Humourous, but sensitive
An insider’s portrayal of government apathy
by DIPTENDRA RAYCHAUDHURI
M K Kaw must have been an exceptional IAS officer. Any reader going through his book is bound to have the same impression as mine. He must have been an exceptional man too. For, he can laugh at his own shape. This is a rare quality. And he is an acute observer of things. Through the pages of ‘An Outsider Everywhere’ peeps his smile and his eyes, and they reflect the joy of life.
It all starts from the very beginning of the book, with the opening sentence being: “First, my name.” It goes back to his childhood. When he came out of his house a certain person commented, “Hey the kav bachha (baby crow) has come. Kav bachha, how are you today?”. Then he ‘would burst into peals of laughter at his own witticism’. And Kaw withstood it. Probably from his very childhood he had acquired the great sense of humour that has made his book an excellent read.
Such sense of humour is accompanied by a sensitive mind (may be only those who possess such sensitive minds can have such a great sense of humour). That sensitivity comes on the surface here and there in sentences which he has written just to touch upon the subject, without dragging it to the extent that reeks of subtle way of boating. “My sister says that some times when she looks at the achievements of our family, she is amazed at our elevation from the peon’s quarter in Kotla Mubarakpur to the mansion of the Chief Secretary next to the Raj Bhawan in Shimla.”
He was not from an elite family and he has candidly written about what he went through after joining the IAS. He went for training to Mussourie where he had a very strict riding instructor (“It was as if the horses were as scared of Nawal Singh as the probationers”), where he had to learn table manners by copying others, and listen to those boring lectures that only a few took interest in (“like Lakshmidhar Mishra, who sat on the front row and took copious notes; but then Lakshmi also kept the top-knot on the skull that denotes the orthodox Brahmin…”)
And then there were the hassles of being a bachelor IAS officer: “Although I did not realise it, many people were considering me to be an eligible catch.” That of course is an interesting reading. An additional district judge’s wife made an attempt to marry her sister with him; a friend’s sister made a discreet attempt to impress him by letting him know her feelings, and there were others too.
Some of his observations as a young officer are just hilarious. Consider this: “I discovered some interesting facts about the people of Bulandshahr. For example, it was very common for married women to develop an illicit liaison with another man and then elope with him. The husbands had developed a clever counter-strategy to get their wives back. They would approach me through a lawyer, alleging that the wife had been forcibly abducted by someone. ... If the lady was produced by the other party, she would invariably say that she had gone voluntarily with her paramour. But if the husband got to her, she would allege forcible abduction.”
With his keen observation and unique sense of humour, it was expected that he would present the world about him in a way that would marvel us. And from there, it was bound to shift to some more mundane affairs of government that unfortunately can make or ruin lives of people. The book is studded with many examples of government’s apathy that hurt the people of this country. I will cite just one example: “Fortunately for us, sometime in 1979, Charan Singh became the Prime Minister. He decided that Rural Development should be a ministry, not merely a department. He shifted the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) from the Ministry of Industry to the Ministry of Rural Development.” Kaw then describes the far-reaching significance of the decision.
Reading this book is like sailing through the river of life of a person whose sensitive mind stands out from the beginning to the end. g