…Hardworking, innovative, out of box thinker, so much admired, but never a favourite of any politician
He had about 34 postings in 33 years of service. Some of the postings have lasted just about 4 months. Yet P N Bhandari, former IAS officer has never complained. In fact, he is almost arrogantly proud of what he has achieved in his three decades of government service, seeking justice rather than mere adherence of law.
Once the CM Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, asked a senior officer who knew PN Bhandari from his childhood days and hailed from PN Bhandari’s home town Jodhpur ‘why is P N so ‘akdu’?’ The senior bureaucrat laughingly told him that as the legend goes, that all Oswals of Jodhpur were Rajputs who converted to Jainism. The last of this lot who joined this transformation were the Bhandaris of Jodhpur. Hence, they are more like Rajputs.
It is worth mentioning here that Bhairon Singh was a great admirer of Bhandari as a bureaucrat. In fact, once in the assembly, when he was the leader of the opposition, he got up to defend Bhandari, who was commissioner, sales tax and was being attacked in the assembly by young Nathu Singh, a leader of Bhairon Singhs party for waiving off interest amount in an overdue payment worth crore. Bhairon Singh told his young MLA that PN Bhandari’s integrity and commitment is unquestionable, so there should never be an iota of doubt about his honesty. Later when they met at a social function (marriage), Shekhawat Saab told PN Bhandari that he defended him in the assembly ‘because if an officer like you is attacked, it will actually sully our credibility.’
But where did Bhandari get this steely style of conviction and governance? How did he have such self-belief which over time developed into hardened, unchangeable, intense commitment?
After talking to his friends, it was evident that Bhandari was greatly influenced by two people in his life- his father, who was a government employee in the labour department and his maternal uncle, Justice Inderjeet Modi who later on became the chief justice of Rajasthan. Both were men of letters, very disciplined, very meticulously painstaking in their work. Both came from mainly Marwari speaking background, but both were known for their exclusive English as is evident from Bhandari’s father’s letters written to his son and Justice Modi’s judgements that he penned in the court.
However, Justice Modi was known for his aristocratic taste, his love for expensive cars. He was also quite close to the Hanwant Singh, the erstwhile maharaja of Jodhpur. Bhandari’s father died early and the family sent Bhandari’s sister and him to live and study with his mama Modi. Bhandari inherited both the men’s dedication and fluency in English language, but he did not inherit the aristocratic sartorial taste and style of his maternal uncle. Till today, whether it is about his attire or tastes, Bhandari is a simple man almost austere in his mannerisms. The question is where did he get his ‘akdupan’? The general belief is that he developed his unique style on his own.
This style also entails a single-minded devotion to work. His son Rajneesh recalls that while growing up, he hardly got any time to interact with PN Bhandari. Bhandari was working or dwelling in his work where ever he was posted. There was a library at home of about 5000 books but not Perry Mason type fiction but substantive and heavy reading ones. There was no television at home till Rajneesh passed his twelfth standard but every weekend his mother would pack up some lunch and the family would be out in the country side where Bhandari would meet people to talk to them alone or in groups. This was his style of getting feedback.
The night before the family left for this (‘holiday’), Bhandari would give Rajneesh a book, a serious and fat one. All throughout the journey Bhandari would intensely and passionately discuss the contents of the book: analysing, debating, illustrating with examples and incidents.
Once as the car journey started, Bhandari realized the book was in the dickie of the car. He parked the car and opened the dickie to retrieve the book. The bonnet fell on his head as he was rampaging through the luggage for the book. The hook got embedded in his head. There was massive bleeding as Rajneesh recalls he was frightened out of his wits. Bhandari was rushed to the nearest hospital. The treatment took some time and stitches under anaesthesia and the doctor asked him to have complete rest in the day. But Bhandari ji was back on the wheels and resumed the discussion on the book as if nothing had happened and the intermission or the tea break was over.
Rajneesh also remembers from his childhood, that at home there was such great intensity about work that there were no diversions like even going out to eat. Rajneesh says he studied in nine schools of all types: Hindi medium, English medium, government schools, private schools, all over Rajasthan, wherever his mother was posted in government college and Bhandari in the government in the same place.
It was often discussed in government circles why Bhandari did not take a posting in Delhi where his innovativeness would have found a wider and more appreciative audience. Probably the answer is that he needed the money; because the salaries of wife and self were required to run the large family of five brothers and sisters and he happened to be the head of the family. Oh yes, there was one cheating. Wherever he was posted in rural, semirural or urban centre, there used to be almost once a week, late night movie on Saturday night in the hall because then and even now Bhandari and his wife are fond of movies but not at home or Netflix or television. Television even today is only meant for news as a part of Bhandari’s effort to know what is happening in the society.
This single-minded concentration had helped Bhandari top the Rajasthan judiciary exam. The mama, the great jurist was surprised. He said, ‘you can become IAS officer. Study and take the exam.’ Bhandari protested, ‘You are the only one who prevented me from trying for IAS. And now when it is almost too late, you are asking me to do it. Only one chance remains for me to qualify.’
But mama persisted and told him, ‘Take your cousin D.R (Mehta’s) notes. He had worked very hard and prepared extensive notes and has just got into IAS (the first one in the family).’ The rest is history. Bhandari became the second IAS officer in the family.
Even today his nature of cutting the fuss and getting along with the work keeps him going. After retirement, he took up law, nothing greatly unusual but during COVID when his stenos found it hard to come to office or home for dictation, he learnt at the ripe age of 80 plus the use of the computer from his granddaughter who returned home after completing her course in innovation and engineering. Now he is so adept at it that he handles (types etc) long, lengthy complex files of his cases all by himself.
As you get to know him better, you realize that the so-called arrogance is actually an unyielding, uncompromising style in work and general existence. But what really dawns through is his conviction. His views are so well shaped in his mind that they are almost etched in his psyche and personality. He feels that his conviction in his thoughts don’t need any correction. This strong conviction gives maybe him the strength to stick to his views and out of the box thinking no matter how unconventional or irritating his approach may appear to his seniors or colleagues.
Out of the box as implied by definition is not simply about not treading on well-trodden paths mentally but almost shunning these conventional methods and trying to find new and solutions. For being so daring, one has to have a lot of self-belief.
To be continued…
This article by Shailaza Singh was published in Rashtradoot Newspaper’s Arbit Section on 5 May 2023