The Interview

Telugu: Rama Sita

[Most of us have a high estimate of our personal skills and abilities and occasionally believe that we were born at the wrong place at the wrong time. Had it been otherwise, we presume, we would have achieved greater success. The fact of the matter, conceding that the circumstances of our birth play a significant role in our lives, is that success, largely, lies in the quality of fight we consciously undertake in our lives rather than the chance events. In fact, it is our inability to cope up with chance events that unsettles us.]


Before the day had even begun for me, Subba Rao came running to my house to inform me that he had received a call letter from the Service Commission. Accepting my congratulations with a limp handshake, he soon started reeling out the importance of the job in the government setup, the salary he would draw, the number of people he would be heading, his job responsibilities, and his prospects etc., etc. He expressed his firm conviction that he was the ideal person for the job, and perhaps, it was vacant only for him. The only regret he had, he said, was that it was not a gazetted post. Since it entails decent job prospects, the starting salary was rupees three hundred and fifty, and that a genius like him had every opportunity to prove his mettle, he said, that he had decided to attend the interview. Not only that, he said that they won’t send call letters to every Tom, but only to people they had decided to appoint. Finally, he concluded that he was destined to become an officer and I should accompany him for the interview.

I must give you some background about Subba Rao and his chasing after the jobs to get a good grasp of the importance of this call letter.

Subba Rao was my first cousin… my paternal aunt’s son. His father was a math teacher in a high school. As anybody would expect of a math teacher, he was a martinet, a paradigm of uncompromising discipline. Added to that, he had settled opinions about our educational system, student indiscipline etc. and the sole aim of his life was to make Subba Rao a ‘model student’ and poor Subba Rao had become his guinea pig. So much so, returning home before sunset, completing his homework, and sleeping before ten at night, getting up early to start his daily study, keeping away from cinemas and other undesirable habits … had become part of his routine. Since Subba Rao himself had entertained such ideas, he did not feel the pinch, and strictly implemented some other measures on his own like, sitting on the front bench in the class, talking to only intelligent people in the class whenever he could find time, impressing the teachers by occasionally raising intelligent questions, avoiding cinema theatres, or roaming on the roads etc. Nobody would be surprised if such people secured first class, and so he did. When he secured first class he was over the moon as if it were a Nobel Prize.

He wanted to complete M.Sc. D.Sc. in in the same vein and after obtaining some scholarship he dreamed of visiting America France and other places. He was in Cloud nine making plans for his future. But his father did not relish his son surfing on the crests of dreams. Choosing the right occasion, he firmly put his son on his feet asking him to look for a suitable job and contribute his mite to the family.

Subba Rao got disappointed and wanted to play his mother against his father. But when his mother was against his further studies, he had to reconcile with searching for jobs.

It looked below his dignity for a mathematics graduate like him to accept a petty clerical job. He consulted his friends about the kind of job he should accept. One man had advised him that he should go for civil services and become a collector. And if it comes to that, he insisted, that Subba Rao should not accept any job below the Gazetted rank. Had Subba Rao been born in England or America, he exhorted, Subba Rao might have already been given proper employment and extracted promise from Subba Rao that he would never accept a mean clerical job in his life.

From that day onwards, Subba Rao was on the lookout for only for gazetted rank posts. But to his misfortune, advertisements for such posts were rare. On the few occasions he could find, the requirements exceeded his qualification. Perchance the gazetted post was advertised for a ‘graduate’, they mandated a minimum of five years’ experience, among others. Yet, my cousin did not lose heart. He believed that the government was avoiding advertising the posts lest it should be compelled to offer him that post. He also felt that the government was not aware that a ‘genius’ like him was ‘rotting’ at a remote place. He was critical of the universities for not sending the list of first-class graduates to the government so that it could select someone like him directly from that list. That would have saved some avoidable trouble and expenses for the government as well as the job aspirants. Indeed, it was deplorable such brilliant idea did not strike governments.

Finally, he found two advertisements for the kind of job he had been aspiring for. They mentioned clearly that they need “only first-class graduates and no previous experience is necessary. People interested may apply.”  My cousin was immensely pleased and submitted his application without any delay. But then, he was caught in a new dilemma: If he were to get selection for both, which job should he accept? But then, he pacified himself with the resolve to decide it after attending the interview and knowing the kind of job prospects they were going to offer.

Then started the anxious gestation period. He started worrying why he did not receive the call letter. The moment he saw the postman on the street, he started pestering him to find the letter he was sure to get. As days passed by, he reconciled to the fact that he would not receive a call letter. And started the cycle of looking for a job and submitting his application. That way he might have offered himself as a candidate for over half a dozen posts, and none of them showed any courtesy, sending a letter of regret. Yet, my cousin never lost hope for an officer’s post.

As things stood in suspended animation like this, he took counsel from some senior persons on how to prepare for an interview. He started reading the newspaper regularly. He bought a GK book. From Kennedy to the panchayat president of our village he got byheart who occupied which post. What are the boundaries of the country Togo? What was the state that had its capital on the bank of Tyber? How fast could a crane fly? What is the length of a thermometer? From Alexander to China, what are the countries that invaded India? …were on his fingertips. Not only that, but he could also reel out the names of the loftiest structures and the abyssal trenches in the world. And not satisfied, he insisted us to conduct him some mock interviews. With that he grew confident of success in any interview.

In the meantime, his father had tutored him that apart from officer posts, there were also clerical posts that pay adequately. But he did not relent. “If I were to accept a job, I would accept only an officer’s job. I settle for nothing less,” he declared.


Now that he got a call letter, he heaved a sigh of relief. As he was assured of the job after the interview, he thought, he need not have to worry about his future.

Until we reached the Service Commission office, he entertained such thoughts. But the moment he saw an ocean of people, his heart missed a beat. “Who are they all? Aren’t they all attending the interview, perchance?” he expressed his deep disappointment. Enquiries indicated that most of them were candidates for the interview. And every face displayed the mien of an officer. Some of them gathered in groups and were discussing among themselves. And some others were so tight lipped that it purported it was below their dignity to talk to others. Another set was so seriously going through the books and newspapers lest they should miss a key point that would jeopardize their chances. And their faces reflected the anxiety within. And a few others were just idling their time while a few others were busy walking from one end of the hall to the other. They were enquiring about information from fellow interviewees and playing jokes at one another.

From the way the people appeared in the hall, they could be divided into three distinct classes: the first, walking on air as confident as Arjuna. There was already the officer’s gait in their walk, talk, and the way they sit; the second, the diffident kind; they were mortally afraid to speak supposing that might disqualify them to attend the interview. Their anxiety about the uncertainty of getting the job was clearly palpable in their appearance; and the third, a carefree group. There was an air of nonchalance. They presented such a disposition which, in essence, conveyed that they would be happy if they got selected, and happier too if they were not.

Perhaps got bored sitting idle, the man sitting next to my cousin enquired about his qualification. He confidently replied that he was a First-Class graduate. He enquired about his qualification in turn.

“M. Com, LL.B.” he replied. And another two or three people passing by enquired about our qualification and announced theirs without being asked for. What could be gauged ultimately was that about one-third of the people attending the interview were post-graduates and that among the rest there were double-graduates. My cousin was getting jittery and still maintained his quietude.

Suddenly there was a commotion in one corner. While all the people ran towards that corner, we followed the mob not to lag. A man was sitting there and lecturing about the purpose of the interview, the shortcuts to success, and the backdoor methods. He was talking as effortlessly as lord Krishna explained Gita to Arjuna and the interview process seemed so simple and easy. After that, he unleashed a list of dozen questions, like, ‘Do you expect a war would break out between the Casablanca block and Monrovia Block of nations over the assassination of Togo president? Do you think the Congo crisis had ended? What is your opinion about our Gold Control? Explain briefly about people and the present budget, and said, ‘you are sure to get at least one or two questions among them in any interview and I wager my ear if you don’t.”

Taking a breather, he said, “I wish you all success in the interview. I am a poor chap and live on the generosity of people like you.”

That’s it. People took to their heels as if they had seen an apparition suddenly.

“That’s the reason our country is not able to progress. Who allowed such people into the hall in the first place?” said someone, as if he had a revelation.

A handful of people offered a few coppers to him. He thanked them and wishing them all success once more, he left the scene.

Then, a clerk from the department came out, sorted them according to the jobs they had applied for, and informed them of the room numbers where the interviews would be conducted. All the candidates left the hall and only about half a dozen people who came as escorts remained in the hall.

After about fifteen minutes, my cousin came out of one room. He was just short of breaking down. Without informing me what had happened, he pulled me onto the street.

Then he burst into tears. He said he was not destined to become an officer in his life and swore that he would not attend any interview hereafter. He cursed the interviewers, the interview process, the jobs, and the government in the same vein. And finally disclosed what had happened.

This was the essence of what had happened.

After the initial exchange of greetings, the number of postgraduates attending the interview had disturbed him in the first place. The lecture about the interview process and the probable questions they might ask had unnerved him because he was not prepared for such questions. And being the first candidate to be called in, he did not have any chance of knowing the kind of questions they were asking.

The moment he entered the interview room, the four members of the committee appeared to him like cobras about to strike him, like Tigers on the prowl, like a politician before a vast gathering, and like the insurance agent to a hapless insurer committed his life. One bald man looked like Lord Yama and greeting him with a villainous laugh, offered him a seat. He almost roared at my cousin shooting the question “Do you know why there was a national emergency?”  At that very moment, his trigeminal nerve was stimulated, and he had an obsession to sneeze. He meekly answered, “I know.”. Then, the bald head repeated the question. My cousin was desperate to suppress the sneeze.

He might not have imagined in his wildest dreams that he would have to sneeze at such an important moment. And the sneeze came out with vengeance.


First time.


Second time.


Third time.

The committee members were startled at the thundering sound.

My cousin felt thoroughly ashamed and guilty to look at their faces. He was so scared that they might even sentence him to life imprisonment for his terrible crime. More than that, the thought that they might think of him as incompetent to suppress his sneeze hurt him. As he was feeling remorse for missing a lifetime opportunity, and seeing a bleak future ahead, that bald Yama asked him one last question. Part of the question he did not hear, and to the part he could hear, he did not have the courage to answer.

Before he was framing the answer in his mind, another member asked him the next question. He was perplexed about which of the two he should answer now. And as the two questions played over his mind, so did the answers. And as a common answer he stuttered: “Sri…K. Nehru, Ambassador General of America in India…”

That was when they summarily dismissed him from the room.


Note: I deeply regret that I could not furnish any information about this writer and would appreciate it if anybody could give me the information.

(First published in Andhra Patrika Weekly dated 23-8-1963)





Murthy Nauduri

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