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Coping in Times of Corona

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By SANJEEV  CHOPRA 

As we enter the second week of COVID-19, nations, public and private institutions, families and individuals are beginning to understand the gravitas of the situation. This includes assessing what has been done , including what could have been done (for hindsight is the best sight), and also laying down plans, not just for the next two weeks, but also for life beyond the lockdown, including the contingency of what to do in case the period of lockdown and social distancing is extended. In many ways, this period is the litmus test of whether we emerge stronger, or collapse under pressure.

First things first! On the administrative front, it was becoming clear right from the beginning of March that the country will have to take many an emergency measure to prevent the agency of COVID from gaining ground. The Academy started taking some unprecedented steps, including cancelling the official ‘Holi’ celebrations, rescheduling the sessions of all the external faculty and resource persons, drawing up the protocols for the medical centre , stocking up the stores and supplies both in the Officers Mess and the Kendriya Bhandar. Fortunately, the mid-term exams were starting from 16 March, and the course team led by Nandini Paliwal decided to have online exams, and stagger them over two weeks, but after the lockdown on 25 March, these were converted to open book assignments. The big challenge for the faculty now will be to evaluate these!

Social distancing norms were discussed and enforced and a contingency plan to operate the basic services – especially the Officers’ Mess, dispensary, housekeeping and essential services – was drawn up with very active engagement and involvement of the clubs and societies. While everyone pitched in, a special reference and acknowledgment of the great work done by the PMC, Prateek Bayal, and his team, is in order, and they were mentored in this task by my colleagues, P Amudha and Manoj Nair.

The Induction Training Program also got an enforced ‘mid-term break’ as many participants were District Magistrates and their state governments wanted them to return to their duty stations. Several signature events, like the Inter Services Meet, which draws participation from all the central training institutes and the LBSNAA Literature and Arts Festival had to be cancelled, and the proposed fortieth year get-together of the 1980 batch (80@40 in 20) was also postponed. The visits of delegations from Jordan and The Gambia were also deferred.

The Clubs and Societies pitched in with their unique ways to make life at the campus more meaningful and interesting. Thus, the Nature Lovers’ Club distributed potted plants among the interested OTs, besides putting up bird boxes and shelters in various public places, including the lawns of Himshikhar (the Director’s Residence). They are also coming out with ‘a species a day’ series on the abundant flora and fauna of the campus. We are so busy running around the campus on a normal training day that we forget to observe the natural abundance in our own eco-system!

The Fine Arts Society distributed art supplies to the hostel rooms and many a budding artist has a canvas ready, and many shutter bugs have shot frames for eternity. The Film and Social Media society has also been active in sharing the lists of the ‘must watch’ movies in different genres, and the way in which the Academy chooses and watches films is quite nuanced now.

The House Journal Society changed the name of their journal from Buzz to ‘Three.One.One’, inspired no doubt by the movie, Article 15, which had been screened just before the lockdown, and which had led to a very frank (and cathartic) discussion amongst the officer trainees and the faculty. Three.One.One has also taken up the challenge of publishing the best hundred poems during this twenty-one-day lockdown, and one is really looking forward to this.

Two of our officers, Anuraj Jain and Varun Reddy (roommates) were in quarantine after one of them reported that he had visited the FRI Campus. But they retained their sense of cheer, wit, sparkle and chutzpah even in their isolation, and by the end of their quarantine, they had set up an Internet Radio Station, ‘LBSNAA Radio’ for up to five hundred users at one point of time. This in effect means that we can cater to the entire community, and for the last five days, we have been having an hour of live radio streaming – replete with songs, quiz, rapid fires and banter. The two of them, along with Garima and Srushti, had a one hour talk show in which they grilled your columnist over a host of issues – from my days as an OT, my views on books, current issues, movies, songs and academy history. The program started with the Academy song, Raho Dharam te Dheer, Raho Karam me Veer, which is so relevant in the trying times that we are facing.

And last, but not the least, many of our Alumni have volunteered their time, energy and technical skills to support CARUNA (Civil Services Associations Reach to Support in National Disasters) an initiative of the Central IC&AS Association which has been extended to include members of all civil services as, in these times of crisis, the country needs all hands on deck to ensure that we overcome the challenge of COVID with minimal collateral damage.

(Sanjeev Chopra is an Indian Administrative Service officer of the 1985 batch. He is currently the Director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie. He is the honorary curator of a literary festival held annually at Dehradun).