Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Unusual Entrant in the Indian Foreign Service

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 90 Vol IV, June 30, 2009

I have narrated in the previous column how I had undertaken my maiden journey to the capital of India in June 1969 primarily to equip myself for the preparation of Indian Administrative Service Etc., Examination, now more popularly called the Civil Services Examinations. While going around in Delhi, I 'discovered' that the route to the realization of the IAS Dream was physically located via Shahjahan Road, one of the eleven roads terminating at (or emanating from) the outer circle of India Gate.

The address of Dholpur House, the Office of the Union Public Service Commission, Post Box No 186, New Delhi-11, an impressive annular shaped building, which once belonged to the rulers of a smaller state of Rajasthan, had got registred in my mind more than a decade earlier when I had filled up the form of the National Defence Academy Examination in February 1959. It was a great satisfaction for me to qualify the written NDA Examination with excellent marks in General Knowledge. I had, however, a greater satisfaction resulting from my being able to defy and convince my father and his friends that I did not feel myself to be cut out for a career in the military service and, therefore, it would be better for me not to attend the interview to be conducted in Meerut Cantt. by the Services Selection Board!

It was an altogether different experience, with all the attendant hopes and fears, that I arrived in Dholpur House in the morning of 25th of March, 1971 "to present myself at the Commission's Office ... for the purpose of Personality Test to be coducted by the Union Public Service Commission". We, a group of four candidates, were welcomed by a smiling and polite official who escorted us to fill a few forms including the one for reimbursement of 'journeys by rail ... restricted to single Second Class (Mail) railway fare by the shortest route to the place of interview ... '. We were also shown a circular of information about the Indian Foreign Service that the candidates considering to opt for the Indian Foreign Service must be prepared to serve in any place in the world and that facilities for English medium education for children might not be available in a large number of places of posting. I was the second person to be called in for the interview. I was wearing a cream colour trouser, tucked-in white shirt and a cream colour tie having a small bluish design at the knot This tie was given to me by a friend who said that he had spent Rupees 1.50 to buy it!

It may be mentioned that we,the candidates, had been explained that Shri R.C.S. Sarkar was presiding over the Interview Board and that he was assisted by four other members, namely, Major General (Retd) P.C. Gupta & S. Balbir Singh IP(Retd) on his right, while Sh R.G. Rajwade IFS(Retd) and Prof K. Venkatachari were seated on his left side. The conversation, during my interview, started with reference to the news of the previous day ie the address by President V.V. Giri to the joint session of the of the Indian Parliament. I recall that I had referred to the 'stentorian' (the word Maj Gen Gupta had liked) voice of the President who had underlined the high expectations of the poor people. Chairman Sarkar had further asked me about the case of dispute over election symbol between the two groups of Congress to which I had replied that in a mature democracy issues to be fought for should be about policies and not symbols. He also asked me about the consecutive extensions of provision of reservations for Scheduled Castes & Tribes. I think that I had replied saying that the progress in over all social development particularly education was more important and had quoted the example of Dalit leader B.P. Maurya who had recently defeated a poweful Jan Sangh candidate Prakash Vir Shastri from the general seat of Hapur. S Balbir Singh asked me about the college in Karamsar where I was a lecturer and this brought the references by me to reformer Sikh saints Karam Singh of Hoti Mardan & his disciple Sant Ishar Singh of Rarewale. The latter had been instrumental in having the college estabilished by facilitating donation of building and land. There was also a reference to the Nawabs of Maler Kotla and I was glad to dwell on the history of the only Muslim state in East Panjab. I could not reply to a few questions asked by Sh. Rajwade about the recent political developments in Fiji.

I thought that I had done reasonably well in in the written as well as in the interview. The result placed me in the range high enough to opt for Indian Foreign Service. It was on the 10th day after the declaration of result that an old school friend who had become an engineer in the telephone department at Ludhiana made it possible for me to speak to another old friend who had joined IAS and was posted as Additional Deputy Commissioner at Bathinda. When I asked about his advice about IFS, he said that I should opt for it without a second thought. He explained that pressures and interferences of third rate politicians were fast destroying the administration. I immediately sent a telegram revising my 1st preference to IFS from IAS - the rest became, what they say, history! That extraodinary run of events would be shared with the readers in the following columns!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Views from India Gate

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 89 Vol IV, June 15, 2009

THE long story of human civilisation is so often told with references to the rise and fall of so many magnificent cities encircled by their mighty walls and glorious gates. Delhi, the mythological and historical capital of Hindustan, has also its most precious heritage of ancient & modern landmarks including walls and gates.

India Gate, which has become the most popular picnic place for Delhi-wallahs and visitors to the city, was inaugurated in 1931 as one of the largest war monuments commemorating the 90,000 soldiers of the erstwhile British army who fell in the Afghan Wars and the 1st World War.

The monument has added, under its arch, the shrine of Amar Jawan Jyoti - the Flame of Immortal Warrior of India - in the wake of the brilliant victory in the war of Bangla Desh in December 1971. It was unveiled by 'Durga' Indira Gandhi, on January 26, 1972.

Standing near this 42 meter lofty and stately structure, one can not only enjoy a vast panoramic view of Rashtrapati Bhawan and other splendid government buildings but may also feel mysteriously overwhelmed by thoughts about the past, present and future of India!

I can vividly recall my own 'historic maiden' visit to the city of India Gate. It was Monday, 16th of June, 1969. I had boarded a bus from Chandigarh, the brand new & city-beautiful which had become, like all the most beautiful creations, 'an apple of discord' within a decade of the departure of its architect, Le Corbusier. The bus journey of about six hours on the most historic G.T. Road seemed to have spanned for me the full spectrum of the glories & humiliations!

My well prepared mission of visit to the capital of the country was to see the much read-about places of historical and cultural significance, visit major book shops to buy various standard books for preparations of I.A.S. etc. examination - now popularly called the Civil Services Exams. I was also curious to know as much as possible about the daily life in a big city. I had been a lecturer in college for about three years but was basically a tiny-town young man with all the hesitations and fears of a stranger about the big unknown places.

My young friend and host - he had just turned twenty and had been less than six weeks in his service as a junior librarian in Ministry of Defence - had given me ample advice in the letter (no easy facility of telephone in those days) on taking, firstly, the local bus Route No. 16 upto Najaf Garh (now made famous as home area of cricketer Virender Sehwag) and then another local bus for Rajouri Garden to reach House No J8/67. I committed no mistake and all turned out to fine except that the sun was shining at its burning best - who knew or cared in those days about the degree of Celsius!

I spent a week in Delhi & frequented the Connaught Place on several days. The most celebrated Coffee House in the large middle circle indeed appeared something unique with crowds of people engaged in animated discussions over rounds of coffee. I was delighted to say hello to eminent Panjabi writer Devinder Sathyarathi who was easily recognisable for his being look-like of Rabindranath Tagore look. The various bookshops - Galgotias, Peoples, Atma Ram and few in Shankar Market - all seemed sufficiently well stocked. We used to take the shared six seater motor cycle for going to Chandni Chowk. Apart from Prauthian Wali Gali, we spent more time on the Nai Sarak, known for cheaper and second hand books.

On Sunday, 22nd of June, 1969, my friend & I went to the newly opened cinema Vivek in Patel Nagar. The just released film, Heer Ranjha, of Chetan Anand, was being shown. There was big rush for tickets. We thought that there was no chance for us to get the tickets. Meanwhile, Ravinder Dhand, a senior in the school of my small town, was seen by me going towards office of the cinema and I called him. He was very happy to see me and asked how I was there. On being told that we two friends, had come see the film, he said, "no problem" adding that the owner of that new cinema had yet to pay him for the bricks supplied . We were soon taken inside the cinema hall & enjoyed the film, free of cost! It may be added that several Lalas of our our town had shifted to Delhi for the Brick Kiln business. The student who failed in school would be made what was called B.M.S.O., i.e. Building Material Supply Officer in Delhi!!

As per the dictates of destiny, I joined the Indian Foreign Service and did return to Delhi in Nov '71 after doing the Foundation Course at the National academy of Administration, Mussourie. Meanwhile, I had found my life partner in Delhi itself and stayed all along in the Ministry of External Affairs Hostel, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, with India Gate Lawns at morning walk distance.

After a stay of four years in Delhi, we were posted abroad for about five years. On return, we were again lucky to get accommodation near India Gate for two years and a few months. It was later, after a long twenty one years innings abroad in seven different countries, that on return, we again stayed for six months in the Ministry of External Affairs Hostel, resuming for the last time our walks to India Gate.

Long last in May 2004, we moved in our own 4th floor apartment in Mayur Vihar in East Delhi across Nizamuddin Bridge. We are blessed with a view of large open areas of Yamuna, the new landmark of Akshardham Temple and the fast coming up village of Commonwealth Games 2010. The new bridges on Yamuna and several fly-overs in the area have qualitatively facilitated the flow of traffic to destinations around India Gate.

The Metro Revolution has been turning the capital into a different city - Engineer E. Sridharan would go down, along with E. Lutyens, as the greatest builder in the modern history of the city. For us, Metro is at a road-crossing distance. The Mother Dairy shops for milk/vegetables, Indraprastha Gas Company for piped cooking gas & Metro for travel indeed define a triple world of happiness & satisfaction for Delhi-zens who still face serious lack of several basic public services including acute shortage of water and power.

Having cast my vote, the first ever time for Delhi Assembly, and after a gap of 42 years for the Parliament of the country from the Delhi East Constituency, Delhi would seem to have at last claimed me as one its citizens. When friends ask, how is life going on in Delhi in Silver years, I reply that the level of happiness of a retired public servant in Delhi would seem to depend on the convenience and time taken to reach the area of India Gate - the libraries, cultural centres, theatre/exhibition halls, clubs, the vast open lawns are all located in the vicinity of Gate!

To quote the most famous 'human-monument' of Delhi, S. Khushwant Singh,
"I can tell you that there is as much to love about the city as there is to loathe."