A flawed genius or hapless victim of an abrasive twist of fate, we will never know now that he is gone. Either way, former Patna district magistrate Gautam Goswami was nothing if not a bright spark of life.
In a State where the steel frame never tires of playing God, Gautam could be childlike in his insecurities. Often, when faced with a tough poser, his response was a tentative "What should I do?"
But he could also be tough-as-nails, as L K Advani will undoubtedly recall. In April 2004, the then Patna DM climbed on to the Lok Sabha poll meeting dais of the BJP leader at Gandhi Maidan here to read the riot code: "Your time is up. You must stop your speech now". An utterly helpless Advani was left with no option other than to adhere to the campaign expiry time.
A native of Dehri-on-Sone in western Bihar, Gautam did his early schooling from Vikas Vidyalaya (Ranchi). A brilliant student, he cleared his MBBS examination with flying colours. Thereafter, he became an all-India rank holder in the Civil Services Main Examination. But the 1991-batch IAS officer's finest hour came 13 years later.
In its edition dated October 11, 2004, Time magazine named Gautam as one of the 20 'Young Asian Heroes' for his stellar handling of the Bihar government's flood relief effort earlier that year, thereby bringing credit to bureaucracy, perceived otherwise to be corrupt and inefficient.
The citation read: "When flash floods hit the Indian state of Bihar in July, millions of people were displaced from their homes, many without access to food or drinking water.
A catastrophe was looming, and Gautam Goswami did more than anyone to avert it.
As the district magistrate-the top bureaucrat-in Patna, Bihar's capital, Goswami coordinated a massive relief effort that involved the Indian government, army and international aid agencies. At 4:30 each morning, Goswami was at Patna's airport hangar, seeing off helicopters loaded with food, drinking water, tents and medical supplies; then he made sure truck convoys headed off to areas that could be reached by land. Goswami, 38, and his team toiled for a month, until the floods receded and the displaced returned home..."
One Aravind Adiga authored the citation, the then South Asia correspondent of Time. It is one of the great ironies of fate that whereas the much lauded relief effort caused Gautam's fall from grace, embroiling him in charges of misappropriation of funds, the writer of the citation went on to win the Booker Prize last year for his debut novel, The White Tiger.
Gautam's penchant for drama could not be stifled even in the face of extreme adversity. After being on the run for over a month following the issuance of an NBW against him, he surrendered in the court of a special vigilance judge on July 1, 2005. He arrived on a Hero Honda motorcycle, wearing a headgear and a luxurious moustache to protect his identity!
Adversity also served to stir the literary gene in him. Out on bail after spending 18 months in jail as a 2004 Bihar Flood Relief Scam accused, the former Patna DM told HT in December 2006 he was working on a book.
"It won't be a tell-all kind of stuff bearing juicy bits on the scam or its main players. Rather, the literary exercise on the anvil will be more in the nature of a philosophical insight into how the Almighty ordains twists and turns to shape the lives of individuals. My conclusion: it is all for a good purpose", he had said. Thanks to his illness, the book could not see light of the day.
In December 2007, Gautam emerged from a bout of hibernation to offer free consultation and counseling to HIV/AIDS patients. According to a relative, he was even associated with the Bill Clinton foundation and was keen on setting up a clinic for such patients. So, how come a sensitive soul like him came be embroiled in a scam? His father, Upendra Goswami, always maintained Gautam was a victim of jealousy. "His meteoric rise, particularly his selection as a young Asian hero alongside Shahrukh Khan and Anoushka Shankar, could not be digested by some of his colleagues who plotted against him" he had told reporters.
A vibrant testimonial to Gautam's memory will be the Kargil Memorial at Patna, which was built under his loving care during his tenure as Patna DM. At a personal level, this writer will remember him for his last SMS sent on December 9. It read: Thank u bhaiya*keep praying fr me***Gautam***. He was too ill to reply to my 2009 New Year greeting.