Destinations: Mussoorie (1961)

After I did my post graduation my father told me to prepare for the Civil Services Examinations. In those days there was no other alternative except taking a shot at these exams if one wanted to do well in life. This was more so for those who had opted for humanities, as apart from getting into a college to teach the only other option was to try and become a lowly clerk in a government office. Many of my classmates had to take this option as decent jobs were just not available, unless of course one knew somebody weighty enough to lean on an appointing authority. Thankfully, two of my older brothers had cleared the exams and were well placed by dint of their own merit.

I, therefore, took the 1960 examination held that year for the first time in Bhopal with the Polytechnic as the centre. My sister had a house in Professors’ Colony and I would just walk across to the centre. One of my brothers had told me to take only the Central Services exams and forget about the two higher papers which one had to clear for IAS and Indian Foreign Service. Lazy that I was, I promptly dropped the two papers for which I had been preparing till then. I qualified for the interview which was held at Dholpur House, New Delhi on 30th January 1961.

The results came out in April and soon enough a letter arrived asking me to report to the National Academy of Administration in Mussourie, a hill station of repute in Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand). I was asked to report by 1st June for a 5-month Foundational Course which members of all the services had to undergo. My family and friends were naturally happy. A Class I job in the Civil Services in those days was a big deal and coveted by many. Things are, of course, far different now after more than 50 years. Many bright people wouldn’t look at these services for a career. There are far better opportunities now – even in the field of humanities, leave alone the scientific disciplines.

So after a twenty-hour journey through a sizzling night and day of May I arrived at the Dehra Dun Railway station to a refreshingly cool breeze. I was accosted on the platform by a taxi driver, who somewhat like a clairvoyant, knew I wanted to go to Mussoorie. He offered to take me there for a mere Rs. 20/- along with three others whom he had already collared. When I told him that I had to go to Charleville, he said “Oh, Charlie-billie!” He assured me he knew the place. He had a 1947 Oldsmobile and, with three other boys trifle younger than me, I travelled in style to Mussoorie in a big American car through Dehra Doon and up the winding hill-side roads of Shivaliks. The three boys got off at a tri-junction that, I later learnt, led to Kulrie. We headed for “Charlie-billie”. When stopped on the way, vehicles being prohibited on the Mall, the taxi-driver would brush aside the cops by saying that he was bound for the Academy. The man knew his way around. He stopped inside the Academy just below what was then the Administrative Block, a double-storied structure, and asked me to go up the wooden stairs.

It was already dusky as it was well past six in the evening. There sitting at his desk was a frail elderly man, SAT Narayanan, the Administrative Officer, working away on his files by a lamplight. A man of few words, he shoved in-front of me some papers to sign. As I signed them I hadn’t quite appreciated that with those signatures I launched myself on a 35-year long official career in the Indian Government. After receiving the signed papers Narayanan hollered for one Gainda Lal who made his appearance soon enough and was asked to take me to Room No. 85 in the Happy Valley block. Narayanan bid me good bye after telling me that he had given me a good room. I later saw, true to his words, he had indeed given me a good room. It had an extra window that not only overlooked the Happy Valley but also let in some very welcome sun.

Retrieving my baggage from the taxi, Gainda Lal hauled the pieces down a few flights of stairs to room No. 85 located at the end of a long veranda. Since that evening this humble young man from the hills became my part-time butler serving as he did eight probationers in four rooms. He would fetch me my bed-tea, shine my shoes, make my bed, provide hot water for the bath, geysers then being non-existent in the bathrooms, have my cottons washed and woollens ironed and run other sundry errands whenever the occasion demanded. Mercifully, he was around with me for only five months of the Course as in that short period he almost spoilt me, as, I imagine, he would have others.

Even in the gathering darkness one could feel the leafy, spread-out and quiet ambience of Charleville. After all, it was a resort hotel till 1959 when the Government of India bought it for the Academy. The batch of 1959 was the first one of the officers of combined All India Services and Central Services to be trained in here. Earlier the IAS and the Indian Foreign Service probationers used to be trained at Metcalfe House, Delhi – the latter for around 5 months – and officers of several Central Services in their respective training institutions scattered around in the country. As the accommodation available in Charleville fell short, some buildings like Chappleton and Stapleton outside the complex were also hired. After all, we were, all taken together, around 280. Now, having built up a new complex, one supposes, the Academy is self-sufficient in so far as accommodation is concerned.
Next morning, after breakfast, I happened to come across Narayanan and asked him if I could call on the Director. “Not necessary”, he said and added that the Director was out there “under the greenwood tree” and pointed towards the front lawn telling me to walk across. Sure enough a clutch of young men were gathered under a big tree around a tall, hefty, impressive looking man in a light-coloured suit pulling at his pipe. That was Dr. AN Jha of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), the director of the Academy. As I walked over to the group Dr. Jha noticed me and asked me my name. As I told him my surname he rattled off my full name “Proloy Kumar Bagchi”. He seemed to have scanned the entire list of trainees – almost 280 of them – and remembered my full name, an amazing feat of memory. He shook my hands and asked whether I was from Agra. Agra had sent two Bagchis into the ICS, and, hence, perhaps the question. I answered in the negative and told him I was from Gwalior. That was my first and last meeting with the director.

It was only 14 years since independence and the legacies of the “British Raj” were yet to be shed. Efforts were still continuing to produce bureaucrats who were earlier disparagingly called “Brown Sahibs”. We were advised to go around always with a tie on with a suit or a combination or a blazer that we all had to get stitched. An alternative was to go around in a buttoned-up suit or combination buttoned-up jacket. We also had to have black buttoned-up coat with a black or white trouser for banquet nights which were not quite frequent. It was expected that one would wear a black pair of shoes with laces to the banquets and in no case a brown one; moccasins were not in fashion then, anyway. For banquets the table was carefully laid with several knives and forks on two sides of the plate in their proper order and the soup and dessert spoons above the plate. A circular in the form of a poem was issued indicating the way to use all the cutlery. I remember last two lines and these were “When in doubt, Look about”. Something still was in use then which one doesn’t see these days. The knife and fork specifically meant for use for fish dishes are now no longer seen. These seem to have become extinct. Most interesting part of the Dining Room was its veranda the faced North. One could see from it white ranges of the Himalayas – a fascinating sight. Located as it was on a hill feature with deep valleys on two sides, one could get an unhindered view for miles.

During the first week all trainees were asked to take lessons in musketry. We had to leg it down the kuchcha pathways past the newly established camp for the Tibetan refugees. I wasn’t an adventurous type and was somewhat diffident about handling a gun. In any case, I thought it wouldn’t be useful in any manner in the central services. Even then for the duration of the training I got up in the morning and trekked down to the make-shift firing range. But, when the man before me screamed with pain and sat up holding his shoulder that got a severe hit from the recoil of the .303 rifle, I decided guns were not for me. I walked off the range telling the instructor I was not for it. That ended my brush with fire arms.

The Academy was, kind of, a fantastic melting pot where boys and girls came from virtually all regions of the country. To start with, the heterogeneity of the group was very evident. One would find people from the same state flocking together and then there were even subgroups of colleges, like boys of Madras Christian College and Loyola College of Madras or, for that matter, those of Presidency College, Calcutta. Even the St. Stephen’s products would initially stick together. Since I was from Madhya Pradesh I was, kind of, at a loose end. Even the Bengalis who would generally hang around together wouldn’t own me up. Slowly but surely, the barriers came down and the process of homogenisation commenced. Within a month or so the Academy appeared to look like a slice of India – diverse and yet friendly. We all mixed around very well with those from Kerala or Tamil Nadu, West Bengal or the boys from the up-country or the Khasis and Mizos drom the North-East.

The training was, as usual, a bore. There were lectures and lectures. Among the faculty none was interesting. The lectures delivered by the Director were very interesting. He had a way with words and he could make any subject interesting. Besides, his good humour held the attention of his audience. The other person whose talks carry an impression with me till today are the ones delivered by Swami Ranganathanada of the Rama Krishna Mission. He delivered a series of, if I recall, four lectures and all were very elevating. His fluency was remarkable, content captivating and English impeccable.

I cannot somehow forget Prof. Ramaswami who used to take the Economics classes. For those of us who were stranger to the subject what all he said in his deep bass voice flew over our heads. What I remember, is his lengthy discourses over numerous sessions on the economic developmental model propounded by an American economist Walt Rostow which made no sense to us at all having hardly any knowledge of economic modelling for growth. He dilated at length on Rostovian concept of the “take off” stage of an economy, on which he had written a book written that had just been published. The Indian economy was nowhere near the “take off” stage 54 years ago, limping along as it was then at the “Hindu Rate of Growth”, that was perhaps more than neutralised by the predilection of our people to produce more children than goods and services.

The Foundational Course in the Academy commenced at the peak of the tourist season. The Mall in Mussoorie was therefore crowded. People were dressed in their best and would be gallivanting up and down the Mall, the main thoroughfare of the town. That one couldn’t really object to; what was objectionable was most of the young people would have transistor radio slung from their shoulders and play it at the highest of pitch. The miniaturised radio sets were the new toys that had just come out for those with disposable incomes and a these made a mess of the pleasure of being at the hill station.

Although riding classes were compulsory for the IAS probationers those of the Central Services could also join them. It was quite an opportunity but I let it go, but friend of mine from the Central Services, always keen to try new things, grasped it with both hands. One late afternoon I was hanging around with a few friends in front of the Club House in the Happy Valley. At the far end of the ground the riding instructor was busy giving lessons. All of a sudden, one of the horses just took off with the rider on its mount. Soon it started galloping and turning 1800 it headed towards us. We scampered away as it neared the Club House. Close to the Club suddenly it froze in its tracks. Seconds later whatever happened was spectacular but could have been really tragic. As the horse ‘braked’ and came to a dead-stop, this time it was the rider who, in his khaki breeches and sola topee took off from the horseback and sailed over the horse’s head and taking a somersault in the air landing on his back, mercifully, only inches away from a huge boulder. Seeing him promptly assume the vertical position we were relieved that he was unhurt. Not quite broken, some newer horses in the Academy in 1961, reportedly, still had a bit of their wild streak.

In July the monsoon broke over Mussoorie with a ferocity I had never seen. The crowds that used to flock on the Mall vanished into thin air. On clear evenings we would take short walking trips to the Mall and find the place deserted. On such an evening a friend from the Police Service wanted me to go with him to Kulrie – a good six kilometres away – to see a movie. Not quite agreeable I was pressed into submission. While he was fortified with a raincoat and an umbrella I was only in my woollen suit. After the movie we went to the nearby Kwality restaurant for dinner. While we were still on dessert it started raining. We waited for the expected let up. But, no luck! At the hour of midnight the manager told the two of us, the only customers, he couldn’t keep the place open any longer. There wasn’t a soul on the road and on the Mall facing Dehra Dun the rain just lashed against us rendering the umbrella and the raincoat useless. We walked through the six kilometres wet and cold reaching our respective rooms around 2.00 AM

The instructional tour took us to the then very impressive Bhakra and Nangal dams which Nehru had described as temples of modern India. We also visited Chandigarh and familiarised ourselves with the concept of a planned city designed by the French architect, designer and urbanist Le Corbusier. We travelled in an all I Class train which, on reaching Delhi, was parked on VIP platform for all three days. Our stay in Delhi coincided with the Independence Day wwhich is why, perhaps, we were asked Khad white buttoned-up suits stitched. We attended the ceremony at Red Fort, participated at the reception at the President’s House given by the officiating President Radhakrishnan. It was enriching to see all the powerful and influential people in person, including, inter alia, Nehru, Shastri, Krishna Menon and the tall John Kenneth Galbraith, the then American Ambassador, who sitting on a low sofa, seemingly, didn’t know what to do with his extraordinarily long legs. The tea and snacks were just lousy. Food-wise I was happily placed as one of my brothers was staying in Ceylonese Buddhist Pilgrims Association right across the VIP platform. There, with him, I used to have the spicy and hot Ceylonese fare.

Most interesting for me, however, was the visit to Nehru’s house where we had been taken to be addressed by the Prime Minister himself. At the Teen Murti we were herded into a massive hall that was upstairs and was decorated with the gifts given to the PM by the visiting foreign personages. A heavily-cushioned chair was kept near a window with a mike in front. Obviously all of us were supposed to sit on the carpeted floor around the sofa. I positioned myself alongside a wall next to a closed shiny wooden door and stood there all the while. I think it was around 4.00 PM that I heard a click of a bolt and, lo and behold, through the door emerged the Prime Minister himself. He was in his churidar and kurta; without his Jawahar jacket, or his trademark Gandhi cap. He had, presumably, had a snooze and was looking fresh and glowing as also perky. Standing at the door he sized up the gathering and muttered to himself in Hindi “arey, yahan to bara majma ikattha hua hai!”

Those five months of the Foundation Course did change me a lot. I may not have paid much attention to the lectures or may not have learnt the ropes that would be useful to me in my later career but I certainly changed. I tend to accept now what Dr. RK Trivedi, Sr. Dy. Director had once told us. He had said that he had seen college boys coming through the portals of the Academy and go out as officers. True to the hilt! There was a change in my deportment as indeed it would have been in others. Coming out of a small town, for the first time away from the protected environs of home, the change in environment made a huge difference and so did the exposure to an elevated intellectual ambiance as also to colleagues from all corners of the country. A colleague had said at the end of the Course that it was a “long paid holiday”. May be true, but during those five months whatever was directed at us had somehow seeped in and kept working imperceptibly inside us through our long official careers.


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