What really is good management?
I think in real life, you are a good and successful manager, if you have managed all the good things of life – a good wife, good postings, trainings abroad, etc.
I had a couple of officers flying to Delhi almost every week. Their total air travel bills were about Rs. 6 lakhs a year.
I put my foot down. I told the Delhi mandarins I would not permit such things to take place under my charge. If they really needed these officers in Delhi, they could very well transfer them to Delhi. I also pointed that they could use tele-conferencing, if they needed the services of these offices.
If you know about the benefits attached to frequent air travelling, you would understand the rationale of so much travel and wastage. And why no one resorts to tele-conferencing.
Practice what you preach
There are officers who speak very strongly about certain things in life. For instance, some officers will tell you that a child’s entire education should be in Hindi. After all, for most of us, Hindi is the mother tongue. And they will give you very good and convincing reasons.
What bull shit! I ask such persons only one question. “In which Hindi school does your son or daughter study”. They will then just shut up. The answer is always a good English medium school.
Once in Varanasi, I and a colleague visited a Women’s’ Sanskrit University. The entire medium of teaching was Sanskrit. All the students could speak only in Sanskrit. A dance performance (in Sanskrit) had been arranged for us.
My colleague was ecstatic. What a wonderful University! I told him the University was good. But it was an extreme. What would all the girls do after graduation? Would all of them get good jobs, or any kind of jobs at all?
Who would employ girls knowing only Sanskrit? The girls should acquire proficiency in other skills too. In today’s competitive world, it was good to master Sanskrit, but Sanskrit alone was not sufficient. I added that I would agree with him if he sent his daughter or grand daughter to that university.
My father believed in giving. He would gladly give away whatever he had. He believed he had God’s vardhan (blessings) that he would never run short of money. Throughout his life, he never had plenty. But he never faced any shortage either. My mother, however, did not share his passion. The result was my father never told her about the money he gave, or about the people he helped.
Once he sold away some of my mother’s jewellery to help someone. When my mother found some items of her jewellery missing, my father even helped her search everywhere for the missing jewellery. It was much later, he told her the truth.
Perhaps I have inherited my father’s passion to some extent. Or maybe, it is the consequence of the experience I have gained while working and mixing with poor village people and seeing abject poverty.
I have always believed that those in positions of wealth and power should do something for the poor and down trodden. They are fortunate and certainly in a position to spare a little. It is their duty, their obligation, to do a wee bit for society.
I have inaugurated blood donation camps. I never dwelt on how good blood donation is. I have been the first donor to donate my blood. This sends far stronger signals than a long drawn speech about the merits of blood donation. If a Chief Commissioner is donating blood, others will follow.
My best pilgrimage
I was Chief Commissioner of Hubli. My elder son had just completed his M.S. (Ophthalmology). I found that there were lots of poor people in the villages around Hubli who were suffering from cataract. Cataract is one of the major causes of preventable blindness in India.
I and my son decided to organise a cataract screening and surgery camp. The Lions Club and other organisations came forward to help. The District Collector also offered support from the District Blindness Prevention Programme.
But we wanted to organise this camp on a purely personal level and refused any financial support. 53 patients were finally operated. Two were small children aged 3 and 5 years. The younger required an anaesthetist. For both of them, we also paid for high quality lens.
We offered pre-surgery diagnostic checkups; surgery and post- surgery checkups. Since we felt that most of the patients were too poor even to purchase the required medicines, we gave the patients all the required medicines. And we footed the entire bills. It was a substantial amount. In the bargain, I had to forego my long awaited pilgrimage trip to Kailash and Mansarovar.
But in terms of satisfaction, I am sure there could not have been a better pilgrimage.
After I retired and settled down in Mumbai, I and my son conducted several free eye camps for children, for the aged, even for those suffering from HIV.
But all this involves some element of sacrifice, at least in terms of time. I would be spending a holiday in a small dusty room in Dharavi (a slum of Mumbai), while my colleagues would be having lunch in a star hotel or watching movie in a Multiplex.
My son is now doing research in Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (U.S.). But my nephew, who also is an eye surgeon, is carrying on free cataract surgeries in Kolkata, on a much larger scale.
Rules and rules
We have too many laws in India. I don’t know what the British have taken away, but they have left behind a treasure trove of laws. There is a law for almost everything. Government service is far worse. There are far too many rules. You cannot do this, you cannot do that, etc.
But if the intention is good, the rules can be bent to some extent. But then, you have to have a thorough knowledge of the rules and conviction in what you are doing.
Some of the Income Tax employees in Chennai asked me to make a gymnasium for them. I said I would try. I spent the next few days dreaming about the gymnasium and how to go about it.
When I left Chennai, I was able to leave behind a beautiful gym –the first one in any Government office in India. And it is gratifying to hear that lots of people are using it.
I have come across several philanthropic organizations in Chennai as well as in Mumbai. I have seen highly educated youngsters doing a lot for the weaker sections of the society.
I am not at all impressed by the enormous riches our young billionaires have amassed. But when I see these beautiful, unsung, unknown, youngsters spending their spare time, even money, to help others, I am proud of them, of my country.
I am sure we could do without the billionaires. But we certainly cannot do without these noble souls?
*(Author is retired Chief Commissioner of Income Tax)