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Cover Story

Cover Story : Then and now (or, is it now and then?)

TWENTY-FIVE summers ago and it already appears like historical fiction-a time and age without internet and mobile phones, STD after 10 pm (the phone, not gonorrhea), breakfast, lunch and dinner in a badminton hall with two tiger skins for company, jodhpurs, hefty shot putters training at high altitude trooping in and threatening a run on the kitchen stocks, a place called Whispering Windows, already a faint reflection of past glory, a Baretto well past his prime to be soon going, going, gone and then SPH and hand-drawn rickshaws. A time and age when typing on a computer was Word Star; Harvard Presentation Graphics was the pinnacle of sprucing up your expression; and when the mixed number that mattered was 5 ¼ floppy disk and not 9¾ Kings Cross (of one JK Rowling).

Twenty-five summers and nostalgia is already not what it used to be. Why the sepia toned memories of LBSNAA (or ‘labasnaa’-the shorthand which a purist would detest)? This yearning to go back, or to be young. The mind plays Tricks-there is a freeze frame here, much like a character in Hindustan Lever’s advertisement who returns after a lifetime recalling his home and his village as he left it, desperately looking for something or someone to connect with. This too will pass, leaving a wistful knot in the heart with few left to bond over with.

Twenty-five summers and many of us in the batch meet again. What new shared memories will we create? Will they be transient or as enduring as those of our formative days as wet-behind-the-ears young probationers? They don’t call them that any longer, isn’t it? We will marvel at the new infrastructure, the well-appointed rooms and feel chuffed about our own ability to survive hardship and discomfort. Yet we forget that our lament about the days gone by will soon have other purveyors, those who verbalise better than us to those who comprehend better than you. Twenty-five summers, but is not winter yet. 1990@50 is still some time away. Hopefully we will be able to smell the roses even then. In August 2015, when we meet, it shall be a pause on one of our treks. This pause is a flat land, but what is this flat land? Is it a tabletop at the peak, or a plateau with higher unclimbed peaks looking down upon us, or a pleasant meadow to stand and stare before we move on to the next ridge? As always in life, cross roads lie ahead-rest or climb up farther. It is a time to choose.

Loss of a Friend

Vadepalli Venkateswara Rao Indian Foreign Service, 1990

Known as VV Rao to all, we have seen him earliest as the one who used to play every evening at the Jhelum hostel badminton court, JNU, in 1988, engaging his team and creating a jovial atmosphere. At the academy he was one of the most amiable characters. V Venkateswara Rao, Counsellor at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, died in the suicide bomb attack on the embassy on July 7, 2008, at 8.30 local time. He served in various capacities in Indian missions in Berlin, Colombo, Kathmandu and Washington. His assignment at Kabul had been completed and he was waiting for his successor to take charge at the Embassy. Rao was devoted to his work, was hardworking and had an ever-smiling face. In the missions, he was admired by his colleagues and staff for his simplicity and sincerity.

The photo below was taken at Roopkund, a tough trek undertaken from the Academy in October 1990 during training. VV Rao is at the extreme left. To the right are Dr Raja Sekhar Vundru, IAS (Haryana); A B Venkateswara Rao, IPS (AP); and Y Madhusudhana Reddy, Indian Forest Service (AP). It was a great moment, a triumph of endurance, to have reached the heights of Roopkund which is at more than 5,000 metres above sea level.

Pankaj Jain is Principal Secretary, Departments of Planning and Power, Meghalaya Government

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