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Among Mussoorie’s Mavericks

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By: Ganesh Saili

Fault me if you will for coming rather late to the table to find M. Ramachandran’s The Mavericks of Mussoorie (pub:2017.) It begins in Mussoorie’s National Academy of Administration in 1972. After running the gauntlet of a one-in-a-million selection process, a twenty-two year old officer trainee of the All India Services has made the cut and is elected the Mess Secretary. From this point on, the disconnect with reality sets in.

Of recent, an apocryphal tale has been doing the rounds. It has Subedar Nawal Singh, a stern riding instructor, who is sent off to Babugarh (near Hapur) to buy horses. Returning, ten days later, he finds an annoyed Director demanding an explanation for the delay.

Pat comes the laconic reply: ‘Sir! I had to select horses, not IAS officers … Cannot be done in a thirty minute interview.’

The tennis courts of the Happy Valley Club became riding grounds after the powers-that-be decided that officer trainees must be familiar with horse-riding. Post-Independence, the abandoned Charleville Hotel was purchased by the government, cutlery-plates-and-all, for the grand sum of rupees eight lakhs to shift the National Academy from Metcalfe House in Delhi to Mussoorie.

Many years ago, as a guest, I was an invitee to a foundation course where the then Director, Bhartendra Singh Baswan, of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, known for his hands on approach, exhorted his charges: ‘Go out and connect with the masses. This is a job that gives you very early in life most things young people desire: respect, a decent salary and a bungalow. If you want more than that, be aware that Tihar Jail awaits you. Who knows, you might meet your future father-in-law there?’

The Ramachandran story reminds one of Cinderella. Here too the shoes fit, and that becomes a life changing experience which he takes in his stride. Having come from the coastal state of Kerala, he is allotted the Uttar Pradesh cadre, and is posted to the back waters in the mofussil. Henceforth, the trouble with the narrative lies with the three friends: I, Me and Myself. They conspire to make this into a story that’s so full of the ‘Myself” that it turns into a telephone directory’s listing of ‘Famous People Who have Met Me!’ Of course, the names are impressive: they include Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

I could have listed more names but I’ll leave it to you to read the book if you are into name-dropping.

After thirty eight years in service the inevitable retirement arrives like an unwelcome intruder. Somewhat unhappily, the author says: ‘Retirement is a word I really do not like. I was always keen that the artificial barrier of turning sixty and having to retire should not be a drawback in my case, and that I should have further opportunities to do active work.’

With a hint of bitterness at being passed over, he continues: ‘The smarter ones, of course, plan well in advance as to what post-retirement posts are available and what route they should take to get a particular assignment. But such people seem more focused on continuing in a government house for five more years, availing the facilities of an official car and personal staff, and to stay comfortable in the general scheme of things.’

Rambling on, the author reminds the reader ‘I did not plan it in that way; the way I saw it, the body of work I had behind me would ensure my services were further utilized.’

Fortunately, or unfortunately, that was not the way the cookie crumbles after 30 June 2010, when he was given the customary farewell of ‘chips and chai.’ Among many others, the unkindest cut of all is that his home cadre of Uttarakhand too did not bother to bid him goodbye ‘at the end of so many years of serving the state so passionately.’

As the Buddha reminds us: ‘In the end only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you!’

Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.