It never rains! It pours
During my visit to Hyderabad last week in connection with organizing the vertical on Translations from Bhashas to English and writings for Young Adults, I had an opportunity to meet and interact with Jatish Chandra Mohanty whose book Breaking Through New Earth is, in the words of D Subba Rao, the ex-Governor of RBI ‘refreshingly unorthodox and touchingly honest’. I was delighted to have a copy of his book, which we will launch at the Hyderabad edition of VoW. I had lunch with the Telangana ideologue and academic Gautam Pingle, who also presented me two books: The fall and the Rise of Telangana, and The Formation and History of Telangana: A collection of nine critical essays. Both have been published by Orient Black Swan, and give a historical, sociological, economic and political insight into the formation of the 29 th state of India in 2014. In the evening I met Rahul Luther, who presented me a copy of A Bonsai Tree: An Autobiography of his legendary father narendra Luther, who made his mark both as an administrator as well as a scholar and columnist.
In taking all these books together, there are many connections other than the very obvious one of Hyderabad being at the pivot. We will take up Luther’s book first – he is the most senior of the three authors – and traversed the journey from Budh Goraya in Sialkot district (now in Pakistan) to Hyderabad via Hoshiarpur, Simla, Dharam Pura (a suburb of Lahore), Lahore and Delhi. This book is different from most other autobiographies because it weaves the personal and the professional – and Luther does not hesitate in sharing the tough times he and his soul and life mate Bindi has had with their son Rahul, and his daughter Sandhya. his paternal and maternal grandfathers’ name were named Kripa Ram and Kripa Sagar (respectively) – and both had made their mark in the ne professional opportunities that opened up to the educated Punjabis. Lahore was not just the Paris of Punjab – but also like Jerusalem -a city as hotly contested between Muslims on one side and Hindus and Sikhs on the other. Even in schools, the contest between the competing ideologies of Congress and the ML came into the daily discourse of friends and teachers. Luther sums up the dilemma of Punjab when he says ‘Starting with the epic war of Mahabharata, the Punjab seems to have been the divinely designated battleground of India for ages. The land of five rivers has seldom seen two generations without witnessing any conflict. It was about to create a record of sorts of a century of comparative peace since its annexation by the British in 1849, when the unprecedented bloodbath of the partition of the province ensued in 1947. After taking refuge in the Chakla cantonment from August to October m the family undertook a train journey from 18 th to 21 st October – four days to cover a distance of less than seventy miles. The description so reminds one of Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan -to whose extended family Bindi belonged. Both ended up in the same college in Hoshiarpur, and fell into love, But of the times, and the way they met, Luther writes ; ‘take our two separate stories, and sprinkle them liberally with abductions, rapes and murders. Multiply them a million times and you get a glimpse of partition of the Punjab and of the horrible facet of India’s independence…Partition was Punjab’s holocaust ..our communal cleansing was carried out with a degree of brutality matching Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali we read about in history..’
Joining the IAS in 1955 – with fifty others, including ten from the Indian Foreign service, we get a glimpse of what life was in the Metcalfe House Delhi before the IAS training school was shifted to Charleville at Mussoorie – and later named the LBS National Academy of Administration . Many of us have been trying to trace when the service got Yoga Karmasu Kaushalam as our motto. Now one knows that it was certainly there in 1955- the search is therefore narrowed down to the seven years from 1948 to 1955! The theme was expounded by R B Vaghaiwala from the last batch of the ICS who happened to be the Vice Principal!
As with most IAS officers, life offers such a wonderful kaleidoscope of postings,assignments, travel destinations,mid-career training opportunities , and most if all a ring side view of the developments in the political and administrative space. All this is covered, but more than that, Bonsai is also a tale of the family man Luther – as he records the birth of his children, as well as their disappointments with the parents for not ‘parenting them’ when it was most needed: thereby leading to wounds which were most difficult to heal. But finally, they did, especially in the case of Rahul, who was in and out of the Rehab for substance abuse. This is also a remarkable tale of their daughter -in -law Rajeshwari whom they loved more than Rahul, and in one of the unique, perhaps unparalleled stories, Rahul remarried her after a divorce! Together they set up an upmarket rehab centre Hope Trust – which is now a value proposition by itself!
Luther’s tryst with writing and books began when he got ‘dumped’ into the Department of Rehabilitation with two and a half files. This gave him the chance to give vent to his creative muse. He wrote his travelogue to America in Urdu – Hawai Columbus, and then a full-length book on Mohammad Quli:prince, Poet, Lover, Builder – which set in motion his love affair with the city of Hyderabad. After hanging his boots as the Chief Secretary of the state, he decided to devote his time to full time writing – an absolutely rewarding experience! This reviewer holds the same view that post superannuation , it is best to work on that which gives one pleasure and joy , rather than run after money and power which create ‘greater dependency ‘ and lesser freedom !
We now come to Breaking through new Earth by Jatish C Mohanty, an officer of the 1979 batch. Jatish wanted to be a geologist , but a chance encounter with a professor at Andhra University made him sit for the IAS exam, which he cleared after a brief stint in the IPS. While police training taught hm the value of discipline, the scientific temper had already been honed into him, and though he missed the Humphrey Fellowship, he applied for and received the World Bank Fellowship to pursue his doctoral studies on environmental health and risk analysis, Written with Mona Ramavat, a Hyderabad based film maker and journalist, this is a story of Jatish Mohanty’s life in the IAS and beyond. ‘Like a bunch of eclectic pebbles off the beach, there are several small and big, insightful, sometimes amusing moments that I have collected over my three decades of service and thereafter.’ That the book starts with a Foreword from Anna Hazare gives us an idea of the themes that are likely to be covered.
Writes Hazare ‘As a crusader against corruption, I also deeply resonate with corruption being the root cause of all the issues. Any steps taken by the government to for alleviating poverty without tackling corruption will only be cosmetic .I endorse Jatish’s view that political corruption needs to be dealt with first before we can hope to achieve any real progress .
Thus fight against corruption , integrity in public life, humane approach to administration, innovation in governance through technology interventions and public service for public good have been covered in simple , easy to read anecdotal forays which keep the reader immersed in the book. It is the personal stye of narration which makes the reader feel like an engaged participant in the conversation.
It’s a valuable addition to the now distinct and distinguished genre of memoirs by civil servants . By their very nature they offer a ringside view of governance , especially in the context of the state in which the officer has served . In a way, it also marks the difference in the training methods and pedagogy between the Metcalfe House and the LBS National Academy of Administration. Be that as it may, the experiences of an officer in the first few years – especially district training leave an imprint on the way an officer’s professional growth trajectory takes off. Right from his days as an Assistant Collector in Anantapur, when he was under the tutelage of the Collector TK Dewan, he learnt to put people first. Unlike in the days of the Raj, when governance was an end in and for itself – post 1947, and especially in the eighties when ‘welfare and development interventions’ became the top priority for the political executive. The chapter on elections and electoral policy also shows how the electoral system in India is often ‘gamed’ by the political leaders. The introduction of EVMs has to be read with the caveat that ‘technology does not translate into efficiency, unless people are equipped to use the technology effectively’. Mohanty argues that the entire focus of political economy reform should be on the electoral process, rather than on the Lok Pal – for while Lok pal can act only as a deterrent post fact, a clean and transparent electoral system will give us better people to begin with.
Many IAS officers join academia or the corporate world or hold post retirement sinecures. Other join political parties – and become MPS and Governors. The instance of an IAS officer leaving the Service to establish a political party with the specific purpose of abolition of poverty and setting up candidates for Parliamentary and Assembly elections for two terms is a unique feat. That Samrudha Orissa the party founded by Mohanty on the birthday of Utkal Mani Gopa Bandhu Das could not continue its journey is not as important as the effort itself. But the author also pints out how difficult it is to make an entry into the world of politics without the backing of powerful caste organizations and/or corporate houses.