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The Trump visit and the IAS interview

By Ambassador B S PRAKASH
March 11, 2020 13:43 IST
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'At one stage, one interviewer asked me to name 3-4 world leaders who had made the biggest impact on the world.'
"Our PM, Modiji, of course. I named him first. Then Trump... Later, my father said I should have remembered Gandhi. But what to do, Sir? Mistakes happen.'
'Besides, had not Trump called Modiji the father of our nation?'
Ambassador B S Prakash's encounter with an IAS aspirant.

United States President Donald J Trump, whose personal fortune is worth $3.1 billion, with Mukesh Ambani, whose personal fortune is worth $42 billion, in New Delhi, February 25, 2020. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo

IMAGE: United States President Donald J Trump, whose personal fortune is worth $3.1 billion, with Mukesh Ambani, whose personal fortune is worth $42 billion, in New Delhi, February 25, 2020. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo
 

Before Trump's 'largest, grandest, and mostest' visit to Ahmedabad, I had narrated in this space my experience with a young man, the nephew of a close friend, who had come to me for some advice.

He was an IAS aspirant, a special breed in Delhi in this season, who wanted tips on the Trump visit for his UPSC interview. I had done my best to enlighten him and had bid him good luck and goodbye.

Just the other day, I was treading carefully in the local market, dressed in my most disposable clothes, avoiding the pre-Holi lumpen elements, when I spotted a rather carefully dressed young man. It was the same aspirant coming from the opposite direction.

I recognised him immediately and nodded. Dressed as I was in shabby garments and adorned with the obligatory face mask in the age of coronavirus, it took him a moment to realise, who I was -- his ex- interview tutor.

"Good afternoon, Sir," he said, impeccably. His manners had been fine-tuned by the coaching institute and looked a tad formal in the chaos of an east Delhi market. I live in a civilised neighbourhood, I think, but smoke and fire had engulfed areas, eight kilometers away a week ago.

We say we are a large nation. I had realised that Delhi itself was larger than many nations, both in size and in disparate and desperate circumstances.

We both folded our hands in a Namaste, avoiding any contact or surfaces.

"So, how did your interview go?" I had to ask, given the background to our earlier contact.

"I think, I have aced it, Sir. Of course, the results will come only later."

"Did they ask about Trump?" I recalled that all he had come to me was for understanding 'THE VISIT'.

"They (the UPSC interview board) tried to avoid it, Sir. But I forced it into the conversation and gave them lots of stuff. I think I did very well."

I was curious. I had to ask him to describe what had happened.

"Every candidate was primed for Trump, Sir," he began. "In the coaching classes, in the line as we stood to enter the building, in the room where we sat waiting -- all the talk was only about the Trump visit. Some were reciting the banquet menu, one girl even told us about the names of all the designers that Ivanka wore, some about all the Indian names that Trump had painstakingly recited -- and should we say Vivekamunand -- like him."

"All this apart from the big question of whether the visit was a spectacle or a substantive success, whether it was optics or outcome and such dilemmas of description. We had all read hundreds of articles, analysis, editorials and what not, besides hours listening to TV pundits."

"And Sir, in my interview, they were not even asking me."

"What happened, then. How did you bring it in?", I asked.

"Sir, at one stage, one of the interviewers asked me to name 3-4 world leaders who had made the biggest impact on the world. That gave me the chance."

"So?"

"Our PM, Modiji, of course. I named him first. Then Trump. To make it more global, I also added Nelson Mandela and Gorbachev. I talked a little about all of them. I was careful to avoid Mao. Later, my father said I should have remembered Gandhi. But what to do, Sir? Mistakes happen."

"Besides, had not Trump called Modiji the father of our nation?"

"Don't worry about it, now. Listings are always a matter of choice," I had to reassure him.

"True, sir. Someone then asked me about marches or walks that had changed history. My mind was full of Trump. In a flash, I remembered the long, slow and graceful walk that Trump and Melania had taken at the Taj Mahal."

"What an occasion and what a romance! Shah Jahan and Mumtaz may have walked like that in the moonlight. Such pageantry, and security too. I told them, but I wonder now whether it was a good answer."

"How did they react?"

"They were silent and looked inscrutable. They always are. Then, someone asked: 'What else?'"

"I had an intuition that I should take a more serious example. I told them the walk that NSA Shri Ajit Doval had taken the next day in East Delhi. Such a contrast to the romantic walk of the Trumps. All purpose and pace in a turbulent place. Peace and normalcy had been restored with a brisk walk. I wanted to show my knowledge of the Delhi riots, but they seemed in a hurry to change the subject."

"They shifted to the irrigation system used in Haryana, the land of my forefathers."

He beamed at me with satisfaction.

"How have I done, Sir? Will I crack it?" he asked.

"You must have read up the essence of the Bhagawad Gita for your preparations. Your duty is to work and prepare. The results are in His hands. No, I did not mean the government or the PM. The forces that control our destiny. Yours and this nation's," I replied.

As we were ready to go our respective ways, something made me ask him: "Tell me, what will you do if you don't get in?"

"Why open a coaching centre for the exams, Sir. I have already uploaded my interview experience on YouTube and made some money," he said happily.

We -- both he and me -- are waiting for the results.


B S Prakash, a former Ambassador of India, is a long standing Rediff.com columnist whose earlier columns can be read here.

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