4,00,000 starry-eyed Indians, we are informed, applied for the Civil Services this year. How many of them know, we wonder, that the successful among them will pant up Benog Hill one day, fall like a sack of bricks from Dara’s saddle the next and be pulverised by an irate I.T.B.P. black belt on the third? Shall we disabuse them? Shall we tell the 4,00,000 what lies in stores for the fortunate few? Perhaps not. Because if the first 80 days of Academy life have taught us one thing, it is this: that while our gouges are numerous, the things we have to smile about are innumerable.
So here we are, the members of your House Journal Society, with pen in hand and tongue firmly in cheek, to bring you your own IMPRESSIONS of your first 12 weeks of Academy life.
An ivory tower? A land of milk and honey? An extended holiday at government expense? A breeding ground for future demigods? The Academy proved to be all of these and none of these.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the Course Authorities. A mindboggling list of don’ts-which appeared all the more formidable when they issued from the seemingly forbidding countenance of THAT MAN in the moustache. To say we felt like undertrails would just about sum it up. But impressions, by their very nature, are ephemeral and our impression of Mr Dalal was no different. Afzal summed up our collective sentiment when he likened him to a coconut: tough on the outside but most delightfully sweet and soft inside.
The four Course Authorities seemed to be appointed to block off escape routes in all four directions of the compass. They have done a remarkable job, aided in no small measure by a suspiciously large number of landslides. Acts of God? Or sticks of dynamite from a more than willing CD? We wonder.
The Counsellors were our friends, philosophers and gurus, each offering his own home-grown variant of the road to Salvation. (Salvation, more often than not, lay at the other end of the Dehradun-Delhi road and some gurus endeared themselves to their Shishyas by offering shorter mutes than the others). Some gurus even turned money lenders, monetarily inducing probationers to abstain from leave!
The hostel rooms seemed habitable, but only just. Their proudest boast were the inordinately large windows through which sunshine and clouds wafted in on alternate days. Which brings us to the lasting impression of our first fortnight-a steadily increasing volume of rain and a rapidly decreasing number of umbrellas!
The clouds inside S.P.H. often rivalled those outside in density as speaker after guest speaker strove to penetrate our befogged minds with the sunbeams of his erudition. Some of the more welcome guests on the SPH stage were the likes of Swapna Sundari and Habib Tanveer.
The SPH was rechristened the “Sleeping Probationers Hall” as most seemed bitten by the tsetse fly. Sleeping sickness did not spare the faculty either. Some of them were seen nodding vigorously during guest lectures-closer inspection revealed they were dozing off. In fact, the chairs in SPH acquired such notoriety for inducing sleep that many probationers went off to sleep even while watching Aashiqui through sheer force of habit!
Our Director, like that other great intellectual Aristotle, subscribes to the Peripatetic school of thought. He seems to regard the probationers as so many “Ekalavyas”, who must absorb the wisdom of Dronacharya without catching a glimpse of him. But absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. And never were we happier to see our Dronacharya than when he braved chilly winds and rain and ran the entire cross-country course with his “Ekalavyas”. Good strategist that he is, he led his forces resolutely from the rear!
From the Director to the Faculty on whom we made social calls, often at less-than-social hours. “The Russians are coming!” we once overheard in frantic whispers from within as we pressed a professorial doorbell. The FC grapevine worked overtime and we could predict which professor would offer what variety of squash. The hospitability was heartfelt and it was like coming home. Two thickskinned members of the House Journal Society even sought to invite themselves over to a “working dinner” at thirty minutes’ notice only to be put firmly in their place by their prospective host-their irrepressible Director’s Nominee.
The cool climes of Mussoorie had their spill-over effects in the form of the ice that formed between the genders. Most probationers endeavoured manfully to hone their BLQ’s (bachelor-like qualities!) Their studied indifference for each other was exceeded only by their collective apathy towards guest speakers. The men and women probationers took their own time sizing each other up. But like superpower relations, the ice here too has begun to thaw. We earnestly await the onset of glasnost. Incidentally, the unification of Germany too found a parallel in an impending Academy marriage.
Another probationer who went in for an off-campus wedding had a continuous ‘high’. In a soulstirring display of OLQ’s (officer-like qualities), our friend took a mere two days’ leave for his marriage and then trudged off for his trek to enjoy his honeymoon alone!
Meanwhile, the gossip mills churned overtime, sending the newshounds of the HIS up the wall (magazine) as they laboured unsuccessfully to sift fact from fiction. It was flattering to note that one issue of the wall magazine generated even more interest among the faculty than among the probationers.
The “Trek Masala” series became the only voluntarily compulsory course input. It succeeded in rubbing salt into blistered feet and throwing chilli powder into the eyes of those currying favour with the various “U-know-who’s”, adding spice all the while to the food for thought of the entire FC Probationers were found craning their necks, training their eyes on the wall magazine and occasionally straining their brains as they strove to find humour in some particularly pointless quip.
If our days were crammed with course inputs, our nights were spent dreaming about Padmini, Nargis, Kalyani and Rosie. Daybreak brought us down to earth, often with a rude thud on the riding ground. We were told that horseriding would give us the confidence to control crowds. It does. After a half-hour of clinging on to Touch-me-not for dear life, many of us would much rather face a rampaging mob than clamber on to the brute again!
But life wasn’t all fun and games-there were testing times ahead in the shape of the mid-term examinations. Coinciding as they did with the last date for the less-thanpopular Term Paper, they made life interesting in the days preceding the Village Visit. Midnight oil was burnt, as also a few agarbattis before one’s deities. Anyway, the examinations came and went, leaving some district groups with only a few hours to prepare for the journey from India to Bharat.
But wait! What about the Revolution? The Green Revolution Game, that is. A remarkably realistic simulation it proved to be, complete with rapacious moneylender and grasping trader. The probationers playing the village households proved to be no less authentic. One enterprising household sent its children out begging. Another, less docile household started the LBSNAA chapter of the Indian People’s Front and proceeded to gherao the mahajan, to devastating effect.
The ghost of Mandal and the demons of communalism made for more than a few apprehensive countenances as the batch set out for the long-awaited Village Visit. The Visit was preceded by at least two imaginative ideas emanating from the ever-fertile minds of the 56th F.C. Those with loved (?!) ones in Delhi suggested that the Asiad Village be kept as one of the destinations, while some of our friends brought up in ‘Wages’ suggested that a Rapid Urban Appraisal in the shape of a Bombay Visit would have been far more educational!
Be that as it may, the Village Visit lived up to its reputation of being one of the most useful training inputs of the Academy. Most of us returned with our sensibilities enhanced, our commitment strengthened and our girths widened. In places, the stark realism encountered was starker than was strictly essential, with two groups reporting narrow escapes from criminal depradations.
That, then, was a kaleidoscope of our first 80 days at the Academy. We are told that our batch is a cornucopia of talents. The following pages tell us why. They reveal the most valued assets of the House Journal Society-the contributors themselves. On their behalf, we welcome you to IMPRESSIONS and invite you to partake of its contents.
VIVEK KUMAR SAVITA DHARMADHIKARI
SANJOY MUKHERJEE MADHURI DABRAL
V RAJA SEKHAR AK VISHWANATHAN