The Making Of History Of Our Times

Updated: Aug 3 2003, 05:30am hrs
When I received the book on H V R Iengar for review, I am sure the editor had no inkling of my acquaintance with Iengar. In 1964, when his articles began to appear in Indian Express, Iengar was on the board of ACC in Mumbai. I was also on the board as a nominee of the government of Andhra Pradesh. When I was in Mumbai for one of the board meetings, I was told by ACC that Iengar would pick me up in the car that had been arranged for him, as I was at a place that was on his way.

At 10 am, Iengars car, with the distinguished occupant, was at my sisters residence where I was staying. The drive to Church Gate took nearly 35 minutes. Iengar, who was about 25 years senior to me, was not in the least bit patronising. He asked me where I came from, and I said, Bangalore. Which college The Central College. What subjects Chemistry and Physics, I said.

It was a great privilege to know him. He asked whether I had stood first in my year. I said that I had and that in my Honours course, had got the AS Rangaswamy Iyengar Gold Medal. He sat up and said, What a coincidence, I also got it, years before your time. He said he, as a Bangalore Iyengar, was glad to meet a Bangalore Iyer! When we reached the ACC office, he shook hands with me warmly and wished me good luck in my career.

The collection of articles that make up Snapshots Of HistoryThrough The Writings Of H V R Iyengar, although written in 1964, after he had retired, deal with the events leading to Independence and soon thereafter. These cover wide ground and deal with an important period in Indias history. Iengars direct experiences with the great men of the times, Nehru, Patel Gobind Vallabh Pant and others, have been recorded in an anecdotal and interesting manner.

The language is elegant and direct, and a delight to read. Clarity of thought, married to precise expression, makes for a book that will be read in one sitting. A wide variety of subjects have been covered, ranging from the last days of the Raj, the ICS officers, British and Indian, like Iengar himself, the relations between the politicians and bureaucrats, the President and Prime Minister. A comparison between politicians of those days and today, their approach to the problems facing the country, the changing attitude to rectitude in public life, are all dealt with in a sensitive and cultured manner.

Some of the observations made by Iengar nearly 40 years ago are relevant even today. He says in his article of October 9, 1965, We may have views about the morality of another countrys international behavior, but once we realize that countries behave fundamentally in sheer self interest, our own policy becomes clear. We must likewise consider what is in the fundamental interest of our own country.

About the British withdrawal from India, he says in his article of October 9, 1965, The truth of the matter is that they found it impossible to govern this country. There are many such insights relevant to politicians, bureaucrats and others even today.

The book is organised into five chapters, such as Approaching The Threshold Of freedom, The Titans At Midnight, Towards Transition, Taking A Stand and Time To Prove Ourselves. Each of the chapters contain about five or six articles dealing with related subjects. Principles have been derived from actual incidents and experiences of the author.

About civil servants, he says in his article of July 8, 1964, With the safeguards they possess under the Constitution, there is no conceivable reason they should not carry out their duties without fear. But human nature being what it is, there is a tendency for officials, other than those possessed of unusual strength of character, to take the line of least resistance.

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With prescience he wrote in his article of August 15, 1966, I foresee a time when there may be a time of political turmoil and confusion at the Centre in Indiashifting loyalties and unstable governments. It is a matter of importance that India has an exceptionally strong civil service, something that the French have evolved... Such a service can keep the country on an even keel. Another telling quote from his article of December 10, 1966, is, How can the younger generation dream dreams, when the men in authority cling to power, fight for power and spend their energy in shabby quarrels while hunger stalks the land

There are other such perceptive observations, which are valid even today. The book will be of absorbing interest to those who saw some of the action and worked in government during those times. They would probably sadly observe the extent of our fall from those days of political behaviour and public morality. The book will also delight those interested in the making of the history of those times.

Mr Ramakrishna is a former chairman of the Securities And Exchange Board of India and the Disinvestment Commission