Words of Wisdom: Allow yourself to make mistakes but learn from them, be decisive
Haryana’s first woman chief secretary, Meenakshi Anand Chaudhary, 73, says wisdom comes from reflection, imitation and experience. The one that comes from reflection is the noblest, while that from imitation is the easiest and the one from experience is the most bitter but closest.
The eldest of three sisters from Chandigarh who made it to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and joined the Haryana cadre, Meenakshi says she got her administrative acumen from her father, the late political science professor JC Anand. “My father led by example. He was a disciplinarian. I learnt that if principles and values are in place, it is easy to administer.” But, she says, she owes her joining the civil services to her mother, Savitri Anand, a matriculate with a flair for languages and a neat handwriting. “She stood her ground that I should not be married off after graduation. She was keen that all three daughters be educated and economically independent. Her balanced approach was inspiring,” says Meenakshi.
Her sister, Urvashi Gulati, who is six years her junior, also went on to become the chief secretary of Haryana, while the youngest sister, Keshni Anand Arora, could be next in line to hold the state’s top bureaucratic post.
INVOLVE THE TEAM
Preparing for a career in the civil services requires consistent hard work so the earlier one decides to pursue it the better. “The syllabus is vast and to go deep, one needs to be focused. Good writing skills help,” she says.
To be a good administrator, one should have the capacity and confidence to deliver. “Have faith in yourself and make your team party to decision-making. This keeps members motivated and ensures better compliance. It is wise to build on structures and policies rather than dismantle the system. Innovate after that. One must have a vision and a strategy. The aim should be clear to all and encourage feedback,” she says.
The one quality that stood Meenakshi in good stead was being decisive. She says, “I went by merit alone. There was no question of sifarish or favouring anyone. If faced with multiple choices, take the legal and ethical option. To take the test of ethical behaviour, it’s best to go by the ‘mom test’ which is would your mother approve? Then ask will people approve? Will you approve?”
After taking a decision, she says, one should revisit it only for a mid-course correction. “Allow yourself to make mistakes but learn from them. Mistakes make you wiser,” she says, smiling.
“From Day 1, when I was posted to Nuh as the sub divisional magistrate (SDM), I decided I’ll be professional. I’m an officer first and then a woman. Pehli bail de rahi thi and the court was packed. People wanted to see how I would conduct myself. I went on to get the most challenging of jobs whether it was that of being the excise and taxation commissioner, chairperson of the Haryana Power Utilities or IG, Prisons, and later joint secretary, home. I gave it my best ,” she says.
Meenakshi believes women in Haryana are bold and hardworking. They do all the tough jobs in the field and at home. But they don’t get the opportunity to progress because they lack education and skills to grow. “Every working woman should build a support system. Apart from her family, she should network with friends whom she can fall back on when her profession demands priority,” she says. She credits her husband, Dr JL Chaudhary, a former director general of health services (DGHS), for standing by her throughout her career.
She agrees that a woman has to prove herself. “There’s no denying that you have to stand the test again and again. If a woman fails, it is seen as the gender failing but if a man fails, it is seen as his failure not the gender’s.”
Meenakshi, who came to Chandigarh in 1962 as a student, says she would like to see better traffic sense among motorists besides a cleaner tricity. Her younger son, Maneesh Chaudhary, was instrumental in making seat belts compulsory in Chandigarh and Panchkula during his tenure as the SP (Traffic). “It’s still in force to a large extent in Chandigarh but there’s been slackness in Panchkula,” she adds.
Develop the competence to do your job well and then enjoy doing it.
Find time for hobbies during your heydays, don’t wait for retirement.
Empathise with the needy. Happiness is in being humane. Share what you have.