‘I’m grateful for my success today. But would you believe me if I told you that I’m equally thankful for my past four failures?’, asks Anu Joshy, All India Rank 264, UPSC Civil Services Examination 2019.
Not everyone can relate the struggles aspirants go through before they become overnight celebrities as they crack the toughest exam in India to become IAS, IPS, or IFS officers. Probably, only fellow aspirants can understand it.
It took 5 attempts for Anu Joshy to find a place in the prestigious UPSC Civil Services Exam (CSE) toppers rank list.
A first rank holder from IIT Madras, Anu overcame the moments of stress, anxiety, and pressure from the society, which she had to deal in the previous four unsuccessful attempts to achieve what she truly deserved.
The next day UPSC announced results, Anu wrote a touching post on Facebook where she talks about her UPSC journey. This is the English translation of the Facebook post of Anu Joshy, prepared with the help of her friends.
My Last Five Years: Anu Joshy
2020 was so far a year of tragedy. As much for me as for everyone else. Until yesterday…
I’ll tell you a secret, shall I? Would you believe me if I told you that I am all too familiar with this lifestyle of isolation, this lifestyle of a recluse, bowing my head and shying away from socializing, not meeting even my friends, staying away from everything, and of silence? This note is on my own ‘personal, private era of corona’ well before the actual pandemic—about the social distancing that many of us do in the face of failure.
Many people called me after the results were declared. Shared my happiness. Showered me with love. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you for everything.
This is my fifth attempt at the UPSC examinations. My fifth year. My second interview. Today, today on 5th August 2020, I have everyone. I know that I am loved. I feel like I’ve regained my self-worth. It’s almost as if the self that I had lost has come back to me.
Even in the past, I have never considered myself to be exceptionally talented. Except that I was relatively good at writing. But I’d always excelled in studies. Academics was my saving grace. I was the school topper. I graduated from an IIT with the first rank. And so it never, ever occurred to me that I, who always and only saw success and victory in examinations, would one day find myself repeatedly failing in one, despite my best efforts.
I remember reading, perhaps in a book of quotes, that failures teach one many lessons. I’m grateful for my success today. But would you believe me if I told you that I’m equally thankful for my past four failures? As someone once said, for teaching me to face failures “with the grace of a woman and not the grief of a child”, for making me a better human, for making me understand who my true friends are, for making me truly appreciate my parents and family, for making me proud of myself for not giving up.
If I haven’t hung myself on a piece of rope it is only because of my friends, my students who taught me much more than anything I ever taught them, my mother, and my father. I have absolutely no complaints about my first failure. None at all. I wrote that without studying and wasted an attempt on my arrogance. But in my second attempt, UPSC gave me a shock! Despite studying well, I failed—that too, in the preliminary stage itself. That was the onset of self-doubt. I qualified for the interview in my third attempt. How relieved I was! Everyone who had graduated with me was doing well. Most of them were settling down, and I saw only happy faces whenever I was on social media. I thought to myself, Finally, my time has come too. I’ll get the job this time and settle down, at last.
And then the results came. Failed. My third failure. People tend to notice around the third attempt. The questions start flowing in —”How is it that you study so much and still don’t qualify?” “Failed again?” “Didn’t make it, did you?’” Facing people now becomes a real challenge. One withdraws from social circles, slowly turning to the life of a hermit. Call it social distancing if you wish. Hehehe…
Being a girl, the next step—quite naturally—was marriage. “Get married.” “You’re 26.” Parents creating a matrimonial profile. Well, how was I to blame them! They were under a lot of pressure themselves. Good proposals come by. And I, without having proved my identity, or my worth as an individual, was now to become yet another girl who ‘had the permission to start her own bakery, only after having done the dishes.’
When I refused to give in to this “noble thought”, I turned into an arrogant, disobedient woman in the eyes of my relatives(my poor parents, they have no share in this blood). They probably chastised me out of love. Or perhaps they were worried about my future.
Having always been a foodie, my primary solace amidst all this was food and, unsurprisingly, I gained around 16 to 20 kg (I jumped from 61 to 80) in the meantime. And thus followed a slew of affectionate criticisms about my appearance — ”you’ve aged, you are ancient now, you’ve lost your good looks, definitely out of the marriage market, only Kaalan (the god of death) will come to marry you now, hahaha…” (I remember sitting and crying in a theatre while watching Thamasha, a Malayalam movie on body shaming. Keto and yoga helped me shed all that excess weight. Special thanks to Amma).
Well, where was I? Oh yes, my third failure. The next round of prelims was within 30 days of this. I sat down and cried for an entire day. Over the remaining 29, I studied for around 18 hours a day. Wrote the prelims. Checked the answer key. Marks were on the border. Hoped I’d get in. Failed. I realized when the scores were published, that I had missed by a single mark. That one question, the one I had attempted praying to God that I’d get it right (I had become quite the believer by this time), I’d gotten wrong. I’d failed. I asked myself that day, does God hate me too? Has even God given up on me? What was my great sin, my big crime, that today I have to endure this? I, who have always studied well, am I to end up as a nobody, never having proved my worth?
My tears have fallen on almost every single book I’ve studied from. Today, I am sharing this without hesitation. Without shame or inhibition. I’ve cried in solitude in the middle of the night after having made sure my parents were asleep. On so many days, I’ve sat alone in the corridors of the Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram. There were times when I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror…
Today, when I look back, I know that this is only an examination. And that life poses different struggles, different tests, for all of us. It could be a job. It could be love. A bad breakup, a failed marriage. It could be a prolonged illness or an accident. We all have our own struggles. But usually, it is only our happiness that we share on social media. Sieving out sadness with our rainbow-coloured filters. That’s all there is to it.
All I have to say to my fellow aspirants is this. Each one of you is deserving. Luck plays a huge role in the UPSC examination. Chase your dream. Try your best. But never define your self-worth by such a narrow parameter as an exam. I made that mistake. Don’t do it.
To everyone else—lots and lots of love, lots of thanks for reading this “letter”. Thank you so much for everything. I hope that God blesses me to be a good civil servant who would, one day, make you all proud. Thank you.