Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When cricket was not a religion

Sudhansu Mohanty

First Published : 29 Apr 2010 11:24:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 29 Apr 2010 01:41:27 AM IST

It was the summer of 1964. I’d just been introduced to the intricacies of cricket. The first Ashes test was being played at Trent Bridge. And the first cricket snap I pasted in my scrapbook was that of a debuting Geoff Boycott caught splendidly by Bobby Simpson, diving to his right at first slip, off Corling, for 48. At school, as we trudged back to our Class IV classroom after the assembly, we took great delight in exchanging notes on cricket played the previous evening in Old Blighty. I can still recall our animated discussions when Simpson scored 311 in the fourth Test at Old Trafford, and the masterly 256 by Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter’s dexterous 172 in England’s reply.
With cricket suffusing our young minds and governing our actions, the evenings had to be cricket only — no more badminton or table tennis. But then we’re diehard Anglophiles and we had to be back by 5.45 pm to listen to the BBC cricket commentary. And of course, read the Sport and Pastime. Cricket, Lovely Cricket, the weekly column by Alex Bannister was a must-read and in no time I’d gone through fifty-odd past numbers quickly borrowed from a cricket-crazy uncle. Such was the quick metamorphosis that by the time the same Oz team was in India, I was ready to receive them warmly in my young mind.
Even today, what seems an aeon, I can still recall the second Test played at the Brabourne Stadium. India was chasing 254 to win the match. Nawab of Pataudi had got out for 53 reducing India to 224/8. Hope of victory was quickly ebbing. Out trudged Indrajit Sinhji, the new gawky Indian wicketkeeper preferred over Engineer and Kunderan, to give Borde the company. The commentator’s voice choked with nervousness. Slowly as evening descended and we sat glued to radio, our hearts pounding and with prayers on our lips, the target seemed getting closer. The din meant India was getting there, and there was no earthly reason for us to panic in faraway Cuttack. Then with just two runs required, Borde drove the left-arm spinner Tom Veivers imperiously to the mid-wicket boundary. India had cantered home by two wickets. The sound and splutter of crackers that welcomed the Indian victory refused to die down. It was Vijaya Dashmi Day — October 15, 1964 and history was being made. We were on cloud nine.
The memory of that Dussehra evening is firmly etched in my memory. So much so that decades later I asked Chandu Borde the first thing when we gossiped in the walking tracks of the Poona Club how it felt to be in the middle trying to string a partnership with Indrajit Sinhji and take India to victory. He flashed a most beatific smile and conveyed in his own disarming way it was all very heady.
Borde’s face clouded over in the cow-dust hours of a winter evening as though he was facing the missiles yet again hurled at him by these mean merchants of speed. The West Indians were unarguably the world champions then in the 1960s and boasted of such cricketing legends as Gary Sobers, Frank Worrell, Conrad Hunte, Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Clive Lloyd, Seymour Nurse, Lance Gibbs in their ranks. And more importantly played cricket the calypso way.
“I still remember the two centuries you scored off them at Bombay and Madras in 1966-’67 Test series,” I said, my voiced tinged with admiration. “I shall always marvel at your efforts against the Windies as the best by any Indian batsman in an era when cricket was a sport and not a religion.”
We were chatting this time in the cricket pavilion of the Poona Club now fittingly named Chandu Borde Cricket Pavilion after he had inaugurated a cricket match our two offices were playing. “Today things have changed,” Chandubhai said, and without a trace of rancour. “We didn’t have the comforts cricketers have today. We travelled by train and stayed in humble hotels. And we were paid a measly sum.” He wasn’t complaining; he was only helping me to sketch the cricketing architecture in my mindscape.
Now I still remain the cricket buff of yore. But alas, with a huge difference. My visions of cricket have been in ferment — ever since the World Series Cricket in the late 1970s when it was ‘Kerry Packered’. Channel Nine TV changed all that I’d valued dearly and hugged close to my heart.
The once-gentleman’s pastime of the occident that combined the languid feline silkiness of oriental charm with the romantic English countryside, has now transmogrified into a monster industry of today with Hawk Eyes, Third Umpires, Match Referees, Slow Motions, Ultra Slo-Mos, Hot Spots, Snickometers, Extraaa Innings, Noodle-Straps, T20 cricket, IPL and cheerleaders adding to the cacophony of cricket played in 40-plus temperature, franchisees and big money bickering and scandal, and plethora of ICC rules to oversee quotidian infractions perpetrated by robotic mercenaries.
In throwback nostalgia how I wish I could play it back to my halcyon days and draw the collage in my mind much as I did when Trevor Bailey spoke in his measured, cadenced voice: “McKenzie comes in from the Hill-Port end and bowls… on the middle-and-off stump… the ball swinging away… takes the edge of Edrich’s bat and travels… to the third slip… who… dives full-length to his right and… and o… o… scoops up the ball in one hand… a splendid catch indeed by… Cowper!” and the measured, calibrated claps of the English crowd reverberating around the packed cricket stadium and streaming into the microphone. And I in my mind’s eye following the ball’s trajectory and journeying right off McKenzie’s arm — pitching, swinging, nicking the bat and landing in the hallowed hand of a diving Bob Cowper as other fielders leap cock-a-hoop in delight.
(The writer is Pr.Controller of defence accounts, Bangalore. The views expressed are personal)

On the passing away of civil service

Sudhansu Mohanty

First Published : 21 Apr 2010 11:02:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 21 Apr 2010 12:28:24 AM IST

Today we mourn the passing of a dear old friend, Civil Service. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: codes and manuals, standards and procedures, SOPs and protocols, work and service keeping the nation’s interest in mind and contributing terms of disdain as official and officialese, babu and babuese, mandarin and red-tape. Not to forget such unforgettables as that ‘everyone in a hierarchy rises to his level of incompetence!’
Civil Service started out with the intent of being civil in service. People well-bred and animated with noble thoughts were drawn to it and they set a standard that was accepted ungrudgingly, even when certain decisions went against their own private interests.
But the world began to change and so did independent India. Corruption, nepotism soon raised their ugly heads. The idea of a civil service morphed into something bizarre. Civil Service’s health began to deteriorate rapidly when he saw newer abilities — clever, ingenious, and overbearing — taking centrestage.
Civil Service lost ground when people pooh-poohed his sincerity and ratted on his inability to see the changing world. Civil Service lost the vim to live as offices became playgrounds of criminals who strutted about the world as larger-than-life heroes.
Civil Service took a beating when he couldn’t stop a senior cop accused of molesting a teenage girl from occupying the highest office in the state police and finally gave up the will to live, after yesterday’s villains were hailed today’s successes — if not heroes.
Civil Service was preceded in death, by his parents, Honesty and Truth; his wife, Fairness; his daughter, Neutrality; his son, Reason. Civil Service is survived by his following 11 stepbrothers (STBs) and one stepsister:
Pliability, who jumpstarted the metamorphosis, swaying to every crosswind and tilting at every windmill, testifies to being honest when it is the ‘rule of the honest’ (thank god for the temporary aberration!) and makes up for such aberrant time when the ‘propitious times’ come.
Malleability, who takes any shape. Being good inherently implies he is formless and can take any form the situation warrants. He thus emerges the ‘tall’ guy much as his opposite number is dubbed the ‘fall’.
Flexibility is the third son. He does as others desire — even does what others don’t want him to but dream him to! This is what distinguishes him from others. He is sui generis and destined to go up the totem pole. His reputation of flexibility reaches the pole before he actually goes that far!
Stretchability stretches till he snaps — hence is very altruistic! He allows himself to be pulled in different (even opposite) directions by invisible strings as though he were a marionette.
Magnanimity, is truly a candy stick, believes in giving as much to others as others want him to — even more at times if he could. ‘More’ makes him a star. In the process, he loses nothing but gains everything. It is a veritable win-win for all. This can be in the form of goodwill or money, even both. His Magnanimous GoI is always there to pick up the tab for the magnanimity dished out.
Filthy-lucre believes in making as much hawala transactions as is expected of him by him, and by others. He is the fulcrum that holds all attributes together. In a market-driven globalised economy, as a hardnosed practitioner of realpolitik and real-economism, he knows money is everything. So he does not tarry when the sun shines. He makes hay, which the original civil servant now lying dead called filthy.
Utilitarian is the narrative who sacrifices himself for use by others and for the utility of others; indeed, he is a philanthrope! His utility is his USP and he subsists in making memories of his past services. The beneficiaries are not ingrates. They fondly remember such utilitarian gestures and when the time comes for recognition their elephantine memory rewards him handsomely, often unasked. His climb up the totem pole is assured.
Drainy is the Siamese-twin of Utility, who has the ingenious capacity to drain the tax-payers’ resources for the greater good of his own numbers. It is, in fact, the lubricant that makes the wheels of governance run. Hence, in a way, this is the numero uno of all the stepbrothers.
Partier believes in partying at the drop of a hat and till he tires. A party is a melting pot. It melts the intransigents and melds them after him, who — now like putty clay — are ready to take the shape he wants them to. Of course, the parties have to be bacchanalian. He earns oodles of glory from these parties.
Garrulity carries DNA similar to Partier and has enormous capacity for endless chatter. He is a smoking hotspot of boasts, sleaze; he character assassinates civil servants. He thus has his fill, and endears and wows the august gathering.
Close on the heel of the last two, though born out of wedlock, is Cavalier who displays demonstrative smarts and derring-do. This is actually an outflow of the throughputs that the last few possess. Which is why, to the layman, it may border on magic realism and take one back and forth in rapid-fire motion to things that may seem and sound very surreal. But that is what it is meant to be: to put people in a trance.
I am not finished yet as Hallucinogen brings up the rear what with its Teflon-coat waiting to be given a fresh coat of paint. This stepsister shows the fertility to further fellow civil servants’ causes: promotion, scales of pay, cadre expansion — all at taxpayers cost.
The funeral procession was noticeable for the thinning attendance. None of Civil Service’s step-brothers-sister deigned to attend. They were busy in their own worlds. But the media in its curiosity (some say, even perversity) was present to tell the tale.
(The writer is Pr.Controller of defence accounts, Bangalore. The views expressed are personal)

Darshan for a nano-second

Sudhansu Mohanty
First Published : 14 Apr 2010 11:25:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 14 Apr 2010 12:37:37 AM IST

Since this piece has the potential of offending the devout and the devotees and raising their hackles, I must begin with my personal disclaimers. I am not a religious person; in fact, I am an agnostic. I pride in imagining myself a rationalist, though my incisive nephew Pronab has serious misgivings about my pretensions because of my fondness for Brian Weiss, and belief in the eternal soul and the transmigration of the same from one material body to another. I don’t visit temples on my own but I am not averse to visiting them when with others.
I planned the visit to Vaishnodevi only because my wife Shukla had evinced an interest a good quarter century ago to visit the Mata and we were, in any case, going to Srinagar. Given mine and my children’s agnosticism, for us it was going to be an experience, I thought.
Seven in the evening when darkness spread across the mountains and the lights shone brighter, standing at the base in Katra I looked up at the mountain trails high up my eye-line. I knew the Mata was even far beyond the serpentine paths — the gradient looked steep, the twinkling lights in the far high horizon seemed ineluctable. Our journey up indeed intimidated much before it had begun.
But we were determined — to make our experience count. We knew there was no battery-operated car since they don’t ply after six in the evening and we didn’t want to take the mule or pony or palki. So we trudged up.
Not so my legs. They cried for rest which I dutifully provided as Jai Mata Di, Jor se bolo, baithke bolo, haas ke bolo, pyaar se bolo rent the air. We were nowhere near the halfway mark to Ardhkuwari, which itself was only halfway to the Mata’s abode.
Reaching Ardhkuwari felt blessed. Now on, the incline wasn’t as steep as the one to it. The mules took a different route, so our path was cleaner and freer to walk. The thought of getting closer to the destination spurred us on. We quickened our steps and reached well past midnight and after a quick wash headed for the darshan.
It was a few days before Navratri and the place high up the mountain was abuzz with devotees thronging every conceivable space. A line — men, women, old and young, toddlers and bentbacks — snaked across as we wound our way through the milling multitude. Closer to the Mata’s shrine the grilled barricades caged the devotees in single-file to avoid stampede. I looked up the high mountain paths at the pony route lit up with bright lights ferrying devotees. It looked menacing.
“Leave medicines here,” the CRPF policewoman bellowed. “But they’re my BP medicine.” I protested. “No medicine can go to the Mata!” she fumed. Our darshan of the Mata was for a nano-second. My daughter Priyanka couldn’t see the deities as we were commandeered out of the tunnel. Back in the open I saw the same jostling. Around us, the din and bustle of pilgrims kept the place agog with wild excitement.
The walk down didn’t feel difficult. My son Prayag and I discussed the VIP darshan and the commercialisation of aarti priced at thousand rupees per head. “So while all devotees are equal, the privileged and the rich are more equal than the others,” he said, as we raced down the winding path to Ardhkuwari. By now our eternally braking knees were protesting. The guide enticed us to take the steps. By the time we had done the third flight of 500-odd steps my thigh muscles had cramped up. I could barely walk. I collapsed in a chair nursing my cramp and watched a pony struggling his way up with two gas cylinders on its tender back. The memories of palki-bearers and peethis resting en route came back to me in a flash. How hard it is for these people/animals to ferry humans up the mountain for devotees to have darshan?
Did the Mata wish this hardship on her devotees? Certainly not. No Mata worth her nobility would like her devotees take this trouble. No Mata would like animals beings tortured under the weight they’re made to carry to serve her devotees. No Mata would like her devotees with toddlers in tow to self-flagellate and stand in queue nightlong without the benefit of toilet, food and water for darshan.
It was daybreak. My mind still in a whirl, I tried to fathom the senseless human-created psychology of devotion imposed on poor senseless devotees trawling their young wards up the mountain path much against their wishes. For all the hardship and humongous loss of human hours, I thought if Mother Teresa wasn’t spot-on when she said, “Hands that serve are holier than the lips that pray.”
(The writer is Pr.Controller of defence accounts, Bangalore. The views expressed are personal)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lecture on "Insurance Related Issues"

Lecture on "Insurance Related Issues" by Shri. K. Chandrahas, IRS, Insurance Ombudsman, Hyderabad at Sanskriti hall, PCDA Bangalore on 29th March 2010.

All you see is unadulterated hypocrisy

By Sudhansu Mohanty
Published in New Indian Express on 25 Mar 2010 11:59:00 PM IST

IT may be rather facetious to suggest but I’m quite tempted to say that nothing amuses me more than a ringside view and watch the world go around. It’s fun to observe the Indian circus — an endless game of twists and turns, blows and counter-blows — as the protagonists hold centrestage and amuse and bemuse the bystanders.
It is so well-scripted and choreographed that often in one such moment of trance one may be forgiven for living in a surreal world of magic realism that any fiction writer would dare capture and conjure in his novel. This, the hypocrisy of being — the charade of our everyday existence — that passes off as bravura and grandstanding.
Look around you and all you see is pure and unadulterated hypocrisy. It is everywhere — omnipresent, omnipotent, even omniscient. Be it the brouhaha over padma awards or the tragi-comedy called SPS Rathore with his Nehruvian smile or the Sukna land scam and many such others, the underlying impression is the same: all these are false accusations with the fourth estate the favourite punching bag for carrying out a scurrilous media trial that’s no better than a trial in a kangaroo court! Their argument: An accusation doesn’t make anyone a criminal till proven so only after decades of judicial foot-dragging. Till such time the party must go on. And, of course, honour be showered!
That’s the India, Hamara Bharat Mahaan we live in. Where hypocrisy rules like a potentate — untrammeled, unflustered, and unquestioned. A senior IAS couple caught with wads of currency notes running into a few crores at home. Another IAS officer raided and found with wealth far beyond legitimate earning. A chief justice of a high court stopped in his track to elevation to the Supreme Court bench upon intense clamour of legal luminaries. Yet every such public servant in the dock keeps protesting his spiel of honesty. Swap the protestations of honesty with protestation of efficiency and see where it takes people up the totem pole: often to the gubernatorial office as a post-retirement sinecure.
It is as if today’s India is run on this high-octane fuel of hypocrisy, chicanery and claptrap. Nothing else matters except the ability to network. If you are a highly networked individual (HNI) your ascent up the greasy pole is assured. This is not only for the public servants. This holds good also for the corporate honchos, business magnets, technologists and everyone in society who aspires for instant gratification and nirvana: sanskritization and upward social mobility in a closed class- and caste-laden social order. People in position are respected, even feted — this regardless of their feet bogged in clay and their hands in the till.
Make no mistake — this cocktail is headier than any potent combine of the spirits. Take the issue of networking. Close to two decades ago I worked with a senior officer whose only claim to fame was to show the path of how not to work in government; he was indeed the apotheosis of this craft. He did no work, didn’t have the inclination to, but somehow “managed” to sail through. To be fair to him though he was an excellent networker who hosted lavish parties and managed to get invited to parties thrown by the powers-that-be. I wasn’t surprised in the least when he went up and up the slithery path to occupy enviable posts in the government of India.
To be honest, he is not in a minority, let alone minuscule. Not long ago there was this gentleman — dumb, asinine, and inarticulate — who understood little of what was going on in the ministry he headed. To call him a half-wit would be an offence to the genuine nitwits; he was a no-wit, or, at best a “quarter-wit”. In all fairness he kept long hours in the office slouching over files trying to unravel the mystery wrapped in sundry unwieldy, nettlesome cases that were simply beyond his humble cranium’s comprehension. But that didn’t come in his way — pre- and post-retirement — and he too like other highly-networked blessed angels landed himself in successive gilded sinecures. This is what networking does for you. It makes leaders out of monkeys. There is a plenitude of such impulses doing the beat in all fields. How else do you explain the rapist Rathore being made the DGP of a state after the molestation case had been filed? Or, how else an intellectually dishonest Pachauri (who artfully flaunts himself as a Nobel laureate and acts as a consultant to financial institutions like Deutsche Bank and Pegasus, an investment firm) be flaunted as India’s answer to solving global climate change?
If you still have any doubts about the goings-on, look at the padma awards that kick up shindig year after year for a few days (mercifully!) shortly after its announcement on Republic Day eve — to be quickly forgotten thereafter. It is largely a game of spoils — with much lobbying and jockeying that is endemic to the system — showered to reward newly “discovered” merits lying hitherto unrecognised till the high and mighty are benefacted and feel obligated to confer the spoil.
Of course, the high and mighty too often award to themselves honours, forgetting (did you say?), Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad’s vintage words: “We cannot attach to our achkans the awards that is our job to confer on others”, but whoever today cares about these obsolete moralities.
This issue of immorality, nepotism, and venality is not confined to the government functioning alone. It is very democratic and equitable, it is everywhere. Satyam is certainly not the last case we have heard about from Indian Inc. We have struck such levels of moral depravity that MBA schools are today asking students to take a variant of Hippocrates oath to maintain moral rectitude in professional career, not realising that it is a vain, vapid ask.
Morality has to be appropriated from within, not taught or imposed from without. We modern-day Nostradamus are purblind, and we refuse to see the writing in the wall.
Morality and law are not exactly strangers to each other. Nor are they antithetical. While morality preaches, law imposes. Sadly both are major failures — one for lack of takers, the other for lack of will. The endgame is the same: upward social mobility where get-rich-by-any-means is the mantra and the open sesame to entry into this cloistered world that is a strange amalgam of feudal values, socialist preaching and capitalist Epicureanism, and where sunlight is not the best disinfectant simply because it is shut out.
This is the hypocrisy we live, breathe, and eat that no noonday iridescent will be able to lift. There is no light of any affirmative action on steroids. Because today it’s the being and everything-ness! Stranger still: we manage to survive amid this conundrum of being and times of glib hypocrisy, even without scalding India’s soul. And this is not a radical fringe statement. Pray, did I go wrong somewhere? Touché!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Loneliness of the honest mandarin

By Sudhansu Mohanty 12 Mar 2010 01:05:00 AM IST

       In the wake of myriad scams, probes, malfeasances, and involvement of exalted worthies in the sleazy world where Mammon is the veritable God, much light has been thrown on the bumbledom that babudom is. What though is often missed is the existence of a clutch of honest mandarins who — a microscopic minority — are as inured to the allurements blandished about much as the scandalous ilk are in love with.

       Theirs is a lonely world, a world made lonelier by the quotidian struggle they have to carry out to prove their points of view, the inevitable clash with the majority syndrome they love to loathe, and their endeavour to stay sane that’s indeed surreal. In moments of introspective unwinding they tend to question their raison d’etre: “Why am I different from most others?” The question gnaws and assails them, intrudes their sub-conscious and sneaks up in the most private recesses of mind and time: sleep and consciousness.

       A few generations past, the sight of the dishonest and corrupt, branded and leading a shadowy life, was not infrequent. Society’s accusing finger pointed inexorably at the corrupt, and the obloquy was enough chastisement, not to forget that his colleagues considered him a pariah. But it was when the honest lived with head held high and was respected in the society, and the corrupt literally scampered for cover.

       From days when most were honest we have hurtled to a time when honest bureaucrats are a rare species leading inconsequential lives — alienated, morose, and at peace with none. They are looked upon as no-one’s men who lead lonesome lives at life’s edge.

       The honest consciously stays off the cutthroat, acquisitive, possessive world. His salary he deems as just reward; his internal moral compass abhors harbouring thoughts of filthy lucre. This abhorrence is so firmly embedded in his psyche that his entire outlook is hooked to this abstraction. Consequently, anything he performs in life is coloured by this trickle-down catechism.

       To say this is not mere speaking in Mammon’s argot. It is far more sweeping and embraces the society’s way. While sleaze enriches and brings honour and respectability to the wiseass, it goes far beyond: it sets the pattern of life, acts as a catalyst for social change and, over time, promotes normative thinking. The ACR (or APAR today), that annual totem of one’s merit, written after placing his achievements under the microscope, could at best be lacklustre, if not outrageous, and this can take no one nowhere: not a good posting, not a deputation, not a foreign assignment and not a foreign training. He is stuck in his routine, pen-pushing, as he watches his colleagues — the highly-networked ones — move about places. Promotions, if he achieves without hiccups, he only can thank his stars. For it is a marvel if he comes out of the bureaucratic juggernaut unscathed and with his scruples intact.

       Socially, he is a recluse, who shuns talking shop and sharing the bureaucratic titbits with colleagues whose passion for the job knows no official bound. He’s little nothing to share, he is at a loss to keep his end up with gossipy, syrupy low-downs that every august denizen relishes, the sort that provide the grist for the prying mill. He has no love for the cavalier way a file was held up by his all-knowing colleague to extract the flesh due, nor can he put newer, brighter ideas into the latter’s febrile mind. In his naive, nascent mandarin years he would have argued his heart out, passionately, but as he grows in years and matures, he prefers taciturnity to gauntlet-picking. The febrile lot finds little solace levelling with him. He can’t provide the answers, often couldn’t care to, for he is averse to such ingenuities and would love to extirpate it in the bud if he could; is lackadaisically slow to warm to their passions, their life’s passions that is; demented to life’s saucy offerings, and clearly lacking the guts that such ingenuities so sedulously demand. Yet, when roused from his self-imposed reticence, he could demolish their worldviews and extant societal norms and goings-on, even storm out in the most tremendous huff. Quick to realise, the majority isolate and ostracise him.

       Our honest mandarin’s cup of alienation is complete. The facade of equanimity so deftly cultivated from his training days is no insurance against his feeling lost. All around him he sees every value he cherished since childhood crumbling, if not already crumbled. Personal enrichment at the cost of fairness, doubletalk to provide a veneer of logic, networking to self-aggrandise, gnaws his heart. If he lets the bully out, he’s sunk. His eyes now large pools of suffering, he consciously slithers into his shell.As a social animal he finds it an anathema. And a torture. How much and for how long can he be bound up in his own world and hermetically seal himself from the society? He knows he is an oddball in the majority’s eye, but his mind refuses to join the mainstream, for they are only a few, just a few, of his ilk left, and they too like him, lead quiet, unobtrusive lives, beyond the mainstream’s pale: an endangered species. He suffers alone and with him, his family. No amount of abstractions he tries to imbue his family with can hold the majority society at bay. The high visibility of his next-door neighbour’s living does not help matters. He tends to question his modus vivendi, at times — in moments of unmitigated blues — even his principles’ rationale.

       The heebie-jeebies pass and he pulls over, turbo-charged — unrepentant, determined, unyielding — to battle a new day, refusing to cop out, going hard for the sake of his principles, his raison d’etre in this ghoulish world that he refuses to monkey for himself. Bonjour!

(The writer is controller of defence accounts, Bangalore. The views expressed are personal)
© Copyright 2008 ExpressBuzz
(Published in The New Indian Express dated: March 12th 2010)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Retirement blues by Sudhansu Mohanty

An Op-Ed by Sudhansu Mohanty in indianexpress.com on 25 December 2009:

James Boren once wrote tongue-firmly-in-his-cheek, thus: “When in doubt, mumble; when in charge, delegate; when in difficulty, ponder. A job of a good bureaucrat is to cut the red-tape — length-wise!” And more: “Every bureaucrat has a constitutional right to fuzzify, profundify… it’s a part of our freedom of speech...”

We know this is a funny take on bureaucrats saddled with responsibility of running the nation and who are supposed to be unfunny in their activities. But that is not the issue. What is intriguing is their resolute aversion and reluctance to stop serving the nation which they proclaim is the raison d’etre of their existence — well past their shelf lives. In simple uncomplicated words, their implacable opposition to retire; and since they can’t help it, their resurrection in one form or the other through post-retirement sinecures or some employs.

Today a government pension is handsome reward for past services performed — even not-performed. Our democratic system makes no such distinction — unlike performing and non-performing assets in the marketplace — and is equitable to the core. In a way, it paraphrases Laurence J. Peter’s oft-quoted aphorism to ensure that bureaucracy defends (read pays for) the status quo long past the time when the quo (attenuated now) has lost its status.

But that sadly doesn’t satisfy the retiree. There is the urge to serve the nation alluded to earlier. The urge to keep doing the remainder of one’s life what one had been doing all one’s life. Sundowns are unacceptable given the permanence of human lives, so they think. And with health in shipshape duly bolstered with power and pelf, there is no earthly reason that the road yonder cannot be traversed the same way as the road traversed just yet.

This is the time for another sunup to do what one has been best at: writing memoranda both because it shows one as being busy when they were being written and because the memos, once written, immediately example that one was busy!

I refer to sunup advisedly. This sunup is unlike the first — the original sunup. While the first sunup is a period of learning and acclimatizing to the new milieu and hence fraught with some uncertainties, this one mercifully is free from any such vicissitudes. There is no learning curve here; it is just the continuation and perpetuation of past lessons and issue of diktats. Plus, and this is the most important part: the subinfeudation of perquisites and fringe benefits one has so got used to in a lifetime of modus vivendi that one thinks one is being denied by some quirky government order that stops short of granting such largesse way ahead of his actual departure from mother earth. This is the crux of the matter — the reason why no bureaucrat wants to ever retire; the reason why there is so much jostling and lobbying in every bureaucrat’s pre-retirement days so that he can afford to retyre himself. Remember, these are not easy days. Have no such delusions.

Some top honchos crave for the ultimate: governorship of some states and ambassadorship and envoy extraordinary to the growing number of countries. But then these are only a few on offer; realistically it is better to espy such posts as membership of various permanent Commissions of the Union or state governments. Membership of administrative tribunals, both the Central and State, are decent in the sense that they can prolong your expiry till age 65, unlike the earlier 62, which frankly was too little for anyone’s comfort. With Right to Information being bandied about with such fervour, the Information Commissionerships have inevitably been created, both in the Centre and the State governments. And don’t you forget the time-worn chairmanship/membership of Union and State Public Service Commissions.

For all the generosity of the Indian nation-state, there is willy-nilly a limit to post-retirement sinecures: it simply can’t re-employ all retirees; that’s the bottom-line. This is why a vast Centre-Scale Industry has mushroomed lately. This industry is largely Delhi-based and like the small-scale industry, government-aided and driven by individual enterprise. The more enterprising a retiree, the better and smarter his/her Centre is likely to be. Every retiring senior public servant is an expert (or pretends) in the (almost always) last post he held. So after retirement he can jolly well set up a Centre of some relevance to the Ministry he last served so that grants-in-aid from the government can flow out seamlessly, and without anyone raising an eyebrow.

This is what explains the myriad of expert Centres that dot Delhi’s lanescape today; each an expert body to proffer their periodic advice to the government for the grants given them, and also, as and when an invite is forthcoming, have their fifteen minutes of glory under the strobe light in television studios. If you wonder why some names are so common and prefixed and suffixed to the area of expertise, here is the answer. Planning, Management, Public Policy, Social Science, Conflict (in today’s India and World) are safely generic and like putty clay can take any form granted them. Let’s take a ubiquitous term like “Conflict”. This base name can safely give rise to so many of Centres without affronting any. Like-wise Power has a tremendous potential to wield power: Centre for Power Studies; Centre for Air Power Studies; Centre for Ground Power Studies; Centre for Water (Ocean, Bay, Gulf) Power Studies; Centre for Strategic Power Studies.

Not to be outdone, there are always the corporate sinecures and the NGO bandwagon one can jump into. The corporates value a retiree public servant who is irrepressibly social and a good wheeler-dealer and a highly networked individual in the corridors of power and can swing a deal or two for them. The other bandwagon — NGOs — as we all know, are a law unto themselves. Simply register under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) 1976 to receive gorgeous funds from abroad. If you wish visibility, zero in on the tribals — their human rights cause. The power of emerged world will help you to the hilt. And you don’t have to file reports and submit balance sheets for scrutiny, while you trumpet the cause of the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable tribals and the Maoists as an intellectual.

Remember, for such self-proclaimed intellectuals no harm can ever come their way for as Eugene McCarthy once said wryly: “The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.” How ironic and predictable, and another cause, however small, for gratitude. Look, I’m not being malicious!

About the author:

The author is Principal Controller of Defence Accounts, Bangalore.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 New Year Day Celebrations


Principal Controller of Defence Accounts, Bangalore