It was first week of December 2004. Foundation Course got over at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie. Other than IAS, all other officer trainees (IFS,IPS,IRS,IRTS,IAAS etc) left to their respective training academies after Foundation Course at Mussoorie. Phase 1 training for IAS got started. Our Course Coordinator came to the class and announced that we should leave LBSNAA within 2 days as 'snow fall' will start soon in Mussoorie and we should not be seen in Mussoorie for next 3 months. Hearing that, all of us were happy because the much awaited 'Bharat Dharshan' was about to start. Our Course Coordinator announced that our batch of 90 IAS officer trainees was divided into 9 groups with 10 members in each group. Each Group will start in Mussoorie and end in Mussoorie after 3 months but had different travel routes. She also announced that each Group will have one member as a Group Leader who will coordinate the entire travel. After the announcement we rushed to the notice boards to know about our travel plan. To my surprise(also everyone's surprise), against my name the word 'Group Leader' was mentioned. I was surprised because I did not actively participate in any activity(cultural, sports, clubs etc etc etc) during Foundation Course. I was internally happy, thinking that even without participating, maybe I had displayed some leadership qualities. When I was rejoicing internally but trying to put my face as if I was worried with this new burden of Group Leader, one of my batch mate (and close friend) looked at my face. Maybe he was a mind reader. He told, "Don't think too much of yourself. In LBSNAA, Mussoorie, training is different. One who didn't exhibit any leadership quality during Foundation Course, are made Group Leaders so that atleast in next three months during Bharat Dharshan, they start knowing the problems of being a leader and learn some techniques on how to manage a situation". I was irritated hearing his blunt comment. I looked at the notice board again to see other Groups' Group Leaders. None of the names I knew. Maybe all were silent and non participants during Foundation Course like me. Realized that the blunt remark of my friend cum batch mate was a fact.
My Group's first part of Bharat Dharshan was 'Army Attachment' in Kashmir. My Group consisted of 6 Male IAS officers and 4 Lady IAS Officers. All 10 of us landed in Srinagar Airport in a chilly cold 2nd week of December. An Army Officer who was made the liaison officer received us in Srinagar Airport and took us to an Army Camp. We had our night stay there and next day early morning we started our journey towards Kashmir Border. As we were moving in our Army Jeeps, we were mesmerized seeing the natural beauty of Kashmir. No words to describe. I realised why the girl Kashmir decided to remain single on 15th August 1947, when both India and Pakistan proposed to marry her. Maybe she was arrogant due to her extraordinary beauty.
After 6 hours of journey by road, we reached our destination. It was a Border Post and from there within few meters we could see few Pakistani Border posts. We stayed in bunkers for next 7 days. We interacted a lot with our Jawans. I had heard of snake bite, dog bite but first time in my life, I heard the word 'snow bite'. Some of our Jawans lose their fingers because of snow bite. We realized that to make our life comfortable, our jawans are sacrificing their lives. I saw an Army Jawan having Cricket Bat and Ball in the bunker. Asked him whether they play cricket in that snow laden mountain. He replied, "Sir, I got it from Srinagar when I went on official duty yesterday. Next week my leave which I get once in every 6 months is due. My son was asking cricket bat since long. So eagerly waiting for next week". I could see his love for his son from his face. I could see the pain of separation from his son for past 6 months from his face. Till that point of time in my life, I always thought, Army people are like robots without feelings. His reply made me to realise every Jawan in the border has a loving son or daughter waiting for him back home in some far away village. But some of them don't return but 'returned' if they are caught in the shelling from the other side of the border. Realised that they are the people who really serve our mother land.
We landed in Delhi in the last week of December after our Army Attachment. Our next assignment was 'NGO Attachment'. We were attached to a NGO called 'MKSS, in Rajasthan. I called one Ms.Aruna who was the head of that NGO over phone and told her that we were proceeding on road from Delhi and may reach around 10 pm. She told our stay arrangements have already been made, and we can meet her next morning for breakfast. We reached MKSS around 10 pm. One person received us and we were taken to a hut. He told that we can sleep there. There were only some wooden benches in the hut . We were taken aback. How can IAS officers sleep in wooden benches that too in a hut. We started grumbling. Some of my group members commented that I was a useless Group Leader who didn't communicate properly with MKSS. I told that MKSS person that we are IAS officers on training, thinking that he had mistaken us for some other group. But he replied that he already knew it and MKSS has only huts. There was no choice for us. We slept. Breeze was better. It was cool without Air Conditioners. We slept like logs after that hectic road journey . Realized huts are better than palatial bungalows. Next day morning we were taken to a nearby hut for breakfast. The head of MKSS Ms.Aruna Roy welcomed us. She was sitting on the floor and we all of us were made to sit on the floor for breakfast. This time we were not grumbling because we got used to it and atleast breakfast was there because we were very very hungry. We introduced ourselves. Once she started introducing about her, we became dumbstruck. She told that she was also an IAS officer and she resigned from IAS after few years of service and started MKSS. She told that her batch mate was the Chief Secretary of Rajasthan at that point of time. She started telling about the suffering MKSS members underwent for fighting for 'Right to Information'(RTI) in Rajasthan. First time we realised that India is built by so many good souls from different walks of life and we IAS think too much of ourselves.
After MKSS attachment we spent our next one week in visiting different places of Rajasthan. We were proud seeing the magnificient forts built by our Kings across Rajasthan. We also visited Chokidhani which was a small model village which depicted the life in Rajasthan. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Rajasthan. Our next attachment was 'Cooperative Society' attachment with Amul.We took a train and got down in a station called 'Anand' in Gujarat. We reached Amul Guest House, refreshed ourselves and visited the factory. We were given presentation on 'Milk revolution' in India. We were told how Dr.Verghese Kurien started this concept of cooperative movement in dairy. After our lunch we were taken to the Conference Room for our meeting with 'The Father of Milk Revolution' Dr.Verghese Kurien. He gave a brilliant speech. He gave us the conceptual clarity on Cooperative Movement. He narrated us on how he quit his lucrative job in Tata Steel and started experimenting cooperative movement for milk in Gujarat. He briefed us on the initial challenges he faced. We realised that he was a Great Great Human Being. But one thing we were told even before we left for Bharat Dharshan in Mussoorie was, Dr.Kurien doesn't like IAS officers. So we were asked to be polite and talk as less as possible. However when Dr.Kurien's speech was over and I was about to give 'Vote of Thanks', one of my batch mate dropped the bomb shell. He asked, "Sir, we heard that you don’t like IAS officers. Why". Dr.Kurien's face changed. There was a dead silence in the conference room for next few seconds. Then he replied, "What you heard is true. I don’t like IAS because you people are the final decision makers in our system but you people are 'Jack of all but Master of none'. You people are posted in Agriculture one day, Defence next day, Science and Technology the third day and Education on fourth day in your career. Then how can you become an expert. I am not the most intelligent person on earth. But I became an expert in milk cooperatives because I am living with cows and milk for past 50 years". Once he completed this sentence, immediately I got up and started my ‘Vote of Thanks’ to avoid further discussion on that topic. We realized that what he said was 100% true. If Dr.Kurien would have joined civil service instead of spending years of his life with cows, milk today would have been a scarcity in India.
Our next 2 months were full of realizations. We visited Mumbai, Goa, Cochin, Lakshadweep, Coimbatore, Chennai, Odisha and finally Delhi. Each place has several memories attached to it but if I start narrating maybe it will end up in several pages. In Odisha, we lived in a tribal village for a week without electricity. In Delhi, we met Mr.Sreedharan, the father of Metro Rail in India. Our Bharat Dharshan got culminated at Rashtrapathi Bhavan where we had a long discussion with the then President Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam. At the end of Bharat Dharshan, each one of us were different from what we were before our departure from Mussoorie. We could meet eminent souls who built our nation. We could realize the ‘Unity in Diversity’ of our nation. We could realize how beautiful India is and how great Indians are. We could also realize how much sacrifice our Jawans are making at our borders for ensuring our safety and happiness within the borders.
During Bharat Darshan, we in the Group used to spend our travel time and leisure time in playing cards. Every evening(8 pm) after our day's work got completed, our card games started. I remember even in the Dornier flight from Cochin to Lakshadweep, we were playing cards, up in the sky.We became experts in different card games. We used to even cheat in card games. Once caught, we used to fight like kids and not talk for next 2 days. Again we used to start our card games. At the end of Bharat Darshan, despite so many fights, we were the closest friends after reaching LBSNAA, Mussoorie. That bonding still continues. The reason may be because of the famous saying, 'Known Devil is better than an Unknown Angel'.