The long road
Born in Jasidih, a small town in today’s Jharkhand, I had to walk for three miles to reach school. The distance increased by another mile as I entered high school. My childhood was riddled with hardships, as I belonged to a very poor family and my father, an ayurvedic practitioner, could barely make ends meet.
When I went to Patna University to study for my BA degree (economics), I gave tuitions to pay for my expenses and could also send home Rs 50-100 per month. As I was academically inclined, an MA in economics followed graduation. A short stint as a lecturer in my alma mater was cut short when I cracked the civil services exam and became an IFS (Indian Foreign Service) officer in 1957.
Serving the country
When I was growing up, the freedom struggle in the country was at its peak. In 1942, my father and brother-in-law (elder sister’s husband) were jailed for their participation in the Quit India movement. Their sacrifice fuelled my desire to do my bit for the motherland. Since I was a studious person, I decided to serve India by joining the civil services.
Having worked as the high commissioner to Bangladesh, permanent representative to UNO and foreign secretary to the government of India, I had my share of thrills at work.
Source of inspiration
Despite the struggles, what inspired me as a child were a few lines written in Sanskrit on the wall of our one-room house. They meant: “Don’t come in my way and allow me to advance in life. I can listen to the fear in the cry of this world stricken by terror.”
I continue to live with some good habits and I still follow the rules I learnt in childhood from my father. He used to wake me up at three in the morning to do household chores. Later, I was made to read the Gita for half an hour, though I could not understand a word of it at the age of seven or eight. But by the time I was 10-12, I had learnt the entire holy book by heart. Even now, I read it for 20 minutes and study other books for two-three hours daily.
I disagree with today’s youth, who believe that making money and climbing the career ladder makes you successful in life. What you do for the world and the imprint you leave after you are gone distinguishes you from others. Whatever you achieve should be attained through honest means.
After I retired from the IFS (at 58), I joined Jawaharlal Nehru University as a professor of international relations where I worked for seven years. Now, I am with the Council for Social Development, an NGO. I have enjoyed all three parts of my career — civil services, teaching and social work.
I have written books on social development and education, including an exhaustive report on the common school system for the Bihar government. I deliver lectures and attend talks on related issues. I want the education system in India to take a big leap. It is my goal that the problems of my childhood should be a thing of the past for the young generation of India. Also, as per a new contract with Pearson Education, I shall write seven books on foreign policy in the next three years.
I have translated works by famous Bangla writers, including songs of Fakir Lalon Shah, poems of Shamsur Rahman and Tagore’s Gitanjali. I would like to get them published some day.
Purpose in life
One should keep working as long as one can. I still follow the routine of an office-goer and spend two-three hours reading after office hours. Every day, I want to have a purpose, want to be motivated by some work or a task to accomplish.
As told to Vimal Chander Joshi