“Lodha, tera kya hoga? What will become of you?” asked my friend Tarun Tyagi. “Haan yaar, mujhe bhi lagtaa hain tera life mein sahi katega. Yes, even I think you will get screwed in life,” added Jagdeep Pahwa.

“Yaar, Amit, thoda toh serious ho ja. Be a little serious. Your CGPA is so bad, your grades are so low –no company is going to hire you,” Gulati said. “And you are thinking of becoming an IPS officer. Don’t you know almost a million people appear for the UPSC exam and only a few hundred get selected, particularly for the IAS and the IPS? I don’t think you can succeed unless you work hard,” Tarun said.

“Listen, dude, we are your friends. We genuinely hope you become an IPS officer, we know it’s your dream. But you need to be serious about your career – you can’t get into the IPS like this,” Gulati said. “Jo bhi ho, whatever happens, we will always be there for you. You know that, buddy, don’t you?” said all my friends in unison.

I sat quietly in my room after they left. I thought about the mess my life was. IIT was over and all my friends had been offered excellent jobs in MNCs or were going to prestigious universities such as Princeton and Harvard.

I was the only one in my group who had not got a job yet. My CGPA was a low 6.2 on 10, since I had largely got Cs and occasionally Ds in almost all the courses over the past four years at IIT. I had gone to IIT as one of the toppers from my school, only to realise that I was competing with toppers from all over the country. Moreover, I had appeared for engineering entrance exams as I had done well in math throughout my school life.

But being good at math is entirely different from having an interest in engineering, as I was to later realise. Not only was my academic performance pathetic, my confidence was at an all-time low too. I felt like a complete loser in every way. I had no option but to go back to my house to prepare for the UPSC exams.

My parents had a tough time explaining my staying at home after graduation to all our relatives and neighbours. “Amit abhi civil services ki tayyari kar raha hain. Amit is preparing for the civil-service exams,” my parents would say, avoiding the topic of my placement after college.

“Amit, kitna patla ho gaya hain! Beta, parathe pe ghee aur lagaa le, dimaag bhi tez chalega. How thin you have become! Son, put some more ghee on the paratha, your mind will also work faster,” my maasis used to say lovingly. Soon, this love started showing on my body. I used to play squash regularly when I was in IIT, and the hostel food was almost unpalatable, so I was naturally fit.

But in Jaipur there was no squash – only lots of delicious food. From a lean 63 kg my weight ballooned to 79 kg. I couldn’t concentrate on my studies either, finding it difficult to focus for even half an hour. Every thirty minutes, my mind would wander to thoughts of food. And what better way to give in to my cravings than opening a pack of bhujia and eating spoonfuls of it?

I would do anything to distract myself from studies. I would switch on the TV and immediately tune in to a sports channel, even if it was showing an old match. I was a huge fan of Sachin Tendulkar. If he was batting, I would promise myself I would watch just a few overs of his batting. Those few overs would often turn into twenty or thirty.

I also played a collection of sad songs on the tape recorder while studying. One can imagine how my understanding of the Constitution and economics was clouded by my love for the soulful rendition of Zindagi Ka Safar by Kishore Kumar. Whenever I attempted a question and failed to solve it, I would immediately dial a friend’s number.

I would make small talk for a long time and then ask, “Yaar, tere ko ye savaal aata hain? Do you know how to solve this problem? I’ll come over to your house right away, you can help me.” And off I would go. There I’d discuss all the things under the sun except that question. “Naveen, tune Hum Aapke Hai Koun dekhi hain? Have you watched Hum Aapke Hai Koun? Madhuri Dixit ekdum zabardast lag rahi hain. Madhuri Dixit is looking stunning.”

I’d spend a few hours and go back home without finding out the answer to my question. I also had a tendency to keep looking at myself in the mirror and try to style my hair. It’s a different matter that my efforts did not elicit any response from the opposite sex. In short, I was doing everything to ensure that I failed the civil-service exams.

I had programmed myself for failure. It was as though I was trying to run away from success. The prelims were around the corner, just a few months away. Sensing my impending disaster, I got even more irritable.

“Aap logo ki wajah se main padh nahin pa raha hoon. I am not being able to study because of you people. You are disturbing me so much,” I would complain to my family. “What are we doing? You are the one who starts watching TV after studying for twenty minutes. And you talk on the phone for hours,” they would retort, equally irritated with my behaviour.

I started meeting palm readers and astrologers to ask about my fate. Ever since my terrible four years at IIT, I had started thinking I was the unluckiest person in the world. “Kaafi bada havan karana padega. Saare griho mein dosh hain. A big havan will have to be done. All the planets are aligned against your success.” Even the pandit was sceptical about my chances in the civil services and that, too, after charging a bomb for making such a lousy prediction. At least he could have lied and made me happy!

Excerpted with permission from Life in the Uniform: Adventures of an IPS Officer in Bihar, Amit Lodha, Blue Salt.