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29 May 2014

Book Review:On a clear day you can see India: Author: C Balagopal

Have you ever felt this?

You casually saunter to the library, with the intention of returning books that you had borrowed earlier, and you espy a small little volume, lying there on the table, with an eye catching cover...

You take it and see that it is full of text, reams and reams of it and you put it back on the table. Something pulls you back, the title perhaps, and you borrow that book from the library, sure that you are going to get bored in the first three pages and return the book in a day or two...

Yet another of those half read books of yours. Yet another waste of time....

That is what the author of this Blog (A Blog Grandly named 'Grow Together') felt when he saw me lying there on the table in the library. I am nothing much to look at. A book of medium size, I am filled with text in small font, written by a guy with good linguistic skills and a propensity to use grand words (For him the telephone never 'rings', it 'Trills') and who do not seem to realize that people talk in real life.

No dialogues in the entire me. None. Zilch. Nada. Nope

My name is 'On a clear day you can see India' and detail the experiences of Mr.C Balagopal, a junior IAS Officer who started his career as a bureaucrat working in the hills of Manipur. Mr.Balagopal is a very good raconteur (See, I am also using grand words !!) who like to build his stories word by word, idea by idea and text and more text. Mr.Balagopal (CB to his friends) lucidly expresses through me, various experiences that he had while working in various roles in his early career in the state of Manipur.

Like a passenger train chugging out of a station, each chapter in me starts off slow. While he was writing me,  after one or two pages into a new chapter, I used to wonder if there was a point coming up sometime in the next one or two pages. I can't blame the reader if she wanted to take a peek to the last few pages to see if something is going to happen eventually !!. Likes to start slow, does Mr.CB. Starts off by describing the mountains, the chill, the greenery, the people, his driver, his worn out jeep, his liking for 'Old Monk' rum...

If not the scenery, the chapter will start with a description of his office. Each chapter is one incident in the author's career. While writing me, the author is never judgmental. He writes me like a dispassionate albeit compassionate observer. No attempt to blame anyone. Author's love for the state and its people come through in each paragraph. The focus is on explaining events as they unfold, with an amused detachment and subtle sense of humour.

The title of the book comes from a passage in the first chapter. Mr.CB and his boss are standing on top of a hillock and his boss is showing him various places that lie in different directions. To the east, says the boss pointing in that direction, lies Burma. To the north lies Nagaland and Mizoram.
To the south lies the Central District and the South District. And there, to the west, my young friends, on a clear day you can see India.

My first four chapters details Author's experiences with his boss. In the first chapter, they go on an inspection of a 'Pineapple Farm' funded by Government funds, but no pineapples are visible anywhere. The author witnesses the tough side of his boss, who summarily suspends the SDO, who was responsible for signing on the 'Pineapple Farm', for waste of public property. In chapter two, the author talks of  Father Joseph, a catholic priest who is found admonishing the simple folks of his village with dire threats of god's wrath. The poor father was not spared of the wrath of the DC who gives him a stern warning not to go for that kind of propaganda again.

Chapter 5 is where I pickup steam as it were. From now on, the focus is entirely the author is on his own as it were. He gets his 'Posting' as an SDO of a District. He was there all of 29 days.

Some of the incidents that the author expresses are very amusing were they not ludicrous. For example, on his first day as an SDO, the author is sitting in his office and a gentleman named Peter comes to meet him. Peter introduces himself as the SDO of the district. Seeing the shock on CB's face, Peter gently explains that he is the SDO of the 'Revolutionary Government of Manipur'. Peter goes on to regale CB with various stories of life in Manipur and Northeast in general. 

Once Peter leaves, CB is abashed at the feeling of empathy that he felt in company of Peter.

In me you will find slices of life as a Bureaucrat. There is an amusing story of how a Chilly wind saved everyone from what could have been a disastrous clash with a group of protesting school teachers who were blocking the road to Rajbhavan. There are stories of authors role as a the Returning Officer of 13 constituencies, of author's role in a Magisterial Inquiry against CRPF and how some Malayali CRPF Jawans tried to influence him to provide a lenient view in the above case. There is a chapter on an evening in Manipur when he and his colleague went in the dark of the night to a dangerous village nearby in search of liquor, there is a story of countermanded election....

What have you...

The chapter on the extensive communication network setup in Manipur on a shoestring budget will warm the cockles of your heart. Knowing that there are competent people like Mr.Nair to man the Indian Bureaucracy is a very energizing thought. So will the story of the DC who nonchalantly stood up to the powers of the Chief Secretary.

Even bureaucrats are not safe in some parts of Manipur is illustrated by the story of an IAS officer who is arrested by the Police on charges of helping a couple elope. The couple belonged to different castes and ultimately it was found that it was the girl's uncle who helped the elopement !!.

I observed with some satisfaction that after some time I had become 'unputdownable'. This reader woke up in the morning, picked me up and started reading. He was reading me in his car on the way to the office, on his return from the office and at home while having dinner and on bed before going to sleep. I heard him chuckling to himself as he read the amusing parts of the book or even when admiring the excellent play of the words presented in the book.

My author, Mr.CB left the Services in 1983 to take up business. So he was not there when Manipur and the Northeast in general became the playground of Army and Politicians. Manipur became corrupt and came to be known as 'Money pur'. In the last chapter of the book, author laments about the steady decline in the condition of Northeast and wonder as to how the situation reached this pass.

Over all I am an excellent book. I have no doubt that the author of this blog will recommend me highly and encourage everyone to read me for the different perspective that I provide about life in Northeast, the excellent use of the language and the author's love of humanity.

Are there some areas of improvement in me? Of course they are. I am too 'Prose'y. Too much of text, too verbose. I have one news for CB. 

People talk.

I would have been more interesting if I was filled with more dialogues. And human stories. Most of the stories are work related anecdotes. I would have been more interesting if CB has told more about himself. His likes, fears, motivators, what keeps him going. Also I am far too detached from CB as a person. Apart from a sly mention of his father being a plantation manager, there is no mention in me of his family, about his childhood, about how CB came to be what he was.

The book is about Manipur. Author is highly focused.

Also too much talk of 'Paan' Chewing. It is almost as if everyone in Manipur is chewing Paan all the time. 

Please cut it out.

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