Posts in Letters to My Younger Self

Dear 24-year-old Basant

Dear 24-year-old Basant,

You’re less than a month away from your UPSC prelims exam and this is your first attempt and you’re excited like a headless chicken. I’m slightly busy today. So I’ll take the easiest route and write to to you in a list form.

1. Don’t read newspaper after D minus 20th day, D day being your exam day.

2. You’ve a tendency to bite more than what you can chew. Try to stick to the bare minimum these days. Don’t read new study materials. Keep revising your notes till you’re bored. And try solving previous years’ question papers in exam-like conditions.

3. Hang “Don’t disturb” sign on the door of your hostel room. Don’t let your friends create emergency for you. Friendships can wait. For the time being.

4. When it comes to UPSC CSE prelims, there are four subject areas in terms of what to do and what to expect.

      1. High investment – low return
      2. Low investment – low return
      3. High investment – high return
      4. Low investment – high return

Category A subject areas need a lot of hard work (you don’t like these subjects or they’re too vast or study materials are difficult to find in the market) and you don’t get too many questions from these subjects in the exam. Category B subject areas need very little work (these are your favourite subjects or you don’t have to read too many pages or study materials are easy to find in the market) and you don’t get too many questions from these subjects in the exam. Category C subject areas need a lot of hard work (you don’t like these subjects or they’re too vast or study materials are difficult to find in the market) and you get a lot of questions from these subjects in the exam. Category D subject areas need very little work (these are your favourite subjects or you don’t have to read too many pages or study materials are easy to find in the market) and you get lots of questions from these subjects in the exam.

Try to plan your preparation and orient your execution according to this classification.

5. You’re good at attracting traffic jams since you were a kid. So make time to visit your exam centre in advance and get a fair idea about its location and its distance from your Brahmaputra Hostel. Please try to reach there 90 minutes before the exam starts. Delhi’s traffic can be tricky. Please don’t take things lightly.

6. Don’t wear new shoes (or clothes) on the D day. You tend to feel uncomfortable in them. Typical of you. And take off your wrist watch once you find your seat and sit down on your chair in the exam hall. You hate wearing a watch. That’s why.

I know you hate faaltu ka gyaan. I’ll still take my chance.

Sincerely yours,


Dear 24-Year-Old Basant

Dear 24-year-old Basant,

This is your second year in JNU and you’re 24 now, about to take the UPSC civil services preliminary exam next month. This is your first attempt. And you’re pretty excited. Typical of the street-dog in you.

I’ll give you a few suggestions about how to pace your preparation and what to do during the run-up to the D Day. I don’t expect the headstrong, all-knowing brat in you to take my words seriously. But please have a look at these points. Maybe you’ll love my writing style. Of course, I’m being sarcastic. I know how un-coachable you are.

1. Develop Six Sigma Self-Care Habits

Taking care of yourself – physically and, more importantly, mentally – will help you stay healthy and maintain a positive attitude and stick to a regular schedule.

Don’t lounge in your trackpants and tee shirts all day. Get up at 4:30 A.M., take a shower, and dress in clothes you usually wear when you go to the JNU central library.

You should do these things.

Eat regular, frugal meals. Stay away from unhealthy stuff.

Drink lots of water and stay hydrated.

Play volleyball with (and against) Sarfaraz, Sanjay and Apu Da like your usual maniac self. (Had it been this time of this year, I would have said, walk for one hour every day while practicing appropriate social distancing)

Find time to unwind. Listen to Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as much as you can. Spend a lot of time with Rao Garu and Umakant.

Get lots and lots (and lots) of sleep.

Go off to sleep by 10:30 PM.

And don’t go to that TV room of your hostel. It’s a den of lazy people who practice wasting time as an art form.

2. Plan Your Day Every Morning

Every morning (after you have showered and wore appropriate clothes), jot down your goals and priorities for the day on that white writing board of yours. You’ve bought it and fixed it on the wall in front of your study table for a reason. Use it.

An organized to-do list keeps you focused on the specific tasks you need to complete. And checking items off the list provides a great sense of accomplishment. On a daily basis.

Once you’ve written down your goals, make a schedule for the day that will enable you to achieve those goals. Your schedule should include blocks of time dedicated exclusively to certain tasks. Do include meal times and study breaks as well.

And once you have created your schedule, try to stick to it as much as you can.

3. Eliminate Distractions and Time Stealers

Your hostel life in JNU offers ample opportunity for distraction. (Even though you don’t have a girlfriend. Poor lanky Basant.) And each distraction is an opportunity for procrastination that leads to reduced productivity.

Most of your distractions require self-discipline to avoid. As you create a  study routine, think about the distractions and temptations around you. Do your best to remove them from your daily life.  Say no to friends and foes as much as you can. Most of your friends are very competent time stealers. As dangerous as TV. Have I told you?

When you struggle to stay focused, try the Pomodoro Method.

4. Focus on the Positive

Give yourself permission to be human. To fail. To err. It’s alright to make mistakes. No need to pursue or expect perfection every single day. And remember your rivals (other students who are going to take this exam next month) are making mistakes as well. Now, don’t gibe that smile of yours.

Look for the silver lining every single day. After you wake up, spend a few minutes before getting out of bed brainstorming the beautiful things you have in your life since your Pipli days. Before you go to bed each evening, make a list of the good things that happened to you that day.

Engage in activities you love (as and when time permits). Listen to Ustaad Nusrat and play volleyball.

I’ll keep giving you tips for free even if you hate my hair cut.



Dear 16-year-old Basant

Dear 16-year-old Basant,

Next year, you’re going to take the IIT-JEE exam, and you’re pretty confident about your focus and study techniques. Deep in your street-dog heart you know you’re too hardworking a student to fail an exam. Your head thinks, despite not having right books and coaching materials, you can clear this exam and become a top-class energy engineer before you fall in love with a beautiful girl. Energy engineering. 1988. What a visionary you’ve always been, mate.

Now, listen to me, lanky boy. You’ll fail. You’ll get into severe depression. You’ll be so distracted in life that Sarat, your younger brother, will hit you for sixes when you bowl to him in your village cricket matches. Then, in full public view, he’ll shout at you a few words about how Javed Miandad decimated Chetan Sharma a couple of years back. It’ll become a typical Ambani family thing. A brother can be a difficult business, you know.

Cut to to life’s business. Your joining arts stream and choosing sociology as the honours subject is the best thing that will happen to you. You’ll join the classes in the second year, skipping the first year to prepare for the IIT-JEE exam. Anup Bhai will give you his books and top quality class notes even if he doesn’t know much about you. Rabi Sir will teach you Marx, Weber and Pareto better than the finest in JNU, his alma mater, even if you don’t speak a single sentence in his classes in two years because of your incessant stammering. Ashraf Chacha will give you a place to stay in Bhubaneswar even if you’re a rank stranger to him. Pragyan (Kar) and (Sudhanya) Naani will give away their books without making you conscious of your life’s circumstances. Anil will give you all his psychology books that he bought for his future wife. Anil’s Mom will feed you meals everyday you visit them. Anup Bhai will join JNU for his Masters. Rabi Sir will make you dream about going there. Ashraf Chacha will share his meals with you. Don’t tell me that you won’t meet great men and women without Wikipedia knowing about them.

And there’ll be friends and blood relatives who will taunt you for your chronic stammering. Learn how to ignore their daily barrage of ridicule. No good can come of it.

Now, let’s talk about your street-dog stubbornness a bit. You’ll fall in love with a girl who happens to be the best student in your class and a magician when it comes to public speaking. Your love life will start with a huge traffic jam. The girl – her name, I don’t remember – will be in love with another boy and clueless about your feelings. And you’ll get into depression for another two and half years.

Traffic jams will never leave you alone. In your exams, in love life and in professional career. Someday, you’ll handle the traffic department of J and K like a boss. More on that some other time.

More than anything else, I’ll always admire you for your ability and willingness to work on your stuttering. You’ll work on your handicap and you’ll be able to overcome it. You and your radio. No speech therapist and no expert advice. I adore that patented bullheadedness of yours. I still don’t know why you sell this dope to yourself that you don’t need to be good at public speaking to be successful in life. Because of that mental block, you won’t take the next step ahead. To become articulate on the podium like your one-sided love, that beautiful girl. You should take your public speaking skills seriously. The world will always be grateful to that Churchill chap for his oratory that made a huge difference to the outcome of the World War II. He was a rabid racist, though. More on that later.

You’re 16 years old and you’ve a long road ahead, but don’t get sucked into traffic jams. The IIT JEE exam will be a traffic jam. Falling  for a love that is not meant to be yours will be a traffic jam. Stammering will a traffic jam. You’ll manoeuvre those roadblocks quite brilliantly. Some kind-hearted, selfless people will hold your hands. Be grateful to them. They’ll guide you on the express highway of life without expecting anything in turn. Share your experience of handling traffic jams with the young drivers you meet when you become a better, mature driver.

Drive well, do it on your terms and take care of your car. Your body is your most expensive car. And a BMW doesn’t run on adulterated kerosene oil and second-hand spare parts. Eat well and keep your body strong and agile. You’ll need these good habits after 32 years when life will re-arrange itself because of a virus. Prepare yourself well for 2020.


For the Students of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh

This is my way of reaching out to that 16-year-old Basant living somewhere in the villages and towns of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Not exactly brilliant, that boy was insanely hard-working, confident and focussed. Didn’t have money to eat three meals a day and buy books and attend coaching classes when he was preparing for IIT-JEE exam in 1988-1989. And failed to clear the entrance exam. Got into severe depression, joined arts stream and took sociology honours in his graduation course. Some kind-hearted people helped him with books. Some friends, some strangers, but not a single blood relative. Rabi Sir taught him sociology. And the boy who used to be ridiculed for his incessant stammering – in his village, schools and colleges – worked hard and reached JNU with a handsome monthly scholarship. And then he came to J and K.

There are many a 16 year old Basant walking somewhere in Gool, Gojwara and Kargil, dreaming their big dreams, skipping their meals to save money to buy books and whispering to themselves, “Boy (Girl), some day, some bloody August day, you’ll stamp your presence on this planet and be of some good use to the people around you”.

This is my attempt to reach out to those young men and women.

My dear young friends in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, you’ll have to convince me that you’re hard-working and focussed. That you can write a personal essay without sweating and gasping too much. That you won’t trouble me on Twitter DM, FaceBook and WhatsApp. If you find me trustworthy, please use this format to send me the list of books (irrespective of your educational background) you want for yourself or a friend who has no access to smartphones, internet and social media.

I won’t let you down. And I expect you to respect my time and personal space.


Dear 16-year-old Basant,

Dear 16-year-old Basant, 

A few months ago, I came across a letter that Pete Sampras wrote to his 16-year-old younger self ( and it struck me that I should write to you such letters to let you know why I think you should allow yourself to fail and slow down a bit (and not get sucked into always looking ahead, as Sampras tells his Pete).

I’m slightly busy with my writing assignments. I promise I’ll send you a long letter by this weekend. You please find time to read what Sampras has written to his younger self. And if you’re in a mood to enjoy some brilliant writing on tennis, try this David Foster Wallace gem on the physics and metaphysics of tennis (

Work hard, do it on your eccentric terms and stay true to yourself. Don’t worry too much about your stammering. You’re too headstrong a bird person to let that clip your wings.