They are honest to the core, they are excellent at their job, their rise to the top is phenomenal; yet somewhere despite their integrity, commitment and loyalty to the system, these people are often lonely.
The very word IAS (Indian Administrative Service) brings to mind the image of corridors of power, a world where suited booted, distinguished people discuss the fate of India and the world in hushed whispers. At least that’s what the movies show. If you ask most parents what IAS is, they will tell you it is their dream job for their children. For them, IAS is about honour, respect, clout and power, having a lifelong career, not marred by lay-offs or recession or any such problems that plague the common man. I had once met an IAS coaching centre head who used to say, ‘IAS to Godrej ki chaabi haibacche. Ek baarhaath aa gaayi to saari duniya ke darwaze khul jaate hain’.
This is a man who has lived this for more than four decades.
Even after retirement, every day, he gets up in the morning, goes for a 4km long walk around the neighbourhood (earlier he used to frequent a little park close by but after COVID, he avoids it since the picket gate to the park is touched by many hands), comes back, reads newspapers, gets ready, eats breakfast, goes to Gita Mittal Career Development Centre (a unit of The Gita Mittal Foundation), where he works as a mentor for less privileged students for about four hours, comes back, has lunch followed by a small nap, wakes up with a cup of tea, goes for a walk, comes back, listens to music, sometimes goes out to meet friends or has his dinner and goes off to sleep. Without missing his power and clout even once. He is a retired chief secretary, who served without a blemish for three years. He lost his wife, his companion of fifty years, a couple of years ago.
When asked a question, he does not believe in answering immediately, he takes his time, writes down the points of his answer and then enumerates and explains his points one by one. While most of his age have adopted a lazy, laid-back lifestyle, developed potbellies and sometimes an apathy towards their very existence,Inderjit Khanna, an IAS and a retired chief secretary of Rajasthan believes in living a methodical, dedicated, purposeful yet frugal life which is rare quality in the modern-day IAS circles.
When you meet Inderjit Khanna for the first time, this slightly built man appears to be a quiet and dull sort. However, as one starts talking to him, one discovers the passion that lies deep within this quietish man. He talks about his work as an IAS officer with the same passion as someone would talk about their first love. In fact, it is with this same passion that he has authored a book titled ‘Flashes before my eyes’ – The Civil Service and More’, which also boasts of a foreword by Amitabh Bachchan, his desk partner from Sherwood College, Nainital.
Ask him about his association with Amitabh and his eyes light up. ‘I have known Amitabh since 1956, when he and I were in the same class in Sherwood. Despite scaling the heights of success, he has always remained affectionate and available for his friends.’
He narrates an incident in his book, “In late January 2009 Amitabh was on a visit to Jaipur. I learnt this from a newspaper report. I sent a mail to his secretary asking if I could meet him. She promptly replied with the date and time. I met him at the Rambagh Palace Hotel on 23rd January. He was keen to know about the extent of contributions, not of the individuals but the total, and the stage of construction of the (girl’s) dormitory (in Sherwood). Just as I was leaving, I asked if he would be able to visit our house. He readily agreed but requested that I may kindly come to the hotel the next morning around 6 a.m. and accompany him from there as otherwise his escort would not be able to guide him to our house. The next morning, he spent half an hour at our house with Yasmin, our granddaughter Annette and me. Annette was then three and half years old and was very excited to see him though at some stage she went off to sleep in Yasmin’s lap. A fact that Amitabh affectionately mentioned later in a mail to me.”
In his blog on 25th January 2009, after visiting Inderjit Khanna’s house in Jaipur Amitabh wrote:
“Titch, walks in promptly by 6:30 to pick me up. He wishes for me to visit his modest home on my way to the airport. Why modest, I react, home is home. We all live in modesty. People may perceive differently on that, but born and brought up in small town middle class, I am not an alien to that. My means may have improved, accepted, but the mind is still modest.I am more comfortable in such environs than perceived affluence. Titch’s’ little and bubbly granddaughter runs up to greet me. She is considerably more effusive than our earlier meeting when they had come over to Mumbai. But soon after the pleasantries are over, she falls off to sleep in her grandmother’slap. Titch and I talk of several other matters. Other colleagues, the state of the nation, ethics, morals, Government insights; he being Chief Secretary for years in Rajasthan.”
Inderjit Khanna’s affectionate association with Amitabh is yet reflected in another blog post by the thespian on May 31, 2021 wherein he writes:
“AND today has been a morning filled with memories of the past, nostalgia and the exchange of so many incidents from the Class of 1958 at Sherwood ..if you remember we all got together in Sherwood in 2008 to celebrate 50 years of the Class of 1958 .. and such a wonderful time was spent at Nainital ..Tich , pet name in School, Inderjit Khanna, Ravi Palsokar and John Kurrien were able to come across for the informal launch of the book written by Tich .. who as you must all know was Inderjit, Chief Secretary , Rajasthan .. Ravi Palsokar attained highest ranks in the Army and John has pursued academic excellence by his thought and writing prowess, among the many others that he is associated with ..But a morning that was designed to be a few minutes went on for hours and it seemed it would never have wanted to end .. And the most remarkable aspect being that all of us are either 80 or about to be in a few months .. but we remembered each and every little detail of the years spent in Sherwood .. those days were the ‘Happiest Days of your Life’ ..
I put that within quotes and in some prominence, because that was the name of the School Annual Play that we had participated in to some degree …
Story: The sister School of the boys boarding School, is in some trouble and the girls have to shift from their premises to the brother School and .. and you can imagine the chaos and fun that was had performing that play .. many of us wishing it would come to pass in reality .. boys dressed as girls performing the sister school staff .. Aaahhh .. those were the days ..”
According to Titch, bonding with Amitabh is not only because of the time spent in school but also because of the very similar background of the two. Both Amitabh’s and Titch’s fathers were government employees and both the parents shifted to Delhi and things improved and hence frugality is a second nature to both.Inderjit Khanna’s father worked as an officiating clerk in the office of Accountant General , Punjab at Lahore with a salary of Rs. 35 per month in 1930s. When he got transferred to Delhi as an accountant, he preferred cycling to his office and in Delhi from his house in Daryaganj till the age of 75. While most people would race to build a house or get a government house in Delhi, Inderjit Khanna writes
“ From Hissar, Daddy was transferred to Delhi in 1941….Daddy chose not to opt for government accommodation. From then on for the next fifty years we continued to live in the same first floor flat at 99, Daryaganj in Delhi. Daddy’s argument for not opting for government accommodation was that since after retirement he would have to move out of it, why not stay in rented accommodation from the very beginning. A related issue. Why did he not invest in property? Again, his reply was simple. “I have three properties. They are our three children (Ronojit, Arohi, Inderjit). He used to say that for him and Ruby, it was much more important to educate their three children well, rather than invest, whatever little income they had, in buying property.”
Inderjit Khanna is an alumnus of St. Stephen’s college. In his book he mentions an interesting story about his mathematics teacher Ranjit Bhatia who was a passionate athlete and also represented India in athletics in Rome Olympics in 1960. He writes:
“Sometime in class I must have asked a question to which Ranjit did not have an answer at that time. A few months later while he was at Jabalpur participating in an athletic meet, he was possibly still thinking and searching for an answer to that question and he found the answer.”
Inderjit says that Ranjit sent a postcard to his colleague Satish Mathur, who was also a math teacher on 11 February 1962 so that the latter could share the answer with him.
His life in the National Academy of Administration (NAA) was not all work and no play. He reminisces:
“To give an idea of the recreation aspect of our life at Mussoorie was the occasional trip to Delhi on a long weekend and particularly the cost involved. Five of us would leave from the Academy gate on Friday around 5 p.m. in an ambassador taxi, reach Delhi around mid-night and return to Mussoorie in the same taxi around 5 a.m. on Monday morning to be in time for PT class which began at 6 a.m. The cost per person for the round trip was a princely sum of Rs 50 per person. Somewhat unbelievable today.
The cost of petrol then was around Rs 1 per litre. Today fifty-five years later it is more than Rs 100 per litre and still rising virtually on a day-to-day basis. I also recall the first major hike in the cost of petrol in 1973 when it doubled from around Rs 1 and 50 paise only to Rs 3 per litre. I was then posted as Deputy Secretary in the Home department in Jaipur and Yasmin and I were living in a rented flat at 13, Chetak Marg. The shock of this rise in cost of petrol was so great, my salary then being around Rs 1000 per month, that we immediately formed a car pool of three officers.”
Another person who greatly influenced Inderjit Khanna’s way of looking at things was Mr. Kurup, who was the Collector, Kota District during his training days. For him, he says:
“Some very important advice which Mr. Kurup gave me while I was leaving for Raisinghnagar, I have not forgotten till today. It was two-fold. He said that whenever I reached my new place of posting, in my over enthusiasm I should never rush in to make changes. Rather, I should first understand the job requirements carefully for at least three months and only, thereafter, think of introducing change. Secondly, I should always refrain from criticizing my predecessor. Golden words of advice which I remember even today, fifty-five years later.”
The tussle between Propah and Corp de Spirite
Scaling the heights and reaching the peak of their fabled mountain is perhaps the dream of many. However, the climbers who do make it at the top are often left alone.
Think IAS or IFS and people get the impression of a high flying, jet setting lifestyle. Most believe that foreign trips on government expense are a norm for such positions. Perhaps, to an extent yes. But there is more to it that meets the eye. Even IAS officers have to struggle to be with their family amidst their gruelling schedules and trainings. Inderjit Khanna too was determined to not leave his family behind as he went on training to England in 1980s. He writes:
“The concept of encashing privilege leave (PL) came in the mid-seventies. One has to take PL of thirty days to be able to encash another thirty days of PL. We were then quite often in need of money. In April 1979 I took a month’s PL but remained in Jaipur working throughout. Soon, government found that absence of thirty days was sometimes too much and so it was changed to taking fifteen days of PL to entitle you to encash thirty days leave. My personal circumstances brought about another change in this policy. I was to go to England in early January 1981 for a three month’s training programme under the Colombo Plan. We decided that Yasmin and Shonali would accompany me, but the cost of travel for the two of them was to be borne by me. So, in December 1980 I took fifteen days PL and encashed thirty days PL. During the leave period I was in Jaipur and working on most days. On 15th December 1980 the CS, FS and I were briefing the CM regarding the forthcoming discussions in the Planning Commission with regard to the Sixth Plan 1980-85 and the Annual Plan for 1980-81. At the end of the discussions, the CM asked all three of us to accompany him to Delhi for the discussions. The CS told him that the FS and he would accompany the CM but since I was on PL, I would not be able to accompany them. CM inquired that if I was on PL how was I attending meetings in Jaipur. CS then explained that the fifteen days PL had been taken so as to enable me to surrender thirty days PL, get the extra salary for those thirty days to enable me to pay for my wife and daughter’s travel to England where I was to go for training in early January 1981. The CM turned to FS and told him that we should change the rules and not insist on the taking of PL as a pre-condition to encash leave. Of course, I could not get the immediate benefit for this as I was already on leave, but I did attend the meeting on 19th with a special sanction of the government to enable me to draw my Travelling Allowance (TA) and Daily Allowance (DA) for that journey!”
He has written a lot about how his wife Yasmin was a very understanding and a non-demanding spouse who did not ask for much. She understood his rigorous schedules and did not complain when he could not spend time with her and their daughter. The question is what did he do to ensure that he could create some sort of a work-life balance and spend time with his family. To this he writes:
“On a personal front I also decided and took two holidays in a year. A short one comprising seven to ten days which was on casual leave and a longer one of around one month which was on privilege leave. These provided me with some respite from the extreme pressure of work and enabled me to unwind. Also, to be able to spend more time with Yasmin.”
Somehow it is commonly assumed that there will never be a dearth of vegetables in a green-grocer’s home or a doctor’s family will always have readily available medicines. In case of IAS, people often believe that their family will never have issues with administrative issues like voter’s cards or even government loans. However, in his book Inderjit Khanna points out how despite being a part of the system for more than three decades, he still could not change certain mistakes and even lost his faith in the system. He says:
“Why do I have this lack of faith in the system even though I have myself worked in government for over thirty-six years? Let me give you some personal examples. …… My mother-in-law, Mrs. Victoria David was staying with us in Chanakyapuri, Delhi. She passed away on 1st January 1997. I duly informed the ERO of this and asked that her name be deleted from the electoral roll. Elections came in mid-1997. Yasmin and I went to vote. To our horror we found that Yasmin’s name had been struck of the electoral roll while her mother’s name was still on the electoral roll though her mother was no more alive and I had dutifully informed the ERO (Electoral Registration Officer) of this. Our request, that Yasmin had voted just a years ago in 1996 and it was her mother who had passed away and whose name should have been deleted, fell on deaf ears. This incident nullified the citizen’s (in this case Yasmin) right to vote. My complaint to CEC did not result in any action except for an odd apology.
The thought-provoking point here is though he could get his wife’s name included in the electoral roll again, as a State Election Commissioner of Rajasthan, he was asked to include the name of two leading politicians in the voter list at a place where they were not ordinarily the residents. He says:
“I received the complaint in this regard against two leading politicians in August 2005. The complaints were sent to the respective Collectors, who were also the District Election Officers (DEOs), for inquiry and report. The Collector of one of these districts directly sought a clarification from the Advocate General of the state. This was a totally unheard-of step since the Advocate General should only have given his opinion on a matter referred to him by the relevant department of the state government, and that too, through the law department. Surprisingly, the Advocate General entertained the request of the collector and sent his opinion to him. With the opinion of the Advocate General the matter came to me for decision.”
Inderjit Khanna says that he respectfully disagreed with the opinion of the Advocate General and concluded that as per Rajasthan Municipality Act, a minister was not entitled to be a voter in a municipality outside Jaipur as he/she did not ordinarily reside in that municipality during the time that he/she occupied the office of a minister. Hence, he asked the electoral roll to be corrected accordingly. However, he says that instead of challenging his order in the High Court, the government promptly promulgated an Ordinance in December 2005 to amend the Rajasthan Municipalities Act.
The interesting bit is that even with mundane procedures like home loans or car loans, a government servant cannot leave anything to chance otherwise he may be penalized in the future. Inderjit Khanna believes that its better to be safe than sorry. He writes:
“Normally, repayment instalments are deducted from the salary and it is for the government to maintain the relevant record up to date. When I was FS in 1992-93 my Personal Secretary who was probably wiser than me in these matters, asked me whether I had taken NOCs after having fully repaid such loans. I had not. So, at his suggestion I applied for and got the NOCs. His point was that in the absence of NOC, when my pension papers would be prepared many years later, they may find repayment of some instalment to be missing int their record and then I would have to prove that I had actually paid that instalment. This, I observed, did happen in quite a few cases of very senior officers who had been on deputation to GoI or even gone abroad on posting. The unfortunate moral of the story is not to trust the government in the maintenance of one’s records but to maintain the record yourself.”
Many a times, it is difficult to understand when a position of privilege has been used or misused by an officer. Mr. Khanna also faced the same dilemma. He says:
“In IIM, Ahmedabad, once, after a three-day visit to Jhabua district, while driving back to Ahmedabad, we decided to take up an evaluation of the officers we had met and interacted with during the three-day visit. For the current purpose, I will discuss our evaluation of the Collector and DM of the district. …… Coming straight to the evaluation of his performance, which was done by each one of us and disclosed individually, I had rated him as a very good officer but not in the outstanding category…. Ravi felt that I had downgraded by assessment of this officer because during the one-hour interaction with him I had seen the Collector’s wife and children return home, presumably from a visit to a friend or the bazaar in a government vehicle. He said that I saw it as a misuse of the government vehicle and I said yes.”
Inderjit Khanna was perhaps one of the few IAS officers who was deputed as the visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He stayed on for two years and taught compulsory paper “Indian Social and Political Environment” (ISPE) in the first year and optional paper on “Management of Social Development Programmes” (MSDP) in the second year at the two year Post Graduate Programme (PGP) along with many short-term Management Development Programmes (PGPs) ranging from one week to four months.
Of his IIM experience he writes, “Quite often, some PGP students would come to me to discuss the possibility of a career in the IAS. Generally, they were put off when they learnt of the salaries given in the IAS. I remember one student telling me that he had four or five sisters to marry and that was one of the reasons why he was seriously considering IAS as an option. I told him that since money was a prime consideration for him, the option of a job in the corporate sector was a better one for him.
As can be seen from the various incidents narrated in his book, Inderjit as a person and professional has also made it a point to be clear about propriety in government service. His strict principles of car usage are probably outlandish in today’s bureaucratic environment. When he applied these strict rules in evaluating the IAS officer’s performance as in the case of Banswara collector, it did not sit well with the IAS community and he lost many friends.
No wonder after the death of his wife and the marriage of his daughter, he is alone and trying to immerse himself in work. Nevertheless, the loneliness is there and one wonders why hardworking, honest, competent person are often lonely at the end of the day.
On a lighter note, just because it talks about the reality of civil service and life, it does not mean that this book does not have a generous sprinkling of humour.
On 15th September 2000, Shonali, his daughter took the delivery of her Maruti 800 car at Gurgaon. Tich was in Delhi on 13th and 14th for events relating to the visit of Bill Gates.
He says, “Shonali and I decided to drive the new Maruti back to Jaipur. I drove it and so the official car in which I had come from Jaipur on 13th was being driven ahead of us by the driver. Whenever we would pass any toll or other barrier a salute would be given to the Ambassador car, which was not carrying the CS. Shonali had a hearty laugh that the individual Inderjit Khanna was not of any consequence. Maybe that is the truth of the matter!”
In another incident, he was conferred with the powers of Magistrate 1st Class. To which he says:
“I enjoyed judicial work. Simultaneously, I was also hearing revenue cases under the Revenue and the Tenancy Acts. A hilarious incident needs to be mentioned. One day while recording an order sheet on a case file I wrote “ Bhains (meaning buffalo[AS1] ) suni gayee”. My reader came running to me with the file and sheepishly said “Sir, behes (meaning argument) suni gayee”. Such was my Hindi at the time.”
Though he misses his wife, his constant companion of fifty years, Inderjit Khanna is a contented man. He still feels satisfied with the roll he has played-impartial, frugal and efficient. He is proud of the fact that Rajasthan gave him a chance to serve without too much interference from politicians.
This article by Shailaza Singh appeared in two parts Rashtradoot Newspaper’s Arbit Section on 29 and 30 October 2022