Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Service dreams

This is an interview with Ravi Pattanshetti, who came 47th in the recently declared UPSC exams
In September 2008, Ravi realised that he wanted to become part of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), a job with endless opportunities and challenges.
And, so he quit his job at Infosys and joined the Dnyanprabodhini's civil services coaching center. Mentored by Vivek and Savita Kulkarni and I P Singh, he gave his first shot at cracking the UPSC exam in 2010.
Ravi cleared it, but did not score enough to be selected for the IAS. He joined the supplementary services – Indian Corporate Law Service attached to Ministry of Corporate Affairs – in 2011.
A little disillusioned with the result of his first attempt, Ravi again sat for the exams and failed. Ravi, who is an Electronics and Telecommunication Engineer, says that “all work and no play” affected his second chance.
He decided to take a crack for the third time, with a more relaxed approach.
There were weeks when I wouldn't touch my books. I watched films, went swimming and read a lot,” he says, adding, “I could take time-off because I had already put in three years of hard work.”
Being a part of the service had also changed the 28-year-old's psyche.
I had a job and being a part of the service changed my perspective. I realised that the UPSC panel was looking for decision-making skills and if that was reflected in your answers in the written and the interview round, then you can have some hope,” explains Ravi.
Hold on. All the advice and suggestions and mantras that are thrown at civil services aspirants come in retrospective. There's no clear-cut path or a predictable formula for entering the services.
Success is a combination of several factors like hard work, consistency, and luck. Everyone is intelligent, hard working and consistent, but what you do on that particular day clinches the dream job,” says Ravi.
And, what was it that Ravi said or did that worked in his favour?
I was honest in the interview round. The panel wanted to know why I had opted for Anthropology instead of Public Administration, which was my optional in the first two attempts. I told them that Anthropology is a scoring subject and also because I had
developed an aptitude for it,” he adds.
Ravi, who expects the order to join IAS by September, will till then exercise his duties as Assistant Official Liquidator attached to High Court of Karanataka. In his service, Ravi wants to focus on health and education sectors.
His primary objective, as Ravi puts it, “Is to ensure efficient delivery of services to the people. There are many good policies in place; all we need is an efficient system and I want to be a part of it.”
Quiz him about the cynicism prevalent in the minds of citizens when it comes to implementation of polices and Ravi retorts with, “If you are cynical, things won't move. Good things take time. But they do happen.”
On that note we take our leave of the man, whose clear thinking is what we need.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Thrills without frills

I had reviewed this children's book for the Sunday supplement.

Name: The Lu Quartet
Super Sleuths and Other Stories

By: Nalini Das

Translated by: Swapna Dutta

Published by: Hachette India

Pages: 417

Price: Rs 399

I have grown up on Nancy Drew mysteries, like several other teenagers, wishing I could idolize a desi girl detective pitting her wits against unscrupulous minds. Well, I learnt pretty late of a team of four school girls, who were a perfect foil for each other, in solving cryptic clues.
The four school girls had impressed the readers of Sandesh, a Bengali magazine for children, with their intelligence and presence of mind, throughout the 60s, 70s and early 80s.
Kakoli Chakrabarty (Kalu), Malabika Majumdar (Malu), Bulbuli Sen (Bulu) and Tultuli Basu (Tulu) – together referred to as Gandalu (in Bengali) or Lu Quartet – are boarders in a residential school at Kanchanpur.
Their first case, Lu Quartet - Super Sleuths - is innocuous enough. Malu hears some mysterious noise in the night, which Kalu and other two dismiss as “fanciful”. But, Malu is proved right and they solve the case with surprising results. The characters, they meet in this first case, also pop up in other mysteries, the girls decide to crack.
Since the girls are boarders, they usually encounter mysteries, in their holidays or in their hostel premises. That might seem a little tame to those who are used to hi-flying, jet-setting girl and boy detectives.
But, these girls were growing up in the late 1950s, and so their initial cases are about detecting mysterious noises in the deserted mansion, tracking down hidden treasures and fighting off non-existent spooks. Once the girls enter high school they graduate to tackling criminals involved in adulteration of pharmaceutical drugs, smuggling and kidnapping. And, helping the quartet, when they need it the most, is Angad, the chimpanzee. Quite a departure from a canine friend, often featured in most of the children's detective novels!
The credit goes to the author, Nalini Das, who succeeded in getting the Indian flavour right. The locales, where most of the mysteries unfold, are refreshingly new to the urban readers – Shillong, Cherrapunji, McCluskiegunj, Darjeeling, Guwahati and Mandu – to name a few.
Das also needs to be applauded for envisioning how the future generations of Indian girls were going to be – independent, courageous, wise, with a sense of fun – and portrayed her characters accordingly.
The book is also enlightening in the sense that it has references to the Burman crisis, around Second World War, and how the ethnic Indian population had to flee the country on foot. Now, when was the first time you read about this? In history textbooks?
And, what does one say about the quality of the translation except that the stories seem to be written originally in English language?
If you anticipate the delicious sense of thrill when all the puzzling pieces are falling into place, then this book is for you.

Portrait of a poet

This has already been published in the Sunday supplement.
Krishnaji Keshav Damle also known as Keshavsut

Poetry never really appealed to me. And, so it was with great reluctance that I agreed to my husband's plan to visit Keshavsut Smarak – a memorial raised in memory of 'Father of Modern Marathi Poetry', Krishnaji Keshav Damle – in Malgund.
We were in Ganapatipule at that time and decided to go to Malgund, a 10-minute drive (a kilometre) from the popular tourist destination. A sign-post told us to take a left turn and what greeted us, at the end of the lane, was tranquil silence. No security guards, no tourists, just a plaque announcing that Damle, popularly known as Keshavsut, was born in the red-roofed house, surrounded by green shrubbery.
Keshavsut's house in Malgund

A poem by Keshavsut

The house, renovated in the old style, was near-empty, except for Keshavsut's portrait that was hanging from the wall in the front room. In the tiny lettering on the portrait were mentioned Keshavsut's birth date – October 7, 1866 and his death on November 9, 1905.
A second door led us into another smaller room that displayed vessels in use in Keshavsut's time (i.e in 19th century). The utensils didn't belong to the poet's family, but to Limaye's of Malgund that were donated to the Smarak in 2001.
This was a little disappointing; now that we were at the Smarak, I was eager to know more about Keshavsut's life. In fact, some of his poems that I had found tiresome in school and college, were slowly seeping back into my memory. But, sadly, that was all we could find in the house.
The real surprise, we discovered, was in the backyard, in the small garden that had erected marble slabs with Keshavsut's poems etched on them.
One particular poem, titled Ghadyal, caught my eye...

Gadbad ghai, jagaat chale,
Aalas dulkya deto pan,
Gambhirpane ghadyal bole,
Aala kshan-gela kshan.

Ghadyalala ghai nahi,
Visavahi to nahi pan,
Tyache mhanne dhyani ghei,
Aala kshan-gela kshan.

Easy to read and even easier to comprehend, right? It's how most of us speak Marathi today. But, these free-flowing, simple lines, were penned somewhere in 1890s! No wonder than that Keshavsut, who died at an early age of 39, was crowned as the Father of Modern Marathi Poetry.
Another slab caught my husband's attention. It was the poem, Tutari, that's widely acknowledged as Keshavsut's clarion call to throw away the yoke of foreign rule and instilling national pride amongst the people then.
The lines of Keshavsut's most popular work are thus:

Ek tutari dya maj aanuni,
Phunkuni me jya swapranane,
Bheduni taki sagali gagane,
Deergha tichya kinkaline,
Aashi tutari dya majalaguni

June jau dya marnalaguni,
Jaluni kinva puruni taka,
Sadat na aikya thayi thaka,
Savadh! Aika pudhlya haka,
Khandyas chala khanda bhidvuni...

After having read few more of his poems, we were eager to know more about the poet, whose verse were posthumously published by his younger brother, Sitaram. Our curiosity, we thought, would be quenched by the people we saw flitting in and out of the two adjoining halls beyond the garden.
We were right. One hall was a public library, which subscribed to newspapers and magazines. A couple of junior college students made use of the facility, poring deeply over their books. The other hall was a tribute to the litt̩rateurs of Maharashtra - right from Keshavsut, Veer Savarkar, Vinda Karindakar, Indira Sant to Mangesh Padgaonkar Рthat had their enlarged photo frames and excerpts of their work.
An initiative of Konkan Marathi Sahitya Parishad, one could also buy books of these writers, if one so wished. We found a compilation of Keshavsut's poems and came away happy. Rounding off our literary retreat was a peek into a small open air amphitheatre, which hosts plays, book-reading and poetry recital sessions.
On our way back, we realised that the Smarak, was the best tribute one could have paid Keshavsut. An unostentatious memorial for the man whose simple lines enriched the language.