Monday, 13 July 2015

A Guide to Surviving the FC-Part 2

On a certain side of the thirties, the life and times of Bridget Jones may begin to resonate with your own life. And times. With appropriate gender inversions. Do not panic, though. To quote but Jane Austen, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."

Needless to say, the good fortune that one possesses is a rank in the CSE. Upon possession, one moves in to the bureaucracy neighbourhood, hallowed precincts. Apart from control over one's privacy, one also loses the agency of free choice in marriage. But when was marriage ever left to the choice of children by Indian parents? They will remain seized of the matter, while relatives, family friends, sundry well-wishers will besiege you with offers galore.

The CSE rank list is a UPSC shortlist for brides and grooms for a tribe of parents. The CSE rank halo shines a mellow light on the heads of the rankers. It smooths over blemishes such as caste, class and creed. More often than not it does not. Caste is still the primary filter through which much of India looks at others. And what is better than endogamy to promote and nurture caste?

So, keep one's head on, especially now that one is past the eye of the needle. Life in The Service can be lonely and demanding. It is better navigated with the help of an able partner. Now there may be various criteria to decide the suitability of that partner. Should he/she be from the services? If from the service, the default preference seems to be for the All-India Services. Cadres change based on marriage. Marriages also happen based on need for cadre change. Either way, one wins some, loses some. C'est la vie and all that.

Since pointed Google search queries with search strings as "author's full name + wife" and other such combinations land on this blog, one feels bemused. Eligible lady enquirers, do not lose heart! There is hope still. Just follow due process and communication channels, approach competent authorities, swathe yourself in red tape. May be, who knows, you will be the answer to the Google query!

Anyway, on with the survival guide after that convoluted matrimonial pep talk.

Sometime after you have qualified and before you receive communication from the powers that be informing you that they were directed by Honourable President of India and so on and so forth, you will receive a curious mail from a tailor and draper from Mussoorie. Apart from congratulating on your success in the CSE, the mailer proposes to drape you in a bandhgala, the last suit you will ever wear, for you are now a celebrated bureaucrat. Very well. A bandhgala is a must have, for you will be wearing it on ceremonial occasions and not wearing one earns a show cause notice, censure and assorted opprobria.You can take up the offer of the mailer or better still, get one stitched at a tailor near your place. The ladies may want to augment their saree collection. 

There is something to be said about being clothed like a bureaucrat. While a bandhgala automatically sets one apart from the crowd (except at restaurants where the waiters also wear a bandhgala, and they do at fancy places), one is well advised to be dressed in smart formals as often as possible. Clothes do make a man and women, in the services. To state but the obvious, one can not have state power draped in shabby clothes. One is no expert on fashion or chic dressing, but time spent observing the sartorial choices of senior bureaucrats over the year leads one to believe that a bureaucrat is an actor-acting in public interest, acting for the state. The costumes therefore must be appropriate, reflective of the status of the bureaucrat.

However, do not fuss over the bandhgalas and starched sarees too much. The laundry services are first rate at the Academy. So are housekeeping services. In fact, one's creature comforts are taken care of at the hostel. Can not start a day without a cup of tea? No problem, the room bearer will wake you up 45 minutes before the morning PT and serve a hot cup of tea. Feel famished post the PT? No problem, the Home Turf, the OT canteen, opens at 8 am. And there are the two dhabas near the Ganga hostel anyway. In fact, your monetary interactions with the two dhabas will be first rate lessons in micro-economics. They are attuned to the demand and supply situation and the FC, Phase 1, Phase 2 seasonality cycles so well that brokerages and stock exchanges can learn a trick or two from them. However, one could never figure out if the inflation rate they tracked was that of Zimbabwe or good old India. How else would one explain the sky rocketing prices of Maggi? The price of a plate of runny Maggi zoomed from Rs.35 at the beginning of FC to Rs. 3 zillion at the end of Phase 1, not including value additions such as lead, cheese and egg. 

Unless there is an urgent need for purchasing quilts (Mussoorie Septembers are super pleasant and there is never a need for a quilt) or other such seemingly exotic materials, hold your shopping horses and unleash them at the shops on Mall Road. Save yourself the usurious (but Economics-wise spot on) prices. The Mall Road, if not over run by plains tourists, is a nice enough place to stroll on most evenings. Provided the OTs have evenings for themselves. Which they normally would not. Because FC OTs do not own their time. They are marionettes in the hands of a clock that ticks of its own will.A hand that beats enormous seconds from the space-time continuum, deafening the OTs. They will wonder if the strings that animate them are from the String Theory and if they themselves are one-dimensional particles. They will not even get time to wonder. Time to wonder is for Alice. Whereas the OTs are just White Rabbits, forever running late, creatures of the clock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. *Evil laugh.*


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Foundation Course at Mussoorie. What it is and Why it is and Other Such Ungrammatic Questions.

Why flog a dead horse, you ask?
Why bore people further with undead blog posts, you ask?
This blog was supposed to rest and relax in Cloud Heaven, with its well deserved company of virgin blogs. Why bring it back to the land of the dead?

Altruism is the word.

A new batch of civil servants has been revealed to the world few days ago. There were heart warming stories and symbolic achievements. Most of the 'achievers' would now bide time till the 7th of September whence Foundation Course commences. Rumour has it that the Foundation Course may be offered at one venue for all the services, subject to accommodation constraints. The venue being The Academy, of course. Be as it may, whether at much romantic Mussoorie or much more prosaic Hyderabad, Foundation Course is an exciting phase for a civil servant, budding or budded. The constant gardeners of The Academy shall keep all civil servants properly pruned. 

The hills straighten a lot of attitudes, to begin with. For the plains creatures, a hill journey would start with a symbolic and literal emptying of belly on the way up the sinuous roads from Rajpur to Library Chowk. Enroute, you would pass by the NIVH. Ladies and gentlemen, if you see to your right, you would be looking at NIVH. This is one institute, in fact the first institute, you would call on during the FC. When one had passed by the NIVH for the first time less than a year ago, one had a sense of deja vu. Illustrious seniors had written about their visit to the NIVH and Raphael, in gushing words, and one read their blogs with breathless excitement imagining life at The Academy. A month ago, while climbing down the Mussoorie range after completion of Phase 1 of Professional Training for IAS, one felt a double deja vu. 

Most blogs you come across would only talk of the going up. No one talks about the coming down. Your heart would be heavier than you weighed at the start of the FC, when you leave Mussoorie for the district training. Oh, the weight. Be prepared for a shock weight loss during the Grand Himalayan Trek. Unless you live off Universe Dew and Sweat of Heavenly Beings and or shrubs and roots and wild berries, one is assured of a weight loss during the week long trek. Should one be worried about one's fitness levels? No, if you ask me. Whether you are a well rounded personality or all angular and bony, whether you ran marathons galore or scarce moved out of your couch, or whether you get in to a bout of fitness frenzy before the start of the FC, all, and I repeat ALL, would huff and puff and pant equally when going up the steep incline from the Ganga Hostel to the Mess for the first few days. 

That is how it is. The mountains, I tell you. Over time, and especially if you are in the IAS where you would have more of the said over time, you will come to love the hills. The trek not only breaks fat molecules, it also breaks down icy personalities and bonds people unlike any other experience. The trek builds up a fortitude that will stand you in good stead in the future. Regarding the bonding. It will be of a rather unique character. You would have had made, erm, potty buddies. For, despite the Mission level importance accorded to free the country of Open Defecation, there are certain places and circumstances when if one has to go, one goes out in the open. Before dawn. Under the stars. With each other and few Himalayan bears for company. Relax, it wont be that bad. Just the stench will keep away the bears.

Normally the bear would be running away...from your stench. Image source:

Not unless you have few extra pounds to spare. Image source:
 For the ever keen type 'achievers.' Nothing you pre-read and re-read for the FC will help you. The FC exams will be a googly anyway despite your PhDs and Post Doctorals in Economics, Political Science, Probability and Statistics, Management, Public Administration, Law and in Hindi. So, relax, brush up only your teeth (a fresh breath helps in finding a suitable boy or girl, tooth paste research shows) and sleep tight. Or not. It would be of help if you can culture yourself a bit. A dance form or two. A loosening up of vocal cords. Nothing too fancy, just the basics would do. And please, if there is a real, felt need at The Academy, it is for good comperes and emcees. If you can be witty and keep the audience from yawning, what more son, all the world and the Academy will be yours.

What else can be yours? A bride or a groom as per your cadre, convenience, caste and choice. The choice will be of your parents'. In fact, ignore everything you read above. The hills have had a reputation for being the playgrounds of Cupid. If you do fall, you would only throw away your heart. Skinned hearts are no worse than skinned knees.

Skinned knees and sprained ankles are taken care of at the dispensary near the Sardar Patel Hall (SPH, a class room where Phase 1 OTs are trapped and trained, as opposed to SA, Sampoornanand Auditorium aka ultra luxe sleeping quarters for FC OTs). There are no salves for skinned hearts unfortunately, except a well made drink and a friendly ear to chew out. The drink can be had at the Officer Trainees' Lounge in the Karmshila complex which also houses the awesome library and Officers' Mess and class rooms. The OT Lounge is a nice place to laze around post lunch. Plush carpets, cushy couches, LCD TV, disco-lights, wood floor dancing area etc are but few creature comforts that await a weary OT in the lounge. 

The Officers' Mess is an institution. A venerable institution. It not only provides sustenance but also views of the Himalayas. The views are more fulfilling than the very nutritious food and it is no exaggeration. Appropriate dress code is prescribed for the Mess and it is advisable to follow the code, to respect the institution. Check out the gallery of the Mess. The trophies and mementos will spring a surprise or two.

The library is a treasure house. If the printed word means anything to you, then you will find the Gandhi Smriti Library a fruition of that meaning.

There are many more wonders of The Academy with which a fresh OT  would do well to be acquainted. We leave descriptions of such wonders for another post? Oui.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

C'est Fini Les Amis

A last push

I adopted a multi modal transport approach to arrive at Patiala after the valedictory ceremony. Why is that relevant? There are two aspects to the mode of travel and this day's events that are correlated. The valedictory gathering was addressed by the Honourable President of India. He exhorted the OTs of the 89th Foundation Course to adhere to the tenets of the Constitution, to be responsive to people and to be responsible for the development of the country. In the mass transport systems that I had availed of, a bus to Dehra Dun, a Vikram (7 seater auto) to the ISBT, a bus to Saharanpur, a general compartment train ride to Ambala, a Magic van (8 seater automobile) ride to Patiala, one rubbed shoulders with the people whose principal representative addressed the gathered OTs that very morning. In those ballooning delays, in the grit of the unkempt general compartment and the grime of the public utilities, in the disfunctioning anarchy of the system we misnamed as 'transport', in that dreamy disjointed multimodality, I found the reason for the existence and the cessation of the civil services.

The valedictory function went off without glitches. The Honourable President arrived at the Academy and has had a group photo taken with the officers of the 89th Foundation Course. The Honourable President then addressed the OTs, his employees in the literal sense. The valedictory ceremony was preceded by a mini drama of sorts involving course completion certificate, the OTs and a few palpitating hearts gripped by the fear of failure. The OTs were given a course completion certificate, a copy of the group photo taken few days ago and a sketch of the director's office building by a very talented artistic OT. 

The OTs with the highest marks in various subjects and the OTs who promoted the esprit de corps were awarded prizes by the Honourable President of India.

The 89th Foundation Course came to an end with a lunch in the Officers' Mess. 

Tears were shed, farewells were said, numbers exchanged, selfies clicked and without much ado, the 89th Foundation Course came to an end.

Heart's strings were plucked, a portion in the pit of the stomach went into knots encountering familiar and fond faces, knowing one would not see them as often as one would have wanted. Pretty faces, handsome faces, friendly faces, smiling faces, haughty faces, faces of civil servants all, they will remain in that portion of the brain which specializes in short term memories and will be over written by more immediate faces, a set of 180 faces, a fresh beginning of understanding old faces. What remains in the long term?

What remains in the long term is our conception of reluctant starts to friendships, of awkward remembering of faces and corresponding names, of human bonds and the surprising transformation that urgency has brought about in the nature of relationships. Would we have felt the same way if the Foundation Course was of 5 year duration?

The star ship Mycadea righted itself after the group photo, opened all the vents of the Karamshila Engine Complex, fired all its engines and achieved escape velocity within an hour of address by the First Citizen. However, 180 T-OTs were left behind and they looked on, many with moist eyes, heavy hearts, restless minds, looked on at the departing 104 T-OTs, their friends, lovers, philosophers and guides over the past 111 days.

Godspeed spacefarers!

As promised, this is the last post on this blog, regarding the 89th Foundation Course. While I debate whether to continue the same title and merely demarcate the Foundation Course section or to start a new blog with a new title and a different ethos, I would like to thank you dear readers for everything and nothing.

My personal objectives for the FC were realized in parts. Weight loss- yes but unsatisfactory. Books read- yes but far too few. Super power attained- Anonymity- worked well but only to an extent.

And that is all folks.

Post Script: I did decide to blog about the 1st Phase. You can read all about the 1st phase here.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Day Minus 2

The two and half day leadership module was wrapped up with a recap of the activities, concepts of leadership and a feedback session.

How is it that the more time one spends in the services, the more one loses the ability to listen? Is it a sign of the closed nature of the services, a lonely job for a bureaucrat shut in a room, surrounded by lackeys and yes men, voiceless echoes of one's own personality and prejudices?

The campus is being prettified on war footing. After all it is not every day that the first citizen of the country comes calling. The stretch of road from Library Point to the Academy (called 'Charleville Road') is being repaired and topped with tar. The sides of the roads have been white washed in pattern with a red dot in the middle. Shiny, blinking things that mark the borders of the road have been affixed. On a small stretch of a straight road, they wink one after another, synchronized road side Romeos.

The last three days may pass in a jiffy. At least this day did. One vaguely remembers hiking till the Little Llama Cafe (again, so soon!), stuffing oneself with legendary momos. And another foray to a restaurant on the Mall road. One returns to the academy on near empty roads save for the irregular traffic of weaving drunkards soliloquizing at length to the push carts and to the lamp posts on love and its failure in redeeming mankind of its common failures. Their steps falter, they say, because love had made an unkind cut. And their words slur, they aver, because no love has ever been spoken that is true love. The thousand tongues the drunkards get are an envy of the tongue-tied.

The three remaining plays of the AK Sinha One Act Play competition were acted out tonight. Two plays took up the humorous path while one play wrestled with a complex script.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Reliable reports indicate that the second day of the leadership module was far more exciting than the first. Less of crayon drawing and more of participatory activities.

The AK Sinha one act play got off to a start with performances by two teams comprising of five counsellor groups each. One group presented a play on the women's safety issue with  hyper realistic depiction of events. Another group presented a  medley of playlets centered around relationships. Three more groups are scheduled to present their plays tomorrow.

There are about 102 OTs to say goodbyes to, to wish fond farewells. And dinners to be had and to squeeze out few more drops of friendship out of two days remaining for interaction.

Just as well. Hopefully one shall come across them in future.

On Leadership and Farewells

Lao Tzu says "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves."

Is such a leadership suitable for the civil services? Can a civil servant be not seen? Should a civil servant be not seen?

The Leadership Module scheduled over two and half days aims at mapping the leadership competencies of the OTs, the future leaders to use but one cliche. The workshop exercises were heavy on crayon sketching and might have resembled a kindergarten class of overgrown OTs drawing their hearts out while the benevolent faculty looked on.

Preparation for the one act play is in full swing. Natural and unnatural actors are emerging. Hope it will be an entertaining evening. [Full disclosure: I am involved somehow with the play].

It seems only yesterday when I started blogging with a very narrow mandate. I had referred to the quintessential bureaucratic process of 'no-dues.' It is time for the 'no-dues' dance to begin. Books have to be returned, accounts settled with the juice-wallah, the Home Turf, Plaza Cafe, Ganga Dhaba, forgetful Bihari friends and so on.

One has grown fond of the fellows who would be completing their professional training at their respective service's training institutions. Future CAG, Chairperson CBEC, Chairman CBDT etc have made excellent friends. Their presence would be missed. 

Another four days remain for the FC to be wrapped up. I may not get time to say goodbye to most friends owing to the hectic schedule. I thank the readers of this blog for their sustained interest. Without your consistent encouragement it would not have been possible for me to write. If writing the blog is half the picture, you readers sitting in front of monitors or smartphones hearing me out patiently, bearing with my rants and acid laced barbs and bureaucratese infested event updates are the other half.

I may yet continue blogging of events in Phase 1. However, it will not be the same. I may start a new blog for that phase. As of now, these are the last few posts for the 89th FC blog. I have had fun writing, as much as I could. There is nothing of interest to the UPSC Civils aspirants and that is how I meant it to be. No coaching advice, no motivational quotes, no challenges to your dignity or mine.

Notwithstanding anything I might have said in this blog, the Officer Trainees of the 89th Foundation Course batch are unique, purpose driven and ambitious. Most are empathetic, concerned citizens. The Rainbow Batch, as I had called it, shall be looked up at to achieve great things.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

On a Sunday walk to Landour

One develops a territoriality, stakes a claim on a specific spot at their frequently haunted place. It is as if one has acquired ownership rights by virtue of planting one's behind on a seat for long. How much more rightful must the peasant feel who tills the land!

The library has a peculiar smell. It is the smell of books of old, the letters, the pages, the ink, the binding and the glue, the pictures, the characters and the abstractions of human thought- all breathe. They inhale and exhale, a smell of knowledge, a smell of parched curiousity quenched by a rain of Dewey Decimals.

One sits and breathes. Forget sometimes to exhale and sometimes to inhale, according as the plot rises or falls.

One gazes out of the window from time to time, a day changes, days change- yesterday is like tomorrow which will be like today. A bird sings in the back ground, melancholia filters through air thick with the spirits of the unread books, thick with the spirits of books thumbed through, licked, torn, highlighted, mutilated, loved, issued, returned, stolen.

The sun rise was spectacular today.

A sunrise to watch
The full moon loomed larger than life while the sun light lit up the tops of the hills one by one.
Full moon crashing on to pine trees

Vincent Hill catching the first light
We figured a revisit to the Lal Tibba might be a good idea, now that the snow peaks seem tantalizingly close. The sky was a fifty shades of blue.
A shade of blue
However, the view itself was a disappointment, from Lal Tibba. For one, the trees block the view. And the two tourist traps of cafes/tea stalls were closed and access to the 'Govt Approved' binoculars was cut off by multiple locked doors. There were other places from where the view was quite good, like the point where the road forks, near chaar dukaan. Swargarohini massif was yellow beryl in the first rays of the sun. The honour passed to the Gangotri range peaks-Srikanta, Kedarnath and Chaukhambha as the sun light found these peaks at length. One can spot the various buildings of the academy from afar. The maligned Polo Grounds look innocuous enough from these great distances.
Spot the Polo grounds if you can

The quiet of Lal Tibba yielded fantastic opportunity for bird watching. The quiet also attracts the quiet minded people.

One can reach Lal Tibba by taxi but the fun is in walking and taking in the sights. Then there is Doma's Inn, a restaurant with kitsch interior decoration.

Cute kitsch.

It is a good place to pack in some calories exhasuted by nearly 2 hours of walking and pack some more for the next two hours of exhausting walk. All in all a day well spent.

On a ruined building and a boring movie

There are good places for a short walk of less than an hour around the academy. One such place is the ruins close to the Mussoorie Modern School. A road branches off to the left when one comes from the Library Point towards the academy. The ruins are visible from afar. One reaches them by a short walk on a gravel path, the stone chips under the shoes sound as if a giant has been munching potato wafers underfoot. The fried variety, not the boiled ones.

The ruined building with a fire place had an eerie feel to it. The roof had caved in and the walls too would follow. The premises were free of tell tale signs of tourist abuse-graffiti, declarations of love etched in to the plaster on the walls, bottles of beer or cheap whisky, ugly plastic wrappers of chips packets etc. 

The neat ruins were a contrasted juxtaposition on the nature of the ruined building. The decency and the cleanliness with which its walls still stood lent some solemnity to the ruins. Access to the building might have been regulated or outright banned for there was a rusted old sign prohibiting trespassers and glaring dire warnings. However, the paint was lost with large flakes of rust and the unkind admonition was ignored, with good results.

Immediately behind the ruins was a rocky outcrop which has the best views in Mussorie and of Mussoorie. Seated there on the ledge, with the sun rising ahead of you, a sapphire blue sky above you and yellowish green mist and grass and the trees beneath you, one can see the snow peaks and the massifs (Swargarohini, Bandarpunch, parts of the Gangotri range) to the north, Dehra Dun to the south east and the twin towns of Mussoorie and Landour to the north and the north east. A near panoramic view.

One dreads the day when one has to leave these hills and the pleasant winter mornings and go back to the grey, dreary, joyless cities, crowded, polluted, soulless artificialities dead to beauty.

An occasional foray to Dehra Dun reinforces the dread. Add to the toxic fumes and the intemperate city spirit a headache of a movie, the 3D version of Exodus: Kings and Gods and etc. Ridley Scott terrorized us with Prometheus with atrocious dialogues as this.

"Janek: You know, if you wanna get laid, you really don't have to pretend to be interested in the pyramid scan. I mean, you could just say, "Hey, I'm trying to get laid." Heh.
Meredith Vickers: I could. I could say that, right? But then it wouldn't make sense why I would fly myself half a billion miles from every man on Earth if I wanted to get laid, would it?
Janek: Hey, uh, Vickers. Hey, Vickers. I was wondering... Are you a robot?
Meredith Vickers: [scoffs] My room. Ten minutes."

He continues the streak with Exodus too. There seems to be a prudish turn to Scott which makes him approach the subject of sex with stilted dialogue.

This is but a minor niggle compared to the lugubrious length of two and half hours aided by a very thin, familiar biblical plot. In the end there is only so much a director can imagine and it shows. The only effort seems to be in trying to provide a pseudo scientific explanation to the 10 plagues visited on the Egyptians by the god of the Jews. This effort too gets abandoned midway. The movie therefore was a disappointment.

The last week of FC is hard upon us. And so are the deadlines for pulling a rabbit out of one's hat and organize the one act play. A last gasp of strenuous activity.

The academy wore a deserted look today on account of a host of people going home for the weekend, the usual Delhi suspects, people taking part in river rafting at Rishikesh, organized by the Adventure Club and by people visiting the Rajaji National park.

Friday, 5 December 2014

On a sunset

The sun set on the 3rd of December was the best so far.

The Himalayas were mountains of the moon, shining jagged pieces of blemished silver, looked so sharp and bright as if pain got personalized and projected on to looming granite. Lustrous. The sun did its business for the day and came home for the night, met by the blushing mountains, blushing of the night ahead.

The valleys filled with a gray black haze, a miasma arising from the depths of the earth and filling up the hollows, the crooks and the deepnesses of the valleys while the sunlight fled up the slopes, anti gravitic, hurried and ungentlemanly. The darkness was the ink into which an accidental writer dipped his pen and sketched scenes from memory.

Motor cars turned corners on roads stencilled in to the hill sides, their headlamps intermittent fireflies. Or they were sprites of the seas playing peekaboo with the intense looking sailor gazing at them from the portholes of the upside down star ship Mycadea. The sailor plodded midway through a thin book of stars to chart a course for Mycadea. It was slow work, involved turning pages aided by the infrequent wetting of the index finger tip to provide a grip. The sailor was confused, tired and he clicked the pages with his index finger thinking they were virtual. He felt stupid and so gazed out of the window. It has been 93 days since Mycadea crashed on to this strange sad planet. He had been asked to plot a course to Phase 1 star system. He did not understand the point of the exercise when their star ship was stuck headfirst on a hill on earth. How was the captain planning on getting them unstuck, for instance? How would they be airborne? Do they have enough fuel even to upright themselves? He had no answer and the captain was his usual inscrutable silly self. The cadre comet was a fizzle compared to the anticipation it created. The Toughened Operational Turnips (T-OTs) had already calculated the trajectory and the probable crash points of the comet and braced themselves.
Exhaust vents of Mycadea
The middle ranges were bald nude brown in the sun light and in the rapid night rise were menacing hulks of negative space. Villages on the slopes shone in clusters of light and, to the sailor disoriented by his thoughts, they looked like boats tossed about by gigantic waves. The star ship made sense, but it has capsized, and the aliens and the T-OTs were breathing air trapped under the belly of the boat.

He felt heroic, clever even, for having thought of this analogy. He felt sea sick too, imagining the mountains as waves and himself as driftwood. The villages must be underground cities, populated by pretty mermaids. He thought of all the hill women he saw, prettier than pearls. He wondered if he could stay back on this planet, live in a village for a while, love a lovely hill woman, move to another village, love another woman, an itinerant romantic in eternal search for happiness.

Just then the captain Chip Spik bellowed at him for day dreaming when on the job. He wanted the course on his desk five minutes ago and warned the sailor that in case he falls behind schedule one more time he will be delivered to Ming the Merciless.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

On Impossible Trinity

It is not always vitriol and vinegar. Oftentimes one gets touched by the terrible cuteness of it all. Techno-managerial-bureaucrats pooling in resources, joining purpose, attaching minds and hearts to solve intractable problems of how to score more marks and rank above the next person is a heartening sight. A mark here or there is all that determines whether one becomes a cabinet secretary or a chief secretary or a nobody. It is that tough, this intense competition, this dog-eat-dog-eat-dog-eat-dog-eats chowmein and momos world. Tough, tough, tough. And amidst this chlorinated atmosphere, this pungent, vitiated air, there are heartwarming stories of romance, budding love, pink and rose hued shades of friendship, of group studies in groups in which oftentimes one has eyes for only one or more, of congregations in the hostel lounges, of currency in slide handouts, justice, welfare, maintenance all mingling in cloying displays of affection and equal parts tension. What of the time when one is in the field, that far away, exotic la-la land of red, blue and amber beacons and four score retinues and the forefathers breathing down one's neck?

A possible trinity but an impossible threesome. Alas!

Here is an impossible trinity for you. Dinner at Momo's, dinner at Little Llama, desserts at Clock Tower Cafe or Rockby all in the same day. That came out all wrong, it is quite possible.

Let us try again. Fixed exchange of hearts, open bank account and autonomy in marriage policy. Ha! Got you.
A good thing about the exam is that the whole batch is exempted from PT. Hurray!

Monday, 1 December 2014

On Eerie Silences

There is an eerie silence in the academy. The corridors of Ganga hostel are empty. One's footsteps echo in the emptiness. The ramp up to the academic block is devoid of movement. Even the frisky monkeys seem to have abandoned their friskiness for far weightier matters. The Happy Valley hostel corridor and the A.N. Jha Plaza are vacant. The piped music plays to the cold gallery and the air does not stir, nor the blades of grass nor the stone cold cast iron benches nor the sodium vapour lamps sending out crystal yellow rays to a December night. Ganga dhaba's daily profit dipped few crores due to the sudden evaporation of footfalls. The music system at the gym plays out peppy songs with unintelligible lyrics and the treadmills wait for their hamsters. Light bounces off the shiny floors of Silverwood hostel, escapes via the windows and gets eaten up by the silence of the darkness.

The Officer's Mess is a pale shadow of itself, rows upon rows of chairs await misshapen behinds, and plates await unintentional chipping and the hand dryers await the insertion of hands in to the slits for drying. From profound to the profane, KS, you manage the transition well.

The answer that begs the question is...

OTs of the 89th FC, Mussoorie, are hard at work, solving questions on probability and statistics, solving problems in education, health, internal security, Constitutional law, IPC, CrPC, CPC, official language, solving Plato, Aristotle, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Marx, boredom, distraction, old age, Facebook privacy and other things. And a whole body of macro, micro and miniscule Economics that if when read shall ensure a Nobel prize for Economics reading.

My best wishes to the OTs.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

On Counsellor Groups

A practice that is prevalent at the academy is that of a formal, structured mentorship programme called the counsellor groups. The counsellor groups provide informal platforms for interaction between the faculty and the OTs. These interactions are scheduled on a fortnightly basis. As a goodwill gesture and as a courtesy from very senior civil servants, the counsellors host a demi official dinner/lunch for the OTs. We have had one such luncheon this day. The counsellors are guardians for the OTs, their friend, philosopher and guide in times of need. This structure works well. The counsellor group OTs are like a platoon and they participate in various events as a group, competing with other counsellor groups. The tug of war was one such event.

The end term exams start Monday and once again the FC 89 batch is wrestling with Powerpoint presentations of a wide variety of topics. As the marks obtained in these exams count towards determining the final batch inter se seniority which determines the speed at which one is promoted or pushed up the ranks, a lot is at stake for few OTs who have age on their side.

13 days of non-IAS OTs' company left. Less or more is subjective.

On few eateries

The Home Turf Cafe is a cozy, well furnished, economical place to have one's snacks or non alcoholic beverages. The snacks are all popular stuff, momos, maggi, egg bhurji, sandwiches etc. The menu at Home Turf is a welcome departure from the monotony of the Officers' Mess. The Home Turf staff is efficient, cordial and talented. The Home Turf is a favourite haunt for OTs who have had their fill of Pooja and Ganga dhabas. The decor is that of a hang out for sports lovers. Therefore there are few board games, posters of sports icons and sports equipment. There are also flash cards with quiz questions on sports. Quite thoughtful, I think. Quite did not understand what the bean bags are doing there, though.
Home Turf, interior.
Illuminated Home Turf

The way to a man's heart is through food...or eyes.
When one is feeling lethargic, it is recommended that one stuff oneself to the gills. What better place to accomplish this noble deed than at Momo's, the place for all edible things Tibetan?! Momo's has an attiribute that sets ia part from other eateries/restaurants in town, namely, consistent quality. The food is tasty and it is so every time one has had the opportunity of dining at Momo's. Consistent quality performance and promise of good quality is an essential element of branding. If they do not do too bad in the future, Momo's will be a strong brand to reckon.
A light fixture at Momo's

The afternoon was given off so that the serious OTs can prepare for the end semester exams. The non serious types went for lunch and since it was a balmy day, decided to take a stroll through Mussoorie town. Hence, Gun Hill was visited, for the first time after all these months. And what an utter, utter disappointment! The area is smothered by tacky commerce. What might have been a good view point-Gun Hill is the 2nd highest point in the local area, highest being Lal Tibba- has been spoilt by greed. We have a talent for killing the golden goose. Take Kempty falls, for example. The area surrounding the falls is infested with tin shed installations blocking the view of the falls. So it is with the Gun Hill. The area was boxed in by tin shacks, tourist traps. There were shacks with games of chance and skill, shacks with shiny clothes, snack shops and a 'binoculars point.' There are 3 binoculars and the slick businessmen characteristic of tourist places charge Rs.30 per person for peering closely at the snow peaks, the same peaks which are visible to the naked eye.
View from the Gun Hill, from the Binocular Point
A sample of shops at the Gun Hill

Temple Bell
The chronic disappointment of the Gun Hill was however offset by the pleasant walk on the Camel Back road. The quiet back roads were a good place to watch birds. There were many pretty bungalows as well.

Blue Whistling Thrush
The longish walk from Gun Hill via Camel Back road, Waverley road and to the academy was timed for the sun set. Sun rises and sun sets have been spectacular of late in these areas.
The after glow
Stairs near the AN Jha Plaza

14 days yet to be chopped.

Friday, 28 November 2014

On Networking and Little Llama Cafe

A 'maha' cultural festival comprising of performances by the very senior officers of Phase 5 training programme and the FC participants, followed by an interaction session between the two ends of a civil servant's career spectrum were the highlights of the day.

It is always a good idea to find a mentor. Few OTs are brilliant at networking. In a twisted, false sense of propriety, a misplaced modesty, a characteristic hypocrisy that typifies us, networking is seen as a sinister activity, as a sign of inferiority complex, a sign that one is taking advantage of people. I believe it only shows a congenital fear of social interactions. Networking is a key activity in professional lives. The word networking is a compact explanation of a complex process of social interaction. There is no need to disparage networking. One only stands to gain from it.

A corollary of networking, or, rather, a consequence of networking is lobbying. This is a dirty word the way it is understood. Lobbying for one's interests is a basic process of social membership. The whole world lobbies for the rich and the mighty. Who lobbies for the common man? The beauty of the Indian civil services is that the Constitution of India mandates that the civil servants be the lobbyists for the poor and the underprivileged.

In a departure from the rut we had fallen in to, namely continued patronage of the restaurant Momo's (on Kulri Bazaar road), we checked out the delightfully cramped Little Llama Cafe on the Kulri road, next to the Union Church. It can seat at most 7 well-fed OTs sans their egos. The compact open kitchen lets one see and smell the food being cooked, a fascinating experience any time. One recalls the many hours spent watching one's mother in the kitchen creating beauty and perfection in food. One also chipped in by helping when possible, chopping, dicing, slicing things. The menu at Little Llama features western snack and fast food at moderate prices. It is a welcome change from the many bowls of Thukpa and platters of meat Saptak one has at Momo's.
At Momo's on Kulri Road

With only 15 days to go, most activities of the FC are winding down. Tomorrow is the last day of academic classes and also of PT. The end term exams start from Monday and will go on for five days. Most OTs are preparing for the exams at a fever pitch.

Two weeks and it is curtains down.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

FC 89 - A Space Odyssey

Those of us in the know will know that the Karmshila building is a space cruise ship which slammed in to a middling hill in the Mussoorie range nose down. It arrived after a short haul from Prashaasanik constellation, from the 3rd Attempt star system. Owing to a loss of control over Interview Mark II (the thrusters required for calibrated landing), the ship crashed head first in to the hill. One can see even now the exhaust vents on 'top' of the building, the conical glass structures that one assumes are for ventilation, for letting in the inadequate November sun light.

The flight deck was the current toilet of the Officers' Lounge, comprising of both men's and women's washrooms. From this cockpit the ship had been captained by Captain Chip Spik, ably assisted by his first officer Madam Loud Squeak, the navigator Mr. Long John, gunner Ms. Rattle Tattle, medical officer Mr. Palaver Salve, a vague but validated comic creature called Miss Higg's Bosom and other crew members. The pilot sat on the toilet seat, pulled on the toilet roll to release the throttle and flushed the toilet to break hard. It was an easy and intuitive control system. And there was the auto-pilot, Found Attention Cores, the artificially intelligent automaton.

Why did the space cruise ship chart its way to the planet Earth? Was there a mistake in file noting? Were they supposed to have reached File Cabinet planetary system but got sucked up by the In-Tray 101 black hole and ended up in the Red Tape galaxy? One may never know. The sentient beings of the space cruise ship adapted to life on earth. The aliens learnt early on that commerce is the dominant activity of humans. Therefore they mutated in to Mr. Ganges Dabas, Mr. Milky Rum, Miss Lovely Professional Universe Omelette Centre, Mr. Tevern and so on. They brought their strange rituals like morning PT which involved bending otherwise inflexible human bodies into awkward angles early in the winter morning cold, weird alien clothes like formal wear, funny practices like sleeping in the class etc.

The aliens sought to replicate their social structure called the Bureaucratic Hierarchy through a well graded Administrative System, on earth. It was easier said than done. To this end, the aliens formed a special committee called the Universal Potentially Silly Choice committee whose sole mandate was to screen a large number of humans and select from among them creatures with pliable minds, massive egos and a sense of entitlement. The committee received an overwhelming number of applications, all eligible. Therefore, they added more criteria and kept them all secret so that the humans can never decipher the alien thinking. However, few qualifying conditions that leaked out were that the applicants need to be insufferable, intolerant, elitist in nature etc. Even so, the swell of eligible candidates overwhelmed the committee. Therefore, they chose to add further stringent criteria, like a stay in a village for a week, a trek in the Himalayas for a week, cultural programmes every fortnight and so on. The cultural programmes did the trick, may be, they got the required quantity and quality of specimens whom they called the T-O.Ts (Toughened Operational Turnips).

The aliens designed a maze, an obstacle course in which these T-OTs run and must hurry ever forward to achieve an elusive goal. The aliens graded the T-OTs in to PKTP (Potential Keen Type Potato), LKTP (Latent Keen Type Potato), OKTP (Over Keen Type Potato) and various other grades. The T-OTs had all of 100 days to accomplish various tasks like scoring Walnut Brownie points with the instructors and T-OTs of the opposite gender, gather enough gold coins so that they rank higher in the Inter se Potato Seniority etc., while dodging injuries (which can be glossed over by acquiring Med Packs hidden near the Reception Counter) as well as red hot Memos, supposed radio-active pieces of paper that had to be avoided at any cost.

This was the set up of the doomed space cruise ship, its time-space travellers, their experimental subjects the T-OTs, their exercises, their existence whence all of a sudden and out of the blue, like the Chelyabinsk meteor but much more devastating, on this peaceful pale blue dot of a planet earth dropped the Cadre Comet!!!
Cheylabinsk meteor, for illustration purposes.

What happened next? Did the T-OT race survive the comet strike unlike the dinosaurs? Why not find out tomorrow or the day after or any day in the distant future when I am in a mood to write more?

Sweet 16 today but wont last forever, these number of days of the Foundation Course.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

On A Cat on Cold Tin Roof

I came across a cat in the academy today. In itself it is nothing to write about. However, it is the first time I have noticed a cat. Dogs, monkeys and langurs make up the fauna of the academy. Stray cows too. A stray cat is a strange sight and hence it merited a mention. It jumped in the cold air from the Happy Valley Hostel, sauntered across the 135 degree wide stairs and leaped on to the Unhappy Plateau Hostel roof. 

Cat on a cold tin roof.

The cat then proceeded to the Gandhi Smriti Library and pawed at books yellowed from the Hippie days, the pages brittle as the bones of the rainbow generation. The curious cat browsed through the books kept at the shelves at the end of the book racks, the books that the batch of OTs had gotten issued, read and returned. There were books on law, public administration, warfare, economics, poverty. The cat's curiosity was aroused, however, by the books at the English fiction section. Camus and Wodehouse were being read. Good for the batch, the voyeuristic cat thought, good for the batch for reading more than PowerPoint presentations of subjects, good of them for consuming more than mere slide handouts. But what is this? 'Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul'?!

The thought of chicken soup made the cat hungry. The cat went to the A.N. Jha Plaza cafe for a cup of coffee with a dash of strawberry syrup and pretty lady OTs for company.

The cat walked in to the Sampoornanand auditorium and listened in on few lectures. Insincere sounding media men and earnest senior civil servants lectured on topics dear to their hearts. The OTs nodded in agreement or in sleep. Few OTs  spoke among themselves. Their thoughts were bubbles rising from vats of boiling tar, the thoughts were tar bubbles, ink black demons and they rose from the mouths of these OTs, floated up a little and then burst, staining the shirts and sticking to hair of fellow OTs, irritating them. The cat decided to shred the demons of distraction to shreds and scratch the presumptuous OTs, scratching away the thick blanket of arrogance with which they cloak themselves. These narcissistic fish think nothing of talking aloud in the class. They love to hear their voice and think everyone does too. 
'Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.' (T.S. Eliot)
Our cat makes short work of these blow fishes, leaps across the valleys, ridge to ridge, peak to peak, in to the distant sun set, in to reluctant night, in to chalked out horizons.

The cat then woke up and found itself in the Happy Valley Ground, it appeared from a winter of discontent. It performed slick moves as an aerobics practitioner, all the while imagining the feline female forms in unitards, actresses escaped from Cats.
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