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Chronicles of yore in times of corona

Chronicles of yore in times of corona
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One upshot of the Covid–19 scare has been the self-imposed exile it has caused, particularly in the elderly to which category this columnist most...

One upshot of the Covid–19 scare has been the self-imposed exile it has caused, particularly in the elderly to which category this columnist most decidedly belongs to.

While being moderately inactive has been the natural state of things over the past decade or so after superannuation, the extent of immobility demanded by the present situation is somewhat difficult cope up with.

As Ghalib once said, "Subah Hoti Hai Sham Hoti hai Umar yun hi tamaam hoti hai". Morning comes, then evening. All life is like that. Ennui, in other words.

In such circumstances, it is natural for the mind to cast its roving eye over events of bygone days and to recollect them. From among the most eligible candidates of those memories, this columnist has chosen a few that offer the most promising fare by way of entertainment in these difficult times.

As my training days were drawing to a close, and my posting as a Sub-Collector was round the corner, my mother persuaded me to consult an astrologer about the possible place of my posting. The production put out was that I would be posted to a place on the banks of a major river.

Naturally, I started dreaming about the nice bungalow in which I had seen the Sub-Collector live in Rajahmundry; and the pretty house that was the Sub-Collector's residence in Vijayawada. And when the news actually came, it was to Ongole that I was posted. It was only after some enquiry that I learnt that there was, after all, a river close by, namely the Gundlakamma!

The late B R K Sastry was easily one of the sharpest, quickest and most efficient civil servants I came across in my career. It was his habit to leave the office on the dot, at the closing hour. One day, to annoy him, a subordinate sent a thick and complicated file just as he was about to leave. Sastry gave it a long look.

The file contained many flags to facilitate reference to the documents it contained. He pulled out a flag marked 'K', threw it away, wrote in the file "where is flag K"? Sent the file back and left for the day!

After completion of my training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, I was posted to Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh as an Assistant Collector under training.

One of the initial tasks entrusted to me was the preparation of the Village Economic Report of the village to which I was posted for training as a village officer.

The village was Pamarru which was also the village in which my predecessor R V V Vaidyanatha Iyer had also been trained. Though sorely tempted to plagiarise his brilliant report, I resolved to do an original job and, in the event, put out a passable effort.

The highlight of the one month stay in Pamarru was the companionship I developed with the 'karanam' of the village Sanjeeva Rao, who had only passed the intermediate examination, but could have given today's professors of English a run for their money.

Pamarru village lay on the highway connecting Machilipatnam to Vijayawada. My wife Usha had also joined me for my one month's stay. A bit of a climb down, as a matter of fact, compared to Switzerland where we had originally hoped to spend our honeymoon!

In November 1969 a serious cyclonic storm hit the coast of Andhra Pradesh State. Krishna district was one of the worst sufferers. Severe gales and heavy rains came with the cyclone. When we woke up one morning, we found that our bed was floating on water!

Having cautiously waded our way out of the room, we found that the guest house was slightly below the level of the canal across the road and was totally submerged. The canal had breached its bund overnight and overflowed across the road. My car, which was parked on the verandah of the guest house, was literally floating on water up to its hood.

We somehow managed to get into the car and drive through the sheet of water all around us. In fact, as I turned into the road from the gate of the guest house, all I could see ahead of me was just water and was impossible to tell where the road margin ended, and the canal bund began. With a sigh of relief, we drove back to Machilipatnam.

The adventure should have ended there under normal circumstances. But not for yours faithfully! Diwali was round the corner and Ramachandrapuram, where my in-laws stayed, was just a few hours' drive away.

So, the inclement weather notwithstanding, my sister-in-law, the ever-faithful Ravi, our helper Usha and I set off to Ramachandrapuram. No sooner had we travelled a few miles away from Machilipatnam than we found that the cyclone had, indeed, wrought a great deal of havoc.

Uprooted trees lay across the roads, electric poles were twisted into weird shapes by the fierce winds and the roads had breached in several places. One more reason why we ought to have turned back promptly and return to Machilipatnam.

Partly sheer foolhardiness, partly the lure of the in-laws place, or simply the reluctance to beat a retreat, we pressed on. Very soon we reached a place where river called now Naguleru crossed the road.

The bridge across the river was completely submerged and one had only the ribbon of the road to indicate where the sides of the bridge were. Once again, ignoring the peril of the swelling and swift waters, I persuaded the fragile Standard Herald car, with the glasses rolled up, to brave it across the invisible bridge.

Finally, and with a little assistance from extremely helpful local villagers, we made it to the other side. That all of us had a great time celebrating Diwali at the other end was the compensation for all the excitement and fright.

I have chronicled elsewhere that the primary reason for my joining the civil services was my father's keenness upon my taking up that profession. After I had concluded giving the interview at the UPSC, he flew to Delhi the next day, anxious to ascertain how I had fared.

A full debriefing followed, at the end of which he exclaimed, "How was I to know that there was so much you did not know!" A realisation more or less on the lines on which my brother had earlier assessed me, when he stated that all my knowledge could have been written in bold letters behind a postage stamp! Or, for that matter, my ignorance in small letters all the way from Hyderabad to New Delhi!

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

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