Dr U K Sen IRS (Customs & Excise)
That was towards the end of February, 1968.
The taxi slowly climbed past Library Bazaar, a sleepy area in the city of
Mussoorie. I could sense a kind of stillness as it trudged its way towards the Academy. Chunks of ice could be seen slowly melting on the side of the curved roads as we reached the portals of the Academy. I dropped my luggage and walked into the Academy office located in front of one of the cottages, at the far end of a sprawling, cemented courtyard, laced with greenery.
An elderly orderly escorted me to room number 69 in the Happy Valley Block. A bright corridor with a lot of natural light greeted me. It had glass windows overlooking the valley. There was a series of double-bedded rooms on one side of the corridor. I parked my luggage and noticed that there was another occupant who had already kept his stuff in the room. Walking towards the dining hall, I met Arati Mukherjee, my friend from Presidency College. She took me along for a hearty meal. There I found many of my long-lost Presidency College friends who had cracked the civil services examination.
The morning after, we were asked to join the PT class at the crack of
dawn. It was a painful exercise to wake up daily in those bitterly cold, wintry mornings to ensure our physical fitness. Our PT instructor Mr. Gaekwad, made us do Canadian PT for an hour or so. We just had enough time to come back for a quick shower and shave and get ready for attending the daily stream of class lectures and post lunch seminars.
The teaching faculty had an interesting line up with professors and lecturers drawn from various disciplines. One couldn’t miss the Eco Professor, Dr.KN Bhattacharya’s subtle humor spun around “….and things like that” as he looked at the ceiling and taught us, poor earthlings, the nuances of Economics. He seriously thought that since humans were responsible for planning and growth, the title of his book on planning should have the following words: ” Third Five Year Plan: a test in growthmanship”! Prof. Bhattacharya was fond of playing guitar with great gusto and occasionally played different, unfamiliar notes, much to the amusement of the cognoscenti! While Prof Pathak taught Law with great flourish, we were pleasantly entertained when Prof. D C Tiwari stumbled into difficult legal terrain when he was quizzed by us on linkages of comparative constitutions. One of us was bold enough to sleep while wearing sun goggles during one of his seminars. A few in the teaching faculty, Mr. Khosla, Deputy Director (Senior) and Mr. Ajoy Bagchi stole the show, as they taught Max Weberian version of Public Admin, and later mingled with the students to make us feel comfortable. Later in the day, stenciled notes, which were the recipe for preparing for exams, used to pour into our pigeon holes.
Evenings were free. We could choose to opt for indoor or outdoor activities. The billiard room and card tables buzzed with a lot of excitement. My room-mate G Krishnan, who headed the Film Club, provided enjoyment to film buffs through screenings of many award-winning movies.
Across the road, up the hill, was Hari’s iconic canteen for snacking. There, over a cup of tea, we spent many an afternoon chatting away on issues ranging from abracadabra to zebra!
Occasionally, the Director, Mr. M G Pimputkar joined us for a game of Bridge. He often watched films with the probationers. I recall an evening watching “Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf”, when I noticed MGP quietly taking a young guy (who probably entered the hall as someone’s guest) out of the hall, as it was an ‘Adult’ movie and thereafter returning to his seat.
While a few of us would go up to Library Bazaar for a quick dinner once a while, dinner in the campus would be served sharp at 8.30pm. It was compulsory to be dressed in formal attire in the dining hall. I remember some of my friends (I would refrain from naming them) draping a ‘Gala bandh’ over their night clothes in case they were late for formal dress! Mess in charge, Furtado would invariably be around to oversee that food was being served as per the menu drawn up by him.
Horse riding was a passion with some of us. In spite of a few falls here and there, it generated a lot of interest in a new world of sport. One could see some attending lectures with slings and crepe bandages, quietly nursing their wounds from horse falls off Rajni, the frisky horse! Luckily there were no incidents of injury from horse kicks!
With no mobile telephones those days, we were in splendid isolation with a solitary phone in the dining hall, hooked on to a ramshackle PBX Mussoorie telephone exchange. More often than not, calls on this solitary instrument would not come through as the operator would get impatient and disconnect the incoming calls if there was the slightest delay. A sure shot was to shoot off a telegram and wait for response.
Formal dinners were organised to introduce the nuances of toasting and etiquette to the newly inducted officers with the hope that they will follow them while attending State functions in the distant future.
The cultural wing was very active in revving up interesting activities like focusing on in-house musical soirees. We used to regale ourselves in the Music room which had a rich array of musical instruments. Mahesh Dayal from the Railways used to enthral the audience with his mellifluous voice singing ‘Chandan Sa Badan….’.
Years later I visited the Academy when B.S Baswan took charge as the Director. It was an enriching experience to meet new entrants and share thoughts on various nuances of bureaucracy.
This summer, after 50 springs, as we now go up the winding road to the Academy, I am reminded of Bergman’s classic film Wild Strawberries. In the same vein, I recall our salad days and in doing so, I do feel ‘light-hearted’.