Thursday, September 07, 2017

“If Mussourie days were like an adolescent crush, Nagpur is mature love…”, IRS officer S Sundar Rajan writes his decade-long journey in bureaucracy

S Sundar Rajan, a Bengaluru-based Indian Revenue Service officer, has written a fascinating blog on his completion of 10 years in bureaucracy. He writes: “It all began in Aug 2007. Now I'm in a middle management role which is basically like that of a home maker — no one notices your work, but things could collapse if you weren't around. The peculiarities of the work profile — you do not have much original work to handle, your job is to create an enabling environment to empower your team to deliver extraordinary results within the known limitations of time and resources but you are answerable to many. Basically, others job is your job. I keep exchanging notes with my friends in private organisations, and I draw comfort from the fact that even in those concerns the middle managers are always on the edge. 
It has been ten years with the government for me. Number 10 looks nice, and but for the looks there is nothing...
very special about 10, may be 9 or 11 is equally worthy, equally special. But 10 is ten; it at least deserves a pause, and an intense stare, if not a fully-blown celebration. On this day, exactly ten years back, I got my first government salary. (Btw, before we forget, if you ask any member from the great Indian middle class to pick up between a Nobel and a government pay cheque, they would choose the latter without blinking.) It was Mussourie, and the pay was around Rs.15,000. It was cold and shocking; especially as I had got slightly used to corporate perks and pay by that time. Soon the Sixth CPC (Central Pay Commission) turned its benevolent grace towards us; Out of the Rs.18,060 Crores of CPC arrear pay outflow for the government (2008-09), some money flowed into my account too. There were smiles all over the country, and it lasted for a good 4-5 years.
Mussourie days were like the first-time college hostel life for many. Amidst the grueling schedule of lectures and more lectures designed to make you sit at one place for about 70-90 minutes, you had a lot of time for trekking (between classrooms-hostel-mess), noodles, knotting up your ties, unending chats, and the sort. Like in any other college, you found your best buddies here too; and when you chance upon any of them now after a zillion years, the first mutual opening line is 'You look the same!' another class variant 'You have not changed in the... since then!'. I think it is one of the basic survival instincts that is hardcoded in the soft tissue between the ears. No one wants to hear: 'You look so worn out.' (Variants: Are you having any serious condition? How could you make such a mess out of your life? What have you been smoking? You are too bloated to be a non-diabetic., so on.) But the customary mutual line definitely has so much warmth, genuine care and green memories. You feel you belong. Though you may have been in touch with only a handful of your buddies over the past decade, you have a strong feeling that you are never alone - there is an army (civilian) for you. Thanks to the recent Whatsapp groups, you are really never alone, in fact, to the point of feeling - Do I belong here? Sadly in one of the Groups (where I am not the Admin), the unread messages has exceeded 1,100.
Over the decade some of my friends have reached great heights in their professional lives, and many of them are not very far behind. There are public service innovators, social media activists, marathoners, PM/CM award winners, artists, Ivy League educated, treaty negotiators, Page 3 personalities, mavericks, world class sportsmen, TedX regulars, award-winning photographers, unsung heroes, karma yogis, and many more. It is truly kaleidoscopic, and even the geographies come in a myriad hues. Before getting into this beautiful space, I have not interacted much with say, someone from Haryana or Manipur. (Though, to reach my grad college every time I had to cross Haryana border twice.) But now it is very normal, you don't even feel it. And wherever you go, you have a friend, you have a place. And I think this is the primary defining feature of my professional career.
The job takes you to many exotic and glorious destinations, like Nathu La, Kaziranga, the very heart of Delhi - the Parliament of India, Ghastoli, and many more. But we also land up in towns like Nagpur. Though the place is like the nerve centre of India, beyond the walls of the Academy it is a different planet. Nagpur summers, like the oranges there, are world famous. But monsoons give a heavenly charm to the place, and also to our Academy campus. If Mussourie days were a like adolescent crush that is full of bloodred energy and your heart keeps yearning for more of it, Nagpur is like a mature love which takes time and you are also sure it is not going to leave you any soon. By the time the 18-month training gets over, even while walking past a dhobi's bundle thrown in the hostel corridor, you can casually say which shirt belongs to whom, and which saree has to go where, and still maintain a purposeful conversation with the person walking alongside. I mean, it was actually a long stint. It is said only death and taxes are certain, but how about certain death by taxation? Outside the classes, and within the walls of the institute, there were wonders like - swimming pool, auditorium, buzzing sports events, and my lover's room (slightly outdated word - lover; but it has a magic to it). Academy was also the place where I travelled deeper into the woods of world cinema. I remember each and every one of them, and what impressed me the most was Mongol.
Towards the end of the training days, the ready punchline of our affable faculty was, 'You are no more in the safe zone of a harbour... you are about to set sailing.. there will be storm, there will be blue whale (sea creature), deadly torpedoes, ..' (Things like that.) We were no more officer trainees, but full-fledged officers in 'field'. (... a term that you get to hear very often in your career.) Soon after the postings, we realise we are indeed in the turbulent ocean. For every single thing, from accommodation to the daily bread, you have to plan, design, implement and continuously improve. (May be, it is called life.) You did not have the luxury of an officers' mess anymore, there was no institute laundry man, housekeeping people weren't there.. and more importantly hot tea was not delivered to you in the early mornings. Everything has to be put in place by yourself. And that demands commitment, focus, and persistence.
Time rolls, and you get used to the 'government culture'. You are exposed to very innovative methods to waste time. Also, you see the extraordinary potential and authority you possess to serve others. You get to know what is important is not exactly what is said or written, but how are you going to interpret it. Example (real world inspired): 'The oldest member will light the lamp'. Then you see a young lad coming up. You are surprised. But he coolly says, 'I am the oldest man (seniority-wise) here', and does what he wants. But also, you get to know if you have the right attitude to serve, even within the normal boundaries of narrow thoughts and solidified hierarchy, sky is the limit.
Suddenly, one fine evening, I find myself selected for a Mid Career Training Prog. at IIM-L. What? MID-career? MID?? Sleepless nights followed before I could clearly resolve my internal spatio-temporal conflicts, by way of suppression. Then I say to myself, you are no more the same person who wandered in the streets of Old Rajinder Nagar, New Delhi in hawai chappals in search of a photostat guy who can quickly make a copy of the latest GS notes for you that is perhaps going to help you clear a very tough three-stage exam. That was more than ten years back. 
Just in case I had missed the glaring reality that I am a seasoned, decade-old bureaucrat now,  there was this timely toll of the Seventh CPC, and it was loud and pleasant.

(The writer's blog is available in pilanipictures dot blogspot dot in)


  1. Excellent read,sir! Especially the bit about Mussoorie being an adolescent crush and Nagpur the seasoned romance, couldn't agree more. As someone just out of the academy and having joined the 'field' recently, that's exactly the kind of nostalgia the thought of NADT invokes. And as to the commitment, planning and being-on-point that's required for what used to be the simple, invisible luxuries of life like having coffee in the mug and food on the table, again- I vehemently nod in agreement. An extremely relatable, pleasurable read. :)

    1. Thanks a lot for your kind words, happy that the article could connect.

  2. Rajendra Singh ShekhawatSeptember 9, 2017 at 6:07 AM

    Excellent and well articulated!


  3. Thought flows through years back and fro, but with smooth transition without breaking the continuity, around specifically on all off campus experiences. Your feelings are simply reflected in the content that reflects a meaningful transition and passage of time around. Well written. Enjoy and Script more and more, we will also enjoy on reading.

  4. Moments are really nice! Cherish and chew as and when required. Really I went back a decade of time you spent. Happy to read. Keep the pep!

  5. Thoroughly enjoyable! Beautifully written!

  6. At first, giving you a warm congratulation Sir! We Indians always give highest preference to government job despite a minimum wage, though it is not applied to always and all jobs. You can say a reason that favors govt. job is job security. You cannot be laid off owing to an external cause. Even you have seen many top professionals from IITs and IIMs join IAS like services. Also, such service holders get enough prestige in our society. It is not also easy to get a government job. There is a tough fight. Aspirants should work hard and prepare themselves systematically.

  7. wonderful writing. Felt like a breeze