“The career of a civil servant which may appear glittering to outsiders is an eternal struggle,? says the author of this well-chronicled memoir whose message is that even today a good civil servant will say ?yes? when he can, but also ?no? when he must.
As a young boy, the author attended the Rastogi pathshala in Lucknow, where after Class III, he topped every year. Before Class VI examination, he fell ill with typhoid, which lasted for 56 days simply because of ?unhygienic habits and not washing hands with soap and water before meals,? which must have ?been responsible for my typhoid,? says the author. His father being a popular moneylender provided ample comforts to the children.
Mahesh topped in his graduation and stood eighth in the IAS and sixth in the IFS. He joined the IAS and here he devotes quite some paragraphs to the various divisions under the Civil Services and the training that is imparted. He relates an interesting incident about his fellow probationer who asked the horse-riding instructor if the horse was a thoroughbred before he could ride it and the retort he received was ?Thoroughbred? If the horse could talk, it would not even condescend to speak to you.?
In another incident about his posing as Sub-Divisional Magistrate at Kanpur, Mahesh encounters Muslims who want to build a mosque on the land they owned but to which the Hindus objected. During his visit to the village and after checking the status of the land, he gives the ?go ahead? signal, but is soon pulled up his seniors for his action as he was told to adopt the time-tested bureaucratic approach of dithering, particularly since it was a ?communal dispute? with ?deeper ramifications?.
Mahesh Prasad narrates an incident when he has to drive Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi in his jeep on a potholed village road. The lightweight Shastri was half hung out of the jeep so as to provide room to Indira. The author was worried about Shastri'sprecarious perch as he was driving on the bumpy road, little knowing ?that the two important people in my jeep that day would one day become India'sPrime Minister.?
In another incident, the author relates an incident about John Martyn of the Doon School for becoming a friend of his. John Martyn tells the author that Sanjay Gandhi was given a black mark by a subject teacher and was directed to show it to his class-teacher. Sanjay fails to do so and Martyn phones Indira Gandhi to withdraw her son and she complies without demur. It speaks of the courage of the school'sheadmaster regarding discipline but ?it also reflected well on Indira Gandhi, who had taken her son'swithdrawal gracefully.?
Talking about the much-maligned family planning programme, which was somewhat overzealously implemented during the Emergency through forcible sterilisations, the author says it was this move which was responsible for Indira Gandhi'sdownfall in subsequent elections and that is why no political party is prepared to touch the issue of family planning. He adds, ?If implemented properly in an overcrowded and overpopulated country like India, it would have been a blessing.?
He also describes two unpleasant experiences of bad behaviour on Maneka Gandhi'spart. Once when her Secretary orders a cheese sandwich for her and Maneka throws them at the Secretary saying, ?Don'tyou know that I am allergic to cheese?? The other instance is the visit of Goa'sChief Minister, Churchill Alemo to her office. Ignoring his presence, she begins to abuse him in English despite Mahesh Prasad trying to reason with her in Hindi. After the Chief Minister leaves, Maneka says that she wanted ?to give him a piece of her mind (by insulting him in her own office).?
This is a readable book which would hold special appeal for those readers who have known the author or have served in the Civil Services personally.
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