Hemendra Kumar IAS
At seventy plus, I find that my limbs start aching after even a moderately strenuous physical activity. Fortunately, memories die hard. It is always a pleasure to recall events from yesteryears when the limbs were stronger. Who can forget the carefree and fun filled Academy days or early part of the career? I cover a few episodes from the nostalgic serial.
Cricket was a popular sport in the Academy. Matches were played in the small ground available and it was easy to hit the ball out of the ground. A pity that T-20 format had not been introduced by then, otherwise a few of us may have tried making megabucks by playing for some team. We played a friendly cricket match in which Director and other staff members participated. It was indeed a fun game.
Horse riding classes were terror for some but for those, like me, who had done horse riding as IPS probationers, it was fun. Over confidence and carelessness made me butt of jokes on two occasions. In one of the classes, the horse detected that I was careless and it stopped suddenly, just before the hurdle. It did not cross the hurdle but I did, landing on all fours. Luckily, no cellphones or cameras were around. The second occasion was the horse-riding test. I picked up a wicked horse and was duly warned by Nawal Singh. Initially everything happened according to the script and the horse followed my commands, rather the shouted commands of Nawal Singh. About halfway in the test, the horse decided to start behaving its wicked self. Ignoring all commands, it started to gallop around the fenced perimeter. It tried hard to throw me off but I was lucky to stay on the saddle. Finally, it stopped abruptly on a sharp command of Nawal Singh but even then, I did not fall off. The riding test rules must have allowed a person to pass if he or she just managed to stay on the horse back throughout the test, so I passed. Horse riding skills were used in giving the Director a colourful sendoff, some of us, in ceremonial dress, escorting his car on horseback.
Our stay at Bastar, the tribal district of Madhya Pradesh, during Bharat Darshan was memorable. We were four in the group, Aditya Vijai Singh, G.S.Sandhu, C.S.Samal and I. The Collector, Shri Rajgopal, ensured that we became familiar with the tribal life and customs. A trip was organized to Abujhmad, a predominantly tribal area. To reach the place, one had to cross forest area with no roads and a river without a bridge. We travelled in two jeeps, accompanied by a Tehsildar and some other revenue officials. Journey through the jungle took considerable time. The river was crossed using rafts on which jeeps were also loaded. To make the crossing of the river a bit adventurous, I and A.V. Singh decided to enter the water to push the rafts. Water was not very deep but the current was strong. At one point, I was thrown off balance and lost a pen which belonged to A.V. Singh. We spent the evening watching ghotul members dance and spent the night in a government building with virtually no basic amenities. We were as close to nature as one can get. The return journey next morning was also a bit adventurous. We found that the jeeps did not have sufficient fuel to take us back. Travelling in a zigzag manner at slow speed in the forest area had resulted in excessive fuel consumption. The fuel remaining in tank of one jeep was transferred to the other jeep and we hoped to reach the nearest petrol pump. We did not want to get stranded in middle of nowhere and decided to help the driver in finding the shortest jeep able path through the forest area. Who would believe that we took turns to jog ahead of the jeep for quite some distance to ensure that it was on the right track? Fortunately, we reached the nearest petrol pump without difficulty.
Taking Care of Juniors
One had heard that according to the service tradition, senior officers were expected to not only guide and help the raw juniors in learning their craft but also to ensure that their life was comfortable. Any number of examples of seniors helping juniors can be cited, but one incident is of special importance to me. In January 1969, Prime Minister, Mrs. Gandhi, visited Saharanpur to address an election related public meeting. I was posted there as a probationer. She was to address the public meeting in the evening and stay overnight. In the morning of the day of PM’s visit, Shri Vyas, the District Magistrate, had a look at the PWD Inspection House where the PM was to stay. He was not happy with what he saw and asked me to supervise the necessary changes that he wanted to be made. The PM arrived late and the public meeting ended at about 10 pm. While the PM was at the meeting venue, Shri Dinesh Singh, MOS for External Affairs, arrived unannounced at the Inspection House from Sarsawa, a small Airforce station near Saharanpur. He had brought some important files for immediate decision of PM. By the time the Minister finished his meeting with the PM and dinner was over, it was past midnight. The Minister had come in an Airforce jeep and going back to Sarsawa in the same vehicle in the cold winter night was unthinkable. As my personal car was the only non-jeep vehicle available there, it was decided that I should drive him, DM and SSP to Sarsawa. Returning from there, we reached DM’s residence at about 1:30 AM. The DM knew that I had missed my lunch and dinner. He woke up his wife and requested her to prepare some thing for me for dinner and she did so. If you get this kind of treatment, you are bound to treat your juniors the same way. One hopes that this tradition of service has continued and will continue in future also.
Curse of Lord Mahadev
In Garhwal district, where I was posted as DM in early seventies, there is an ancient temple devoted to Lord Mahadev at Binsar. It is located in thick forest area at an elevation of about 8000 ft. above sea level. A fair is held at Binsar on the occasion of Baikunth Chaturdashi. Miss Mittal, Commissioner Garhwal, and I decided to visit the place to see if it could be developed as a tourist spot. Accompanied by a few revenue officials, we trekked for two days from the nearest road head to reach the temple. There we found that a large crowd had gathered near the temple gate and a small group of 3-4 persons were having heated arguments with the pujaris. Coming to know that the Commissioner and DM were there, they came to us and complained that they were being denied entry to the temple as they belonged to scheduled caste. It appeared that the pujaris had the support of the crowd. Not wanting to discuss anything in presence of the crowd, I suggested to Miss Mittal that we should go inside the temple and discuss the matter with pujaris there. As we reached inside the temple, I was astonished to find that the small group had followed us. They had misunderstood what I had told Miss Mittal as an invitation to come inside. No obstruction was created by anyone in their movement. As their entry in the temple was fait accompli, no further discussion was necessary. When we came out, I found that one of the pujaris was in a trance and saying something loudly. When asked to explain what was being said, the Tehsildar reluctantly explained that the pujari was invoking Lord Mahadev to curse me as I had defiled the temple by making scheduled caste persons enter it. The crowd seemed to be agitated but not too hostile. We were sure that the crowd will not harm us but worried about the safety of the scheduled cast persons. We stayed there till that group had left the place unharmed. We were indeed lucky that no untoward incident took place and the curse did not harm me. The flip side of the story is that an ambitious AIR correspondent based in Pauri, who was not getting many news worthy stories, made most of the incident. He made a spicy story out of the incident and ensured that his name and my name, perhaps written in fine print in the script, was broadcast in the national news bulletin.