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Sunday, December 22, 2013

It is all about being human!

Birthdays are an ideal occasion to introspect and then if possible, attempt to emerge as a guy better than one has been. My fifty fifth today brings back to me a kaleidoscope of my earlier years, my follies and my weaknesses rather taking center stage.

Fifty five is fairly old despite how young one feels at heart. It is almost seventy over with only about thirty remaining, yet the very thought that one can make a much bigger mark in the remainder is what gives hope and strength. May god give me the strength to get over all my mistakes and shortcomings and help me in emerging a better human being that one has been in the past. 

My morning walk today again gave me an opportunity to blabber out my thoughts. Perhaps the youngster who accompanied me gave his ear out of sheer respect for seniority, yet the blabbering had some sanity and its essence may remain at the core of all my actions for the rest of my life. Perhaps much more important than being wealthy or powerful is being a genuine human being, an act so simple yet so hard to emulate. Emulating simplicity or genuineness is not only difficult but almost impossible, because these traits cannot be emulated, one can only be. Yet the effort has to go on, not only for my own sake, but also for all those who are the intrinsic constituent of my own tiny universe. 

If only the clock could be turned back a few decades, I would radically cut down on my nasty behavior, catch up on a lot of reading and writing that I have missed and not waste time on issues that now appear as mere trivialities. It is indeed true, yet a fairly late realization, perhaps for many like me that life should not be allowed to while away on trivialities, there are much bigger and better things to do like simply being human.

Yes it is true that in the bureaucratic circus I belong to, being human remains farthest from our thoughts and actions and that is the root cause of all our failures, our failures that are not merely ours but strongly impinge upon the organization we work for and the nation. Our sole focus on self gratification and absolute lack of concern for others has hurt the nation in the last sixty seven years and would continue to do so in future unless we recast the governance model of this great nation.

My last five years in the service of the nation begin today with the prayer to the almighty that this period should not be allowed to go in vain. I strongly believe that the contribution to the society at large that one is able to make towards the fag end of the career is what will give me the satisfaction to carry on unabated even after I hang up my official boots on the last day of 2018.

This purpose of this blog is only to strengthen my own thoughts and resolve!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Greatness gone sour!

Benoy touched the core of the heart of everyone who had assembled at the bhartiya vidya bhawan for the two day course on art history and appreciation the last weekend. The course was also unique as it was attended by a senior cabinet minister Kumari Shailja who was conspicuous by the total absence of the trappings of power that people in her rank have a flair for display. It is rare that one came across a minister who was almost human and humane.

For me the course was also unique in that it was the first class in which my young one sat with me as an equal, for there can never be and should never be differentiation between students.

The course was interspersed with beautiful films produced by Benoy during the course of his travels in search of the Indian art, both in the form of paintings as well as sculptures. That till almost the 5th or 6th century, the art was inspired by love for the divine and all his creations after which it started withering in favor of the sponsors and the rulers was indeed the most powerful thought that emanated from the discourse. The various art forms that were created in the early times, inspired by the divine were true creations of love and therefore every single creation was a masterpiece. This is in stark contrast to the art of the present times that is driven by crass commercial interests and therefore most of it is of the pedestrian variety with only a few clearing the masterpiece criterion.

Benoy dwelt at length on the joy of painting and sculpting in ancient times. There were no portraits and never was the name of artist mentioned on the art form. Portraits and the practice of the artist projecting himself however started around the mugal era and has perpetuated since then. In the present times, the contemporary Indian art as they call it is chiefly inspired by the love of the moolah and the desire to be known, and therein lies the major difference in the quality of the art.

Perhaps it is the same in all fields. A work performed with crass commercial interests or for the sake of self perpetuation is bound to be inferior to one that is inspired by the love and the joy of creation. Be it a teacher imparting education to children or a musician stringing his guitar or even a chief executive of an organization performing his role, a performance inspired by the good of the society and the joy of creation is always far superior even to a one that is toned by the latest technology and/or marred by self serving interests.

What a fall, not only in the field of art is perhaps a striking thought that comes to mind after the course. Another thought that comes to mind is the greatness of the Indian nation in ancient times, a nation so developed economically and spiritually that it defies conventional logic when we look at the present times of absolute depravity and self aggrandizement especially amongst the ruling classes. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The legacy of love!

Leo my son died yesterday. His death was not meant to be, yet he passed away due to a weak heart that could not take the shock of a minor operation. Well that is how life is, it hits you at your weakest spot especially when one is most vulnerable. A pure Labrador born on the summer solstice, the 21st of June, 2006 to be precise, he was not yet seven when the tragedy, the severest me and my family has faced, struck us when we least expected it.

With me born on the 22nd of December, the shortest day in the year and Leo on the 21st of June, the longest, we shared an exceptional bond, a bonding that was visible and evident to all. That however made the pain unbearable, a pain that shall take ages to subside. Suddenly life felt meaningless a feeling that I never had when even the closest of my relations left for their heavenly abode.

Perhaps it was the lesson of love that Leo gave me and my family that shall ultimately be his legacy. A pure heart and a pure soul quite unlike the humans that we come across everyday  his love was as pure as love is meant to be, yet rarely professed or experienced. He loved all those who come in contact with him irrespective of rank or position in the society and that put him on a much higher pedestal than most of us human beings.

If only the clock could be turned back, like in the time machine, the situation may be different. We  would  have allowed Leo to live with the minor ailments that he had. Yet it is not to be, hindsight  is perhaps the most exact  science ever devised.

31st of May shall always be a watershed date in my life and also the lives of Arunima, Ankur and Arushi, a turning point perhaps for  the better, even if sadder than death itself and 21st of June a day that gave hope and a new meaning to life to all of us.

May his soul rest in peace and god give us the strength.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

The turmoil within!

The ongoing turmoil ignited by the Mahesh episode is akin to a tsunami slamming the nation. It has also led many of us to look within and ponder on the growing absence of character and value systems as one rises (if one calls it rise) within the system. Yet it is surprising that within official forums in public or private sectors, one rarely witnesses either a focus or an open discussion on the pressing need to eradicate corruption, instil value systems and build character within the machinery meant to manage affairs. These fundamental issues are almost always brushed under the carpet in favour of mundane matters or vested interests. These also continue to remain taboo and are never brought on the table, perhaps due to the absence of men with sound value systems who have the courage to call a spade a spade.

Yes it is true that in the bureaucratic arena, a spade is often identified with a spoon or a fork. Sheer absence of stress on “truth” in the land of the Mahatma ensures that the torrid state of affairs retain a valid ground to continue ad infinitum. It is also apparent that whenever the custodians of rules, procedures and systems abdicate their responsibility for personal gains, lack of concern or out of fear, disgraceful incidents like the one recently witnessed start surfacing.  

Professional honesty is the key and the lack of it acts as a powerful catalyst for corruption of the financial kind, yet what the nation invariably witnesses and remains concerned about is matters relating to financial impropriety. A myopic view of the organization, delaying execution of decisions and projects, lack of objectivity in decision making and contractual matters, lack of objectivity in personnel matters, inability to stand up to illegal orders, maltreatment of subordinates and a lack of concern for growth and development are few of the glaring examples of professional dishonesty that invariably cause a more permanent damage than isolated cases of financial impropriety. Quite often even established rules processes and systems are either followed or given the go by merely to suit the convenience or moods of the powers that matter. Sad it is that even the written word appears to have lost its sanctity.

Financial impropriety quickly spreads like a wave in an organization that is devoid of professional honesty. That corruption touches the lives of almost all citizens in almost all spheres of their existence is therefore a hard reality that is not surprising at all. Moreover despite the majority of interactions of individuals and organizations with the tantra being laced with graft, it is a strange scenario that everyone complains and curses yet expects someone else to stem the rot.

Mere symbolism will not do. On my morning walks cutting across the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, the names of the streets always make me chuckle with amazement. Nyaya Marg, the street of justice is followed by the Satya Marg, the street of truth. Niti Marg, the street of propriety comes next to be followed by Shanti Path, the street of peace and tranquility.  Next comes the Vinay Marg, the street of humility and humbleness. And the most interesting of them all is Satya Sadan, the homes of the truthful. It is evident to even the novice that a lot of water has flown since the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri came of its own.

Amen!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

professional impropriety is the bane

That corruption is not confined to merely currency exchanging hands for dubious reasons is a fact that is generally not appreciated by the clients and constituents of the great sarkari tantra of this nation. Is it therefore not sad that professional dishonesty invariably takes a backseat whenever issues relating to integrity are flagged? While it is true that insofar as the “aam aadmi” of this nation is concerned, demand for or expectance of illegal gratification in lieu of doing what should rightfully be done is the correct definition of corruption, it is also true that professional dishonesty by almost the entire fleet is the inherent reason behind our country continuing perpetually in the league of developing nations.

A Mahesh Kumar is thrust into the dungeons jolting the organization as well as the nation out of the slumber it has gotten into. Yet the celebration that many of the honest constituents of the railways are indulging into would prove to be short lived if even this golden opportunity is wasted and the stable not cleared of the accumulated muck of decades. Mahesh Kumar has been caught and perhaps deserves a life behind bars, but this organization has an excess of the Mahesh Kumar variety and perhaps many times more who are going through the transformation process only to later emerge as great thieves.

In my over three decades of active service, with the exception of only a handful, most of the officers that I had an occasion to interact with had absolutely no sense of propriety on professional issues. They were like a tumbler that may roll in any direction. Rules, processes, guidelines and yardsticks had absolutely no rationale whatsoever for this group that was always prepared to bend in whatever direction the powers that mattered desired. And as a result even the written word had a tendency to lose its sanctity within the confines of the 5’6” gauge.  

I am reminded of the penchant of many of the illustrious chief executives who encouraged abandonment of the rules and processes in the interest of shortsightedness yet like a chameleon switched sides whenever something went wrong and responsibility needed to be fixed. Our attitude towards our most prized asset, land appropriately fits the bill. While the top guy places ten minute punctuality issues ahead of land on a regular basis, yet he would leave no effort in fixing lowly subordinates in both cases, of his boss expressing annoyance on land grabbing or land reclamation. The recent exposures that reveal a penchant to be "his masters voice" rather than a custodian of rules and processes even in the matter of secretary level appointments by the apex levels of the railway board are merely a peek into what most of us have been silent witness to for many years now.

The route to financial corruption is via professional dishonesty and professional dishonesty would definitely lead one to the swamps of financial impropriety. This hard reality needs acceptance, the earlier the better, even otherwise the great Indian railways would stagger on.

Amen!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Caught with the pants down!

The great Indian Railways stands exposed. Managed by puny guys, one of whom has been caught with his pants down with a few more in the pipeline, this great organization that witnessed minimal contribution from its mandarins in the last few decades is indeed tottering. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, a great organization brought to its knees by its constituents is indeed a sad story.

It is a cultural malaise, a culture where a senior guy does not appreciate a junior bloke standing erect, a culture of supple spines, free lunches, self gratification, sycophancy and feudalism. Indeed, railways is very much out of place in the corporate environment of the twenty first century. A corporate sans sprinkling of a corporate culture.

Mahesh also must have been a budding youngster perhaps full of idealism and commitment when he would have joined the railways as a probationary officer. Like almost everyone else he also would have learnt to enjoy power and the perks that go with the job, steadily increasing as one climbs up the ladder. Trained in a staff college that does not regard instilling value systems or leadership traits in youngsters, as worthy of consideration, Mahesh would have grown up in the system that admires and places on pedestals sycophant pygmies. He also would have realized fairly early that for a price paid in cash or sycophantic behavior,  many of the important postings are negotiable. And therefore the dubious deal! While Mahesh deserves a couple of years behind bars, yet the major part of the blame should be apportioned to the rotten system that has percolated the nooks and corners of this organization that once had a great affixed to its name.

As the head honcho of the Delhi division I had ringside seats in so far as witnessing the conduct of the apex levels of the railways. And the view was disturbing to say the least. While the top guys never displayed leadership qualities, always had a supple spine and lambasted subordinates at the slightest opportunity, they invariably laid prostate at the feet of their bureaucratic and political masters. Many of the lot also never lost an opportunity to take advantage of their position almost always, even in the matter of whacking the curtains that are allotted to their official bungalow, at the time of their retirement. Whacking of curtains and adjusting the entire electricity consumption of their house as official are minor examples of unethical  practices, yet lays bare the conduct of officials in high places.

Large scale structural reforms are perhaps the only route to redeeming the greatness of the railways. The Mahesh Kumar episode is signalling a turning point provided the gravy train is able to negotiate the turnout it is faced with. 

In God we trust, Insha allah! 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The lure of steam!

Life must go on.

Romesh Sethi  had always been someone we took for granted. His awesome presence right from the day the society came into being on the 23rd of October 1999 was always a source of inspiration support and strength. My association with him at that time was almost a decade old and it therefore gave me  confidence that he is the only one who had the temerity to take the movement, the steam movement forward in a nation that rarely cared about its past or even its present, a confidence that was never belied.

Yet when he suddenly left for the other world on the 17th of November 2012, all of us who knew him intimately were not only shell shocked but also experienced our entire world coming apart, for we knew that the almighty had built only one like him, one who was human to the core besides being the finest officer railways had sired in its almost one hundred and sixty years of existence.  

Yet life must go on for he had been an embodiment of life itself. It was indeed tragic that someone who breathed life into everyone and everything had life sniffed out of him suddenly and surprisingly. It is therefore but appropriate that the tenth national steam congress scheduled on the 24th of February this year is a mark of tribute to this great man.

The steam movement that began with the historic run of the fairy queen and made waves cutting across countries and oceans towards the turn of the century is now truly picking up steam. First Rewari happened after almost eight years of deathly silence and then recently Amritsar also woke up and started blowing life in engines that one thought had gone to seed. The restoration of WP 7161, followed in quick succession by WL 15005, the Patiala State Monorail Train of the Museum and the KC 520 that belonged to the hills have literally set the steam world on fire. India has suddenly moved to the forefront of the international steam scene even though most of its inhabitants are yet to fully appreciate this unique achievement of a tremendous stature. Yet I am confident that definitely some day they shall.

The movement does not belong to an individual, though Romesh Sethi individually raised it to towering heights. It is the handiwork of some very committed individuals from different walks of life and their efforts with the support of organizations like the Rewari Steam loco shed, Perambur loco works, the DHR society of the UK and the federal Ministry of Tourism have now started bearing fruit. The ground reality of a hundred year old steam locomotive bellowing steam right in the heart of the capital is indeed a testimony to the monumental effort that makes up the rear. In the very near future, with the exception of perhaps matheran, other four hill railways would be able to boast of steam in some form in their midst and that would definitely not be a mean achievement even by the most stringent of standards. 

What next? The Indian Steam Railway Society, a society with a cause would do well to publicize its efforts amongst the masses at large besides encouraging the federal and state governments to give this niche heritage as well as tourism segment the place that it rightfully deserves. After all was it not the steam kettle experiments of James Watt followed by the steam locomotive of George Stephenson that has raised the world to its present stage of advancement?

The humanity indeed owes a lot to the power and aura of steam and should forever be grateful!