It seems the other day when I left the familiar town of Mettur in Tamil Nadu to the unknown Mussoorie. I did not know at that time that it was the first trip of many in the long journey of my career. The journey that began on the 5th July 1970 ends on 8th December 2005 after many trips and many years.
Joining service and retirement are like birth and death. When you are born, you cry and the people around you are happy. When you join service, you are uneasy while the people already there are happy to see another ‘bakra’. Ideally when you die, you should leave with a smile on your face and the people around you should feel sad.. When you retire you ought to leave in a happy frame of mind with the others feeling a little sad. Well, I don't know how others feel, but I am leaving service in a happy and contented frame of mind, the same feelings that I have had over the last many years. Of course I had my moments of unhappiness, but they were very few compared to the contentment and happiness that I’ve felt throughout my career.
Shakespeare had talked about the seven ages of man. According to me, the seven ages of man (and of course woman) are the following. Some of them run concurrently.
• ‘Post’-age (in service)
• Anecdote-age (post retirement)
Since I am now getting into the anecdote-age, it is time to talk about the past. I shall restrict myself to my career. Life is nothing but experiences and memories. So I'll talk of some interesting (I hope) experiences and the lessons that I learnt from them.
My association with Southern Railway was restricted to the first two years and the last two and half years of my career. I was a probationer on this Railway and then came again only as an old hag (when your energies sag, you get Senior Administrative Grade and you become a Higher Administrative Grade officer when you become an old hag). The railway was full of IRAS officers who vied with each other in giving the best treatment to the probationer. Ashok Chawla, though four years senior thanks to army service, was my batch-mate. As an army officer, he was used to good treatment but was still surprised by the warm manner with which we were treated. And I felt happy to have made the right choice of service. The best was when we were on our way to Trivandrum. At Villupuram, the smartly-dressed Station Master came with tender coconuts and advised us not to order lunch. At Trichy, Mr. U.V.Acharya, Divisional Accounts Officer was there with his peon carrying two special lunches. He told us not to order evening coffee. And Mr.B.C.Balasubramanian, DAO (eight years senior to us) was there with coffee at Madurai. This and similar instances of how I was treated made me go out of the way to treat junior officers well.
All good things have to end. Probation which saw me acquire a few life-long friends in Ashok Chawla, Sneh Bijlani, N.Parthasarathy and N.Krishnamoorthy among others, had to end and it was time to start working My first posting was to Solapur which was in South Central Railway at that time. In addition to my own job, I was looking after some of the sections of DAO's office. I got married during this period and wanted 45 days' leave. Dy.CAO (General) who was in charge of administration told me to curtail my leave as I was likely to be promoted, but Mr. J.C.Trivedi who was my boss as Dy. FA & CAO (Construction) told me, ' Promotion comes many times in one's life, but marriage comes only once. You go ahead.' Officers like him have taught me the priorities in one's life. I came back from leave and was promoted as Divisional Accounts Officer. The total strike by all the staff of Solapur demanding merger with Central Railway took place during this period. Only the essential services were operated by the Territorial Army, but the division was crippled. However the staff were very good and never barred the officers' way to the office. I was going by scooter to the office and it was a touching sight to see everyone getting up and giving way to my scooter. When I was in Solapur, I had to undertake an official journey suddenly as a member of the Spot Purchase Committee. In those days DAO was not under the control of Divisional Superindent (Divisional Railway Manager now) and so we had to take the approval of Dy.CAO (General) for all tours. Since the phone lines to Secunderabad were not working, I sent a note to Dy. CAO (G) asking for post-facto approval. To my horror, I got a letter advising me that this action was not in order. As an young and impetuous officer, I was wild and dictated a letter to the DY.CAO (General) that I was debiting one set of pass and that I may be sanctioned a day's CL. Arun Bhatnagar,a colleague in Signal & Telecom who was in my room advised me against doing anything in anger. He said,' Just wait 24 hours before sending this letter. If you still want to send it, then do so. But just ask whether it will solve or aggravate the problem'. Of course I didn't want to send it after 24 hours. This incident taught me not to do anything in anger and take the advice of cool-headed people. One of the most memorable moments in my career was the farewell to me in Solapur. The entire Accounts staff had gathered in the canteen for dinner and I had the farewell with the vedic mantras being chanted. I realized that if you are fair, impartial and straightforward, the staff are with you. I never felt in Solapur that I was an outsider. I was told that such a farewell was given only to one more DAO which was Samar Jha.
The next shift was to Vijayawada. One incident that I must mention concerns Mr.M.A.Sundaram, who I consider as the finest IRAS officer I have come across. He had joined S.C.Railway as Dy. CAO (General) and wanted to know from each DAO his/her suggestions. I narrated the incident about the problems in obtaining prior approval for tour within the division (mentioned in the previous paragraph). Immediately, he dictated a letter to all DAOs that for tours within the division, prior approval of Headquarters was not necessary. Mr.Sundaram taught me many things, but the most important was that when you do any good to people, you must do it immediately. If what you do is not for the general good, then think about all the implications. Unfortunately my stay in Vijayawada was very short and I had to move as the post of DAO got upgraded.
On to Secunderabad. Though the stay here was just two years I am nostalgic about this city since Harish (our son) was born when I was there. Chennai, Mumbai and Secunderabad are the three cities of India that I like the most. It also had one of the most colourful personalities of IRAS, Mr. Varadachari as FA & CAO. He was an excellent man-manager and a go-getter. An incident would show the personality of the man. The Chief Security Officer came to him one day and told him,” Sir, the band of RPF (Railway Protection Force) is in a bad shape and I need to buy a few musical instruments. It would cost about Rs. 12,000/. If I approach Railway Board for sanction, I may never get them. Can you help me?” Without batting an eyelid, Mr. Varadachari talked to the Chief Engineer on the intercom and told him,”Mr. Reddy, I want an estimate for water supply arrangements.” Mr.Reddy asked for details. Mr. Varadachari told him,” Everything can be decided by you. But make sure that Rs. 12,000/- is provided for Drums & Pipes.” RPF got its band as part of the water supply arrangements! There are many anecdotes of Mr. Varadachari, but the one thing he taught me was that people come to you only because they feel you can solve their problems. And there is a solution for any problem.
I became a victim of emergency (the transfer took place during the emergency) and got shifted to Chittaranjan Loco Works. Despite my eternal optimism, the shift made me unhappy. Anyway I carried out the orders and reached CLW after a long and tiring journey. Though life was difficult with many power cuts (I used to tell people that Bengal has Chatterjee, Mukherjee and Banerjee, but sadly no energy), lack of communication facilities and so on, my wife, I and our 3-month old son were happy. During the 4 years that I spent there, I came across three efficient and conscientious IRAS officers among whom were Mr. A.K.Roychowdhury, Mr.K.Subramonian and Mr. K.C.Bose who were FA & CAOs. IBM was sent away from India and we had to deal with an ancient computer system and a nascent maintainer in CMC. I acquired another life-long friend in K.Subramaniam, an IRSEE officer who later quit the Railways. He is the most innovative and best programmer I have ever seen. He taught me the virtues of proper documentation in any software. Another friendship that got renewed was with N.Krishnamurthy.
After a brief spell in Bombay, I got shifted to Kota. Though I regretted leaving Bombay, Kota was very good. We had a sprawling bungalow and were able to grow rice and wheat. We had an excellent DRM in Mr.R.B.Mathur and as the secretary I was able to keep the club very active. The most important lesson which Mr. Mathur taught me was the value of consultations. Try to achieve consensus but even if you do not achieve it, mere consultation keeps people happy. Madnani who was my deputy and Bedekar who was Section Officer still keep in touch with us even though it is almost 25 years since I left Kota.
Somehow Railway Board got to know that I was happy in Kota. So a shift was ordered to Railway Staff College, Vadodara. As soon as I came to know of the move, I rushed to Delhi and met Mr.A.V.Poulose, another IRAS officer for whom I have great regard and admiration. He asked me what my problem was in going to RSC. I said that I felt I was not suited for teaching and that I had already seen five states in ten years. He said,' If you cannot teach, it s the probationers' problem and not yours. Regarding the second objection, I am going to be here for an year. If you still feel you don't want to continue in Vadodara, I'll shift you.' Needless to say, I never went back to him. Railway Staff College is an intellectually stimulating place and I was lucky to be there when Management training was introduced. It was a happy period. The six batches of IRAS officers who joined RSC between 1981 and 1987 have a very special place in my heart. Aarthi (our daughter) was born there and I went on my first flight which was to London. It was the first of the five foreign training assignments that I had in my career. The contributions of the four IRAS officers – Singru, Samar Jha, R.K.Sinha and I - were appreciated by all. The biggest tribute we got was when the participants of the first Management Development Programme who were all senior to us by more than 10 years and who came for the training with loads of cynicism went back with respect for our teaching abilities. The need to constantly update one's knowledge, to have diverse interests and to improve training effectiveness were the biggest lessons that I learnt in RSC.
After six years at RSC, it was time for a change and what better place than Bombay. It was also my first stint outside the Railways as Internal Financial Adviser / BARC. The three years there were interesting and I realized that working with scientists is quite easy. Some of the systems there established by Dr. Bhabha are excellent. And it was a pleasure to work with great scientists like Dr. P.K.Iyengar, Dr.R.Chidambaram and others.
After a brief spell in Central Railway, I went again on deputation as Member. Finance in KVIC, also in Mumbai. I consider this posting as my best as this was the only post where I was not branded as a finance man. In the first few days of my working, I found files coming to me for concurrence as well as sanction. So I asked for the Schedule of Powers and found people staring at me blankly. Then I realized that it was an organization where your powers are what you are prepared to exercise. Since all my predecessors were from IA & AS, the people of KVIC found a refreshing change in the style of working. In Railways I was part of the team and was glad to act the same way in KVIC. A project that I was actively associated was in providing employment to over 8000 women in Saharsa district of Bihar. But the flipside is that management is personalized and things do not continue with change of incumbents. A via media between the rigidity of systems (like Railways) and an elastic ad-hocism (like KVIC) is what any organization needs to become an excellent one. I was able to introduce computerization in a big way and left KVIC with a lot of goodwill. And I can never forget Mr. Nawal Kishore Sharma, who was the Chairman of KVIC when I left it. He was the antithesis of a bureaucrat's image of a politician and was kind to me even after I left the organisation.
After a brief spell on Western Railway, I went to the easternmost division of Indian Railways as DRM. Mr. Sivakumaran, FC was slightly surprised when I told him I’d go as DRM only to a division where I can retain my Mumbai house. Later I used to tell people when they asked me why I went to Tinsukia,’ When I joined service, an astrologer told me I’d go very far in service. I didn’t realize what he meant.’ Anyway it was a worthwhile experience. Though I hold the view that professionally DRMship does not add any value to the career of a finance officer, it rounds your personality. And of course it helps break the resistance that people have for finance.
Back to Amchi Mumbai to a rewarding three years as FA & CAO (Finance & Budget) on Central Railway, the post held with distinction by Mr.Sivakumaran, Mr.Mungla and Mr.Laljani earlier. I consider this posting as my best within Railway accounts. Working with Mr. Acharya as FA & CAO was great. And I learnt a lot working with Mr.K.B.Sankaran as GM. We had an extremely good team on Central Railway. At the risk of annoying all my colleagues in other Railways, I’d rate the quality of officers and staff of Accounts Department in Central Railway as the best. Arun Nair, Atul Mohan, Ranjanesh Sahai, M.K.Sharma, Apala Singh, Bhanumathi, Ashok Nair, Sudhakar Nair, Ratnam and many others contributed to my successful stint in this post. While Mr. Sankaran taught me the need to go to the root of any issue, Mr. Acharya taught me how to delegate. He delegated everything except the brickbats which he graciously accepted. I followed his example on Southern Railway.
After two brief stints as FA & CAO (Construction) on Western Railway and FA & CAO on Central Railway I moved back to my roots. The stint on WR was noted for 85 tenders that I handled in six months. I got Jayachandran who was FA & CAO (C-II) relieved to Chennai telling GM I’d look after his work. And Mr.Murali transferred Alok Bhatnagar to Board telling GM I’d look after his post of FA & CAO (F&B). But thanks to my team ably led by Manjusha Jain, I had no problem. The only two pieces of advice that I’d give on tenders are to make sure you personally examine the original offers and get all facts verified by the section, of course without delaying the case.
The one year in ICF and two and half years in SR have changed my life completely. I am into religion and Carnatic music and writing books to promote Carnatic music. The first book released in September 2004 has sold 800 copies and the second book which was released recently has sold about 200 copies so far (without any use of my position). I would have written even if no copy had been sold as I’m genuinely concerned about the lack of awareness about our traditions. Professionally both postings gave me opportunities to try some man-management techniques successfully. And if I am remembered in both these organizations it will be for the Annual Sports in which everyone from FA & CAO to Class-IV participated enthusiastically. There was so much enthusiasm that Vijaya Kanth broke her leg during a game. There is a lot of team spirit which was perhaps a reason for our winning the Efficiency Shield for the Accounts Department (thebest among all the zonal railways). We have also pioneered a lot of technical innovations in Stores and MIS.
Well that was a snapshot of my career. As I said at the beginning, I have been happy and contented throughout my career. Happiness is a state of mind and it is futile to search it outside. If you want to be happy, you will be happy anywhere and if you are determined to be unhappy, you will be unhappy everywhere. Though happiness is inside, the quantum of happiness depends on a few external factors. The first is genetic. I think the sense of humour and equanimity which people say I possess are perhaps inherited. The second is the value system imbibed by you. The respect for all people and any type of work have been inculcated by my parents and relatives from my younger days. My father was the patriarch of the family and one day an uncle of mine who was a tehsildar came rushing to him and said that he had been transferred to an unimportant post. My father told him, 'Listen, there is only one important post in your whole life and that is the post you are occupying at the moment.' This thought has been embedded in me and helped me not to bother about the past or the future. Another advice that got ingrained in me was what you haven't got was never meant to be yours. So no regrets in life and career.
The next important factor is luck. It was luck that never got me in a vigilance case. It was luck that never gave me a posting in Delhi. The last important factor(s) are a few people that play a vital role in determining whether you are moderately happy or very happy in your career. They are your secretary, No. 2 person(s), the odd-job man, peon, boss, driver and wife in the order of importance, as far as happiness at work is concerned. Again I have been lucky with all. Balaji, my present Secretary and Arun Nair in Central Railway are perhaps the best that worked with me. But Ramanujam in RSC, Kesavan in KVIC, Krishnan and Vasuki in SR, Gopal Das Sharma in Kota and Johnson in BARC are some names that spring immediately to mind. Your ADC has a great importance in deciding your level of happiness. Vijaya, Jeyachandran, B.N.Rao, Vijayaraghavan, Selvaraj, Manjula and Reena in SR, Manjusha in WR, Atul Mohan in CR, Madnani in Kota, Venkatachalam in BARC, Prabhakaran and Sethunath in KVIC are some unforgettable people in my career. The odd-job man is very important. Ratnam in CR was perhaps the best of the lot. Vasu in SR, Murali in ICF, Srivastava in Tinsukia have helped us a lot. Peon, especially the bungalow peon has an immense potential to keep your happiness level high. Having spent a lot of my career outside the regular railway syatem, I have had bungalow peons only for about twelve years of my career. Gunasekharan in Kota was very good. Gopal and Mahesh have been part of our family. In the office also Shrirang in Solapur, Venkat Rao in Vijayawada and Sakharam in RSC were wonderful peons. I've had about 40 bosses in my career. Only three of them were difficult and just one was contankerous. A large majority of them made me feel happy and proud to work with them. I've mentioned a few earlier like Mr. Sundaram, Mr.Nawal Kishore Sharma, Mr. Acharya and others. I must also mention a few senior officers who went out of their way to be kind. Mr. N.Parthasarathy, Mr. Murali and Mrs. Vijayalakshmi are the three who ensured that I am happy in Chennai in the last lap of my career. I am specially thankful to Mrs. Vijayalakshmi for getting me RCT, Chennai. A driver who does not talk much and does not honk too much gives me greater happiness. Karunamurthy in SR is perhaps the best of the lot. Subbiah in KVIC, Choudhury in Tinsukia, Balu in CR and Sankaranarayanan in BARC are the other names which are automatically recalled. And finally the most important person in your life, your spouse. I've been specially blessed by God and Amritha has been a source of strength and inspiration to me.
I dedicate this piece to everyone with whom I've been fortunate to work in this great organisation called Indian Railways.
And finally one for the road. If I have to give just one piece of advice, it will be to repeat what Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet as Polonius' advice to Laertes.
'...above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.'
I shall end by quoting Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali
I have got my leave.
Bid me farewell, my brothers!
I bow to you all and take my departure.
Here I give back the keys of my door---and I give up all claims to my house.
I only ask for last kind words from you.
We were neighbours for long, but I received more than I could give.
Now the day has dawned and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out.
A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.
At this time of my parting, wish me good luck, my friends!
I have always been a reluctant traveller. So I don't think I'll travel to any place except Bangalore. But everyone of you is a welcome guest to our house. Do visit us and we can exchange anecdotes. But we can continue to meet in the virtual world. We must all be deeply indebted to Alok Bhatnagar for this wonderful medium of IRAS Times. My only regret is that not many senior officers are active participants. I'll only tell them that Platinum Jubilee was just an year-long celebration while this website is a continuous feast.
Goodbye, dear friends. And may God bless you and your family members.
FA & CAO , SR, Chennai
8th December 2005
Published in IRAS Times