competitive exam (if taken) For prelims: CSAT mock test series by TIME for paper-II. Nothing for paper-I. Joined Kerala State Civil Service Academy in August 2013 after prelims results were out. Attended GS class for one month till the realization dawned that GS is not something that can be crammed inside any classroom! Attended optional class- mathematics- till November.


% in class 10 95.xx
% in class 12 96.xx
Schooling (Medium) ICSE, ISC
Graduation course and % B-Tech Engg Physics, CGPA 8.24
Name of college, city and year of passing out IIT MADRAS, 2013
Post-graduation NIL
Any other professional courses NIL
Hobbies & Extra curricular Reading, Teaching, Strolling and other junk stuff


Q. Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?

I belong to a (stereo?) typical ‘average middle class’ family with an intrinsic attraction towards govt. jobs. I am an extremely ambitious young man and have had a reasonably successful academic career before joining college. In IIT I constantly suffered setbacks, existential crisis and other crap things and was confused about what to do in life. The deluge of choices and opportunities presented combined with a worked up mind didn’t help much. But a special seminar conducted at college by the alumni association which was presided by 3 IAS officers who themselves are IITians gave a fresh direction to the random wanderings of the mind and provided a goal for me to be fixated on. Regarding competitive examinations, I had regularly tasted success with intermittent non-accomplishments till I crashed disastrously in CAT 2012 which was a wakeup call for me to shed my conceited complacency and practice CSAT Paper-II rather than take it lightly, thinking that it’s a cake walk for engineering graduates. I enrolled for TIME mock test series, comprising of 10 tests and I can vouchsafe for its quality and authenticity. I scored around 190 for CSAT-II (Thank you CAT for waking me up!).

Electronic vs Paper material

Q. In recent times, there is flood of electronic material- blogs, sites, pdfs, rss-feeds. Many aspirants feel bogged down by this information overload. So, how much do you rely on electronic material and how much on the paper material (Books, magazines newspapers)?

If possible narrate a typical day in your study life. What is your style of preparation (e.g. I continue making notes no matter what I’m reading, I just read multiple times but don’t maintain notes, I make mind maps on computer …or xyz style)

Yeah, I agree that a deluge of information can confuse and even de-motivate an aspirant. But I was not bogged down by the information explosion as I was very selective in referring material online. I did read many sites like Mrunal.org, insightsonindia.com, pib.nic, idsa.in, and finally our **upsc.gov.in** (LOLz) etc to get specific material and I didn’t take any resolution to cram all the data available and only took what I felt was relevant for my preparation. I relied extensively on newspaper (HINDU), magazine (FRONTLINE) and journal (EPW) and I bet that almost, if not all, questions of GS in IFoS and CSE can be answered from these sources (probably except the history and culture part).

I had no particular style, order, time-table, pattern etc in my preparation. I randomly did whatever I felt was useful in my preparation and frequently took outings to relax. No maps, no notes, just reading and left everything else to luck/destiny.


Q. On an average, how many hours do you study? How do you keep study momentum going on?

No fixed timing. Probably on an average 6-8 hours. There are days when I don’t study at all- visiting relatives, entertaining guests etc. Surely preparation for the civil services is such a drab thing capable of psyching out even the most persistent player and one wishes the drudgery would end soon. Momentum was maintained by constant self-motivation and by taking rest and frequently undertaking outings.

Approaching Prelims (CSAT)

Q. Your booklist strategy for Paper I and paper II.

For paper-I, to be truthful, I had purchased books like TMH manual etc, but they were not of much use. I relied on my newspaper reading and on the mains preparation of economy, polity, history etc (Laxmikant, D D Basu, Ramesh Singh, Bipan Chandra, Ram Guha etc) and did not focus specifically on MCQs from these areas. I believe that a solid understanding of concepts will sail one through the prelims and no separate treatment for prelims (paper-I) in exclusion of mains preparation is needed.

For paper-II, as mentioned earlier, I had enrolled for a TIME mock test series and I think practicing as many tests under examination condition and then rigorously analyzing one’s performance is the ideal way to get ready for it.

Q. Approximate no. of attempted / correct answers.

I always make it a point to attempt all the questions in almost every exam that I encounter irrespective of whether I am confident about the answers or not. So here also I attempted all 180 questions (100+80). As you know, the conflicting keys circulating in the internet and patchy recollection renders it impossible to arrive at a narrow range for reckoned marks. But I estimate to have scored around 300 (110+190) plus or minus a 20. Given the fact that I attempted all the questions, one can easily make out the no of estimated correct answers (a potential CSAT type question!)

Mains: Fixed space- Blank Answersheet

Q. How was your experience with the ‘fixed space’ answer sheet?

I believe that the fixed space was a boon, except the Paper-I in Mathematics optional (very less space indeed) in Civil Services Exam 2013, as it provided abundant space to write our answers without bothering about messy question numbers and leaving space for unattended questions to return later. It also served as a full-stop indicator in case we were writing more than that is necessary.

Mains: Attempted all Questions?

Q. In the mains exam, Did you attempt all the questions or did you skip a few? UPSC aspirant Community is divided over what counts as a ‘good’ paper. Some claim attempt all- even if it involves “making up” an answer with filler lines, some claim attempt only those questions you know perfectly. Where do you stand on this? [based on your experience and of your seniors/buddies]

I attempted all the questions according to the principle that I’ve been following through ages- “Attempt all questions, even the ones you have no clue about”. Whether this is ‘the’ right principle or not, I cannot say at the moment. Let the final result of civils come out. If my stand is vindicated I will give Mrunal another detailed interview extolling the heroism that I exhibited in GS paper in civils!

IFoS Mains English

Q. Your booklist strategy for General English Paper

To be straightforward, and at the risk of sounding arrogant and offensive, IFoS was never on my agenda and I decided to give it after I saw two boxes- CSE and IFoS mains- while applying for the prelims and curiosity got the better of me and tempted me to tick off the IFoS box as well. But of course, after clearing it I took it seriously sensing that I was bestowed a valuable opportunity that many deserving ones were deprived of. But there was no exclusive preparation for any specific papers of IFoS. My IFoS attempt piggybacked on CSE preparation. So there was no strategy/preparation for general English as such and if I may be allowed a little indulgence, I am reasonably proficient in English language and I could safely give that paper, just like that.

P.S- Scored 161/300 which is O.K.

Q. In General English paper, four essays were asked: Value based education, PPP in disaster Management, Violence against women, Ecotourism. So, which essay did you write and what key points did you include in it?

I did the “violence against women” essay. First, I gave a detailed introduction about the discrimination faced by women in general, down the ages. Then I went on with the specific form that the vicious attitude manifests itself in- violence against them. I classified violence in terms of the place of incidence (workplace, domestic etc) and then again by the mode of perpetration (sexual, physical, emotional, economical) and explained these generic topics in the Indian context citing domestic laws, movements and debates before stating international covenants like human rights discourse and CEDAW. Then I embarked on the clichéd way of concluding any dissertation that can be attached to any article- “The tide looks favorable, a lot has been done, but still miles to go before we sleep! “(haha)

IFoS Mains GK

Q. Your booklist strategy for General Knowledge paper. What is your ‘analysis’ of the difficultly of this paper compared to previous years?

As I have said already, I didn’t explicitly and separately prepare for IFoS and its preparation happened as an adjunct of civils reading. Hence there was no specific strategy. There was a notable shift from routine geography, polity, environmental type questions to a more issue based current affairs one with more number of questions with lesser weight thus requiring less specialized preparation- general reading would do. I almost broke my hand and cursed my watch (to run more slowly) in a bid to finish off the paper in 3 hours!

IFoS Mains (Optional Subjects)

Q. Your booklist strategy and analysis for the optional subjects.
For Mathematics and Physics, usually referred university books would more than suffice. Even some cliched  questions  from degree level and previous years are shamelessly repeated. Given my marks and my estimated correct attempt, it seems, though one can never be sure, that final marks are around 60% of raw marks or so. For mathematics, it almost fits very well, but in Physics it is difficult to calculate the initial unscaled marks.

Mathematics was my optional in civils so that was automatically done. Given that my graduating subject was Engineering Physics, you may be forgiven in assuming that I am an expert in that but, honestly, nothing could be further from truth. I started mugging physics a week before exam after obtaining an absolutely crappy guide book which had errors in every sentence and every equation it had. Nevertheless, I was able to recollect some concepts and I did an incredibly shoddy job in filling up the Physics answer sheet.

Civil Service Mains 2013

Q. Did you appear in Civil Service (Mains) 2013? If yes, share the experience and add study plan for the four GS papers.

Yeah, I did appear for civils mains. I largely relied on Hindu, Frontline and EPW alongside a cursory and occasional reference to online articles when I felt the need of doing so. I will elaborate more on my personal experience with civils GS in case I am successful. I don’t want to wax eloquently about it if my effort wasn’t good enough. Same answer to the rest of the questions about civils. If I succeed, I’ll share my experience, else it’d be a waste.

Q. What Essay did you write and what points did you include in it?

I did the S&T essay. I’d tell you more on that later.

Q. in GS4 ethics papers, please give a sketchy overview of your case study answers:

Same approach. (I’d tell you more on that later.)

case your approach/answer
1: RTI: To hide or not to hide
2: Engineer: Bogus flyover vs deadline
3: Child Labourers in Sivakasi
4: Nepotism in Job recruitment
5: Leaking information

Q. In GS papers, Since UPSC came with those 100 and 200 words questions. What was your approach in the exam (I wrote all, I only focused on the questions where I could answer perfectly, I just not to high quality points to reach the word limit etc.)

I attempted all the questions following the principle that I hold very dear to my heart!

Q. Which optional did you keep for Civil service mains- how is its approach different from forest service optional preparation (of the same subject)? Your analysis/wisdom on optional papers in civil service mains 2013?

Mathematics was my civils optional and its treatment is largely the same for IFoS as well because apart from the minor divergences the syllabi are essentially the same.

Your Physical test

Q. Physical test involves walking 25 kilometers in 4 hours in the case of male candidates and 14 kilometers in 4 hours for female candidates. So how did you prepare for it? Please narrate your experience of that day.

Since my trip to Delhi was barely within 10 days of civils mains I didn’t have any time to get ready for it and the onset of fever didn’t help either. I haven’t had walked more than 5 km in my entire life and hence wasn’t sure how I’d make it. But everything went well in that misty, cold and tense day and I finished in 3 hours and 59 minutes and was again a toddler (on all fours). The body pain was terrible for which I had to take painkillers which in turn made my stomach upset and gave me a lot of trouble – vomiting, loose motion, acidity- which in conjunction with non-biological problems- non-availability of train ticket, crappy pigeon-hole like lodge, troubled journey back home and later hospitalization for food poisoning- made my experience not so a happy one to narrate. But I’m thankful that, finally, everything went well.

Regarding the actual modalities of the walk: It started at 7:30 sharp after a cordial introductory briefing by the Director, Delhi Zoo. The staff from the MoEF who came to scrutinize the documents and oversee the conduct of the walk was very friendly and cooperative. Medical services- two ambulances, doctors and health care facilities- were available throughout besides the provision of glucose biscuits, lemon juice with glucose and bananas along with bottles of volini spray in which we virtually bathed.

Q. Not much is known about medical standards for IFoS- so please narrate you medical checkup. What tests did they conduct? Person with glasses- eligible or not?

for detailed information on medical standards, read from page 22 onwards, in the following PDF file


Medical tests were for namesake- nothing very serious and they will make you wait all day to do things that can be done in an hour. The previous interviewee has already enumerated the disqualifying criterion. Height, eyesight, flat-footedness (I narrowly escaped disqualification here. They made me wet my feet and walk to prove that my feet were indeed curled) are seriously checked. I don’t wear any spectacles.

Your interview by UPSC

Q. Who was the chairperson of you interview board?

Smt. Alka Sirohi, retd. Secy DoPT.

Q. How long was the interview?

Some 20-25 minutes, I guess.

Q. Why do you want to join Indian Forest service? [Since I don’t know whether they ask you this question or not. But if they had asked- what will be your reply?]

They didn’t ask this question explicitly, though they did ask me questions concerning forestry and things I’d do in particular situations. I’d have told that forestry is challenging as well as rewarding. Then I’d have thrown clichéd concepts like sustainable development, environmental protection, balanced approach, tribal rights, global discourse etc and that calculated approach is all the more necessary and relevant in this challenging age.

Q. please narrate your entire interview- what questions did they ask and what did you reply?

Well, absolutely random questions will be asked at the interview, so it may be pointless to prepare for specific questions than to focus on how to deal with a generic one. But since narrating one’s interview would at least give a sketchy picture for future aspirants to form a broad idea of how a UPSC interview may span out, I am giving some of the questions-which I recollect now- and the answers that I gave. The level of detail would be just enough to comprehend the question and the import of my answer and not vivid enough to betray my stupidity.

Q) Out of the curves: sine, helix, straight line, circle which is the most abundant naturally and why? (Chairperson, noting my Physics background)

A) Sine curve: waves, tides, E.M radiations and a whole lot of other naturally occurring periodic variations.

Q) Which cadre would you prefer the most and least and why?

A) Kerala is most preferred-obvious reasons. Haryana least preferred- Sanjay Chaturvedi incident (Alka Sirohi smiles).

Q)Gadgil Kasturi report differences, public perception, rumor mongering, mining mafia- what would be your work in Kerala?

A) Enlighten people, translate reports to Malayalam, make them understand, pacify them, drive out the mafia etc. (I gave some broad and generic answers and the lack of specificity betrayed my ignorance of the nuances)
Q) What is Mango Sour? (What he meant was Mango Shower. His (another guy and not the chairperson) English was too good that I wasn’t making out anything he said!)

A) Sorry Sir, I don’t know.

Q) Why Indian sports people lag behind, what is missing here?

A) Lack of Infrastructure, abundance of political interference, inadequate manpower, coaches, professional trainers etc. (He was not satisfied)

Q) What is the common evil afflicting India and Nepal, imported from JNU?

A) Sir, Do you mean Communism (What he meant was Maoism)

Q) What are the privileges of an MP?

A) Answered correctly.

Q) What is fiscal deficit? Is it always bad?

A) Mrunal.org

Q) What is arbitration, conciliation, Mediation?

A) I gave imprecise- if not patently wrong- answers.

Finally Chairman taking over again

Q) Should govt. intervene in the pricing of natural resource or leave everything to markets?

A) I told my opinion.

Q) If you are chased in jungle by an elephant and a tiger, what would you do?

A) After lot of beating about the bush: Elephant to be repelled by crackers and tiger by fire.

Thank You Mr Akash. Thank you Madam.

–END of UPSC interview–

Q. Was your interview on the expected lines of what you had prepared or did they ask you totally unexpected questions? Was it a stress interview? If yes, how did you handle it?

Well, since this was my first UPSC interview and I did not have any mock/practice interview, I didn’t know what to expect. So, none of the questions were surprising to me. The interview board was very cordial, accommodative and friendly. I made them repeat many questions due to my lack of attention and careless hearing. They did so patiently and without getting pissed off. But I was indeed much stressed (even though it wasn’t meant to be a stress interview) being the first proper and serious interview in my life. I didn’t handle it very effectively and that probably good marks-195- was awarded because of my straightforwardness and lack of preparation and artificiality.

Q. Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document, or you’ll face problem”?

Try to bring as less electronic gadgets as possible-mobiles, pen drives etc- as they will make you put them in an envelope and deposit it at the entrance counter. Some idiots were too careless to even bring their graduation certificates which were explicitly demanded. Just read the call letter carefully and bring all the documents asked for and I see no reason for any trouble.

Final Marksheet & afterthought

Subject MaximumMarks MarksObtained
Penalty Marks 0
Written Total 1400 573
Interview Marks 300 195
Final Total 1700 768
  • In Mathematics my estimated attempt was around 160 and 175 respectively and scaling reduced it to almost 60% as can be easily discerned.
  • My Physics attempt was shoddy and might have attempted around 100-120 correctly in each paper and I am getting approx. half of that in the final score.
  • I did the English paper very well- at least to my complete satisfaction and got a reasonable 161. I have no clue about marking/scaling (examiner based) in English as we can’t estimate our raw marks as in the science optionals.
  • In General Knowledge I attempted all questions and wrote lengthy answers for every question (including the questions that I wasn’t sure of) and still got only 114. No idea about evaluation/scaling and it also sends chilling shudders down my spine as to how my GS attempt in civils would span out.

Some controversial issues about UPSC:

Q. I would like to know what a “topper” thinks about certain controversial issues related to UPSC. Although you may skip to answer, if you want. This is no Arnab Goswami show.

A word or two regarding my approach towards controversial issues. Controversy, in my view, are broadly of two types: first one is the botched up kind of thing manufactured for the purpose of gaining publicity or for any other vested or political end; the second one pertains to genuine issues which has the potential to deeply polarize the public space and elicit strong (often emotional) and diverging responses from various players situated differently. The former type needs to be exposed in the bud itself and thrown away but the second one should be confronted head on and resolved in a fair, participative and democratic manner. The questions given below pertain to such ‘genuine’ controversies and I have my own opinions about them and I am unabashed to articulate them candidly as I do not believe in running away from real problems. The readers might totally disagree with my views: Doesn’t matter, let’s differ but with mutual respect and appreciation of each other’s views.

#1: About merging of IAS and IFoS Prelims

Q. As per RTI, barely ~300 people attended all papers in IFoS Mains exam. Many senior players complaint- how the merger IAS and IFoS prelims (into combined CSAT), has raised the cutoffs and hurting the players who’re solely dedicated to IFoS only (and not to IAS/IPS). So what are your views on this?

No sane person would dispute the fact that the arbitrary imposition of the preliminary examination on IFoS aspirants, that too barely two-and-a-half month before the exam, is patently unfair and discriminatory. I have strongly articulated my opposition in my own blog http://akashacharyaindia.blogspot.in

and in online forums elsewhere.

I too, like MoEF regard IFoS as a ‘different’ job unlike the rest of the largely generalist services clubbed under the civil services exam, requiring specific technical skills and scientific training and I favor retaining forestry exclusively for science and engineering students. Therefore having a different main exam with 2 science optionals, in my opinion, is entirely justified.

Since the job profiles and therefore the exams (main) are different, as mentioned earlier, there is no logic in clubbing the preliminary for these varied profiles. As UPSC needs a filter to weed out patently non-serious candidates and excuse itself from the drudgery of having to correct 6 subjective papers each of some 70,000 odd candidates, most of which would be complete nonsense replete with blank spaces not even worth collecting, the demand for a separate Tier-1 test to screen wayward candidates is justified. But the preliminary also should reflect on the job profile. I would suggest that besides having an aptitude heavy mental ability paper, the new IFoS prelims should contain technical papers testing the candidates on a variety of scientific and technical topics like geography, forestry, earth science, climatic studies, biology, tribal rights issue, environmental science, disaster management etc and with considerably less emphasis on history, culture, diplomacy etc that are not directly relevant for forestry.

Finally, and very importantly, if any changes (whether suggested my me, you, he, she or anybody else) are sought to be implemented, the UPSC should notify them much in advance and give the aspirants sufficient time, may be a year-and-a-half or so, to adapt themselves to the changes so as to be fair on them (To whom am I preaching-the UPSC!?).

#2: About Delhi protests

Q. There were demands to raise age/attempt limit for senior players on account of changed syllabus of CSE-Mains-2013. Your thoughts on this?

Yeah, I’ve seen the news of protests and I believe that a balanced approach needs to be adopted. Firstly, the mains pattern change of 2013 is not so much of a revamp than merely a restructuring- one of the optionals was knocked off and the GS somewhat expanded and divided into 4 papers. This tilt of emphasis on general awareness away from specific subject knowledge might have been severe enough to jolt the senior players and throw them off their feet because they were acclimatized with the earlier pattern. Even the new players were surprised and confused and kept in suspense. So, I think, to be fair to all, everyone-seniors and first timers- be given an extra attempt and an extra year as age relaxation, if needed, to get over the uncertainties imposed by the changed pattern.

But the clamor for 2/3 attempts/years should definitely be snubbed- no one should be permitted to make a jackpot out of a calamity. (Recent News: Govt has decided to give two: I would have settled for one.)

#3: About Aptitude paper & injustice to rural candidates

Q. Some are demanding removal / reduction of aptitude paper in CSAT exam- because that paper hurts non-engineer and rural candidates. Your thoughts?

Since I am an engineer and from an extremely urban background, my pro-aptitude views – even if expressed sincerely and persuasively with the application of mind- would be chastised and censured as snobbish and insensitive. But let me go ahead as I have the fortitude to bear criticism and willingness to squarely face the angry responses that would await me in the comments below.

First of all, UPSC introduced the aptitude paper with a specific purpose- definitely not as a numerological device to ward off evil spirits! They wanted to pick candidates with sufficient mental faculties including the ability to process and make sense of numbers, figures, words, symbols, codes, space and time, among many other things. It is also fair to insist that a candidate who aspires to be a senior govt functionary should have reasonable comprehension and working knowledge in an official language- English/Hindi.

Secondly, as one can easily discern, the CSAT 2013 paper was considerably light on questions involving numeracy and aptitude, even easier in comparison with bank tests. Even the reasoning questions were straight forward and eminently doable and so should pose no serious hurdles in the way of non-engineers and rural guys as they can also get through the test with sufficient practice and proper application of mind (I am bracing myself to be pilloried for this statement. Oh God, I am going to regret this!).

#4: State cadre Preference?

Q. What was your preference for state cadres, and why did you pick that preference?

Top 3: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka: Obvious reasons- proximity and familiarity.

Bottom 3: Some Maoist infested states chosen randomly. I desist from naming them because:

  1. It is immaterial; being chosen randomly
  2. I do not want to belittle those states and offend the people living there.

Career Backup

Q. If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?

No backup plan considered -a fight to finish was envisaged. With a good academic background, I was sure that if I keep on writing I would succeed today or tomorrow.

Q. when were you going to “execute” that backup plan?

I know that I could clear at least some UPSC or bank tests within a couple of years.

Insecurity about profile

Q. Many candidates prepare sincerely but constantly keep fearing about ‘profile insecurity’. I’m not from a big college, I’m not from English medium, I don’t have work-experience. What if they ask some stressful questions in the interview about this? What is your message to these candidates?

Since I am indeed from a big college and from English medium, that too ICSE, which gives great emphasis on that language, I am not well placed to guide aspirants who are not similarly situated. Regarding work experience, I think they don’t matter. I’ve even heard rumors/conspiracy theories suggesting that UPSC secretly favors candidates who are young, unmarried, fresh graduates and without working experience. But I’ve heard nothing that indicates otherwise. Doyens of the personality test suggest that one’s background doesn’t matter as much as his personal presentation before the board.


Q. Through this journey and success, what have your learned? What is the wisdom of life and competition?

To be very honest and candid, I must admit that, in light of the drastic changes in IFoS exam structure- introduction of prelims- at such a short notice, which effectively knocked off serious players, very unfairly, in the first round itself, the bragging rights of the successful candidates in IFoS 2013 are severely curtailed. Surely, I mean no mockery or disrespect to the lucky ones (including myself) who made it finally and I affirm that I have the deepest respect and empathy towards the efforts they have put in. But still, IFoS 2013 was like a race where the frontline players were disqualified apriori and secondary players competed and some won. In light of these circumstances it would be unauthentic of me to feign wisdom and chunk out profound inanities and proverbial clichés in a bid to project myself as an experienced, intelligent and wise old Bhisma Pitamah of UPSC examinations!

From this IFoS fiasco we should learn that absolutely absurd things can happen randomly in life, especially when a mercurial body (UPSC) is watching over our fortunes. It would be in every candidate’s interest to be ready and prepared for anything- I mean absolutely anything!

Q. What is your message to the future aspirants?

Well, Mrunalji insists that I contribute nuggets of truth -he can be very persistent at times!- and I gleefully oblige: Focus on your goals and ignore the existence/hype of any undue competition. Do one’s work judiciously and diligently. Don’t get bogged down by peers, parents, failures, society etc. (which is easier said than done!). Also remember, as Mrunal says, life is greater than all transient success or failures and bigger than all competitive exams, which are indeed, only a part of life and not the other way around. Remember to slap any guy who claims CSE to be the mother of all exams. He is damn wrong. Life is the mother of all exams!

Credit: Friends/family

Q. Behind every topper are many people who stood by during those uncertain times when he/she was merely an ‘aspirant’. Would you like to tell the world who were those people in your case? Any specific incidence that you would like to share with the readers?

I should be eternally indebted to my parents, who despite being well educated and aware (sometimes that can be a disadvantage as well!), did not shove their personal ambitions and opinions down my throat and gave me full leeway to make any choices in academic matters. They trusted me completely, almost blindly, and did not try to influence my thinking when it came to my studies and career choice. So I suffered no insecurities, psychological stress (due to parental pressure- I was stressed due to other extraneous factors) etc and they were infinitely and uncritically co-operative in whatever endeavor I pursued. Also my friends have played a major role in motivating and assisting me in the journey so far.

Bogus Marketing Propaganda

Q. You are well aware for the sacred rule of conducting toppers’ interview= The last question must be about self-marketing. So, did you use Mrunal.org for your preparation and if yes, how did it help you? And you can even reply “No”. I’ll publish your answer without tampering/editing it.

I am indebted to Mrunal for the conceptual clarity and solid understanding of the basics that he gave me in economics, ecology and international relations- a sizeable chunk of GS portion. Also it is my reference of first resort whenever I decide to mine data from the web. In addition to the valuable information that he so generously lavish, the keen wit, candid and prescient insights as well as the kind words of empathy and warmth showered by Mrunal makes this site an ideal place to visit for a UPSC aspirant- more so, for the beginners- for informational and emotional security.

P.S- I am a great admirer of the ‘Mrunalian’ take on coaching factories of Delhi! :-)

Indian History Freedom Struggle Pratik Nayak

100 Comments on “[Topper’s Interview] IFoS-2013/Rank-27: Akash P, First Attempt, B-Tech, IIT Madras, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala”

  1. Also, it is naive to assume that I got in through guesswork and random luck. I had prepared for UPSC very seriously for two-and-a-half years (I AM INDEED A VERY SERIOUS UPSC ASPIRANT LIKE ALL YOU CRITICS. I’VE DITCHED MY CAMPUS OFFER AND SITTING AT HOME JOBLESS. AM I NOT SERIOUS?) before giving the prelims. I knew the answers to a good number of questions correctly and only in the minority of the remaining questions did I employ guesswork. And that too wasn’t mindlessly done. They were intelligently done by suitable eliminations and other probabilistic considerations. I can do that very efficiently and I did not endorse this for others.
    I, personally, respect and value criticism as it is a great opportunity to undertake course-correction. But absolutely mindless ones such as this kind of pillorying for what I have NOT said are unfortunate and speak volumes of the morons who indulge in it.

    1. passed out from iitin 2013 and preparing for upsc for 2 and half years?this is march 2014.well now you are saying that probability theory was at work.

      1. Even with 100 years of reading it would be impossible to answer 100 % of the questions-that’s obvious. I guessed (applied probability) only those questions, the answers of which was not certain to me.
        I started preparing when I was in the college (in the 2nd year). Don’t you have the sense to guess at least that?
        Please read what I have written properly before jumping to comment.

    2. realisation dawned on him after he got 72 percentile in CAT.this was in late 2012.he passed out from IIT in 2013.according to his words he has been preparing for upsc for two and half years.so according to him he was preparing for CAT and UPSC simultaneously along with IIT.WOWW….. a multitalented person with multitasking ability.hats off to him..we should not simply crticise a person underestimating his abilties.he proved himself as THE LAST MAN STANDING.we ought to felicitate him for the super achiever he is rather than calling him names.

      1. suniel,i think you are reverbating my words.is this a genuine compliment or?i have many friends who are in various IIMs.so i know it is extrmely difficult if not impossible to prepare simultaneously for CAT and UPSC.still many of them wrote both and due to aptitude passed prelims but crashed disasterously in mains.one cannot fully ignore the fact that due to introduction of csat many people who has been preparing for bank po exam,engineering background people,IIT people,CAT aspirants hve started writing CSE prelims.many people who has been hesitant to touch UPSC with a barge pole have cleared prelims.many of them do not write mains or appear for it just for the heck of it.mind you i am not hurling an insult.this is a pure fact.i do agree capable and hard working people from above group can pass mains.but the competition at prelims are more and many candidates are wiped out as some people have said earlier in the comments.most people from rural background take arts degree rather than science.so it proves to be an ultimate disadvant age to them.no two ways about that.

        1. @ sunny and suniel. I think I’ve explained everything very clearly. I just said that I appeared for CAT 2012. I did not say that I prepared for it. I attended CAT without even looking at a model question paper- so absolutely ZERO preparation because of my complacency or arrogance or whatever you may call. I thought it would be a cake walk for engineers. So I seriously prepared for CSAT and thats all.

          1. akash,you elicited ur response to first part of my comment.now please cite any difference in opinion to rest of the comment.this part is specificaly concerned with your statemement in the interview ‘oh,my god i am going to regret this,i am ready to be pilloried for my statement’.i am stating facts from a rural non engineering candidate point of view.CSAT is proving to be their waterloo.

          2. @suniel. By the tone and tenor of the comments it is clear that there is an opinion that CSAT is disadvantageous to some. Well, that can be true. I believe that aptitude test is important, but sufficient amends can be made in terms of reducing weight of second paper or something else. Whatever is done should be by the UPSC. We can just argue, debate, make conflicting points and express our opinions. Its for them to take a final call.

  2. #3 )I lack empathy and consideration: Empathy to whom, may I ask? Just to the senior players? Others don’t deserve it or what? It’s natural that since I am a junior player, I can identify people similarly situated, with myself and hence show more understanding and empathy towards them. So I speak for the juniors just like you speak for the seniors. That is natural and is not the attribute of a vicious and heartless villain. When I myself become a senior player in the future, my loyalties and preference may shift- that’s just human nature.
    Having said this, I completely disagree that it is fair to permit guys to write an exam 6, 7 or 8 times as that would seriously jeopardize the chances of the junior players. Even first timers too deserve empathy and sympathy.
    I’ve penned my responses and I expect strong reactions- I am ready to fight it out till the end.

    1. akash sir,by your point of view it seems that no one should be given some more chances in exam.everyone writes it for the sole aim of getting to a service.sometimes even after so much hard work someone may be out of race at interviews.many aspirants feel that 4 chances is not fair.by your logic only junior players deserve empathy.thinking in your lines from otherside it can be said that junior players jeopardise the chances of senior players.i think your attitude is wrong.many people shall agree with me.many people may disagree with me.i strongly feel that attitude is wrong .it is my point of view which i strongly holds into.YOU CAN AGREE WITH ME.YOU CAN DISAGREE WITH ME.BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO FIGHT WITH ME.i am strongly holding to my point of view and you are strongly holding to your point of view.let GOD or third party decide which is correct.GOD HAS BESTOWED YOU WITH HIS BLESSINGS THAT YOU GOT CLEARED IN FIRST ATTEMPT AT YOUNG AGE.i think your view of showing loyality towards a senior player when you yourself become senior is not a right view.please,this is my viewpoint.WE SHOULD CONSIDER ALL ASPECTS AND NOT ONLY THINGS WHICH ARE INCLINED TOWARDS US.I SINCERELY AND WHOLE HEARTEDLY APOLOGISE IF YOU FELT THAT ANY OF MY COMMENT HAS GONE OUT OF HAND.IT WAS NOT DONE DELIBERATELY WITH INTENTION OF HURTING YOU OR DESTROYING YOUR MOMENTS OF GLORY.IT WAS SIMPLY MY OPINION.IN NO WAY I AM DOWNGRADING YOUR HARD WORK. NO ONE CAN CLEAR A UPSC EXAM JUST LIKE PASSING A UNIVERSITY EXAM.I SALUTE YOUR INTELLIGENCE AT SAME TIME I EXPRESS STRONG OPPOSITION TO YOUR VIEWS.ONCE AGAIN IF YOU HAD FELT ANY MENTAL PAIN OR STRAIN I AM SORRY.

      1. Hi Rishi,

        First of all, I have nothing personal against you or anybody else. I am never hurt by comments in forums, blogs etc as I already have enough experience dealing with those, so don’t worry about them. I respect your opinion- give more attempts liberally to seniors beyond the 4- and more so, your right to articulate your opinion. I never said that seniors don’t deserve empathy. What I meant to say was that I could identify more with the juniors in the present situation. So, I believe that a balance must be struck to protect the interests of both the groups and therefore suggested giving an extra attempt and that was not because I had disdain for the seniors.

        I understand your feelings and opinions. That’s very clear. But in articulating those, you have unnecessarily made other irrelevant allegations and sweeping comments on ‘Mallu stereotype’ which was grossly offensive, to not just me, but to an entire community. But now I understand that you meant no harm to me or anybody. Kindly accept my sincerest apologies if my expression was caustic enough to perturb your thoughts. I had already made some disclaimers before attending controversial issues and you should have paid more attention to them before reacting strongly.
        Dear friend, please stop calling me Sir. I am just another young man of your country like you!

        1. akash,i myself belong to malayali community.what i said was impulsive but it was fully based on my experiences so far.i am in medical profession and i could closely observe people.by ur logic i am being candid in my statements inspite of being a malayali myself.by the way glad to hear that u took no offence to my comments.

        2. @Akash sir .yae i feel that i went little retard towards senior players so apologies 4 dat @all .And sir for the first time in life i encountered people criticizing a topper who has shared each and every detail of his journey in true sense.So far except 1 or 2only i have always read diplomatic interviews .I feel this is the only 1 which manisfests true process of goal accomplishment.And sir their tone was so harsh dat i presumed dat they were abusive out of jealousy only.And 1more thing sir i feel u should not throw stones at every dog that barks otherwise it will humiliating not 2 u but 2 ur position.This is a rat race and u emerged winner very early.Hats off and gud luck 4 rest of your life .Thnx for sharing your journey :)

          1. novice bhai,we all were saying our opinions.opinion on an issue may be for or against it.it is not a good or ethical thing to call people who are having an opnion contrary to you ##***.it is an abuse.

    2. akashji,nigvekar committee’s report is out.i think it echoes your sentiments.wish they had implemented the report fully.then all senior players would have eaten a humble pie.then no senior players would have been there in this forum as well.but still i feel 5 chances is too much.3 would suffice.

  3. hello, akash sir .first of all ..accept my heartiest congratulations to you on your achievement….believe me sir…i know how much this job means ..as my father is an accountant in forest department…
    now sir please inform me about.. whether i go for this exam . i am afraid that i am a colour blind and may get disqualified.

    1. hi ashish,
      I can’t be very sure of that. Kindly refer to the document whose link Mrunal had appended. I think it is an important issue which is checked seriously. Please confirm about it before starting your preparation.

      1. Hi akash,
        You have mentioned that in medical test they check certain things like flat-foot,eye-sight etc very carefully.Can you please recall how they went about checking for knock knees(i have very slight version of knock knees ),I have searched the medical document shared by mrunal and it does not mention knock knees any where specifically however the previous toppers interview shared by mrunal has mentioned knock knees..

        1. Kamal,

          Now that I have finally cleared the medicals after being kept under suspension, I may confidently make a few statements:

          1) First of all, only some hospitals and that too on some particular days only they check flat foot and knocked knees. They checked for ours in Safdurjung but in RML they didn’t even see it. So it depends on your luck as to which hospital you are allotted and on which day.

          2) Having slight flat foot or knocked knees is not a problem. Any disability in mild form is not a disqualifying criterion. Provided that it should not interfere with the efficient discharge of the duties as a govt servant.

          I suggest:

          1) You visit an orthopedic surgeon and get it diagnosed in detail with X-Ray evidence and get a detailed medical document/certificate ready to the effect that your problem is not handicapping

          2) If your doc says you have only a mild problem, be at peace, and confidently prepare for the exam. All is well!

  4. @ akash,
    hi, first and foremost I would like to congratulate you on this splendid achievement of yours and hope that one day I too would get a chance to author my own story.
    Coming to the strong reactions that people have expressed against/for you, I believe it is more so because the mood/environment of this forum is such that whenever a topper’s success story is posted people read it with an expectation to get some ‘gyaan’ regarding the preparation strategies, book list, websites, data sources etc. the particular person had followed during his/her preparatory days. More or less people get motivated reading the difficulties faced, hours of study put in by that person to achieve something they had dreamt of. It is in human nature to agree/disagree with something that resonates with his/her line of thought or ideas that he/she possesses. So, I see that people aren’t really interested in reading the personal opinion of a topper with respect to some facts/realities associated with a particular exam. All that people want, is, to get bits of information regarding how to move ahead with their preparation & a little bit of push. The subtlety of facts which you have maintained in your article pertaining to the hardships you would have faced, the numerous barriers you would have come across, the hard-work put in by you et al is indeed commendable. People, I see couldn’t exactly connect with what you said or if they did, got it in the wrong light, hence, all these strong reactions. On a lighter note, it is similar to a situation in a restaurant where you order something but get something else served instead and then whatever follows need not be mentioned.
    With all due respect and chivalry to all fellow aspirants & forum members, I would say that if you disagree with someone’s point of view/opinion, you are indeed free to express it but not at the cost of disrespecting someone or trying to belittle someone’s achievements or pull of something pertaining to a person’s religion, caste, creed or language. I am one among you all and hope we can maintain the decorum of this forum and avoid such hostility in near future (remember one day when we succeed, we too would be at the receiving end).

    1. no,lohit lalaa.i am a doctor from kerala and this comment was ageneralised opinion formed by me observation of many people during 5 and half years in college during course and internship.i myself being a malayali so it won’t be scandelous or sacrilage as such.i agree with your observation in first part. I BEING A MALAYALI OR KERALITE SAID SOMETHING ABOUT FELLOW KERALITE OR MALAYALI BASED ON YEARS OF OBSERVATION.PLEASE DO NOT SCANDALISE THIS OR PUT IN A BAD LIGHT.IT WAS NOT MEANT AS AN INSULT.

      1. @rishi….well i see that belonging to a particular state does not exclusively confer you the privilege of making generalized statements on that particular group of people nor do I entertain such explanations…after-all we all are Indians…FYI…I too have stayed for 6 years in Kerala & i would beg to differ out rightly from your observations…in fact I never felt like an outsider over there and have made some of the best friends that I have today…and as far as scandalization of this issue is concerned I believe we are getting a bit diverted from our discussion & would request you that both of us can bow out gracefully from this rather than letting it go out of hand.

        1. well lala,we can bow out from this.regarding the issue i have mentioned all the things which lead me to the statements cannot be said on public platform.if you still feel angry or dejected on me i can tell you all.please no scandal or hard feelings.janbazrishi@gmail.com

          1. well rishi there’s nothing that I have to feel bad about, have hard feeling or feel dejected or so…I’m indeed happy that we could deal with this like real gentlemen without getting into a brawl and I do respect your views & hope you too would reciprocate…..I believe we can discuss more productive stuff and get over with this.

  5. Hello sir
    First of all i am very sorry if u were hurt after reading my comment.That was not my intention.I know that u must have prepared very hard to get such a good rank, otherwise you would have failed to clear mains.
    I am not going to argue now bcoz it will most certainly end in acrimony.and i want the discussion to be a constructive one.

    To put it as simply as possible there are 2 main issues :
    1) combining ifos and civil services in prelims – which was totally uncalled for and u have already talked about it
    2) extra attempts and age relaxation – about which u have expressed your views

    Another issue is : – weightage of aptitude paper (CSAT) and students relying on it to clear prelims.(as pointed out by neha)
    Now consider 2 persons – A and B.
    A has prepared very hard for GS prelims, Mains and also practiced aptitude.He confidently gets a score of 100-110 without any guesswork (i dont think one can get more than that without guesswork). He is also very well prepared for mains (optional , IR , current affairs etc.) But he gets only 145-150 in aptitude (bcoz of background etc).
    B prepared casually for GS prelims (cursory reading of some books only).He also hasnt prepared for mains( not even decided an optional ; has no idea of current affairs as they are irrelevant for prelims).But he has practiced a lot of aptitude and maths in the past (engineer, mba graduate etc) and so he manages a score of 190+ in aptitude.even in GS he guesses a lot and somehow manages a score of 80 (possible).
    Result – B clears prelims (for ifos or civils) , and A fails.
    Now B works very hard for the remaining 3-4 months before mains and also reaches the interview.the cut offs for an interview call have been very low (suppose).So B prepared very hard. No doubt. But, had A written mains he would have beaten B comprehensively.

    [please do not think that i am saying u are like B, as you had prepared for 2(1/2) yrs.]

    The criticism is not against individuals. It is against the structure of the exam , which seems to be a little strange. The unusually high importance given to CSAT is making GS and ‘mains preparation’ look insignificant.
    Qs 1) If prelims is supposed to select people better prepared for mains then shouldnt it rely more on GS or introduce optional ?
    Qs 2) Do u really think that the 2013 prelims was able to choose candidates best prepared for mains ?
    Qs 3) Do u think B should have cleared prelims when A didnt ?

    I apologise once again if i have offended u in an earlier comment. Pls understand that many like A have been preparing for 2-3 years and have failed to clear prelims.U can understand what they must be going thru.A lot is at stake when one prepares for upsc.So its very natural for some people to become emotional.I dont have anything against you.

    i have tried to put forward my points as objectively as possible.i hope u will think about them.sorry once again :) and all the best for a very bright future !!!

    1. @anonymous brother.The best possible solution for that prelims problem is to fix individual cutoffs for both papers.But we do not have an authority to fix solutions lolz.It’s under upsc’s mandate.And 1 more thing if candidate B can study vast general studies as such then he/she can also devote good time to aptitude also and brother in csat , maths/reasoning questions are like cakewalk.Its only english which created questions for many.Its a rat race and we can’t complain how d race should be oraganized.If u r runnin a maraton like upsc den u should be prepare for all situations .Best of luc :)

      1. I mostly concur with novice. In this competitive scenario, the serious candidate B could have been smart enough to dedicate more time in CSAT-II and score the maximum. There isn’t anything inherently insurmountable for anyone in CSAT.
        However perfect an exam pattern we design, still it is possible to conjure up hypothetical scenarios that seemingly defeats the object of the test.
        No exam can be devised which would absolutely segregate the serious ones from the non-serious ones. Its an open competition. Anyone can compete.
        There is no question of whether B should have cleared. B could have cleared if he were sensible enough to work out his areas of weaknesses. A person who clears cut-off passes irrespective of whether he was ‘serious’ or ‘deserving’. Such concepts are untestable and unmeasurable.

        1. I agree.Only individual cut offs are the solution, or introduction of optional.
          @ akash – I agree that no test is perfect.But with the above 2 solutions it can be made more valid.i also agree that anybody can score well with practice in aptitude paper, as the level of difficulty is rather low.

          @ novice – i agree that we should be prepared for all situations.i know what is the practical solution.U said its a ‘rat race’.that is the point.i used to think that civil services was not a rat race and was a real test of calibre.Now i have realised that i was wrong.

          anyway, all the best to both u guys :)

        2. Dear Akash,
          I am respecting u. U did a fantastic job .Congrats…Pls update ur interview as on the basis of ur success in Civil Service xam 2013.Eagerly waiting..

  6. @all: just take guidance….instead of keeping your words and arguing will not make u thru services…take the points from interview which can help you…and target the exam instaed of argument…becoz u will get NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. sandeepji,points noted from interview1.no compromise should be there on hard work2.we should be free thinkers.each issue should be viewed from different angles3.herd mentality is not always correct4.in a competetive exam catering to all streams no one group should be at advantage.in mains there is no aptitude paper of csat type .125 marks of ethics paper is like last 7;8 questions of csat of questions.that is good to guage an administrator,not rest of questions of csat paper.5.even after education is made a fundamental right,inequality in education exists.it is by govt rural;urban schools and public schools6.this point is to be decided by 50000 readers of this blog.why of all sucessful interviews only this one elicited harsh responses?anyway first point is MOST IMPORTANT.

  7. @ Akash: I have just finished going through discussion in this page. I must say you are so articulate and clear in expressing your thoughts. It also gave me some idea of your writing style, an effective one! I am sure you will make it to Civils! All the best!

  8. @mrunal: what is the aim of these interviews? apparently they are nothing but an exercise in limelight-hogging and chest-beating my these so called attention-seeking brats who, far from wanting to help fellow aspirants, blow their own trumpets and lack the wisdom that comes with age. i have been an avid reader of the blog since its inception and since then i have cleared 3 UPSC exams, I have been employed in 2 different ministries both under the union and have kept the flame for UPSC alive through all these years. as an experienced bureaucrat and civil servant I take a principled stand against post-exam success-story interviews, they do NOT help and besides, they are available a dime a dozen in other magazines and blogs. these so called toppers use these interviews in magazines to earn some extra money on the side and when honest, they use it to highlight their sheer hard work, dedication and struggle but rarely if ever, do we come across genuine sharing of methodology, study techniques or approaches to beat the competition because these interviewees have a vested interest in appearing to be heroes in a culture that would then have reasons to worship them.

    when ideas are shared, they are obfuscated and needlessly/deliberately rendered complicated in an exercise of communal ego-stroking.

    the solution then is to change the questionnaire drastically, instead of asking generic, routine questions you should ask penetrating, direct and particular questions about time management, habits and general motivation. ask them to upload a personal picture of 5 books they found most helpful and other such particularities which go easily overlooked in an attempt to glaze over the nuts and bolts of the prep

  9. why so much gaga over Akash P….???? He has a terrific record! And govt. service exams waise v preferable karte hain aaise bande n ko.. also pvt. firms… what is good line in the total page is his line,”Remember to slap any guy who claims CSE to be the mother of all exams. He is damn wrong. Life is the mother of all exams!”

  10. Hi Akash,

    You mention that you did not make any notes during your preparation. That is radically different from most of the toppers’ approach, barring one aspirant I know of, who did not believe in making notes but unfortunately he could make it to Civils interview only in his third attempt but again did not feature in merit list. I cannot even think of cracking this exam without notes! How did you manage to revise before exams? Would you recommend it to other aspirant?

    I have become fan of your writing style – superb combination of conviction and so-apt words.


    1. Hi Akash,

      Could you please respond to my query on cracking this exam without making notes?

      Looking forward to your view on this.


  11. Sir I’m going for CSE pre in Aug 2014. Sir what kind of preparation I need to crack prelims?

  12. Congratulations Akash!

    This guy managed to score AIR 63 in Mains 2013!

    @Mrunal and Akash- a separate interview focusing exclusively on Civil Service Mains would be very kind of you both.

  13. Dear mrunal, interviews of prodigies is the last thing we need, that too two months before prelims!

    Congratulations aakash, but honestly you are no help, leave alone inspiration, motivation etc.!
    My dad has always tried to keep me going by saying ‘beta, toppers are also normal human beings ‘unke sinng thode hi hote hain'(do they have horns which make them different from u?) But dude u have got horns, u scare the hell out of me!

    Dude! 22! Really? ;)

  14. How scaling is being done in UPSC. Akash marks got reduced to 60% after scaling. could someone please give some idea on this. and what if we want to redo the solution in mathematics paper? its fixed space now!.

    Thanks in advance,

  15. Congrats Akash..!! …But you seem to have attitude problem. To become a Good administrator you need to be HUMBLE. All the best….

  16. Sir i am also civil services aspirant and wants to 5ake maths as an optional but i had one query that i had flat foot so am i eligible for ifos or civil services(in which service) or in ifos they allow flat foot upto some extent.i am waiting for your precious reply

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