Saturday, November 24, 2007

In Which I Played the Host

Education teaches you many laws of life and one is the great Murphy’s law; if a thing can go wrong, it certainly will. So in the penultimate week at LBSNAA, the thing dreaded by officer trainees happened to me. I was made the escort officer of a visiting guest faculty.

To brief you a little about that, most of the lectures at LBSNAA are taken by specialist guest faculties who come from all over. One (unfortunate) officer trainee is made his escort officer who has to be his ‘direct host’ for his entire stay.

Apart from general duties of an escort like entertaining the kids of the guest and arranging the flavor of ice cream liked by his wife, a specific one is introduce him to the students and ensure that his lecture goes well. Introduction is a euphemism for eulogizing the guest, and going to the extent of proving that he is the most talented man born on the earth.

As a responsible man, I decided to take the challenge head on. The biggest hurdle for me was to save my guest from apathetic (read hostile) audience in an auditorium that has more than three hundred (yawning, sleeping, murmuring) students, and a challenge greater than that was to give a good impression of the academy to the guest after all this.

All this did not stop there. My guest was a young professor, enthusiastic about his field and was on his first visit to the academy. This meant that he had high hopes from the academic brilliance of civil servants and a desire to have an intellectual discussion with them.

The guest was friendly and during our informal chat before the lecture, I quietly mentioned the hectic schedule of the academy, hard physical training that we had to undergo and general lack of sleep amongst the officer trainees. With a smile I mentioned that he should not be surprised in he finds ‘some’ ( a gross misrepresentation) students sleeping.

The lecture began. Slowly ‘some’ started growing and soon I could hear soft snoring sounds. Before things grew out of hand, I requested my guest to allow switching off some lights so that his presentation becomes visible to the students sitting at the back. This proved fairly successful and after that there was no major issue. People anonymously slept and my guest went on.

When the lecture got finished, my guest invited questions. That is the rarest thing to get from a sleeping, uninterested audience but I had anticipated this. On promise of a treat, some of friends had agreed to ask questions. The guest was fairly happy by the level of their intellect and the interest his lecture had generated.

I gave a brief thanks speech and the session ended. I could not have asked for more. The mission was complete. As a courtesy, I requested my guest to join us for lunch.

I sat on a table having already two officer trainees.

“Sir this is Vaneet, and he is Venkat” : I said
“ Hello Vaneet, hello Venkat” : my guest was very courteous to them

Hellos got exchanged and then it all started. Venkat who was sitting quiet till now started talking.

“AS, is he your friend?”: I prayed that he shuts up his mouth soon.

“Is he your relative?” He enquired again.

I was completely taken aback but my guest replied “I was the one who took your two hour lecture in the morning”. I had nothing much to say.

After that I deliberately avoided discussing interest of officer trainees in lectures. My guest was a nice human being and as far as I know, he carried a 'almost' good impression of the academy.

Moral of the story is Murpy's law is indeed true.

PS: As in all other posts, this one too has a good content of my imagination. So please do not consider it to be literally true.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And she still smiles

He met Aarti for the first time during trek, both of them somehow forced into trekking. She was a simple, soft spoken girl who had only few friends. The thing that brought them close as friends was that they were partners in misery. I will tell you what their misery was.

They had never imagined that there are places with absolutely no communication with the outside world. But when they marched a little on their trek, they realized that they were completely cut off. The only thing left for them was to wait.

So they became friends in such a situation. He could never know whether she really liked him or it was just lack of other familiar faces but he became her confidante. They talked a lot, tried to keep each other happy and distracted from the fact that they were missing someone. While sharing their lives, he had come to know that Aarti was into a relationship.

The boy was from the same college and they had known each other for quite sometime. Initially they worked together in a firm and then both decided to enter the civil services. She succeeded but he failed.

There were other complications too. When Aarti told her parents about this, they were completely against it. The emotional blackmailing began and she was given the option of choosing either of them.

He discussed with Aarti for hours what she will do then and how they can still get their way. As an interested audience, he also discussed how they fell in love, how their relation was and how restless the boy must be now when she could not talk to him. In a weak moment, she confessed that she could not imagine her life without him.

He prayed for them and sincerely wished that their relation has a happy ending. Days passed and their trek became over. Their ‘Trek Friendship’ did not continue with the same enthusiasm and they went back to their original friends.

After nearly a month, he decided meet Aarti again. The truth was he missed a friend with whom he could share his life. He called her for a cup of coffee. She agreed but somehow he did not sense the same enthusiasm in her. They met and he eagerly told her everything that had happened in his life in last one month. And after that, she began.

She said that her relationship was over. Now she felt that theirs was an unequal relation which was destined to fail. When she herself had such doubts, she could not sacrifice the happiness of her parents. She gave a kind of philosophical talk. Among the vague words he could listen, there were that about how with time, many things change and people get mature.

He was completely lost and the only thing he remembered was that her face did not show even slight signs of strain while saying this.

She may be right, she may be wrong, but he only knew a girl who was madly in love. He thought about that boy, whose image he had formed after hearing so much about him and tried to feel his pain. That day he realized he was friends not with her, but with her relationship, and now when that was gone, he had one friend less.

After that whenever he saw her smiling, he wondered how just some time ago it was impossible for her to live without that boy!

Friday, November 09, 2007

All (Good) Things Come to an End

So what is coming to an end? My foundation course (FC) at LBSNAA.

The truth is even if I crib, I enjoyed it and FC became a part of my life. I will miss seeing 300 faces, getting up at 5 AM, working late till night, enjoying the batch gossips and making new friends. I do not know what the reason of my nostalgia is when there are still 20 days to go. Perhaps if on a Deepawali morning, you are alone and you know that in coming days this loneliness will increase, you can only feel sad.

Today I will tell you the heights of the FC. If you have been a regular reader of my blog, you may know about many of them. But I have never written a comprehensive blog devoted exclusively to entire LBSNAA activities, so here it is.

TREK: It all begins with the trek, a nine day affair, when you are left on mountains in a group of around twenty. It is a nerve testing experience. There you discover and rediscover your limits, make some really good friends or rather ever lasting relationship and see the difficult side of life. Mountains reveal many truths and make you humble; one realizes that his life, egos, ambitions etc are too small in this game of nature.

VILLAGE VISIT: The first place where you are treated as an officer; where you get to know what real India is. In a group of around six, we are sent to distant backward villages. Probationers live in the village itself and there they discover that rays of India’s shining are yet to reach many places. They realize that task ahead for a civil servant is really demanding; but yes if they work with empathy, they can make a difference.

FETE: In a team of nearly ten, we manage a shop, just like the school kids do in school fete. The shop that earns the maximum profit becomes the winner. There is this jail where you can send anyone by paying a token money, there is that music on demand, there are usual pani puris, fancy dresses and what not. And this time we also got the real Bond, Ruskin Bond. Welcome back to the school days.

INDIA DAY: The batch is divided into four zones, region wise. Each zone presents its culture, its cuisines, its dances for an entire day. Everyone gets dressed in his traditional attire. That is the time when you know how much you have missed by not learning classical music, by not knowing any dance form etc. And that is also the time one discovers why India has unity in diversity.

There are many other things a FC too. There are cultural nights by professionals. You listen to the classical Ghazals and realize that they are beautiful; you see your first Odissi performance and cannot help appreciating the dance. There are also regular physical exercises and I am told this becomes a habit and reason of good health of many civil servants.

To avoid giving you a skewed picture, the highs of the FC are evenly balanced by over demanding discipline, lullabying lectures, loaded academics, occasional show cause notices, memos, castigations etc.

But everyone tells me, FC remains the best (or the most nostalgic) part of a civil servant’s career.

To end it on a positive note, see the most popular joke here.

There is a queue of dead people and god is sending them to heaven and hell by seeing their life records. An officer trainee from LBSNAA comes there is his suit, tie, and lapel card etc. The god without even seeing any of his records sends him to heaven. People protest. They shout how only being from the academy qualifies him for heaven.

God replies: But he has already been through hell at LBSNAA!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Reality Bytes: India Revisited

What is your caste?

Within minutes of landing in the village, I faced this question and I was almost shocked. This was my first interaction with real India. So I am back from my village tour, somewhat wiser about India, little more curious about Bharat.

The village we went to was Mehandwas, in Tonk district of Rajasthan. In a way it was somewhat a developed village. It was on the national highway, so definite signs of development were present. There was eight hour electricity supply, a primary health center, four schools, many motor cycles and innumerable mobiles present in the village.

We received a royal welcome there. In fact their hospitability touched our hearts. Everyone wanted to meet us. I do not know if they trusted us but they liked that someone from government was hearing their woes. There was that old lady who took us to her house to show how bad road to her house was. Then there was that SC sarpanch who was so happy because we ate at his house against the wishes of elites of the village.

You must have guessed by now that caste was the most dominant factor in the village. And I found the caste system exactly in the way I felt was extinct in India. The village habitations were divided in caste clusters, one of Yadavas, one of Brahmins, another of Bairavas etc. And if you feel that this is it, you are mistaken.

Untouchables lived outside the village and they were treated different from schedule castes. In fact schedule castes treated themselves to be much higher than untouchables. The untouchable still had to go to the city for haircut as the village barber refused to touch them. In roadside hotels they were served tea in disposable cups!

A heartening thing to discover was that there was complete communal harmony in the village. There was no history of any communal clash. The authorities said that this is the case in nearly all villages in India. This is a big thing that urban India has to learn from its villages.

Now being a government servant, I should also talk about the government schemes. There was a great enthusiasm for National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). In fact that has made Panchayats all the more meaningful. The second scheme doing wonders is Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Now a lot of money is being pumped in mid day meal, school infrastructure and that is showing. In case you have no idea, 65000 teachers have been recruited in Rajasthan alone in last one year!

So what did we do? We tried to convince the villages that they have to be an agent in their developments. Other people can come and help them but they ultimately have to be the primary drivers. People looked to panchayat and government even for simple things. And you know what; most of the villagers were convinced.

If you want to know our concrete achievement, a lady member of our group shook the entire district administration to get a Below Poverty Line card of a widow made. Then there was this overseeing committee for education of panchayat which was meant to check teachers absenteeism, quality of educations etc. We tried to give a new birth to it as most villages complained about the quality of education in schools.

I do not say that we changed the face of that village; neither have we learned a lot. But yes, we felt that being in our jobs; we can really make difference. And trust me, even the feeling of getting just 1 BPL card made for a deserving widow is beyond words!

PS: I will write in detail about this and what I feel can be done about village development. I also have to tell what was my score in perceptions about village in last post. But in many devious ways, LBSNAA is keeping me too busy these days.