“Women are already strong; it’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” These words by G. D. Anderson best describe the genesis behind this freshly introduced section on our website. Through this unique initiative titled ‘The Women of Real Substance’, we salute these exemplary role models from the Indian Civil Services. Our endeavour is to highlight their achievements and inspire multiple generations with these stories that encompass myriad dimensions of professional and personal accomplishments. Read on for rare glimpses and insights with these true tales of triumph whom we call ” The Women of Real Substance ”
When versatility blends with devotion
Retired IAS officer Ms Leena Mehendale’s all of 36 years in Civil Services is laced with the kind of meritorious achievements that few can boast of. The gift and accomplishment evident in her highly eventful tenure studded with starred performances across spheres continues past retirement. A role model if there was one!
Versatility is an extra string to a player’s bow. With some players it comes with a wider bandwidth of creativity that expands the mind, stretches it beyond ordinary human comprehension, resulting in the mind being elastic and capable of transcending and discerning complex ideas. Ms Leena Mehendale, retired IAS officer of the 1974 batch is a commensurate example. Having spent 36 years in Civil Services, serving almost 19 postings, there are few disciplines she hasn’t handled with the dexterity that her profession demanded.
Scouring through her achievements is almost akin to collecting drops from an ocean. Planning, Implementations, Execution, Law & Order, Coordination & Monitoring, Revenue Administration, Industrial Development, Training and HR and as Judicial Officer under several acts – each office handled with equanimity – were her forte. But wait, she straddled all these with a host of other faculties that invokes nothing but unadulterated awe.
Ms Leena elucidates about her career in a raconteuring style that made her immensely popular with her professional ilk. Post-retirement, she carries the same élan to the occupation she pursues and sets an example for others. In her own words, all efforts are directed towards good education (systems), unity through diversity, sustainable development with environment protection, writing, energy conservation, Ayurveda, popular science, women’s issues and Bhagwad Gita.
Having completed Master’s in Physics from the Patna University and Master’s in Project Planning from the Bradford University, UK, Master’s in Business Administration and well versed with statutes, Ms Leena relates her journey from a time when opting for Civil Services wasn’t a general trend. She recalls: “Unlike the situation today when most IAS aspirants have Humanities and Public Administration as their subjects, in those days if you did M.Sc in Physics, you went for IAS. Almost 50% of my classmates appeared for the UPSC then. My subjects were Physics, Law (Contract) and European History because Chemistry was not my cup of tea. Even the question paper pattern was different. My father was a research guide and a Sanskrit-Philosophy scholar apart from being a reputed astrologer. We came from Bihar’s Darbhanga and I remember my father would be a local guardian to people who had come on transfer – mostly officers — who came from south India and Marathi-speaking areas.”
Being an intelligent student, her father had told her that if she secured a first division, she should go for the IAS. “Looking back on my career, I can vouch that I enjoyed it with no regrets. I got to handle departments that were as diverse as chalk and cheese but I enjoyed each. However, if the Civil Services were not to materialize, I had zeroed in on Research. Even after retirement at 60, I was occasioned to serve a couple of postings.”
Ms Leena recalls her stint as the Collector of Sangli from 1984-1988 as satisfying being able to almost eliminate the social evil of Devdasi system. “Sangli, Kolhapur and the adjoining areas of the bordering Karnataka’s Jath and Soundatti were rife with this system where women would remain unmarried but had physical relationships and bore children. Their daughters carried this legacy forward. The annual fair at Jath would be the epicenter of the activity. I decided to demolish this system with economic and social rehabilitation of these women. Subsequently, I was posted with the Western Maharashtra Development Corporation. Thankfully, that allowed me to visit Sangli and continue to rehab work. The efforts paid dividends as women almost stopped sending girls. 170 girls were given vocational training in those years. Girls elsewhere entangled in the system also took cue. Mind you, the Devdasi system was not oppressive. The girls chose this of their own volition. In close by Gadhinglaj too we undertook rehab. These girls are now educated and married. It was particularly gratifying when they came and met me to express their thanks. A good fallout was successive collectors continued to keep up the good work.”
Ms Leena narrates how she approached the well-known Marathi actor Sudhir Moghe – who she did not know then — was approached to shoot an exclusive 30-minute documentary for Doordarshan along with ace cameraman Debu Deodhar on the Devdasi rehab. I picked up the nuances of editing, shooting and music seeing them work. Later as the Director of Natural Institute of Naturopathy (now under Ayush Mantralaya) for three years, it was Moghe who approached me to make jingles. It brought the institute on the centre-stage and I had a skeletal staff to support this endeavour. From such departments, she was posted to a completely different posting in Petroleum Ministry in 2002.” She did exemplary work in energy conservation promotion among the masses. The Radio and TV picked them up, with 185 episodes of Boond Boond Ki Baat on Vividh Bharti becoming so popular that it was translated in 7 languages and aired on 46 radio stations across the country. The audio version was turned into a video on Doordarshan. Khel Khel Mein Badlo Duniya was another that hit popularity charts with 140 episodes.
Ms Leena points out that there was no social media then. “A good feedback from the people and colleagues was the only way we would know about people’s response. Like when I undertook as mass media conservation of energy programme, I started from schools and colleges. To catch them young, the children’s magazines were useful mediums where one page was devoted to energy conservation. It was such a fulfilling experience to receive a sackful of letters of appreciation from all quarters.”
The propensity towards writing comes from her father. It saw her penning down 15 books (mostly stories for children) and over 300 published articles of various hues. Most of her writing, by her own admission, finds its roots in reality. She loves translations as is evident in the fact that she did so with 105 poems of renowned poet Kusumagraj. Being proficient in Hindi, Marathi, English, she can read, write and speak Bengali, can read or follow Sanskrit, Guajarati, Punjabi, Nepali, Maithili, Oriya, Assamese, Bhojpuri and Ahirani makes her an accomplished linguist.
The diversity of her talent also reflects in being a Faculty in Physics. She delivered a series of 13 lectures on AIR on Atomic Physics, wrote prize winning essays, status and research articles on issues relating to IRDP for women, crime against women, counseling women, Liberalization, new strategy in Education and many more. Writing has become a default temperament for her and it is remarkable for her eclectic substantive and diverse tastes. She admits she is drawn to Sanskrit and what she prefers to call as Bharatiya Granth Pranali (rather than Mythology). With a philosophical bent of mind that she inherits from her father, she is always happy, inquisitive, yearning to learn and never divorced from truth and reality. She has posted many videos on YouTube on Mahabharat. Reading, Classical Music, Ecology, popularizing Science, Indian system of Medicine and occasional trekking are her indulgences and pastimes.
To choose and sift from the stupendous work she has done – both in the office and out of it – is an enormous task, making it tricky to pin her down to any discipline or area. To be able to handle diverse ends of work and hobby spectrum – all with consummate ease –is no mean task but she makes it sound and look ridiculously simple with her affable air and jovial disposition. Majority of the retired personnel at her age are content leading a quiet life but Ms Leena’s quest for knowledge continues. Now settled in Pune, s+
*he continues to be as much active and devoted to her pursuits. Wisdom, as they say, is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.
Giving systems a humane face
A rare case of being both an IRS and IAS, Ms Prerna Deshbhratar, an officer of the 2010 batch brings to her administration the savvy of technology and the sensitivity of humane administration. She longs for the day when there will be justice for all.
There are no better cosmetics than a severe temperance and purity, modesty and humility, a gracious temper and calmness of spirit, and there is no true beauty without the signatures of these graces in the very countenance. Ms Prerna Deshbhratar, an IAS officer of the 2010 batch, has more in her repertoire – Diversion and Inclusion – that come through resoundingly in the way she articulates herself. In her case, Diversion provides a mix while Inclusion makes the mix work.
Compared to her illustrious predecessors, Ms Prerna has a relatively lesser experience of over a decade but even in this small span she has left an impact with her hands-on administration. The measured sense of expression and the refreshing candor with which she rationalizes her perspectives reveal that she has a sturdy grasp of her responsibilities. Few know that she has also cleared the Indian Revenue Service apart from the Indian Administrative Service. Given her promise, she could have handled that portfolio with the same level-headedness but the inner voice told her, she was better cut out to handle the administrative services.
While it is rare for someone to be both IRS and IAS, it is even more rare that someone’s basic education is technical. Ms Prerna is an Instrumentation engineer. With the guilelessness that echoes in her articulation, she describes her journey to the Civil Services. “My dad was an IPS but there was never any kind of pressure on me to opt for the Civil Services. In my considered belief, Civil Services were dynamic, interesting, vibrant and result-oriented. Most importantly, I thought they were perfectly in sync with my implicit faith that unlike the private sector, I could do something constructive for the common good of the people.”
After clearing IRS in 2008, Ms Prerna went ahead and cleared IAS in 2010.but before she changed tack, she had already started working with the Customs, Central Excise and Narcotics, Taxation and Indirect Taxation. “Although these wings are all considered as guardians of economic frontiers, my conscience told me IAS was where I would be happier. My judgment was spot on as I found it very productive and energetic. All I was impressed upon in my student days was I must study well and stand on my own feet. The inclination towards IAS also stemmed from the fact that I was always into people-oriented activities like the NCC and NSS. I represented Maharashtra in the NCC.
In the seven postings that she has served so far, she recalls the one in Pandharkawda (Vidarbha) and Jalna (Marathwada) for two distinctive memories. One was in an interior hamlet of Tipeshwar where I was involved with rehabilitation project. The project was executed so smoothly that other hamlets took a leaf out of it. The icing on the cake was I saw five tigers in that period. The other was working with Savings Groups where the ruralites were explained the importance of savings. The other challenge was to deter child marriages which were rampant in the district. The administration stopped over 80 of them but the social evil hasn’t stopped completely and these things leave you distraught. Poverty alleviation, encouraging education – especially among girls — and stopping social discrimination are huge challenges. It was heartening that during my posting there, that there are schools now and it was particularly heartening that during the pandemic, children could learn online.”
Presently, as the Disability Commissioner, Pune, Ms Prerna facilitated online education to specially-abled students through various mobile applications and technologies. In villages or locations where parents do not have resources for access to the internet, the teachers went to those villages and used gram panchayat facilities to conduct classes, she ensured. Orthopaedic disabled, deaf-mute and blind students will avail online education even if their schools and workshops are not operational. As CEO, Ratnagiri ZP, she gave impetus to e-office and e-construction initiatives. Having completed her primary and secondary education in Marathi medium and with her father’s transfers, she became familiar with the state’s terrain, something that gave her an immense advantage.
Ms Prerna is not very active on the social media but ensures that the official page is kept active. “Not much personal responses and although we have democracy, I am sensitive to what I express and voice. Preferring not to be very vocal about her awards and recognition, she believes that being able to be a part of machinery that wants to bring systemic reforms and earning people’s confidence are her biggest trophies. It is team work and arrogating to myself all credit would be fair to the people who work shoulder-to-shoulder with you.”
As an officer, she feels strongly about building efficient systems, simplifying processes and preserving the sanctity of inter-personal relationships. “Technology removes discrimination, which is important in a democracy. It also ends cultural vulnerability. I aim for ‘Justice for All’, adding subtly, in any ruling dispensation, this message should reach the King. I feel that instead of being over-sensitive, we need to be practical.”
As an officer and a mother, her hands are tied up all the time. “Beyond office, most of my time is spent looking after my kids. So striking a work-life balance is a little tricky. Time was when I had very diverse hobbies. I loved reading fact and fiction. Marathi novels were my preferred choice. As youngster I enjoyed horse riding. Occasionally, time permitting; I indulge in web content, jaunts and TV. It is not as if I miss these. Maybe later, I might get more time for recreation,” she hopes.
The inspiration is embodied in the name. The results have come from perspiration.
From a workaholic to apostle of Spirituality
A fascinating account of the highly qualified Dr Kavita Gupta — IAS of the 1985 batch – who broke several glass ceilings, worked selflessly without a break and took path-breaking decisions in the postings she served. After retirement she has turned into a spiritual evangelist in her quest for Enlightenment
Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. The more that one reads, the more that one learns, the more one will go places and when education runs through the veins of a compulsive workaholic, you have an ideal package in Dr Kavita Gupta, an IAS officer of the 1985 batch. She is a considered workaholic whose fruits of self-esteem are in the basket of her work – a super achiever committed to results.
The innovative and path-breaking work she has done in 35 years of her eventful career comes as a little wonder when you know that she has a doctorate in Economics from Prescott University, London, four Master’s in Astrophysics/Engineering from IIT Delhi, M.Tech in Behavioral and Social Sciences; also from IIT and Master’s in International Law and International Economics from World Trade Institute, Berne, Switzerland where she was conferred with the rarest and highest honour of ‘Summa-cum-Laude. She also participated in an Executive Education Program at Harvard Kennedy School, USA and was awarded a Certificate on Infrastructure in a Market Economy: Public-Private Partnerships in a Changing World. She also successfully completed a certificate program in “Negotiations for Public Leaders” at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. She also earlier participated in an international program on ‘Women Mean Business’ from DUBS (Durham University Business School), UK and was awarded a Certificate.
As she untwines the threads of her intricately spun life it becomes clear that this exalted status of being a grandee in the profession has come about through a spell of tumult but it also vindicates that all is well that ends well. As one whose scholastic pursuits were always in ample evidence, Ms Kavita never angled for a career in Civil Services but the father, a strict disciplinarian wanted her go for it. Being a true father’s daughter – attached as she was to him – she reluctantly acquiesced to his wish albeit after a deal. “My dad knew I was sort of recalcitrant although I agreed to respect his wishes. I put a condition that I must be allowed to relax, watch movies and I would study on my own terms. He, however knew – and suspected — that I was capable of spoiling it and told me to write answers sincerely. I had my way and watched ‘Kabhie Kabhie’ a day before the exam, hoping fervently that I do not get through with that casual approach. “Unfortunately (laughs) I got selected. I was rather prevailed upon to join because someone else known to family had appeared in all sincerity and hadn’t been able to make it. My heart was just not into it.”
As someone who wanted to pursue either Medicine or English Literature, Ms Kavita saw that she was not comfortable with the decision for almost two years. She went for the IIT but it was a different experience there. One of the only two girls in her section , she found herself diffident in the presence of majority boys. Feeling miserable and uncomfortable, she even toyed with the ideas of pulling out but continued nevertheless. An excellent score in the first two semesters bolstered her sagging spirits. Being a National Talent Search scholar, she had scholarship and the five-year integrated course for M.S. (Physics) was a smooth glide. The fact that there were more girls in the class put her in a better frame of mind and she stood at 9.28 on the scale of 10.
Ms Kavita recalls that as one who was more into the intellectual climes of the IIT, an IAS wasn’t a very stimulating proposition. “My father was still persevering through my Indian Institute of Technology days. Even if you invent a new galaxy, how does it help the people? If you join the IAS, you would strategically impact the lives of millions. It is a divine work, which you would be doing, he reasoned. On my part, I was veering round to the view that the Civil Services would give me a scope to work for the betterment of people. However, the interview went awry as the chairman of the UPSC wasn’t very pleased with my responses. My views didn’t match his. So whereas I scored very well in the written exams, I fared badly in the interview and missed the IAS by 3 marks. I was okay getting in the Customs and Central Excise but there was dad again to prod me. There was little time to prepare but the exams were postponed following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. That gave me a precious month more to study better. The interview this time was a completely different experience. My answers were based more on my knowledge of physics, sociology and philosophy than about the actual subject because I had zero knowledge about Current Affairs. Surprisingly the interviewers were very happy and I got through. I was then doing my Customs training at Chennai and thinking of appearing for a departmental exam. That became redundant.”
The Combinatorics of Physics, Sociology and Psychology paid dividends and she was asked by the interview board that with her knowledge about International Law, why she did not opt for the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) but she had other ideas. She wanted to utilize her knowledge and acumen in Philosophy and Psychology for her own country, she was keen on fulfilling her father’s dream of working for the underprivileged class. That turned out to be prophetic thinking as she succeeded in bringing about a host of innovations and institutionalize path-taking decisions in all the postings she served. Her mother was a pillar of strength so she could pursue the call of duty diligently. The strength she derived from her mother saw her through every travails of life.
She remembers how as the Principal Secretary, Labour, she initiated a number of reforms, brought about amendments in several labour laws that were hailed both by the Labour and the Industry. The International Labour Organization (ILO) lauded them as the best international practices. The unorganized sector was the key beneficiary and how it brought peace to the labour sector was evident with no strikes taking place.
Earlier as CEO of ZP, Wardha, she undertook a highly successful Total Literacy Campaign in 1990-91 wherein she could inculcate a blend of creative and value education in an otherwise suboptimal scenario. It had a salutary effect that brought dropout rate to near zero. She was felicitated by the Secretary General, UNESCO and as she remembers, it was an overwhelming sight when over 3000 teachers from all over the district – who were party to the campaign – came to see her off at the railway station when she was transferred. She was also instrumental in reviving the Mahila Aarthik Vikas Mahamandal whose death knell had been already sounded. She galvanized the Self Help Groups to make it self-sustaining and bringing thousands of women languishing below the poverty line to cross and come over the line. Being a diehard workaholic, however, she focused only on her work and never took to the media to trumpet her achievements.
Ms Kavita is convinced that being an IAS officer does give a strategic advantage to create a multiplier effect, which can benefit a large number of people. That explains how as District Collector she mapped Jalna District through Satellite Imagery in 1995-96, as Secretary Finance, computerized Maharashtra treasuries in 2002 to 2005 and as Additional DGFT, Mumbai, she created systems to ensure transparency and efficiency and got an ISO 9001:2008 certification in 2012-2015. She enabled ease of doing business and in reducing transaction costs.
In hindsight she feels her journey in IAS as extremely rewarding. She feels gratified that she was accepted by the people in full measure. “Being a woman has not mattered to those I worked for. The support from the grassroots was always strong. My interactions and stints in rural areas have been intensely satisfying. I could get first-hand experience of the problems people in rural areas face and could address them by bringing about innovative changes.”
She describes her book ‘Love Only”, available on Amazon, slated to be launched on January 28, 2020 as spiritual journey of an angel who descends from the skies in search of genuine love. “A fusion of Prose and Poetry, it seeks to deduce that you discover true love only when you shed your ego. Acclaimed author Amish Tripathi and Ad Guru Prahlad Kakkar have paid glowing tributes to the book.
Having toiled by the sweat of her brow, Ms Kavita believes there is really no work-life balance. “I have worked hard for 35 years almost 24×7, returning home well past 11pm. I never had any complaints though work and its accruing challenges pumped me up. There was no such thing as pending work with me and the people I worked with , appreciated it well. Post-retirement I am now heavily into Meditation and Spirituality. Poetry and Literature are my other recreations. My spiritual awakening has taught me to assess how far I am from my goals, how much I have to learn and the momentum it needs. In a life of love and compassion, my goal is the great Buddha,” she sums it up.
A Past Life Regressionist, she is also a certified yoga instructor from Aatmabodh Academy of Yoga, Mumbai, in association with Ayush Medical Association, India, and affiliated with World Academy of Traditional Science, Rishikesh, and Uttarakhand. Importantly, she is also a preceptor in “The Heartfulness Way” of meditation and is trained to practice Past Life Regression Therapy, Inner Child Therapy, Family Constellation Therapy, Rene Mey Therapy, Core Somatic Integration Therapy, Mastering Breath Work, Traversing the Frequencies and Creating a Psychic Shield and in Tarot Cards.
As a Tarot reader, she couldn’t have opened better cards.
With the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama.
In the lap of nature in the.midst of a hectic schedule.
Officer who spoke through her work
Being the senior-most IAS officer when she retired after 36 years isn’t the only stake to Ms Medha Gadgil’s recognition. Working without fuss, she brought excellence and dignity to her work, often going beyond the call of duty. Applauded even after retirement, she could well have been Maharashtra’s first woman Chief Secretary
The joy of retirement comes in those everyday pursuits that embrace the joy of life; to experience daily the freedom to invest one’s life-long knowledge for the betterment of others. As your life changes, it takes time to recalibrate, to find your values again. Retirement is wonderful if you have two essentials – much to live on and much to live for. For many, retirement is a time for personal growth, which becomes the path to greater freedom. For Ms Medha Gadgil, IAS of the 1983 batch, it is more of a case of being retired but not tired. Senior-most amongst her ilk when she retired from her cadre, she continues to render her distinguished services as the Right to Services Commissioner, Konkan.
36 years in Civil Services is no short span. It tests to the hilt the administrative skills of even seasoned administrators but Ms Medha has not only endured and weathered them, she has left her imprint in the offices she served, doing her work quietly without hankering for any credits. For all the accolades she has received, she makes light of them and moves on like a true Karmayogi – personifying that wisdom is the daughter of experience.
Considered a role model not just because of the huge experience she carries on her shoulders but also for the way she has applied herself in her professional endeavours, she ironically shuns all platitudes. It has something to do with her outlook of looking at her work with complete objectivity — something that piloted her through a myriad challenges. Without being expansive with words she just abbreviates it as “I have had the privilege of working with diverse field ranging from Health to Tribal Welfare in both rural and urban areas.” The measure of her achievements can be condensed in the emphatic fact that she raised the bar in all her postings. As she puts it, “It really does not matter how many postings you have served. How you negotiated your challenges is what counts.”
Armed with a Bachelor’s in Political Science (Hons) and Master’s from the Delhi School of Economics, Ms Medha recalls that she was propelled into the Civil Services by her father, an engineer in government job. “I was actually keen on becoming a journalist since writing was my forte. Learning French was also on my radar as I contemplated making a career as a translation specialist. In 1982 after clearing my Master’s father encouraged me and I took his word. I got through the UPSC in the second attempt but the redeeming feature was I was an all India topper among the girls and overall sixth.” Journalism’s loss turned out to be Administration’s gain.
The officer, whose roots are in Pune, feels that being drafted into the Civil Services means that you have to go through a number of postings in different capacities and departments. “They talk about officers eyeing plum postings but I enjoyed my stints that were not sought after. That is where I realized there is more to the work than mere posting. As SDM in Thane, I got to branch out from my revenue-related work to do a lot of social work. “I was occasioned to get involved with social activities like programmes for the welfare of handicapped for instance. I particularly recall a Jaipur Foot camp organized by some NGO. These activities took me beyond the call of my official duty,” she acknowledges.
As Managing Director of Haffkine Biopharma, Ms Medha was entrusted with the responsibility of its resurgence. Between 2003 and 2008, along with Dr Ravi Bapat, the HBPCL Chairman, she not only turned the institute around into a profit-making enterprise, but also got for it the coveted UN accreditation. In the process, the company became the first public sector undertaking and sixth in the country in the healthcare sector to get so. Picking up the gauntlet without much fuss, she was instrumental in making its Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) facilities top class. In effect, she was a conduit in the firm ranking amongst the five companies listed worldwide an the one that played a major role in the eradication of polio from India. Even as the Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Medical Education, her mandate was to improve the standards of education in medical schools and also increase the number of institutions providing quality medical education.
The streak to accept challenges and being equal to them was probably inbuilt. She played a stellar role in setting up the AIDS Control Society in Maharashtra in 1998 enlisting the cooperation of diverse stakeholders at a time when even uttering the word AIDS was a taboo. Thanks to the ceaseless work done by the Society, there was a rising awareness about HIV-AIDS, especially among school-going children, and the number of HIV cases dropped down appreciably.
Although she spent major part of her career in Mumbai, her assignments in rural areas were no less noteworthy. As District Collector of Ahmednagar, she had to grapple with the drought-prone areas. “As Collector, you are virtually the CEO of the district and are responsible for the functioning of the entire district. This turned out to be a challenging stint as several water disputes across the district existed and these had to be resolved amicably. I was successful in achieving this.”
As Principal Secretary Home Department (Maharashtra), she realized that unlike men, the women in jails are often the victims of circumstances. The Department started India’s first open jail for women in Yerwada, Pune on March 16, 2010. She describes it as a historic moment unfolding in the centenary year of the International Women’s Day, “I feel women have come a long way from being perceived as second-rate citizens. Many women are now working in highly competitive fields and are now in jobs which were once dominated by males. Nonetheless, there is still a large section of women in India, who are discriminated against, especially in rural areas. As for me, I have never faced any discrimination as a woman officer.”
Rated by her contemporaries as an outstanding officer, Ms Medha finds violence against women a very disturbing trend. She argues that mere policing is not enough. We should aim for a multi-pronged approach to tackle the issue. We need to bring up children by inculcating the right values among them and to move towards a society which has gender equality. The media can play an important role in bringing about this change, she opines. In the backdrop of her views it is sad that Maharashtra, always billed as a progressive state, lost an opportunity of boasting the first and only woman Chief Secretary.
Being publicity-shy, Ms Medha has abstained from the social media. “In my considered belief, a bureaucrat should not trumpet his/her work. I always stayed away from limelight but it is also a price I paid with. Times have changed and how, but I have no regrets that I have lost out on that. Looking back, I feel the respect I earned – and continue to earn even after retirement – as my biggest award and recognition. I have always derived my contentment in working with global agencies and trying to be perpetually creative,” she says reflecting on her career.
Ms Medha believes that being balanced has always been her watchword. “Whether in my professional or personal life, I have always kept my equilibrium. No extremes for me. I have an excellent support system in my husband and family. Reading, Meditation and Spirituality are my time-tested stress busters. Who knows, I might pen down my memoirs some day,” she says with the detachment that comes through her demeanour.
Ms Medha’s journey is like the art of a woven tapestry — each experience like a thread of colour patterned into embroidery. Its vibrancy unveils when it is fully laid out.
Being welcomed as the Right to Services Commissioner, Konkan
Signing a memorandum with the Tata trust when she was Principal Secretary, Medical Education
Top academician, top administrator
Ms Malini Shankar, retired IAS officer of the 1984 cadre, has had an exceptionally distinguished record as an administrator but in the second innings of her career she has shown that even as an academician she is nonpareil. A meritorious student, she would have shone in any career she would have chosen to. Not many would know is she is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and has her fingers on Veena with the same aplomb that she had on her administration
In a society that thrives on patriarchal mindset, women have provided the foundation of power, grace, wisdom, justice, creativity and hope. When you educate a man, you educate a man but when you educate a woman, you educate a generation. Ms Malini Shankar, a distinguished IAS officer of the 1984 cadre – now retired – is a decorous example who has left a distinctive stamp of her seasoned administrative skills in the three and half decades that she has served, and continues to do so in the second innings of her career.
There is something very compelling about her persona. Freewheeling in her expression but measured with her words and laced with friendly wit, she has this remarkable ability to sauté her brilliance — that comes from her studious bent of mind – and her hands-on administration. Having left her mark in the civil services, she is now the Vice Chancellor of the Indian Maritime University after serving as the Director General, Shipping. If her transition from being an administrator to an academician has been seamless and smooth, it is thanks to her propensity to take challenges with an implicit belief in her capabilities.
A doctoral degree in Institutional Economics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Management degree from the Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Philippines, Master’s in Chemistry from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, USA, she has had her professional mid-career training at the IIAP (Institut Internationale d’Administration Publique), in Paris, France, from where she obtained a diplome in International Economics. A large part of her career at the senior level has been spent in the water sector (municipal, irrigation, environment), and economic sectors (power, commerce and industry, shipping). Make your education valuable, apply what you learn and be a part of the change has been an abiding tenet of her life.
In a flowing narrative, Ms Malini unspooled the memories of the days when she contemplated the future roadmap: “Civil Services weren’t on the radar but yes, in high school, I was very keen on Science and wanted to do a PhD. National and International Affairs was high on my priorities, but I ended up in US doing Master’s in Chemistry (chuckles). When I was in US, I realized it was now or never. The IAS seed had been germinating slowly in my mind. I had to go for IAS or if not, at least for Research. My parents were on a conventional plane and wanted me to pursue Medicine. The pitch was queered because no one in the family was in government job. The IIT buoyed and lifted my spirits in doing a doctorate that called for intense scientific research.”
Coming from a modest, middle class background, the one strong advantage was intelligence as the lineage of the family. There were plenty of options to choose from but it was also a problem of the plenty. There were many opportunities in higher education that beckoned, including Fellowships abroad. “I wasn’t a rebel in that sense of word but I did strongly resist the idea of becoming a doctor. It was the same with Forensic Science which didn’t appeal to my academic senses at all. However, pursuing education abroad was financially prohibitive and although we had properties, we also were aware of the fact that you need to have hard cash. I even toyed with the idea of studying Law; most of it which I grasped by reading at home. It wasn’t exactly a turmoil that I went through but I had a lots choices and I am glad I settled for Civil Services,” she avers.
As it turned out, her sense of judgment was spot on. Her proficiency in Public Administration, Management, Water Resource Management, Policy Analysis, Organizational Development, and Public Management put her in the league of strong business development professionals. While her sound academic background has stood her in good stead as an academician, her potential for capacity building, introduction of technology and modern management systems and practices, and citizen-friendly initiatives have been well acknowledged.
Like all her predecessors and contemporaries, she was saddled with over 10 postings (12 to be precise) and transfers were part of the job but each one came with its accompanying challenges and called for different skill sets. “I have memories of some which were a great learning curve and as the CEO of Zilla Parishad, Chandrapur was one such. At that time there were no elected members of the Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad and I didn’t have much exposure to developmental activities. But my vistas opened up there as I was on my own and in the Naxal-forest difficult terrain inhabited by tribals with its complex industrial problems. I recall I was called to take a dying declaration at 8pm. Taking the help of the police wasn’t tactically wise given the presence of Naxals in the district. It would have only worsened things. It took a while although it wasn’t very tough to understand the tribal language which had a strange mix of Telugu and local dialect. I could understand the tribal psyche and communicate with them albeit in broken words. It proved to be a strong confidence-building measure. It was an exercise in revelation because it was an expanse where you needed lot of conventional wisdom and I could sail through without fear. Being able to strike conversation with the locals, the rustic ethos and he risk-filled ambience of the place with its ubiquitous bullock-carts, farming, seeding helped me understanding the ropes of development. Another posting I recall was being the Principal Secretary of the Command Area Development during the infamous Irrigation Scam. While putting the systems in place I also got to know some of the best engineers brains.”
Ms Malini believes that challenges are actually learning curves. “It is not about the postings but how you evolve as you go up. I have learnt that to be a good officer, you should be able to identify the pressure points. One senior educated me how one must work objectively in the wake of the situations that the system throws at you from time to time. It is a sum total of your caliber and the wisdom gathered from your experience. But equally and if not more importantly, it calls for patience and commitment. While in service, encouragement from parents and strong support from my husband have not only helped me but also inspired me to strive harder. My 30-plus years in administration have been an exciting and enriching journey — an experience I would exchange for none other. There has never been a dull moment in my three decades. Challenging moments, yes, but not dull. The diversity of assignments, the spectrum of people that one gets to interact with and the opportunity to be independent and creative are invaluable attributes in the IAS.”
To the awards and recognitions that kept coming her way, she feels that one either works hard or work for an award, she philosophizes tongue in cheek In recognition of her professional achievements, she has been invited by academic and professional organizations to contribute to policy-making and represented India in international fora. She was nominated by the IMO as an honorary Member of the Board of Directors of the World Maritime University. She is the first Indian woman to have been selected as one of the 7 global recipients of the AAA Award by the Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Philippines. She was invited as an expert on water sector, to make a presentation to the Committee responsible for drafting the new National Water Policy for India.
For someone who is sensitive, forward-thinking and does not hesitate to call spade a spade, Ms Malini asserts that building right systems and motivating people is the key element while handling various profiles. You have to start from the scratch. My stint as full time Vice Chancellor is also peppered with administrative skills. As academia sensitivity to institution building and capacity building with at times no wherewithal assumes paramount importance. To be able to achieve that is in itself a reward.”
An avowed nature lover, Ms Malini finds herself in harmony with nature’s ecosystem. Her belief that “Nature is substitute for God and has so much of variety to offer” is evident in her Facebook profile. “I am a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and can strum the Veena but work constraints leave little time. If and when time permits, I love travelling but most of the times these are short getaways. India is so well endowed with scenic places that you don’t really miss going abroad to soothe sights. The Western Ghats and the treks in Himalayas are an enduring memory. As bureaucrat I liked my work. I have contributed several articles and God willing, I may write a book too but I get lethargic too,” she admits jovially.
With so many facets to her ebullient personality, Ms Malini is true manifestation of joie de vivre.
Enjoying a break from the routine
Playing the Veena and making music
In love with animals
Retired, but still serving people
Dr Ms Aruna Limaye Sharma, IAS officer of the 1982 batch, is an avid practitioner of Development Economics and has successfully employed her craft in her professional career. A catalyst of positive change, she has played a pivotal role in chalking out development-related blueprints and ensuring that its benefits percolated to all sections of the society. Steeped in traditions, she is a Dance and Music aficionado.
Optimism is not just the faith that leads to achievement; it is also the opium of life. It serves as a strategy for making a better future because unless one believes that the future can be better, one is unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. Its very essence signifies inspiration, vitality, hope; and where others have resigned; it enables an individual to hold head high. For Ms Aruna Limaye Sharma, retired IAS officer of the 1982 batch from the Madhya Pradesh cadre, optimism is not just a Teflon-coated word but an abiding rationale and a way of life.
The highly diligent officer, an ardent practitioner of Development Economics, has retired as Secretary; Steel in Government of India but has refused to hang up her boots. She has conceived and launched governance software like Samagra (now in over 10 states) and as member of the 5-member high-level committee of RBI; has been instrumental in deepening digital payment. Paralelly, she is also on the Governing Board of the Microfinance Institutions Network MFIN) at a time when the sector is witnessing many positive changes. Her writings are published by UNDP, FAO, national and international journals of repute like DPR
With a Master’s in Development Studies from the University of Bath (UK) and a Doctorate in Development Economics from the University of Delhi, Ms Sharma has been relentlessly championing the cause of sustainable development – an issue that she speaks about passionately in her book “You@ Game Changer for Inclusive Growth.” A staunch votary of Development, she maintains that there can be no sustainable development and lasting peace in a society which has a widening gap between the rich and the poor.
In a lucid style, the 142-page book lists a litany of challenges that hamper sustainable growth and development in villages, smaller towns and urban slums in India. Enumerating the key takeaways of the book she argues “elected representatives starting from sarpanch, to mayor and MLAs to MPs, not to speak of even rookie bureaucrats harbour the impression that the best of infrastructure is not happening due to paucity of funds. I have tried to demolish that myth with a Four- stair approach, One infrastructure. Even the smallest of Panchayats with a 1500 population and 500 households gets crores per annum. What is needed is convergent, focused approach alongside the use of Samagra so that social protection entitlements percolate to all and no one is left out for want of new opportunities of livelihood. The book is ready-reckoner for those who intend to transform and bring in the concept of Smart Village and Smart Wards.”
Beyond professional duties, Ms Sharma is active on twitter and expresses herself with clarity and precision. Quite surprisingly, her decision to join the civil services was more by accident than design. “It was (the decision) accidental. After graduation, I pondered seriously on the career I could visualize for myself. Being active in student life, I surmised that civil services will provide me with platforms for out-of-box thinking. The preparation for IAS for one full year is a serious affair. One has to cover the entire gamut of syllabus and cannot be selective in covering topics. One needs to focus on understanding the basics first and then do an in-depth study. A superficial approach does not work,” she points out.
In her 38 years of professional career, Ms Sharma has served a number of postings and at times she was even straddling multiple postings but each office was handled with distinction. Some of them were challenging but as she elucidates her experiences, it is obvious that her courage of conviction and stoicism stood her in great stead while negotiating the rigours of her calling. She explains: “Initial postings of under training, SDM, Addl Collector are in quick succession but once you become the collector, you become stable. Many times I held a dual charge. In my career I had around 13-14 postings with stability of 3 years on an average enabling me to stabilize the initiatives taken.
For Ms Sharma, every posting began on a clean slate. She made no distinction about any posting being better than the other. “Each of my postings gave me complete satisfaction — whether in districts triggering systematic development, approach to law and order or later in sectors like Dairy Development, Information Technology or Steel. If I look back to gauge at the Highest Common Factor, I am happy I could approach issues head-on and build up teams when these sectors were confronted with crises. Joint efforts enabled a system-based approach that not only gave success but also sustainable success. During my stint in Dairy Development, no salaries were disbursed for a year with huge market dues. The revival of this sector introduced the concept of ‘Resource Convergence’ by converging similar schemes for same objectives and that was incorporated in the Eleventh Plan at the national level.”
Ms Sharma also recalls with satisfaction how the development sector brought about Samagra, a common household database for all the schemes and G2P of Government whether central or state. It is now adapted in 8 states and concept is now enlarging not only to the rest of the country but even across the border. The quality telecast of CWG 2010 whose preparatory levels were inordinately delayed but Doordarshan managed to win accolades apart from a successful revenue model. With an efficacious approach, I could develop a common scholarship portal and GeM (Government e-Marketplace) as a challenge for a common platform to aggregate government procurement. The Steel Policy 2017 not only pulled the sector out of difficult times, it also laid the roadmap. What I am trying to underscore here is the common thread to successfully meet the challenges lies in adopting a ‘holistic’ approach and striving to plug gaps. This calls for clarity of objective and the will to achieve.”
Ms Sharma shares a constant rapport with her twitter constituency. What makes her popular is her penchants to analyze issues clinically, take holistic approach and then rationalize, thereby resonating well with more and more readers. True to her self-effacing nature, she makes light of the numerous awards and recognition that she earned in the line of her eventful career and instead of listing or counting them, dedicates them to her team.
The question of striking a work-life balance becomes redundant when one is always in a positive state of mind. Ms Sharma has never let go of her alacrity even in utmost trying situations. Positivity has been her driving force in an occupation that constantly calls for physical and mental readiness. “I focus on worth ethic and team belief to excel in professional life and to enjoy every small thing in personal life. I believe these are separate compartments.”
A compelling part of her personality is her dogmatic belief in Indian traditions. “I was brought up by my parents firmly rooted in Indian traditions. I love classical music and dance and did acquire some skills, but that is a very personal hobby. Having said that, I do believe that good intentions need to be shared, she adds, explaining clearly what keeps her going even after retirement. I am a die-hard optimistic and believe in the goodness of people. Positive thinking and systematic approach supported by hard work is the mantra for success in any endeavour. Work is never a burden if you are passionate about it because you do best and get best.
That she genuinely feels so; reverberates with that one interesting one-liner on the twitter: “After hard day’s work always boggled with what to eat, #MyMenu365 will give 365 different options, no repeat.” Little wonder, her plate is always full.
An angel to cancer patients
There is much more to Ms Ruby Ahluwalia than the 1986 batch IRAS officer that she is. A seasoned professional who has defeated the dreaded cancer with incredible tenacity, her pain and misery have transformed her into a Godmother for other patients through her NGO Sanjeevani — Life Beyond Cancer to extricate them from the morass. Her trials and tribulations reflect tellingly in her paintings and her book “Fragrance of the Wild Soul”
A spiritual Samaritan lives knowing that if we were to leave this world tomorrow, we were the best humans we could be and we touched the lives of as many souls as possible. Ms Ruby Ahluwalia, an IRAS (Indian Railway Accounts Service) officer of the 1986 batch is more of an angel whose heart has reached out to thousands of hapless souls in selfless acts of charity and care — a Messiah to cancer patients. The journey of her life is a riveting account of her inner strength turning out to be her outer foundation and where Spirituality is not about adopting more beliefs and assumptions but uncovering the best in her.
The Principal Financial Advisor to Central Railways, who has Master’s in Economics and a degree in Management, is recognized for the extensive work she has done in the realms of Public-Private partnership. With a demonstrated history of working in the transportation/trucking/railroad industry and skilled in Budgeting, Business Planning, Operations Management, Management, and Healthcare, she is a brand all by herself. The human in her, however, has far eclipsed the professional in her with the colossal work she has done for the cancer patients through her foundation “Sanjeevani” — literally the equivalent of the life-saving mythical herb that Lord Hanuman scoured the Himalayas to save the life of Lakshman in Ramayana.
Ms Ruby’s story of life has a poignant and stirring fusion of compassion and incredible resilience. A Stage Three cancer victor, her foundation has played a momentous and galactic role in rehabilitating people afflicted by the dreaded C and trains them to provide care and counseling to other patients and families. Today, its lofty activities have fanned out to 17 cities and have enriched the lives of over two lakh patients in just 7 years.
Her story is nothing short of a roller coaster thriller but it enkindles the same spirit of benevolence and commiseration that she embodies in her. Like it happens normally, it begins on a somber note. Retracing her memories in time, she recalls her blooming days. “My father was a police officer and contrary to the rigorous atmosphere that prevails in such households, I had my vision clear and my eyes were set on Civil Services. I was keen on making a difference and I qualified for it. Life moved on like a silken thread until tragedy struck in 2012.”
Diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer following back pain and lump in the chest, the family’s – husband, son and daughter – life almost came apart. “It was as miserable as it could get. We were shattered. The children were overcome with trauma and misery while I fought to come to terms with rising despair and pain. Even as the family grappled with this cataclysm in our lives, I decided to pull myself together. I realized being miserable and wallowing in self-pity would only lead to my losing the purpose of very life. The chemotherapy sessions I underwent for a year were painful and debilitating. Even after recovering, it took two years for me to regain strength and get back on my feet. The children too overcame the long spell of anguish and I could get back to work in 2012. However, it was quite a tough emotional battle and reminiscing those days makes me wonder how we could cope and endure that torment. Hiding the malaise from the family was a mistake. Besides, I also realized I was not the lone Ahluwalia in that distress. The other Ahluwalias in the family rallied round me. ”
Driven by the sole agenda of “making her better”, the family realized they could not just stop smiling and laughing in the wake of this adversity. Ms Ruby summoned strength from her innermost recesses to attend duties even on days when she was to undergo chemotherapy. Her patience and tenacity was severely tested at the Tata Memorial Hospital but the doctors went beyond their regular duties to soothe her psychologically as well. A new Ruby Ahluwalia was taking birth – a resolute, strong woman who had shed off the superficial skin and had even the gumption to say that cancer was the second best thing that happened to her after her husband Anil.
Sanjeevani…. Life Beyond Cancer happened in 2012 as a natural corollary of her saga of pain. It filled the gaps of other people facing similar struggles of physical, mental and financial drains with the belief that she must disburse the same love and care she received during her ailment. It sought to bring about a change in the interpretations, ways of creating awareness and providing rehabilitation to cancer survivors along with extensive emotional support. The bureaucrat, once with a wandering, adventurous spirit and successful career stood firm when the ground underneath threatened to slip from below her feet. She made virtue out of it by turning it 360 degrees. “It was a time when I rediscovered myself but it was also heart-breaking to see the utter helplessness and despair of other cancer patients. The fear of death and/or recurrence is a nightmare that continues to haunt most cancer patients. I wanted to empower them, especially the under-privileged class, even in the midst of all the morbidity that obtains. I had no clear then as to what and when I needed to do,” she recalls.
The situation was not without its pluses. It turned her into a multi-tasker as she juggled time and energies to be a super professional, super mom and super wife. The spiritual evolution was happening steadily but firmly as she became a life coach and a prolific speaker on Holistic Healing – over 2.5 lakh patients across India being the beneficiaries. Material reward came in the form of “Change Makers Award” for the sterling contribution she has made in alleviating the sufferings of cancer patients. Her ability to don multiple robes is evident in the manner she paints and writes with similar flourish,
As a passionate painter, she employs the canvas to portray the profound churning in her quest for spiritual evolvement. “Each time I returned exhausted from my chemo sessions, I painted to give vent to my emotional ardour. I painted before as well but the 8 paintings during those days are a veritable storyboard and a text book on my spiritual growth and a trigger for the ‘Aha Movement.’ Those colourful outlets helped her glissade through feelings of depression and pain to enlightenment, acceptance and peace. “I feel if I paint directly, my emotions flow more freely onto the canvas. If I draw, I feel one has already expressed the emotion, and filling colours is a mere task left to be fulfilled,” she explains. That exercise paved way and also became the raison d’etre of her book ‘Fragrance of a Wild Soul.’
A crystal-clear reflection of her multi-faceted personality, “Fragrance of a Wild Soul” describes her journey chiseled and honed by her parents. It is a moving account of her three-year ordeal that was overcome with strong support from family and friends. It seeks to establish a mind-body connect and solicits the importance of making peace with oneself in life, no matter how harsh the reality. It evocatively captures her catharsis and enlightenment.
To raise funds for rehabilitation of cancer patients, the NGO also hosts a virtual art gallery called ‘Art For Cause’ where artists can showcase their creations by pledging a small part of the sales proceeds as donation for the cause. “By showcasing these works, I want to encourage other cancer fighters, survivors to use their latent talents, be it art, music or pottery to ward of depression so integral when one is diagnosed with cancer. I also want to send the message that there is a life beyond cancer. No experience in life, good or bad should go to waste, when it can be channelized positively instead,” she earnestly believes.
Fortune does favour the brave and Ms Ruby is a walking symbol.
The link to the kindle edition of her book on Amazon:
Robust in academics, vibrant in administration
IAS officer of the 1999 batch, Richa Bagla has carried forward her meritorious academic record to all the assignments she has been through so far. She believes that the feeling of having done your work sincerely and the positive results of those efforts are her real rewards. Little wonder, she was named among the top 50 bureaucrats for Honesty, Integrity and Impartiality to the core.
There is no pillow as soft as the conscience. Conscience is a cognitive process that elicits emotion based on an individual’s value system and if this process is catalyzed by sound education and academics, you have a personality whose conduct and character become reference points for others to follow. Ms Richa Bagla, IAS of the 1999 batch and currently the Joint Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, is a luminous example of how good bureaucrats can be great spark plugs of good governance.
Ms Bagla has worked in multiple sectors of country’s development, economic and social infrastructure, project conception, development, execution, administration and appraisal and has excelled in donning all these robes. Specialized in Human Resource Management, Disaster Management, Rural/Urban amenities and administration, Project Execution and socio-economic infrastructure development, she has been named as among the top 50 bureaucrats in a nationwide survey by the Fame India, Asia Post and PSU Watch who have created new benchmarks of performance in public service. That speaks volumes of the meritorious service she has put in her two decades plus service with a promise of more to come.
This recognition has come strictly on her merits as the parameters for selection of these officers were: Effective governance, Sagacious decision-making, Responsible working, Professional attitude, behaviour with people at large and the ability to take quick and impactful decisions. But true to her nature, she remains down-to-earth and is cordial to a fault. Her school of thought is a classic example of what goes into the making of a complete officer.
Speaking in measured nuances and choosing her words as if to weigh their weight before uttering them, Ms Bagla uses her brevity to fill in on what spurred her to take up the civil services. “I was outstanding in school and college and did my graduation and post graduation in Zoology. The goal post was to become a doctor. But there was also this persistent urge to do something for the country. I had been offered a scholarship by reputed institutions but my quest for academics was to become a gateway for the IAS. I realized I could harness my academics to help people to access knowledge. Evincing interest in varied subjects was just the fillip this urge needed. Life sciences, Development, people’s problems opened my horizons to the fact that I could contribute to their development. The urban surroundings shaped and evolved my vision in deciding the blueprint of life.”
It is not difficult to seek why Ms Bagla scripted a success story out of each assignment that she handled with aplomb in 21 years. Before she took charge as the Joint Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, she worked as the CEO of the Khadi and Village Industries Board and was always focused on restoring Maharashtra’s pride fabric and winning the confidence of the handloom sector. Prior to that, she worked as Director Textiles, Additional Commissioner & Member-Secretary, Vidarbha Statutory Development Board, District Collector, Amravati and Additional Divisional Commissioner, Aurangabad. In each of these stints, she channelized her education and commitment with positive results.
Ms Bagla’s resolve steeled with every posting as she found in them an effective instrument of change, a dream that she nourished and cherished. “Twenty years down the line, my commitment remains undiluted. Each posting with its diversity is a sea of knowledge and an opportunity to learn. I am a round-the-clock learner. It has enabled me to glide through all the challenges and diversities. Of course, there were postings where it was an abiding pleasure to be associated with developmental activity. As CEO, Zilla Parishad, Sangli, I recall being part of the Implementation of development projects in rural area, in sectors of Primary Education, Health, Water and Sanitation, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Irrigation, Watershed, Wasteland development and Women empowerment. It was heartening to be part of self-help groups and transform the lives of resident tribals.
As Director Textiles, she was symbiotic in restoring the past glory of Indian handloom just the way Khadi was presented in a modern avtaar from its considered geriatric status to a world class brand through e-marketing. “I am happy I could bring visibility and appreciation to the Khadi while supporting the weavers’ community. Innovation played a pivotal role and as it eventually turned out, a game-changer. As hands-on in the field, I am happy to reflect that I have been able to contribute my bit in a positive way, as an officer and as an individual. Be it the challenging relief and rehabilitation work in Taloda sub-division of Nandurbar district; the Sanitation Campaign and Self Help Group empowerment as CEO, ZP Sangli; the seamless transition from Bombay Sales Tax regime to VAT administration in Aurangabad division, I could deliver and motivate my team to achieve higher.”
The officer believes that the positive results of her endeavours are her real rewards. “The real motivation comes from performing your duty and steering teams. The bottom line is institutions should continue with more vigour so that they become self-sustaining. I feel satisfied at making systems perform and deliver and in ensuring their sustainability, regardless of change in manpower. I have never felt any major hurdles at work. “I have been blessed with a supportive family and a great team at work, which has risen to the occasion when motivated to deliver. My approach has been to communicate effectively with all stakeholders all the time, do the day’s work well and try and do better than yesterday, every day. This helped me tackle all challenges at hand with a sense of composure and balance. I feel women have the innate strength to succeed at whatever they genuinely believe in and this success comes with persistence and hard work.”
Ms Bagla has compartmentalized her time frames to strike work-life balance. “I do full justice to my work and I am never pushed in any way, not even in these trying times of pandemic. I know it’s not easy for someone like me as a mother of two but then I take each day as it comes. Hanging out, trying and learning new recipes, watching movies, reading are some of the things we bond with as family on weekends and whenever time permits.”
There was time when Ms Bagla had fleeting thoughts of become a journalist. “Now that you ask me, I must say I love to write. My articles have been published in Pioneer and Hindustan Times. Wish I could write more.” Having left her mark in all that she has done so far, there is a strong reason to believe that she could have made a competent journalist too. Public administration’s gain might well be Journalism’s loss.
The Achilles heel for India even in 21st century
Tracing the history, authors Meeta and Rajivlochan suggest that the need of the hour is to build robust institutional networks of information and trust; and overcome state bottlenecks
How can India become a great country again?
If you discount the rhetoric naysayers might see in the question, you will see some strong, plausible rationale that can be offered in its substantivity. A well-researched comprehensive book by Meeta and Rajivlochan is a treatise that objectively dwells and evaluates the issue. An IAS officer of the Maharashtra cadre, Meeta Rajivlochan has adorned important positions in administration including the Additional Director General of Foreign Trade (ADGFT) and Secretary, Department of Public Health and Secretary, Department of Finance. With 25 years of experience behind her, she has the right qualifications to discuss the issue threadbare and in its entirety. Indeed, it comes with a historical perspective and connects it with the situation as it stands today.
Ms Meeta has been extensively involved in facilitating leadership in urban local bodies to prepare and execute plans to improve services provided to citizens. Thanks to the institutional improvements effected, over 200 municipal councils in the state have operationalized customer care centers for sanitation services and at least six towns located in differing regions ranging from the Konkan to Vidarbha, have achieved significant successes in Mission Clean Up. She is also concerned with improving levels of per capita income through measures aimed at providing livelihood to the urban poor. As Secretary (Health) her role has concerned improvement in facilities in health care, with a view to making health care services more accessible and affordable.
The country has made rapid strides in all spheres – Science, Technology, and Business – in the 70-plus years of its Independence but somewhere along the way, the right matrix of development seems to be amiss. The failure to build robust institutional networks of information and trust coupled with the indifference of the state have not helped the country’s cause. Obsolete patterns continue to be followed with the result the key parameter of wealth creation has not gathered the right momentum. Although innovation was never in short supply, the ability to learn from experience was deficient. The book makes out a case for creating a learning ecosystem that can be leveraged to unlock the huge talent pool that India possesses.
The book issues a clarion call to aspiring Indians – across all walks of life – and offers tangible and tenable solutions to the problems the nation confronts today. To all those who would care to take a leaf out of the country’s history, especially students of History, Political Science, Public Administration and Business Administration, the book serves as a splendid reference material.
She has looked closely at the relationship between information and productivity in modern India and the pivotal role played by institutions in systematizing information, attributing the failure to systematize information to the famines in Bengal, once the richest of provinces. The authors also dwell on the methods of using information in three sectors deemed to be important to any economy — Banking, Technology for making iron and steel and pure science insofar as the discipline of mathematics is concerned.
Noting that Innovations that are institutionalized over time are key indicators of this progress, the authors argue that the ability to create wealth has much to do with building robust institutional networks of information and trust and that the indifference of the state to business communities has been a bottleneck. Never was the contrast more visible than after the arrival of the East India Company which did not initially have a level-playing field but changed the way business was done with their superior systems. They were more systematic in collating information in a scientific manner and using that to optimize productivity, they observe.
The book looks at the Iron and Steel Industry in India, how despite producing some of the best steel in the world, it was unable to scale up production to match the demands of a rapidly industrializing world. It makes an imputation about lack of institutional support behind uneven distribution of skills in India. A college dropout like Bill Gates was a success because of institutional support system. Knowledge was important but knowledge systems remained distant for Indians in the past, hampering growth, it says.
The author duo says in very many words that development, which is an ongoing process, can help meet goals through a planned approach. They advocate ensuring security of property through systematization of land records and creation of unique IDs; improving the learning curve; creating a high order of skills among the working population; building resilient knowledge institutions; and improving productivity by scrapping archaic laws and perverse incentives.
The highest common factor is the problem of outreach — how to percolate the benefits to the teeming millions. Systematizing information for the purpose itself is compounded by problems like illiteracy and ignorance. This, they contend, cannot be an excuse for not making an effort. The past helps understand the present and prepares us for the future. The book is a work of great scholarly acumen providing contemporary insight into the impediments in progress.
To all those who wonder and are perplexed how and why India – a great nation once with a strong economy and a vibrant polity, boasting of great achievements in almost every field of learning — lost that advantage and why have we never been able to recover our past glory, the book attempts to provide an in-depth justification. The most welcome and cerebral part of the book is it has been able to pitch its logic without falling to the caprice of mere criticism. Rather than posing a question whether India can become great again, the book puts it more affirmatively and assertively as “Making India Great Again”. It indicates the confidence the authors have in their deductions.
The book is available on Amazon as kindle and hard cover edition:
Ms Meeta has also authored books titled “Farmers Suicide: Facts and Possible Policy Interventions” and “Jal Swaraj: Case studies in Community Empowerment”.
[Making India Great Again: Learning from our History, written by Meeta and Rajivlochan, Published by Manohar Publishers & Distributors, Pages 299, Price Rs 1495]
Mr Rajivlochan – Co-author
“Bask in the moment and make the best of it”
Senior IAS officer Ms Manisha Mhaiskar loves to travel, explore, learn new cuisines and is a prolific writer. A believer in Karma and Destiny, she takes each day as it comes. At home, her world revolves around her kid twin daughters.
Everyone has that one person in life that either influences or inspires them. Seeing others accomplish great things, overcome adversity and through words that motivate! Senior IAS Officer Ms Manisha Mhaiskar, recently posted as Maharashtra’s Environment Secretary, didn’t have to look far for inspiration. It came from her father, himself an IAS officer. Her story accentuates that to be successful, one has to use each day as an opportunity to improve, to be better, to get a little bit closer to your goals. It might sound like a lot of work—and with a busy schedule, next to impossible but Ms Mhaiskar has made it possible with a very functional and pragmatic approach to her work and life.
Although her first role model was in her own house, Ms Mhaiskar was initially not keen on a career in civil services. As a merit student in the 12th, she had decided to pursue MBBS, like most students do. She even got admission in the Government Medical College Nagpur – in those days billed as the biggest in Asia – but somewhere her inner voice kept poking her conscience to go for the IAS. Having accompanied her father on his tours and seen him work, the shift was wittingly happening. In the tug of war between MBBS and IAS, she chose to go with the call of her heart. There was also the Plan B of joining the five-year LLB course but as events unfolded, the 1992 batch IAS officer realized it was rendered redundant.
Ms Mhaiskar subscribes to the philosophy of “living in the moment”. For her, life is “now” and that is the reason she is at peace with herself. A fierce believer in the Theory of Karma, she looks at each of her posting with immense satisfaction. Obviously, there is neither remorse nor regrets. “Life is fraught with unpredictability; There is no sense in dwelling in the past nor any purpose in gloating over the future,” she philosophizes. Her firm conviction in giving herself a “me time” has enabled her to work fearlessly in the current pandemic. “It is about the moment, not about past or future. She has imbibed this technique and been using it successfully. So even treating herself to a large mug of coffee is an abiding pleasure. The affection and warm moments spent in the company of her baby twin daughters is an icing on the cake. They are moments to cherish, treasure and share.
While most people are grappling to come to terms with the new Work from Home culture, Ms Mhaiskar finds completely at ease with it. “It gives so much flexibility and the options to work from different work stations. Cumbersome schedules and exhaustive work are part of life and she accepts them gratefully but she has simple recipes to break from the daily skullduggery. She loves to travel wherever and whenever she can. Although she has travelled US and Europe, even a short trip in the rural interiors or dense jungles is rejuvenating. For her travelling is an experience per se where she gets to acquaint with different people, different cultures and savour different cuisines. The cuisines, peculiar to the areas where she has travelled, are tried and tasted at home. So it is not merely about discovering the joy of new places but to merge into the ambience and flow. The Mhaiskars make it a point to use local transport like buses whenever they step out to travel. When abroad, they preferred the metro rides. Her husband Mr Milind Mhaiskar also, IAS and currently the Principal Secretary of Forest Department is her ideal companion.
Having started their career almost paralelly, the bonding between Ms Manisha and Mr Milind is not only that of an ideal couple but also one of being good compatriots. With both serving at the same postings most of the times, it helped them to understand each other better and eventually, they found, they had similar tastes and choices. Travelling and exploring new places was among them. Mr Milind stood by her through thick and thin and the friendship only strengthened over the passage of time.
Reading and writing are two other important passions like the proverbial two sides of a coin. While she reads a lot, she writes extensively and believes in drafting her own work. She recalls that Law was not difficult but Political Science was a completely alien to her ethos. After the aptitude test, her professor brought this trait of hers out saying she had the ability to write very well and had a poetic narration to it. She has nurtured this predilection towards writing even today when time is in scarce supply. Explaining the importance of striking a good work-life balance, she opines that the endeavour should be to do justice to both and derive happiness.
To all those women aiming for IAS, she has a message. “The opportunities are many. Women should exercise the freedom of choice. I look to each new day that brings new challenges. Do your best and thank the Almighty for a day well spent,” she signs up.
Being welcomed as the Right to Services, Konkan
Receiving Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Award from the honourable President Shri Ram Nath Kovind
With Soulmate Milind
Greeting Shri Amitabh Bachchan at the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan event
Manisha Patankar Mhaiskar – Many moods
An officer, who motivates, pushes herself all the time
Mrs Sonal Goel of the 2008 IAS batch comes from a different league altogether. A hands-on officer, always in the thick of field visits, she has done exemplary work in a society besieged with patriarchal mindset. Little wonder, she has won a surfeit of awards and her career a motivation for those aiming for civil services.
Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits! That might sound like a cliché but challenges are inevitable and integral components of life’s grammar. The resolute and determined are steeled to excel in the wake of challenges that dot their career, education, health, business, job and just about all spheres of life. A significant takeaway of challenging one’s own limits is you become your own competitor and instills in you that indomitable spirit of not just overcoming odds but also the will to leave your imprint in whatever you do. Mrs Sonal Goel, an IAS of the 2008 batch – until July 2020 in the Tripura cadre followed by four-year inter-cadre deputation to Haryana — is a striking example of having conditioned and blended her persona to be in that venerable league.
Objective and level-headed to a fault, this extremely driven officer’s 12 checkered years in the cadre should be a revelation for all those who want to enter civil services for the very raison d’etre it stands for. Like many others of her ilk she has handled a string of assignments as Assistant Collector, West Tripura ; SDM Ambassa; ADM & Collector, South Tripura, Chief Executive Officer, Agartala Municipal Council, Joint Secretary, Labour Department; State Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, District Magistrate & Collector, Gomati District ; Commissioner Municipal Corporation of Faridabad & CEO, Faridabad Smart City Limited; Deputy Commissioner Jhajjar Haryana; Administrator HSVP & Additional CEO FMDA Faridabad; CEO GMCBL (Gurugram Metropolitan City Bus Limited) & Addl CEO GMDA (Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority), a notable feature of her tenure is she has been mostly involved with field visits.
Mrs Goel believes that her field visits have been fruitful and have given her a first-hand account of the jurisdiction she has been occasioned to serve. That explains breviloquently the encomiums and recognitions she has won as an unflappable officer with distinction. The journey, however, has been worth the experience but it has also been facilitated by the virtue of her commitment to her goal posts. She recalls what propelled her into the civil services when she was pursuing education that could have led her to diverse professions but to her credit, she could administer it in the chosen career she decided to take up.
After graduating in Commerce from the Sri Ram College, Delhi, she found her predilection towards the perfectly compatible Company Secretary (CS) course. But the mind was astir that she must do something to serve the society and nation. Into her second stage of CS, she realized it had to be civil services. The idea was shot down initially and she was told in no uncertain terms she should have a Plan B ready. After clearing the CS in 2004, she appeared for LLB entrance and duly completed it in 2007, followed later by Master’s in Public Policy. There was time she was doing LLB and her UPSC studies simultaneously but she managed tenaciously. In 2008 she sailed through the IAS, albeit in the second attempt. Sometimes just reminding yourself of the temporality of your failures enables you to forge ahead. There was no looking back thereafter.
Civil services is no bed of roses and Mrs Goel recalls they were tough years but perseverance and hard work paid off, her sights firmly sent on her aspirations. It also acquainted her with the art of Capacity Building that she so effectively used during her field visits. During the seven years that she worked in Tripura and the other four in Haryana, she honed her skills as a hands-on administrator. The transition from North-East to North was good and she had wonderful experiences that vindicated her conviction to serve people. It was rewarding in every sense – psychologically and in terms of recognition that poured in from various quarters.
Mrs Goel mentions two important takeaways of the time she expended on the field visits. “I comprehended what it means to elicit Team Support, creating Impactful Institutional Mechanism and Capacity Building. Working in public domain means you have to take people along and instill confidence in them, to convince them that it is all for the overall good. As officer, you need people’s cooperation all the time, be it elections, developmental activity or welfare initiatives. I was lucky I could enlist the support of all the stakeholders and other people in bringing about a sustainable development in all my assignments. It is of paramount importance to connect with people because the bottom line is it is for their welfare and good. Good things come to fruition when people voluntarily join you but it is also necessary to get them in your fold,” she rationalizes, adding that “a right eco-system which thrives on continued public rapport holds the key.”
Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort. It proved true for Mrs Goel as the long list of recognitions she has won in a relatively short span of 12 years. Among the top 25 women transforming India by Niti Aayog, United Nations and MyGov in 2016, she also feels that her sense of purpose rewarded her with many priceless moments, especially while serving as Deputy Commissioner of Jhajjar in women’s welfare. The various activities that she undertook in pursuance women were considered as Governance in Innovation. She also worked ceaselessly to fight domestic violence against women.
As the SDM in Tripura, she narrates the sanguine experience of the efforts she and her team took in bringing into mainstream some primitive tribals inhabiting the tough terrains and inaccessible areas. “We visited these areas trekking through rough surfaces punctuated with jungles and nullahs. The Border Security Force personnel actively helped us in this exercise which resulted in regularizing Primary Health Centres, Schools, and Anganwadis in several hamlets (called Paras). These are the kind of activities that gave her a sense of fulfillment. She also relates an experience in Haryana where a woman old enough to be her grandmother wondered how a “chhori” (young girl) could be the Deputy Commissioner. “Changing such deeply entrenched (patriarchal) mindset can be challenging but people can be convinced.”
Given the vicissitudes of the job, she is seized of the importance of work-life balance. “Being a woman has its own challenges. She has multiple roles to play and has other responsibilities like being a good mother at home. As a mother of two kids, she realizes that her primary commitment remains to them. One has to find time from all exigencies of work. My family and my hubby have been always supportive. In a family, members become its subsets so the entire family algorithm becomes important.”
From 2018, Mrs Goel has imposed a strict fitness regimen upon herself. Yoga, Meditation, Aerobics and brisk walking are her effective remedies to smother the pressures and pulls of the job. One hour of the morning is steadfastly dedicated to the fitness regime. At the government sports complex, she practices all these occasionally indulging in Zumba dance that she loves. “It cleanses mind of all negativity, helps relax and braces you for the forthcoming challenges. Reading and writing interest me but time is hard to find by,” she laments.
The family influence in her grit is evident. Her father is a CA, her husband is an IRS and the children fully understand her constraints as a responsible officer. Mrs Goel has encountered all the challenges because she believes in pushing herself all the time. It has helped her discover her new strengths. The ability to neither stop nor be stopped is what has taken her to places – literally and figuratively.
Recognition and Awards
On the Field where she connects with the society
Keeping fit physically and mentally through jogging, meditating and exercising
Able officer, consummate painter, seasoned writer
Ms Nidhi Chaudhary, IAS
Nidhi Chaudhary is a paradigmatic IAS officer whose skills with the brush and pen gush forth once she returns to the tranquil ambience of her house and the effervescent company of her kids. That boundless joy has resulted in 200 paintings, 300 poems, many books and assorted writings. And all this at just 36! For some people, sky is the limit.
Creativity does not wait for that one perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments – breaking out of established patterns by looking at the world around you through a completely different prism. But what if one’s creativity is replete with child-like freedom, self-expression, maverick ideas and relentless experimentation with a matching courage of conviction? At a relatively young age of 36, IAS Officer Nidhi Chaudhary packs all these traits and many more making it tricky to encapsulate them in words.
Her academic credentials are archetypal and should be a benchmark for any student who aims for the record books. With Master’s in English Literature, Public Administration, Rural Development, Public Policy, a JAIIB/CAIIB she can be attributed with a world view of administration. Starting as a Section Officer, DGACR in 2006, her work experience now stands at being an IAS officer of the 2012 cadre after being the Manager of RBI (2006-2011), Indian Audit and Account Service (2011-2012).
Her career profile as an IAS officer is a striking example of how a competent officer can earn the reputation of being upright with only a handful years of experience behind. As Assistant Collector at Pen (Raigad), Chief Executive Officer, ZP Palghar, Joint Commissioner MCGM, Deputy Secretary (Water & Sanitation) and District Collector Raigad she left a stamp of her iron-fisted administration. Even in the high-risk Covid period, she was ubiquitous, supervising the dexterous implementation of lockdown in initial stages followed by upgradation of health infrastructure and disaster mitigation.
Ms Nidhi does not believe in carrying work pressures home. The tough exterior is left in the office and what returns home is a substantive, flexible and prolifically gifted woman whose dreamy eyes keep searching for a creative outlet. This shift is compatible with her inherent compassionate, committed and courageous nature. It gives her the tensile strength to glide her through difficult situations. Her weapons of combat are Reading, Writing, Oratory and Painting. Time and circumstances willing, the wanderlust in her comes to the fore. And engaging such diverse spectrum of activity comes without compromising on quality family life.
Painting and writing have been her childhood passion and pastime. Her first ode, at 10, was published in a children’s magazine. It was the first rung of her poetic ladder from where she has never had to look down. The parents were proud of their little daughter and never judgmental about what she wrote. They encouraged her adventures with colours, brush and even framed her creations on the walls. The father would often send her poems and stories to various publications. This freedom and encouragement spurred the best faculties in her. In the course of time, painting became her biggest stress buster.
Programmed with an academic bent of mind, Ms Nidhi finds comfort in writing academic, research-based articles/essays, rhymes and fictional stories. Most of her stories portray the everyday struggle of a woman. The stories that she writes for children are motivational and mythological while on a higher plane, her write-ups are mostly about self-help, banking and finance.
Even as she has resourced poetry from the vast repositories of her inner recess – she has over 300 – her book “Bachpan Ke Geet” is a collection of poems was a birthday gift to her son. In what should be a rare, she authored two books “1234 Economic Terms” and “Understanding Economic Terms” while she was preparing for the UPSC. With such a large collection of stories and articles, she aims to get them published at the first opportunity. It is remarkable that her preferred work is in Hindi although she has a Gold Medal in English Literature. Each award and appreciation that she won was a stepping stone to another. By her own confession, writing remains her prime pastime activity.
Being a mother of two and saddled with a very demanding job , work-life balance is a tight-rope walk but Ms Nidhi has no intentions of being an example of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Her hobbies unshackle her mind to reanimate herself from the routine skullduggery. So in the office, she is back with her batteries fully charged to take on newer challenges. For all those whose life is meshed in officialese, hobbies are the best diversions, she feels. Her creative experiments with the acrylic/oil paint brush – which began with her maternity in 2018 — give her a tranquil feeling and the outcomes are stunning. Multiply that feeling by 200 paintings and one can gauge her serenity quotient. As student, she found a perfect equation in straddling studies and recreation. As a professional, she has struck a phenomenal equation with work and satisfaction.
As someone who has over 200 paintings to her credit, she is all modesty when she claims not to be a professional but she makes no bones about being upbeat over Bob Ross’ paintings. Her kids are her jubilant partners as she paints her subjects, most of which are natural landscapes or religious. The divine manifestations are Buddha, Radha, Krishna, Ganesha, Shiva, Hanuman and Rama.
The future, they say, belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Ms Nidhi has many more to chase because a thing of beauty is a joy forever. With the pen and the brush by her side, those dreams keep turning into reality with practiced regularity.
A book with a collection of poetries for children
Engaging some time with children
Some of her paintings that have class written all over them
An IRS officer in the realms of Art & Nature
Ms Pritee Chaudhary, IRS
Known for rectitude and probity, Pritee Chaudhary is a self-avowed individual with an uncanny ability to balance her work life with a perceptive and sensitive nature that often finds an outlet in evocative painting and soulful singing
There are two things, often undervalued, that life bestows upon any living soul – beauty and truth. The first is found in a loving, nurturing heart and the other in its manifestation in an artist’s hands. Ujjain-born Pritee Chaudhary keeps it basic and simple. “Life is beautiful” says her pithy Whatsapp status. The young Indian Revenue Service officer presently posted in the GST Administration in Mumbai exemplifies the dictum in letter and spirit.
For Ms Pritee, married to an IPS officer, excellence is not just an acquired skill but an attitude. That explains the fact that as all time high Science stream topper from Indore University she left the second merit way behind. With such studious academic grinding UPSC wasn’t so difficult although not a virtual cake-walk. In her very first posting in the Agra Customs, she ensured a no-tolerance policy to ensure fair trade to help genuine exporters. A string of some not-so-sought-after postings followed where she was instrumental in unearthing evasion and enforcing preventive measures. It was in her stint that the first two anti-evasion arrests were made in Nagpur. Later, at Nhava Sheva port, she made gold, silver, cosmetics and other seizures. In a relatively short span of time, she earned the distinction of being a no-nonsense officer whose integrity was unquestionable. As a key member of the important government flagship scheme – the Direct Port Delivery (DPD) – she was involved in a number of initiatives and facilitation measures that catapulted India’s ranking in the Trader Across Border from 146 to 80.
Behind her stern official demeanor lurks a sensitive human being. Ms Pritee is a level-headed person who believes in work-life balance. At home she is a complete home-maker, a doting mother and a quintessential woman. The rigors and exactitude of office work are tempered at home with singing and painting. A sworn aficionado of Classical, Semi-classical and Sugam Sangeet, she makes it a point to squeeze out time for her music classes. Her proclivities lie with Sugam Sangeet which to her is an offshoot of Classical Music.
If music soothes her soul, the artist’s easel keeps her beckoning all the time. Having spent her salad days in the lap of nature in smaller towns, she betrays a special affinity towards nature painting. The long lockdown to her was an exercise in rediscovering herself as she took to oil colours and depict nature in its pristine form. The paintings that she has sketched – some 8-10 of them – during the lockdown not only provided her with a way out from the humdrum, it also made her conscious of their potential use for a social cause. She is keen to auction them and give the proceeds to donate munificently for good causes.
On her Facebook page, she regularly posts her paintings. The love of labour is resonatingly evident in those paintings. A transferable job meant she couldn’t have as many trysts with the brush as she would have liked but the lockdown was a god-send. “An exhibition will be on my mind when I have at least 25 of them”, she points out without any remorse that her work so far hasn’t got a public platform.
Self-effacing to a fault, Ms Pritee has never thought of holding an exhibition to showcase her talents that remain confined to her house. However, in her close official and personal circuit she is well known for her vocal and brushing skills. No get-together is complete until she has rendered a few songs. She attributes her skills and love for music to the careful tutelage of Shri Kummar Chatterjee.
A staunch believer in the concept of “giving-it-back-to-the nature”, Ms Pritee dedicates time to gardening. Trees, to her, are mankind’s hope and she finds it painful that humans cut them for pelf and greed. Planting trees is her way of repaying Mother Earth’s debt. Her husband, Mr Rajiv Jain, is her biggest ally in all her quests. Her multi-faceted talent stems from her strong sense of individuality which reflects in the fact that she prefers to address herself with her maiden name. Call her Pritee Jain and you might draw a blank.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is no mean accomplishment. Individuality is possible only if it unfolds from wholeness. Ms Pritee stands true to that aphorism.
Some of her paintings in which she pours out her heart and soul.
From an adolescent bride to an IPS officer
Married at 14 and mother of two at 18, N Ambika, not even a matriculate then, achieves her cherished dream of becoming an IPS officer with an awe-inspiring story, thanks to a supportive husband.
A woman is a full 360 degrees circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform. Nobody would have given even an outside chance to N Ambika – a victim of child marriage – to metamorphose into a Woman of Real Substance as she broke glass ceilings and stereotypes to become an IPS officer through sheer grit and determination. Her saga accentuates that she was unstoppable not because she did not have failures and setbacks but because she persevered despite them.
Ambika’s story is stuff folklores are made of. Married to a police constable in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, the adolescent 14-year-old became a mother of two daughters Aigan and Niharika at 18 when these days marriage is not even on the radar of modern-day girls. Most women given this situation lead the regulation life of a home-maker, accepting the verdict destiny throws at them. Ambika did not sulk or accept it as her fait accompli. Far from blaming the system or social milieu, she decided to take it head on, signaling that she wanted to be the change that she wanted to see.
Fortune always favors the brave. The opportunity presented itself when one day her constable husband left home for a parade where the IGP and the DGP were special dignitaries. Ambika watched awe-struck by the honor and dignity accorded to the two top men in uniform. The seeds of her efforts had been sown.
Back home, when the curious and excited wife was told by her husband that the two were top ranking officers of the police department, she was immediately overtaken by the desire to be in the same league. A dreamy-eyed Ambika had already started imagining herself in that exalted position. The journey was, however, not simple and fraught with several ifs and buts. She had two huge advantages on her side: Her spirit to slug it out and the unstinted support of her husband.
Ambika had to virtually start from the scratch. Having entered into a wed-lock at a tender age, she had not be able to complete even her SSLC (matriculation). Her supportive husband advised her to complete her SSLC as an external candidate, followed by Pre-University and Degree education. He even went the extra mile to get her an accommodation to stay in Chennai where she was to pursue her IPS coaching. The journey began with a paying guest accommodation.
Success did not come to her overnight or in the first attempt. Despite her best efforts, she met with three consecutive failures in her attempt to clear the IPS. Her husband comforted her but he asked her to come back. She was, however, made of sterner stuff and was prepared to have another crack at the coveted position. She cajoled her husband to give her another chance, failing which she would find a career in teaching.
True to the dictum that failures are the pillars of success, the fourth attempt brought not just success but also glided her through the tough interview. The dream and hard work had paid dividends. 2008 was a watershed year for her. She was sincere, dedicated and committed to the path that she had herself chosen. Her batch-mates saw her focus and grit during her grueling training.
As the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), North 4 division in Mumbai, her struggle is a profile in courage and inspiration to many others – especially women who reconcile to the rigors of home and hearth. Instead of blaming her parents, society and its customs that resulted in her child marriage, she chose to shed the beaten path and became the change that she wanted to see. She was well supported by her husband who made sacrifices himself to support her to chase her dreams.
Ambika’s story should be a beacon light to many women who compromise and give up on their dreams for familial and societal compulsions. If only they take cue, there would be many more Ambikas that this country could do with.
The Haunting Himalayas gets critical acclaim at webinar
Ms Rajni Sekhri Sibal narrating her experiences about the book “The Haunting Himalayas” during the webinar.
Speakers give rave reviews on former Civil Services officer Rajni Sekhri Sibal’s book; call it a “pleasing experience.”
There is something ethereally compelling about Ms Rajni Sekhri Sibal’s latest book “The Haunting Himalayas.” Not just because the book has an esoteric backdrop of pine forests and quaint towns and villages nestling the awe-inspiring mountains. For the quintessential writer, it wafts a natural fragrance of an inherent literary flair that blends with the gift to encompass the beauty of ambience and characters in intense words. This came through resonatingly at a webinar during which encomiums were showered on the former civil services officer who has pursued writing as an abiding passion.
Ms Sibal’s writing has touched different genres — from managing disasters to short stories, and in each, she displays her deft touch with the subject that she dwells upon. “The Haunting Himalayas” is an anthology of short stories and not a voluminous book but in a short, crisp work, she reveals that she has sensitive mind that her accomplished pen straddles with consummate ease of expression.
Quite overwhelmed by the spontaneous and genuine appreciation of the book, Ms Sibal elaborated on how her sojourn with the Himalayas and its quaint characters impacted her. “It is a collection of stories appearing to border on fantasy but I have been conscious enough not to allow myths to dominate the truth.” Her tryst with the Himalayas right in the midst of a Covid pandemic was a revelation of sorts. “I soaked in the strange its evildom and bliss, especially towards the evenings. I realized there was something definitely more than meets the eye. The bearing and the mien of the imposing Himalayas with its real life characters are a result of my heightened senses. I would rather say the book is an ode to the Himalayas and its inhabitants.”
Prof ShormishthaPanja, Professor of English& Director, Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Delhi, an acknowledged Shakespearean scholar, narrated her experience with ghost stories. “There are comic ghost stories and there are scary ghost stories. Ms Sibal’s stories have a pleasant flavour despite the strange characters she portrays through them. What is strange does not have to be necessarily bad. Her stories are uncanny without the usual suspects of sex or violence. I was particularly drawn to the Fakir’s story which transports the reader from the mundane to the extraordinary.”
Ms Panja pointed out that ghost stories were not new but their styles had changed over the years. “There were Roman and Greek ghosts in Shakespeare’s stories. The genre evolved between 1880 and 1914. Most contemporary authors including Charles Dickens and India’s own Rabindranath Tagore dabbled in them. Ms Sibal’s narration of ghost stories is pleasing and catchy. Her characters permeate through pine forests, from the upper Himalayas to the Gangotri.
Referring to the book, Ms Richa Mishra, journalist with The Hindu Business Line, also a speaker at the webinar, said ghosts and spirits do exist where I lived. “I have always romanced the nature with the likes of (William) Wordsworth, beyond my professional work relating to politics and economics. “I loved the Smiley story. In the very first few sentences, Ms Sibal how good she is. As journalists we are always programmed to think of a good intro in 100-150 words. She is simple, straight and sans flamboyance but she draws you into the book with a style that has a cinematographic appeal. I would like to meet Ms Sibal to know how the characters in her book affected her. Very few people write short stories these days. Ms Sibal’s has woven lovely threads in her story.
Earlier, Gurcharan Das, author, former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, & Managing Director, Procter and Gamble Worldwide (Strategic Planning), chaired the session and made introductory remarks. “I have been a student of Science so I have rarely bothered to look at ghost stories. I wonder how Ms Sibal got into the transcendental but she has left me far behind. I do believe in the Himalayas and I thank God for them. Ms Sibal creates a lovely backdrop and her descriptions invoke the awe-struck feeling of spirits like you do in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth.
The speaker session was followed by a question and answer session, Replying to a question by The Resource 24×7, Ms Sibal explained she handled the subject and its characters with restraint and avoided the temptation to go verbose with them. The webinar was watched/heard by over 700 people and well received.
On top (left) Mr Gurcharan Das, Gurcharan Das, author, former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, & Managing Director, Procter and Gamble Worldwide (Strategic Planning), on top (right) Ms Richa Ms Richa Mishra, journalist with The Hindu Business Line, below (left) Ms Shormistho Panja, Professor of English& Director, Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Delhi, and below (right) Ms Rajni Sekhri Sibal, former civil services officer and writer during a webinar on “The Haunting Himalayas”.
Here is the link to obtain your copy:
The Haunting Himalayas https://www.amazon.in/dp/9388409671/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_i_dWzAFbGWNSHHM
The Haunting Himalayas
IAS Officer Rajni Sekhri Sibal relives and recounts her mystic experiences of the Himalayas in a lyrical narration that is patently her own.
It is rare to straddle and juxtapose two different worlds, especially when your professional calling happens to be far removed from your predilections. Ms Rajni Sekhri Sibal, an IAS officer and the first lady to top the Civil Services Examination in 1986, is a striking example in point. After the critical acclaim that she won for four of her books “Kamadhenu: Cows of India”, “Clouds End and Beyond”, “Are You Prepared for a Disaster” and “Fragrant Words”, the otherwise busy bureaucrat has squeezed time out to spin another winner in “The Haunting Himalayas.”
Each book carries with it a literary flavour that makes you wonder how Ms Sibal harnesses her literary gift with consummate ease. In “The Haunting Himalayas”, a gripping anthology of eight short stories, she explores the multi-splendored mystique of the Himalayas, a living symbol of Mother Earth’s grandeur. Through the stories she recreates the majesty of the misty winter evenings and the dusky mysterious skies over peaks capped by silvery snow.
She quotes the experienced wisdom of an unlettered sage who she was occasioned to meet fleetingly towards the end of what she describes as an arduous, uphill journey. By her own admission, it opened her eyes to appreciate that is a lot more to the world than meets the eye. The words “fuzzy realm that separates the here and the now from what is ethereal” forms the crux of her esoteric experiences that happened during a trek of the Himalayas – from Gangotri Glacier to Tapovan – the latter being a quaint, high-altitude meadow encircled by picturesque, snow-capped mountains.
Ms Sibal makes a candid admission that her experiences were something of grey between the Black and White. It struck her that beyond the boundaries of Science, there are things that are still blanketed in mystery and create a room for uncertain probabilities. She had to liberate her mind from the shackles of rigid empiricism to veer round to this view. The Haunting Himalayas is an outlet of that frank admission.
Ms Sibal gives eloquent expression to those arcane experiences with the sensitivity they eminently deserve. The entire narrative is lyrical and sublime, which is the hallmark of her writing. The stories consolidate her premise that “you begin to comprehend that what others perceive is not a mere myth simply because you do not.”
The stories make the readers delve into her experiences of eerie sightings, strange sounds and ethereal events. The vintage and venerable Himalayas provide a perfect setting to lend credence to the occurrences she sketches in vivid details. Through the awesome canvas of the Himalayas, she stitches spellbinding stories that have a romantic blend of myth and reality. The recital comes through resonatingly with rhapsodic references to pristine pine-covered ranges, frosty mornings, rosy sunsets that unfold the imperceptible facets of the cosmic truth.
Ms Sibal accomplishes in driving her point home that the Himalayas throw up fascinating but unknown dimensions of there being more to the world than meets the eye. It is not often that for someone who comes from the Civil Services cadre can embroider and seamlessly merge Prose and Poem with the literary dignity that rides on human sensitivity.
The abstruse events in the book are based on true sightings. Ms Sibal puts things in perspective by asserting that the fantasy is merely peripheral and does not overtake the reality of the true experience. Some of the conversations in the short stories have evolved from her imagination. The nucleus is garnished with conversations and creativities to build a legend. Mystic thrill apart, the stories also unfurl a graphic journey from a village in Lahaul Spiti at the confluence of Chandra and Bhaga, through the hills of Shimla and Mussoorie, to Harsil on the banks of the Bhagirathi and on to Joshimath and Badrinath in Tehri Garhwal. It is also a veritable cruise to the ancient kingdom of the Varmans in Chamba in Himachal Pradesh; and then right across to the Pauri Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. The Haunting Himalayas is an apt tribute to the magnificence of Himalayas and their treasure trove of magical mysteries.
As Ms Sibal points out: There is nothing more charming than sitting around a fire made of pine logs with family and friends and reading or listening to stories that appear magical in the warm amber glow of the fire. I have charming memories of several such evenings.” Little wonder the spontaneity and lucid flow of words in a book that takes the readers on a different trip altogether.
Presenting some refreshingly different shades of a bureaucrat’s personality
‘Fragrant Words’ from an IAS officer and a poet – Rajni Sekhri Sibal, IAS
It is unusual for a serving bureaucrat – more so involved as a policy-maker creating a positive long-term effect on the society– to take time out from the official humdrum and give vent to his/ her inner self. But when Rajni Sekhri Sibal, a topper of IAS 1986 batch of Haryana cadre, unveiled her book “Fragrant Words” recently in Mumbai; she showed that there was more to her persona than the reputation of being an upright officer with a meritorious record behind her.
Rajni Sekhri Sibal was occasioned to be in Mumbai for the launch of her book at the Dayashankar Hall in Customs House building. An august gathering present at the function was treated to her literary dimensions which, if anything, showed that her approach to expression is as straightforward and focused as she is to her work.
A galaxy of senior officers like Sanjay Bhatia IAS, Sungita Sharma IRS, Sanjay Kandhare IAS, Manu Kumar Srivastava IAS, Vijaysingh Chauhan IRS, Ravinder Saroop IRS, Subrat Ratho Ex-IAS and many others from the Customs House, GST, Mumbai Port Trust and Income Tax Department witnessed the launch while the writer-bureaucrat smiled her way through. “Fragrant Words”, is her fifth essay at writing and the book – an anthology of poems – is clear proof that Rajni Sekhri Sibal writes not just with practiced ease but also has the ability to polish her feelings with the right words. With this book she has scored a hat-trick, her two earlier releases being “Kamadhenu: Cows of India” and “Clouds End and Beyond”. The book launch was followed by a panel discussion where eminent writers spoke at length and deliberated on the author’s work.
“Fragrant Words” is a telling canvas that vividly depicts the story of a poet’s journey meandering through all shades of life — the misty, the sunny and the harsh. Published by Bloomsbury Publications, is a virtual lexicon strung with soul-stirring emotions. It is love’s labour that took years to see the light of the day. After “Clouds End and Beyond”, published a couple of years back, Fragrant Words” is the author’s second foray into anthology. The most arresting feature of the book is a myriad spectrum of colours — dreamy vistas blurred by harsh realities, mellow calmness disrupted by loud cacophony and beautiful emotions tempered with teardrops in the rain.
The book has a picturesque backdrop of quaint Himalayan villages and towns punctuated with some misty and aromatic verses. Other works emote and touch silken, yet resilient, chords of tender bonds. The genre of tender emotions also extends to mystic offerings beyond the horizon.
Leafing through the book acquaints the reader with fragrant verses that portray an enigmatic inner quest. Some compositions paint esoteric dangling questions. Others try to figure out the more profane aspects of life in a new world order. Some verses are poignant and have been inspired by tragic incidents. A few portray the sorrow that accompanies the onset of a disaster — both natural and man-made. Still others convey the ennui that sets in an unknown city amidst an indifferent crowd. The overall effect is both mystical and rejuvenating.
‘Fragrant Words’ is a lyrical illustration of life from a poet’s perspective. It is a medley of verses: some soft and gentle, others heady and strong, while still others evoke the aroma of a memory long forgotten. Like the vivid strokes of a painter, the anthology displays the various colours on a poet’s palette — the black, the white and the mesmerising hues and shades in between. A little like life.
At a panel discussion on the book moderated by once corporate honcho and now a voluntary social worker Indrani Malkani, eminent journalist and columnist Bachi Karkaria said it with her customary wit. She said she was pleasantly surprised that the Customs Officers normally known for their policing abilities also had an ear for good literature.
The panellists were Bina Sarkar Elias- a poet and editor, designer and publisher of International Gallarie, and art culture. Bachi Karkaria former editor with the Times of India, Ketki Kothare Jayakar, advocate and marriage councillor who is also a television script writer and an author; and Banibrata Bhattacharya, Chief Commissioner Mumbai Customs Zone 1 who ardently pursues photography as a hobby. The panel discussion was moderated by Indrani Malkani – An Ashoka Fellow and is the Chairman and Trustee of VCitizen Action Network (VCAN).
Banibrata Bhattacharya Chief Commissioner of Mumbai Customs Zone 1 played perfect host at the function.