The Days of Wine & Roses

Krishna Mohan Sahni, IAS, AGMUT


I came to the Academy (and to the IAS) after a couple of job opportunities in the private sector. Straight out of college, I was picked up as a management trainee by the then Sterling Shipping Company, Gladstone Lyall (in Calcutta) & the still British Mercantile Bank (in Bombay), a member of the HSBC Group. However, dear father, who was in the IRAS, counselled me to work for Govt. and to wait for the UPSC result. And, on that fateful day, I still remember my friend, college mate & batch mate, Vijay Mathur, driving down all the way to our house in Roopnagar from his residence, 16, Lodi Estate, with a box of sweets, to celebrate my entry into his Dad’s Service. I always remember Viz for that magnificent gesture. He and I were also, later, to be roommates in 15, Happy Valley, though he feels that it was 25, Happy Valley!


It was my first visit to Mussoorie in 1969, despite my having spent three years in boarding at St. Joseph’s Academy, Dehradun, and then run by the Irish Christian Brotherhood. It was Monsoon time in July 1969, & yet everyday was such fun. Horse riding was mandatory & I’d pray that it rained heavily every morning to escape the rigors of the mares, as also the tongue lashing of the otherwise affectionate Shri Nawal Singh. Gaikwad Sahab was our go-to person for aid & advice, and our present Air Chief was then a four feet nothing in the campus. The wars of attrition between Mr. SSD & JKK on the one hand, & the resilient tennis player Mr. Gopalankrishnan, all members of our directorial staff, were the stuff legends are made of, with a matching contribution by the hostility between the then JD & the D. The late LVS (may his soul rest in peace), who’d ask ponderous questions in post lunch Guest Lectures, enacted a Shakespeare play which was marred by our cat calls when the lights suddenly went off. Friend Adarsh Kishore did his best, as PMC to resurrect the quality of food in the Mess, but our favourite meal invariably turned out to be piping hot dosas & scrambled eggs in the evening. Whispering windows was a favourite haunt outside the Academy, & many IOUs were issued there by the generous SK Menon. Palti (Menon) was a great athlete in college & was known to go for a run up to Library Point on most clear mornings after P.T. The Ladies Block housed toughies like Roopan Deol & Radha Singh, who would make waves in officialdom over the years. Our two gentlest souls, Palti M, & Saibal Purkayastha, were the conscience keepers of our batch. I got into a spot of trouble with Saddy Boy during our Bharat Darshan, because he thought, & perhaps rightly so, that as batch leader, I did precious little to control the more gregarious members of our group. My probation was extended, and Saibal had to keep a strict but benevolent vigil over me during our Joshimath Army attachment with the 4/8 Gorkhas.


I remember our last evening in the Academy in 1971. We were all assembled in the Director’s Lawn, and a youthful Crown Prince of Sikkim, the charming Tenzing Namgyal, was playing the “Last Waltz” on his portable record player. Tenzing used to drive like crazy, & many years later, he hurtled down the road in Gangtok and left us all heartbroken!!


We lost the noble Keshav Gupta very early on. He was killed in Zunehbouto (Nagaland) & Suman; Navin Chawla & I (all SDMS in Delhi) received his body at Palam & cremated him in Nigambodh Ghat. Of all people, a very young (and lithe) C.D. Parsheera died of a Heart attack in Himachal Pradesh. This is an ode to all the stalwarts we have lost over the years from our batch.


The time spent in the Academy is specially remembered by most of us because it was so unlike the hurly burly of life post it. From these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer at 6000 feet above sea level in Charleville, we were suddenly exposed to the harsh realities of public administration. Looking back, it was a different milieu altogether, and so it was a pleasure to come back to the Academy from time to time for refresher courses, guest lectures, et al. As Joint Secretary (Food), I used to hold annual stock taking (literally & figuratively) workshops with the mandarins of the Food Corporation of India & the State Food Secretaries. During that stint, I remember rushing to Kargil during the conflict, to discuss with Shaileen Kabra, the then DC, Kargil, an alternative land site for constructing a godown of the FCI there, the earlier one having been destroyed by the Pakis during the conflict!


By & large, it has been a wonderful innings in the Service, the two supersessions (at A.S. & Secretary level) notwithstanding. Both times, however, I got lucky & regained my foothold in the batch hierarchy. Many years later, in a delicious twist of irony, I was requested by the then Cabinet Secretary whether I would care to be a member of the review committee for empanelment of Additional Secretaries & Secretaries from the IAS. Which is where, I had the pleasure of catching up with another friend & batch mate Chitra Chopra of the Rajasthan Cadre. I think I enjoyed each & every posting during my 37 years in the Service, right from my district in the Nicobar Islands, to the Stewardships of the Delhi Transport Corporation, as Director of FCI/State Fed (Assam), and Kerala Soaps & Oils in then Calicut. Being a Railway Officer’s son, touring was in my blood, but I frankly enjoyed my domestic tours far more than my rather frequent visits to Geneva for ISO/WTO/ and ILO meetings. My last stint in the Service, in the Ministry of Labour, was fascinating, but getting labour reforms through was, & remains, a huge challenge.


As I now enter the Academy for the Golden Retreat, there is therefore much to be grateful for over the life spent in the Service, Would love to be a member of the IAS in my next birth, provided I’m able to compete, & provided, also, that the Service continues to exist!!







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