Four Decades – Through Thick and Thin
Four Decades through Thick & Thin – Musings of a Diplomat
Part 4 – A Lone Tree in Gujarat
By Narayanaswamy Sreenivasan
Copyright 2016 Narayanaswamy Sreenivasan
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Dedicated to the memory of my respected and revered father,
(S. Narayanaswamy Iyer)
2.July.1899 – 1.July.1966
Principal, S. N. Tutorial Home (1943 – 1966)
Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, India
Architect and moving spirit behind the National High School, Nagapattinam
Table of Contents
October 2011, Chennai, India
“Four Decades – Through Thick and Thin”, is the result of repeated suggestions by Dr. N. M. Samuel, W.H.O.’s former Director for Asia, who became our family doctor from 1985. He hails from a family of ardent patriots, his father was a sworn Congressman. The good doctor used to engage me in conversation pertaining to my service experiences (often keeping other patients waiting). He wished that I recorded those experiences for the benefit of both present and coming generations.
Professor Dr. S. Vaithianathan, former Head of Cardiology in the Madras Medical College and Civil Surgeon in the Government General Hospital, took charge of us after Dr. Samuel closed down his Canon Baboo Medical Centre in Chennai. Dr. Vaithianathan, after retirement, was only attending to two patients in the morning and two in the evening in his private clinic. A most amiable, kind and considerate person, he would head straight to the root cause of the ailment and prescribe minimum necessary medication. He also got interested in hearing about my service experiences and would ask me to be the second patient in the evening so that we could talk more. It is on his persistent goading that I finally started recording those experiences, which would not have been possible but for the full cooperation of my elder son, Chandrasekhar (Sekhar) who is based in Finland. During his sojourns in Chennai, he would coax me to come to his Study on the upper floor and then prod me into conversation, resulting in narrating the incidents and he recording them in cassette tapes. Later, in freezing Finland and with night-long days, he would laboriously transcribe the recordings and type them out on a personal computer. The result is a book of 7 chapters and 11 snippets as appendices. From a perspective of ease of publishing, the book is being brought out digitally as a series of volumes. The first volume was on my days in the Persian Gulf, the second, my posting in Iran and the third is on my stay in the Soviet Union. The series has a base zero-eth piece entitled “Of Saints & Seers”, a short essay dedicated to my Patron Saints, which was released through Smashbooks in July 2012 setting the stage for the rest of the book.
This volume is fourth in the series. Unlike its siblings that regale about my experiences in overseas postings, this volume is entirely based in India – in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. In a career that spanned the world outside India with interludes in the Ministry’s headquarters in New Delhi, my sole India stint takes on a special significance.
PASSAGE to GUJARAT
It was a balmy spring evening in 2014 on the outside deck of a restaurant in Tokyo’s Marunouchi area that my younger son, Mohan, was with his old business-school classmate and close friend, Chandrasekhar. The latter was a on a short visit to Japan and they were meeting after several years. Their conversation turned to the Indian Embassies in the cities that they were living in – Chandrasekhar at the time in Bangkok and Mohan in Tokyo. Chandrasekhar suddenly remarked, “it was your father who symbolically laid the foundation for my overseas career of over 25 years by issuing my first passport”. He had then expounded on his experience; that it was a remarkable Indian government office that he had experienced then. Clean, comfortable and orderly with a senior head who invited you in, chatted with you, was courteous to a fault, had tea served and made you feel welcome, loved and wanted. At the end of 15 minutes, he had his passport – a process which would normally have taken countless visits, pleas, unstated financial transactions and negotiations with every level of Government employee beginning with the ubiquitous security guard (the ‘chowkidar’).
That was in 1984, at the Regional Passport Office of Gujarat, Daman and Diu in Ahmedabad, India.
Chennai, 31st July 1996
31.7.1996. Twelve years have been completed since the day of 31st July 1984 – a date that has got great significance for me, because it was on this date that I retired from GOI service. Today is the completion of a mamangam – as they say in Tamil – the period of twelve full years.
But what is it that is so special about 31.7.1984?
I was sent to Ahmedabad on deputation as the Regional Passport Officer (RPO) for Gujarat, after a very brief tenure in the External Affairs Ministry as Under Secretary (WANA) – West Asia North Africa Division which included countries like Israel, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, etc., following my return from Finland.
The deputation was a result of MPs from Gujarat gheraoing our then External Affairs Minister, Shri P.V. Narasimha Rao in Parliament and refusing to let him exit until he sent somebody senior to Ahmedabad to clear the regional passport office there which was in a total mess. I was in the midst of the NAM conference in Vigyan Bhavan of non-aligned foreign ministers who were discussing the issue of Palestine. I could not be released immediately because I had just taken over the West Asia desk. The Ministry probably thought that I would be alright in there – nobody wanted to take on that difficult area in the first place. You had to cover so many countries and be conversant with their intricacies. I had served for so long in that area – Egypt alone, where I had served four memorable years would require a cassette by itself to record “My Experiences in Egypt” – realization had come to the Ministry late in the day. I said, “Yes, any job, any challenge is ok for me”. In the short time that I was in WANA, I was able to put many things right.
But now we are talking about something totally different. Immediately after NAM we had CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in Delhi and I was one of several officers asked to be Principal Liaison Officer – PLO (not Palestine Liberation Organization!). There was a PLO attached to each visiting Head of Government. I was to be PLO for the Prime Minister of Bahamas, the Honourable Sir Arthur Pendling. While we were having this conference, during a coffee break, I was called for by our External Affairs Minister. This was in Nov-Dec 1983 at Vigyan Bhavan. We were staying at the Ashoka Hotel:
EAM: “You are going to Ahmedabad”
Self: “Why? I have just a few months left, hardly a year to retire”
EAM: “No, no, no, we want you to go there”
Self: “Do I have a brief?”
FM: “No, you don’t need any brief; that’s why we are sending you there”
Self: “Do I have a free hand?”
EAM: “Of course you have”
And I accepted it; though I could not be released till CHOGM concluded.
WANA was directly under Shri Ramesh Bhandari who was Secretary (W) at the time. He later became Foreign Secretary. He was also the Secy. (Economics) – he was one who was well versed in politics as well as economics; diplomacy as well as economic diplomacy. He would let me go to Ahmedabad – not that I was very keen to; I had few months to go, had been allotted accommodation in Delhi (does not happen easily) and I could have just continued as it were. But then it is not given to me to refuse any challenging assignment and I would be the first person to accept the challenge. No shying away from it. None of us, nobody in our family, shies away. We do not ask for challenging assignments, but if one is given, we accept it without murmur. I was informed that I would be released immediately after CHOGM – which lasted a week or ten days. Immediately thereafter I left for Ahmedabad.
RETIREMENT ANNIVERSARY REFLECTIONS
I retired in Ahmedabad on 31.7.1984. The MPs and MLAs of various parties had visited me. Nobody was dissatisfied with me. Everybody said, “here was a person who had rooted out corruption and he should be continued here so that the good name (of the Regional passport office) is kept on”. Now after twelve years, I realize why I was not kept on there – because I was instrumental in rooting out corruption – that was the only thing wrong with me. I do not regret that. What remains in my memory is that about 1 lakh 26 thousand people – almost 1.5 lakh – had benefited by my presence. I functioned as the RPO for 8 or 9 months. Every month we were issuing 12,000 to 15,000 passports and during my tenure, 1,26,000 passports had been issued. Those were the people who were grateful for having got their passports and that too without any trouble to them – just sending in their application and getting it. It was as simple as that. Not that it was being given without any verification or anything. Previously, getting a passport meant that you had to pay about Rs.2,000 or Rs.3,000. If you do not pay up, you will not get your passport at all – that is how that office was being run. For that sort of corruption to be wiped out, matters have to be seen in proper perspective. The conditions prevailing at that time were that there was a direct correlation between Corruption and Acceptability. The more corrupt one was the more acceptable one would be. Even worse, a person who even dreams of wiping out corruption, will just be thrown out. The Ministry did not say anything and I did not ask for an extension. What remains green in my memory is that even after I retired, when I paid my farewell courtesy visit to the then Chief Minister Shri Madhavsinh Solanki, he said I could stay in the government accommodation for as long as I wished; I did not have to vacate it because I had become a part of Gujarat and the people loved me. I could remain as long as I liked – that’s what he had said. Many people wanted as a memento, their passports to be dated 31/7/1984 and to be signed by me. They said, “You are the one who has given it to me, otherwise, I would never have got a passport”. I had to say that I did not have the time to sign, for there were thousands of passports and I would have to sit another month to sign them.
That is what remains now in my memory even after 12 years. I do think that it was a miracle that had been achieved. During a visit to Japan in 1993, I had called on the Dy. Chief of Mission, Mr. N. Ravi. Ambassador Prakash Shah (now our Permanent Representative to the UN; Mr. Shah had been Second Secretary and Consul in our Embassy in Washington when I was serving there during 1964-67), was not available. Though I had fallen ill in Tokyo, I was keen on visiting our Embassy. Had a nice talk with Mr. Ravi. We talked about many things – the Ahmedabad experience, etc. He said that I should have continued in service; I said that even now I am agile, I can. Mr. Ravi remarked that fellows in their early fifties are not as agile. Given an assignment today, I was confident of performing better than those people. I do not take special pleasure in mentioning this. The unfortunate fact is that people tend to take things very lightly these days, standards have fallen and nobody really bothers about the other man’s convenience or comfort, discomfort or distress. It has all become really very selfish – just as in the ‘Three Musketeers’. In that at least, the three of them were together saying, “All for one and one for all”, but there is no such thing now – it is ‘all for me, nothing for you’. These are my thoughts on the completion of the twelfth year of my retirement.
I do not think we have to end this chapter on such a gloomy note. India is a vast country and there are millions and millions of people who really have the interests of the country at heart. There are a few people who just set their sights on America – retired, honorable government servants drawing pension here, then going there and saying, “We are poor; we want your dole” – fortunately they are a microscopic minority. The majority still have their interest in our country and the young generation which is coming up has to be enthused that ours is a great country. We can look to other countries and learn from the difficulties they had faced and how they have come up; but we do not have to forget our country – just dashing off for the lucre. Sure you can go and build your temple, mosque or church, but attitudes do not change. With an attitude of seeking reservation for anything and everything, relegating merit to second or even no place, one is not going to be accepted anywhere. Try to improve your country and yourself, bring yourself up, do not try to migrate from here just for the lure of it. Of course, as far as the country is concerned it may be a blessing in disguise if such fellows opt out of the country. Let them not be a burden on our country. That is all I have to say today and it is going to be midnight, let’s start afresh on some other topic when we have the time. There is so much to record and so much to reminisce about. If you are placed in a particularly critical position, how you have faced the situation – these are all lessons to be learnt. JFK wrote a book, ‘Profiles in Courage’ – it is a collection of how he draws his inspiration from people who had faced situations. We also have to inculcate such ways, that is, go around and observe, meet people and understand what sort of situations they had faced in their life, how they met them and tried to bring up their country. Our country is coming up alright but it will not come up if you are going to have scam after scam. You have to become patriotic first. That is all I would say.
RPO in AHMEDABAD
There was a case at the RPO in Ahmedabad – there were many of them but this one was particularly odd. There was a group of 25 or 30 artistes going to several countries in Africa, to perform for three weeks or so. They had applied for passports, stating the purpose of their visit. They could have just said ‘tourism’ and possibly nobody would have taken a second look. After all, we were issuing passports valid for all countries excepting at that time, Israel and South Africa; now of course, even that restriction is off. These people had been asked to state the purpose of their visit and they told the truth that they were being sponsored by a few Indian émigrés in Kenya, Tanganyika and other places to perform for a period of 3 weeks. The group had not been given passports and I asked them if they had been given a reason for the refusal. They said they were in the dark about it. Police Clearance: I checked up on this and found that it had been received for all of them. (Police Clearance means that the applicant has no criminal case pending against the him or her in courts in India and so is free to go abroad. The police are not bothered about where one is going, for after all, holding a passport does not mean you can visit any country in the world – you still have to get the visa for the country you will visit. The passport is just a basic travel document and if you do not have it, there is no question of your applying for a visa at all). Regarding their case, I enquired from the office the reasons for delay when even the police had given their clearance which was the prime requirement for issuing a passport. If the police have not cleared, we have to go deeper into it – what kind of case, etc. and that puts a stop, though not a complete stop. The office gave me the reason for stoppage – that these people were going as artistes but in actuality the fellow who is going to play the tabla is a barber and another fellow who is going to play the sitar is a dhobi. I thought this was the limit and did not want to listen anymore:
“What prevents a dhobi or a barber from being a musician? – please enlighten me as to what his vocation or profession has got to do with his talent – his histrionic talent. We have had devadasis (the nightingales of music) performing and we have so many other cases, like plain hunters becoming rishis – Sage Valmiki, for instance – and who told you that a barber cannot be an artiste? Put up all the cases!”.
I ordered the prompt issue of passports to all of them. In the meanwhile, sponsorship for that year had lapsed and I believe they secured this again and went. But, this was the type of attitude that was being adopted by the passport office. The poor artistes would have easily got their passports if they had greased palms. Indeed a tragedy.
The papers reported the new phenomenon as a “Sea change in the functioning of the Passport Office”. The Times of India came out with a headline: Passport for the Asking. They wrote a lot about it. Finally, I retired. I left for Chennai and I thought that was the end of it.
PASSPORT OFFICE – CHENNAI
I wanted to live in peace in my retirement, debriefing myself of all my official activities, which if I wanted to record would run into several volumes. Regrettably, I have lost all my diaries and I can just record things from my memory which thanks to God, is functioning alright. Facts are so well imprinted in my memory that I can recall any incident to the minutest detail. I think you are now hearing a meow meow – a cat running around our house? Let’s ignore that – it is a distraction, but it does not distract me. So, coming back to this passport office experience; while abroad when I was Consul or Vice-Consul, I had dealt with some very delicate and interesting cases and that we will record another day as a separate book, as that relates to something that was performed abroad and in that position you have grave responsibilities to protect the fair interests of any Indian citizen. But coming to the domestic side, after retirement I was surprised to find that I was still being sought after. Yet, I would not lend myself to any and everybody. Only in very rare cases, where I found that serious injustice was being done, I tried, or rather, agreed to help them.
One such case, was that of a girl who had secured admission in the US for her higher studies. Her father – a Brigadier and OTA’s (Officers Training Academy) Commandant – was living right across my house in Defence Colony in Madras. He came over and told me his daughter was not getting her passport. Unless she reported to the university on the stipulated date, she would forfeit her admission. I enquired of him as to what the problem was and asked the reason given by the passport office for not giving a passport: they had said that as the daughter of a military officer, she would have to get clearance from the Defence Ministry for going abroad. I said I had understood and that he need not worry. I telephoned the RPO in Madras, introduced myself to him as the ex-RPO of Ahmedabad. Immediately, he asked what he could do for me, to which I said I was not in need of any service, but told him that there is a case where “I think your office is going around” – I did not say, “has gone around”. I said, “here is a girl, she has secured admission in an American University; she has to report there by a certain date and getting the American visa, etc., is no problem because she has got a firm offer of admission, but her problem is that she does not have a valid travel document”. He asked how that could be, and I told him that the gentleman was living right opposite my house, “and he is not an ordinary person either, he is holding a very high rank: he is a brigadier”. He said, “Oh, yes, now I understand – it is because he is a defence officer”. I then said – “I can understand if the defence officer himself wants to go abroad, then one can see that you wish to have the clearance of the Defence Ministry and you are well within your rights to ask for that; but what has this girl to do with it – you cannot deny her a passport simply because she happens to be d/o a defence officer. She will come to your office tomorrow. And there is no time left. She must get her passport”. He said, “Yes”. I informed the girl and she said, “You can say I can go, but they do not let me into the office – there are so many people waiting outside that they always say you have to get prior appointment and that appointment is never forthcoming”. Then I gave her my visiting card, saying that I had spoken to the office and she was just to show this card there – (wherein was written, “this is the girl I had spoken to you about”). I then asked the Brigadier – a very decent gentleman – not to accompany his daughter. So the girl went there with this card and was immediately received by the RPO of the time who said, “My dear lady, you can collect your passport in the afternoon, or, if you wish, we can just have it sent to you by post”. I had already cautioned the girl – “If they say you could collect it, better wait and collect it, because then we may have to start struggling with the postal department, as there may be delays on that side, anything may happen for it is another department altogether. We will have another hurdle to cross. If they say they will give the passport, it is better you wait there 2 or 3 hours, collect it and come away”. She was prudent enough, had taken the hint, waited there and collected the passport. The father thanked me and I said there was nothing to thank me for as this was a thing that should have been done much earlier – “I am sure that if you had telephoned the RPO from your office, his P.A. would have put you through to him. You could have explained this, and then, perhaps there would have been no problem at all and no need for my intervention”.
Anyway, I was happy to have been able to help the girl to join her university in America and enable her to pursue her studies. These are things where people just do not apply their minds – his or her father is a defence officer, so we should get a clearance from the Defence Ministry. Such a ham-handed way of handling things.
Now, there is yet another funny story. It is not a story really, it is an interesting incident. We are recording on 6.July.1995. About a month back, I received a call from a retired foreign service officer who had held high positions – Counsellor / Minister in Moscow during very difficult times; Ambassador to Romania and Bulgaria during Ceacescu’s and Todor Zhivkov’s time respectively. Later on he was our ambassador to a very important country in the east, and the only real Asian rival at the time to the West. The gentleman had a passport problem. He told me that his sister was not getting a passport as the Passport Office was not issuing one. I said that I was surprised as all he had to do was to just telephone the RPO. He said he had gone there and stood in the queue to get a passport application form, filled it up, etc., but no passport. As the lady was living in a mofussil town in Tanjore District, police clearance had to come from there. The lady was about 80 years of age, her son had come from the States and wanted to take her to spend a few months with him and had arranged the papers for the US visa, tickets, etc. But there was no passport to affix the visa on.
This is what had occurred. Our former Ambassador to Japan goes and stands in the queue outside the Regional Passport Office in Madras to get a passport application form. It takes a couple of hours to get the form, which when filled in and given, he is informed that she cannot have a passport without police clearance. Her son is on a month’s leave – he does not have eternity to spend in India, although he would love to do so. Under the circumstances what the gentleman thought that what he could do was to telephone the Foreign Secretary (FS) – my namesake. This gentleman and FS had been batch-mates, so he thought he would do wonders. He telephoned him and of course, FS did a ‘wonder’. He immediately told his P.A. or P.S., to ask the Chief Passport Officer (CPO) to issue the lady a passport. The CPO was phoned, who in turn asked his P.A. to send instructions to Madras to issue the passport immediately. The fellows here were probably peeved, and while they issued a passport, its validity was for just one year – that is a restricted passport. To add to the misery, they put a stamp on it saying this passport should not be renewed without reference to the office of issue. While it is a normal procedure to put a stamp like this on a restricted passport, the problem is that this sort of thing creates a doubt in the minds of the foreign country that is going to issue a visa – that something is wrong with the applicant, and so have to be doubly careful in granting a visa.
The gentleman said that his sister could not leave for the States as by the time all these events had happened, her son’s time was up and the lady was left behind. He said the son was now sending his wife to escort this lady and the Americans would be approached for issuing a visa. I asked him to forget about the Americans as his problem was now with the Indians – our own people, and asked him to leave it in my hands. He asked if I was sure as he had tried all means. I told him not to worry – “When I say it will be done, it will be done”. He had the filled-in form – some Miscellaneous Services Form – a simple form to which the passport has to be affixed. I was not abreast of changes in the passport office; I had retired 11 years ago and my stint with the passport department in Ahmedabad was only for 8 months or so. Rules change, for, after all, all officers are fond of changing the rules when they come in – as they say, a new broom sweeps clean and afterwards it doesn’t sweep anymore, in fact it adds to the muck which had been there before and that is what eventually happens. This old man himself is now bent double and I have regard for him because he is one of the most straight-forward and helpful of officers, a person who has helped so many people during his official career and it was sad how he was unable to get a passport for his own aged sister. Really a tragic state of affairs. So, I went over to his place – he said he would come over, he was living several kilometres away. Neither do I have transport, nor does he. I collected the form. He asked if he should give some money and I said, “What for?”. He said, “In case some money has to be paid to the fellows there” and my reaction was, “There you are wrong”. Now, I was the person who wiped out corruption in the passport office in Ahmedabad within a matter of 8 weeks and now, I do not want to give any money. If indeed they are demanding money now, it is a sad day for the country.” I told him not to worry and he asked if his sister would get the passport. I said, “Why do you have doubts in your mind? She will get it and go to the States”.
Normally, I do not move out but I went to the Chennai passport office – of course telephoning first and introducing myself as the former RPO, Ahmedabad and that I just wanted to come over. They asked if there was any problem, and that they would send over one of their people. I said that in a spirit of bonhomie I just wanted to come over and meet them all. Upon arrival, I went to one of the superintendents – they do not have any PRO or APO now. The RPO is very busy – at least his P.A. says so – I do not know how busy he really is. I never told anyone that I was busy – I used to leave my door open and anybody could walk in and I was receiving hundreds of visitors every day. Here, as soon as I said that I was the former RPO, they took me past a long queue and straight to the Superintendent. He was sweetness personified – “It is a great honour to have you here, Sir, what can we do for you, Sir?”. I told him to forget about all that and tell me the reason for the lady’s ‘restricted’ passport; that it cannot be renewed without reference to “your office”, whereas the lady has only approached “your office” and not any other office. I was upset. I informed him that if I ask a newspaper correspondent to come to our house and relate to him this, it would be there in the papers all over. And I have some credibility certainly – it will be taken note of. I continued, “Then, what will be your fate?” The chap immediately said that there was no problem and I asked why could he not do it before. To which, he asked if I wished to see the RPO and I said that I didn’t so wish, but if the RPO wanted to see me, he could come over. So, this gentleman checked up everything then and there and asked when I wanted the passport. I said I did not want it, because I knew that a grave injustice had been done here. It had not been dealt with properly. As my association with our E.A. Ministry was throughout my life and the passport office in particular during the last few months of service, I did not want a bad name for it, and that was the reason why at my age I came here. Then, suddenly everything is in order.
I asked about the fees. They wanted to check. I said, “Check it up. On the day you issued the passport, there must have been an index card and you must have written there”. They checked it up and then he took me to a Senior Superintendant, who asked me how he could serve me. I told him he had done a lot for me and just now I was not in need of anything. “This gentleman, your Superintendent will explain everything to you”. He informed me that a passport would be given immediately to which I replied: “ ‘Immediately’, you say – that is ok. But you don’t expect someone like me to be coming for each and every case. And here is a case where a senior most officer who could have easily been Foreign Secretary himself, comes and stands in the queue for 2 hours to get an application form from your office – that means you do not know what is happening just outside your office. It will be good for you – just get up, go out and see what is happening, instead of being glued to your seat – just for 5 minutes., and it is a nice break for you also’’.
I asked him to take his time – a fortnight, 3 weeks. The old lady’s daughter-in-law was coming in 3 or 4 weeks’ time; she will be here for 2 or 3 weeks and then escort her mother-in-law. The lady has to get the American visa – all that is sorted out; from the American side there is no problem. The problem is only from our side – for a genuine person. She is not a bandit, she has not committed any crime, there is no police case against her. In any case, at her age of 80+, she will be incapable of committing any crime. It is such a simple case: when she had applied, it should have simply been stamped clean and given, right then and there at the counter.
He offered tea, coffee, refreshments – I told him there was no need for that and that he should attend to the people there, as they should not be kept waiting. He then offered some yoghurt – Aavin has the stuff in packets. It was a very hot day, the temperature at 42°C. While I was sitting there, staff members where coming and going. He had just told one of them – “He is the former RPO, Ahmedabad” – and that was enough. The lady said “Namaste”, and spread the news. Soon people started coming in – so many people; and the other superintendents came in – “You have done so much, so we want to pay our respects”. I told them that this was the time allotted to the public and that they should go, and that they could come to me after they have finished off with the public. Anyway, this didn’t stop them and they kept coming to greet me. I was completely taken aback, because after years of retirement, still to be remembered and respected, and honored in that way, is in itself a tribute for the good work one has done, and no other tribute was necessary. While there, it so happened that there was a Captain or Major who came for his passport. His photograph had been attested by a Brigadier and the passport office was not accepting it. The gentleman was pleading with the Passport Officer who was saying that it had to be signed by a Deputy Secretary to the Government. Then the Passport Officer looked at me – “Sir, what would you advise me – what would you do?”. I told him that a Brigadier was a very senior person. Military Attaché’s in our missions abroad are Lieutenant Colonels – they come there as Lt. Cols., and when they leave the place, or have a year to go, are promoted as brigadiers. The Military Attaché deals with the Chiefs of General Staff of the foreign government. In this case, a Brigadier is certifying that here is the true photograph of the person who is applying for the passport, and that person is right in front of you. What more do you want? “Give him the passport”. That finished the matter and he thanked profusely for solving it. I said there was nothing to thank me for. I do not know what Government of India’s latest instructions are – if they have stated not to accept the signature of a brigadier – but this is just common sense. The gentleman was asked to wait and collect the passport soon. He was in civilian uniform and rose to give me a salute, and from that I knew that he was a ranking officer saying, “Thank you very much, Sir, but for you, I don’t know what all I would have had to go through”.
These are instances in any office dealing with the public nowadays. We go to the bank – I myself have had bad experiences – till you reveal your identity, and then everyone starts moving. I think there’s something really wrong in the way people think: you go on increasing their pay, they go on strike, ‘bandh’, they do not eat but go on drinking beverages – if they really meant to starve, they should not have anything at all – it isn’t a Gandhiji going on satyagraha. Every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks that for getting anything, all he has to do is put a board or a cot under the shade of a tree – not under the hot sun – and go on drinking God alone knows what – maybe it is Golden Eagle or just glucose water. But why does he drink at all – he should not. After all, the Muslims during Ramzan in Arabia, even now do not take water and that is a much hotter place than here. And these fellows who are fasting – they call it unnavridham in Tamil, buukhartal in Hindi, they should not even take a sip of water, then see if they can endure. (I suspect that these days nobody will be sorry if such types kick the bucket in the process). But people who observe these fasts also do not want to die, hence their expedient. And it is all there for the TV cameras to record and telecast – probably that too is organized! It is all very sad. Anyway, I am happy I was able to help out these two, but there are many more. Such instances open the eyes of the staff in the passport offices that they have to be more careful, more conscious and aware in dealing with the cases. That satisfaction is enough for me. I came back feeling elated that the little good work I had done in Ahmedabad would still be remembered a decade and more later by people in the passport offices, and outside as well. Let’s say goodbye (for now).
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THIS IS BUT PART OF THE WHOLE. MORE IN STORE, INSHALLAH.
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The Regional Passport Office on Ahmedabad’s Ashram Road (1984)
The author at an Ahmedabad Reception
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About the Author
N. Sreenivasan, was born in July 1926 in Kumbhakonam, an ancient temple town in the Cauvery river delta of Tamil Nadu, India, about 250 kms south of the state capital of Chennai. From the humble beginnings of being the eldest son of a large Tamil Iyer family with very limited material resources but a good deal of intellectual wealth, he became a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service with its origins in the Indian Civil Services and British political agencies of pre-independent India. He retired in 1984 after completing four decades of dedicated service and has since been living in Chennai attending to his home garden and grandchildren.
N. Sreenivasan is a born raconteur. With vibe and vitality, he keeps many a conversation with young and old alike, alive and kicking based upon his treasure-house of experience. Those who were able to engage him by simply lending a genuinely eager ear, would be able to vividly imagine, relate to, enjoy and gain from his personal stories. Whether it was talking about his visits to his grandfather in the little hamlet of Thyagarajapuram in Tanjore District or about his attendance at the dinner celebrating the marriage of the late Shah of Iran, it would be with the same enthusiasm and candour.
This eBook is the fourth volume in the series entitled “Four Decades Through Thick and Thin – Musings of a Diplomat”. The series was inaugurated auspiciously in July 2012 with the publication of a snippet, “”, which is a dedication to two great Saints of our times, His Holiness Jagatguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and His Holiness Satguru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living.
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This eBook is the fourth volume in the series entitled “Four Decades Through Thick and Thin – Musings of a Diplomat”. The series is an autobiography of portions of the author's forty years of service with the Indian Foreign Service and its predecessor - the British Indian Foreign Service. While the earlier volumes dwell on the author's postings abroad, this particular volume is based in India – in Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat, where the author was on special deputation from the Government of India. The author's sole India posting takes on a special significance as it has to do with fighting against corruption and thoughts on the importance of people in public office being selfless and committed in their service to the common man. .