Surendra Bhargava IRS (Income tax)
At the time of selection to Revenue Service, I was lean and thin, weighing 100 lbs. However, I believed the popular perception that Income tax department can ‘fatten’ anyone! May be that’s why I had gladly jumped at the option. Jokes apart, my father, who was with the state government in UP exhorted me to put on weight so that “I look like an officer”. A neighbor whose claim to fame was a course in naturopathy from Gorakhpur, in earnestness to help me, suggested I undergo ‘phalahar’(fruit only diet) and ‘tubbath’. The regime was to go for a walk, have ‘tubbath’ at his place and 3 times a day-breakfast, lunch and dinner- to have only kharbooja and kismish.
To everybody’s dismay the ‘satvik’ diet had the opposite effect- instead of gaining weight, I lost 10 lbs and when I arrived at the Academy in Mussorrie in July, 1967, and climbed on the scales at Indra Bhavan, the needle showed a depressing 90 lbs.
Roommate of mine from IPS, took pity on me and suggested an early breakfast routine. From day first, we were the first to reach the dining table, before anybody else. That gave us a head start and helped us in grabbing a lion’s share of butter and cheese. I was confident that my friend from police would take care of problems, in case we were caught.
The stolen food, ‘haram ka khana’ worked! When I left the Academy after 3-1/2 months, I tipped the scales at a grand 110 lbs. However, ‘silent curse’ of grabbing butter meant for others was that, in 50 years, I still weigh the same 110 lbs. This could be due to strict regime which was instilled in us, in the 3-1/2 months of our stay in Mussorrie, including no bunking of classes. There is an example to illustrate it. Once, I sent an application for medical leave with the intention to study for the training examination. Lo and behold, Mr Shastri, Dy Director, appeared in his jeep at Indra Bhavan, to check whether I was really ill or feigning it. Fortunately, I heard his jeep coming up and I quickly jumped into my bed.
I also recollect the encounter with Academy reception. Due to hiccups while getting down from the train at Dehradun and engaging a taxi, I reported at 12.01 pm by the watch at the reception. My entreaties failed to impress the officer on duty and my date of joining was recorded for posterity as 18th July afternoon!
‘How important is the Mess Register’, I found it as Mess Secretary. One could avail discount in the mess bill by entering whether one has eaten lunch or dinner, while going out on weekend or on short leave, by bunking class. Of course, all such entries needed Director’s permission. One of the batch mates made requisite entries to avail mess discount, but without seeking the necessary permission. When the Big Boss came to know, he summoned me with the mess register, which used to be in my custody. To save the situation for the officer, I told the Director that I cannot reveal the details from the register, since the privacy of the same is sacrosanct. The Director did not force me but told that had such a situation arisen in the field, I could have faced the music, for my impertinence!
The mess etiquette was duly impressed upon us in the Academy. Once in the dining hall one probationer came for breakfast in night gown and slippers. Finding it little odd, I suggested to him that it is respectful to fellow officers, if one dressed up properly in the dining hall. I even narrated him consequences of such shabby behavior in the Defense services academies at Kharakvasla and other places. He was obviously not impressed and threatened to come back next morning ‘in a langot or even less’, if he so desired! Since that day, I was always carrying my camera at breakfast time, in the academy mess. Alas, I didn’t get my chance to click a ‘prize winning’ photo till the end of the course.
The Mess committee used to have a joint secretary also. This particular guy-sadly, had also been joint secretary with an earlier Mess Secretary. A fellow officer commented that my joint secretary was 2nd hand! Feeling offended, I told him that “one never knows what is first hand or 2nd hand”. Now, unknown to me, this chap had recently got married. He thought that I was commenting on his wife. He called me to his room and asked me why I had commented on his wife? I explained that I didn’t even know that he was married. The angry officer let me go, but dared me not to repeat such comments in future!