Saketa Musinipally, a 2011 graduate from NLSIU Bangalore secured the 14th rank in the UPSC Civil Services Exam 2014. Deepshi Singh interviews him.
1. Please tell me about your family background and your educational background, schooling, college etc.
I am graduate of NLSIU Bangalore, 2011.
I have done my schooling in Hyderabad from Gitanjali Public School and my 11th and 12th from Hyderabad Public School.
My father is an IPS officer (Batch of 78) and my mom is an IAS officer (Batch of 77). My father is still in service and my mother retired last year.
2. What encouraged you to take up Law for your undergraduate studies?
To be very honest, I was under a lot of pressure to go through with the IIT IIM route as I am from a working professional family. But over time my parents came around and by 11th grade I stopped attending the IIT coaching centres in Hyderabad.
I was introduced to this particular discipline by my childhood friend Aakriti Penukonda who is incidentally also a lawyer now at Trilegal. I did a little more research and finally managed to convince my parents that law was the right choice for me.
I chose law for several reasons- the ability to make a larger impact and help other people. I also think the profession has so many diverse practice areas that it never becomes boring. The prestige and monetary benefits etc. was an added bonus.
3. When did the idea of preparing for civil services strike you? Anyone in the family who inspired you?
Writing this exam was always on the back of my mind. My parents were always a great source of inspiration for me.
I got recruited by Jyoti Sagar Associates in 4th year and at that point I was not a 100% clear on whether to invest so much time and effort into an exam which can be terribly unpredictable so I decided to establish myself professionally so that I could always fall back on my professional degree if god forbid things did not work out.
4. How was your college life at NLSIU, your academics, extra circulars, internships etc. Was UPSC in your mind as you planned all of this?
NLSIU was definitely the biggest turning point in my life.
I certainly left law school a very different person and I would like to think that the NLS values/ NLS experience really opened my eyes to a whole new world and in many senses really helped me expand my horizons.
As far as academics was concerned I was right in the middle somewhere. To be brutally honest I was pretty lazy through my five years and never seriously participated in moots or debates either.
I did represent NLSIU in the Harvard Model United Nations but the primary motivation was travel and spend some time with friends and family on the East Coast.
However I did take my internships very seriously because I learnt how much of a bearing they can have on future recruitment.
Over my 5 years I was lucky to have landed some really good internships such as AMSS , O Melveny and Myers in Singapore, Mr. P.K.Reddy the special prosecutor who handled the Satyam case at that point.
To my mind I do think all these internships coupled with a good interview helped me get placed at JSA.
5. What were your subjects and how did you prepare for them? Courses, self study etc. Also, which law subjects helped you the most in preparing for the UPSC?
I chose law as an optional after taking the advice of several seniors who were already in the services. I tried to attend a coaching centre for general studies but left after a month and almost relied entirely on self study.
Some of my friends like Shobhit (who is rank 124 this year) and Manu (IRS) and several alum were excellent mentors.
I started preparing after taking a sabbatical from JSA in December 2013 and in the beginning it was really hard when I used to write mock tests – I used to be amongst the 1300-1800 range at Vajiram out of around 8000.
It was a real eye opener but it also motivated to work harder and harder and by August 2014 I made sure I was within the top 200 in the CL and Vajiram test series.
As I stated before my friends both within the services and fellow aspirants were instrumental in guiding me.
I think my interest in constitutional law thanks to some brilliant teaching by my professor Sudhir Krishnaswamy (an NLS alum himself) helped cover almost half of paper 1.
I always found IL interesting as well so paper 1 (Consti and iL) was pretty much sorted. Paper 2 requires much lesser depth and much more breadth so I relied on these books known as Dukkis amongst UPSC aspirants.
Having a sound knowledge law in general especially constitutional law/ criminal law etc really helps with Polity , ethics etc.
Similarly having studied the law it is easier to read the fine print- put forward your views and opinions in a logically consistent manner so that helps with overall writing skills- extremely crucial during the mains as well as interview.
However the trick is to try and not beat around the bush and be concise yet informative. You need to show the examiner you know everything about the question asked within 150 words or 40 seconds (depending on whether it is the mains or interview).
6. What was your study pattern, the books you referred to and how did you go about preparing for each level of the exam?
I never had a study pattern as such. I was very disciplined as far as reading the newspaper everyday is concerned and doing a prelims test every Sunday starting January 2014 which in hindsight helped a lot.
I referred to the same books most other people do so I wont go into too much detail there. I also suggest that when you are studying , forget the hours and focus on issues and the syllabus.
Have a deadline for every single topic and sub topic mentioned in the Mains Syllabus. I always took Sunday and Saturday off except the weekly tests.
Writing practice is crucial after prelims and I would recommend 2 test series atleast although I only stuck to one (VisionIAS)
7. Preparing for the civil services is tough, it tests your patience and determination and there are times when you feel like giving up. Was there ever such a phase in during your preparations, how did you overcome it?
This is one part where I think I differ from a lot of people. Maybe because I was so lazy in college or because of my parents being in the services- I enjoyed every single moment of it. I never ever felt impatient or demotivated.
I was of course under immense pressure during the results. But my honest opinion is that is if you do not enjoy preparing and learning , then it is really unlikely you are going to make it in the top ranks.
However having said that, it is equally important to remember how unpredictable it can get and be prepared for the worst.
This is where JSA had been wonderfully supportive by giving me the sabbatical and I will always be indebted to them for that.
8. How was the support from family and friends during this journey of yours?
My family has been extremely supportive throughout the process- they were really helpful during the interview session- My parents came for a week and I got extremely lucky.
48 hours before my interview my mother asked so many situational questions and gave me practical solutions to various issues : How do you deal with a riot when SP? How does a DM play a role in mitigating climate change etc.
My friends also were exceptionally supportive although they never pass on an opportunity to pull my leg about my success.
9. Considering, you come from the best Law College in the country which offers excellent job opportunities and placements, was it tough to not get tempted by fancy corporate jobs and placements in top tier firms, rather chose this option of appearing for the civil services?
I worked in JSA for 2.5 years and was lucky to have some great mentoring partners during my stint. I currently work in Luthra and Luthra where people were equally nice and it made a huge difference to my preparation.
I am surely going to miss the money but to be very honest beyond a point the opportunity to make a difference is certainly better when one joins the services.
On a lighter note I am also reposing a lot of in faith in the 7th pay commission!
10. Do you have any advice for UPSC aspirants?
In addition to the above I can just give you the following tips and please do take it with a pinch of salt:
Always have a back up!
Do not make this exam an ego thing and take it personally. Carefully analyze the pros and cons of giving repeated attempts and make sure you never put your life on hold for this one exam.
Hard work is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. You need to be lucky as well. I am being completely honest when I say that there hardly any difference in caliber between rank 14 or rank 400. It was just someone’s day and it wasn’t for someone else.
11. And lastly, how is the feeling? Rank 14 in the country’s most prestigious examination, what is the plan ahead?
Relieved and happy to have made my parents proud. I hope I can make a lasting contribution to the IFS and I am thankful to be given this opportunity to serve the nation.