An attempt to know, understand (and ultimately, transform) that which occurs on the fields of play - India (her politics, media, music) and beyond ...

Friday, January 20, 2006

TSR's book: Anecdote 1

I have been completely absorbed in the reading of TSR Subramanian's book the last few days. Although I have wanted to post regular updates while reading the book, I find it incredibly difficult to put down the book, making it difficult for me to share some anecdotes from it.

I would heartily recommend the book to you if you are interested in India and how her administrative structures have served her since independence.

Here is one anecdote that really moved me:

The Azamgarh elections were conducted in the peak of summer when, under the broiling sun, the temperature often reached 120 F in the open. On polling day, I was in my jeep, with my armed escort, criss-crossing the constituency, and visiting polling stations, to observe if the proceedings were smooth. At mid-day, I stopped the vehicle on a side road, under a tree, to have my sandwich lunch, which I had brought along.

In the far distance, I could see through my binoculars a field where a peasant clad only in his loincloth, was tending to the land in preparation for the planting, in advance of the approaching monsoon rain. I soon also saw his young wife, carrying a small basket containing his meal, accompanied by her two children. From a distance, I could observe the children bounding ahead to embrace him as they approached him. I also could see the affectionate greeting that the woman gave him, in a loving yet dignified manner, without even coming close to touching him. I could sense a certain restful peace in that rural scene, under the fierce mid-day sun in one of the most backward parts of India, among rustic folk who lived barely above subsistence level. I looked at this sight, contemplating the tranquility that the good Lord had bestowed on those who are content with the most elementary things. I thought of the politicians and the bureaucrats and the industrialists and the professionals who extract from such people the last bit of juice for their own luxury and their own narrow ends. Had the man not heard of the election or if he had, could he not perhaps spare the time to further democracy? He was immersed in his own simple routine with its minimal needs. His fortitude and inner strength are what have prevented a bloody revolution in India, despite the deprivation and exploitation of the class he represents."

TSR's wonderful experiences - the diversity of roles he has played, the locations he has been posted in, the people he has worked with - leave me awestruck at the wonder of my country, India. There is such a wealth of experiences in my country that it would perhaps take a million janma to understand, if not, experience even a fraction of them.

For a while in secondary school I had a wish to be a part of the IAS (the Indian Administrative Services). I have been a good student through my life and I am sure that if I had made an attempt I could have been part of the services (despite the gruelling exams and interview).

What turned me off from the civil services was a "Career Day" at school when I was in the tenth or eleventh grade. Among the various professionals invited was an IAS officer. She spoke quite engagingly about her work. When it was the time for students to ask questions, I explained to her that I wanted to be a technocrat - get an engineering degree (say, from the IITs) and afterwards work with the IAS (in a managerial sense), and in this context would it be a good idea to take the IAS exam after an engineering degree?

Her response completely put me off the civil services track - she said that it would be an absolute waste of an engineering education to join the IAS afterwards, and that there are much better career options (even of the technocrat-sort) after an engineering degree. She was also quite disappointed with her own experience at the civil services, and strongly discouraged considering the IAS as an option. I remember thinking then: wow, if this is the view from the inside, I don't really want to go there.

Later, during and after my studies at IIT-M, I never revisited the idea of taking the IAS exam, opting instead for the well-worn route of graduate studies in the US (although I must say that I did certain things differently).

Now when I read of TSR's experiences, I wonder at what might have been ...

Nevertheless, I have had some excellent experiences along my own journey and will share these with you over the next few years ... :)


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