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I was born on 4.8.1948 to a Syrian Christian family of Kerala. My schooling was done in Sherwood College, Naini Tal where the Principal,  Rev. R.C.Llewelyn exerted a  lifelong moral influence on us. I consider him the only truly great man it has been my fortune to know closely.

    I was lucky to get into the IIT, Mumbai at the tail end of the merit list and emerged from it with a poor second class in Civil Engineering 5 years later . At this stage I did not see a glittering career ahead of me as I was acutely aware of  being overshadowed by the brilliance of  others in IIT.

   I joined the IAS in 1975, again at the fag end of the ranking,  and worked in Gujarat till 2006 when I left Gujarat and the IAS. Then I worked for another three years as CEO in other assignments. The events of my career have been described in the site and my memoirs.

     Retired but active,  I have now returned to my village in Kerala and live in a hundred year old house. It has had  extensive repairs, with the flooring, electrification and plumbing modernised. But the walls and the wooden ceiling and  tiled roof  remain. From the outside it looks the same as it did fifty years ago. Restoring this house to what it was fifty years back is a kind of revival too. A old house is a witness to the past. It must be retored.  As the poet had said,

"We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time."

                         This is where I  started and I am just  beginning to know it for the first time.

 

I am not  rich and though I have many needs, these are not the kind which need money to satisfy.  I had to invent a role for myself as sitting idle was a ghastly prospect. It is into farming that I have now  directed my energies. This was not a choice but the only thing I could do. Having brought about transformations in organizations, the obvious question which arose was whether my skill was limited to organizations or could I do it in another field. No organization owner was willing to take me on, the ethical tag having disqualified me. The only 'field'  I saw were literally  my lands in a  Kerala village. There was a time about fifty years ago when  every part of Kerala had a tradition of farming with innovative and confident  farmers. But with the rise in farm wages, many  landowning families lost interest in farming. With the daily agricultural wages at Rs 500 or above, you had to be a very good farmer to be financially successful if as an owner you were not yourself laboring in the field.  A farm is not a garden which only the rich can maintain. A farm must pay back the cost of inputs, atleast in the currency of  personal satisfaction. Overseeing a  plantation of rubber, tea or cardamon is not really farming, skills required are different.

  I wanted to put every square yard of my agricultural land to use. Farm it in  the best  way possible and then see whether it could be made to pay with Rs 500 per day wages. Put these non performing assets to work. Within these dry weed choked fields, I felt  promethean energies struggling  to be liberated. But unlike on my corporate seats I had no motivated and skilled managers to carry out my wishes. I would have to do it alone and have to give instructions to field  workers directly. I had no hands on experience of farming. Could I modify  these hard , unyielding lumps of earth and shape them to my will ? This work had no prestige attached. Could I remain motivated enough to bear the sun, rain and aching muscles? This job turned out to be far more difficult than GSFC or GACL. Its one redeeming quality was that no one could tell me what to do.   

About seven acres of land, river embraced on three sides, are planted with 1400 rubber trees and  have started  yielding now after a six year growing period. This should give me a steady attractive income. The Rubber Board officials who visited this say it is one of the best small plantations they have seen.   About two acres of wet paddy rice lands have been planted but paddy by itself can just about pay its cost if all conditions are perfect. I expect the paddy lands to lose money. The only payback is the satisfaction of keeping alive the tradition of paddy farming and providing part employment to half a dozen men and women.    

It is on my  house plot of two and half acres that I am putting the intense effort. This plot  had a dozen anaemic guava, rose apple, sitafal  and  chikoo  plants, a few giant mahogany and teak trees, the rest was weed covered and demoralising to look at. For three  months I watered the fruit  trees every evening, carrying buckets of water from the house tap upto 30 metres length. It was tiring work during the warm rainless months. I also added some cowdung and neem oil cake round the root to the amusement of our household help who said this was unnecessary. The plants responded with green shoots emerging , then flowers and finally fruits. Guavas, custard apples, rose apples and  chikoos. They tasted superb. But the number was small - less than two dozen.  So there would  be a good fruit orchard here if the plants could be watered. That is when I decided on a drip system as the only way to water a large number of plants. I had some expereince of drip irrigation from my Gujarat years. A new well was dug in the summer, April 2013,  when most wells had gone dry. It was hard digging but at 75 ft we hit a gusher and in three hours the well had standing water of 15 ft. Then I set up a drip system to cover the entire field.Thus assured of water supply, I planted 1000 banana  plants, and about 500 fruit plants including 55 mangostein, 30 rambutan, 70 sitaphal, 50 nutmeg, 10 abiyu, 10 Jamican star fruit, 3 miracle fruit, 3 jabottica, 10 filosan, 4 cherry, 10 jamun, 20 rose apple, 10 mulberry bushes, many flowering trees and plants, 20 Christmas trees, 20 cypress, 20 red palm, 20 finger palm,  50 grape size guava plants, lime plants, tomato, brinjal, beans, red and green spinach   . In the interspace  ginger, groundnut and even a bit of dryland paddy were grown. About two thousand fast growing grass bushes are planted to provide fodder to my two cows now that the grazing lands are lost.  A bit of chemical fertilizer is added but the bulk of manure is organic - cowdung including vermiculture, neem oil cake, bonemeal, wood ash, used tea leaves from tea shops and poultry manure. No pesticides or herbicides at all. Cow urine mixed with garlic, neem oil, tobacco, and bar soap is sprayed to great effect - insects, worms and flies do not come near.  I consider giving employment to be not a cost but one of the basic goals - plants must grow but so must the family breadwinners. Four  workers are on the regular payroll, one tapper for the rubber and three for this plot, each getting Rs. 12 to 15000 pm. More are employed when the work increases. 

From what is evident after one year of this, banana cultivation is not economic but has an aesthetic appeal and makes the field look green and cool.  The ginger, groundut and paddy results were pathetic but for these failures I do not blame the plants, it was some errors or  incapacity  of mine. The seeds had within them the capacity to grow, the gardener could not develop it.  The grass bushes grow magnificently and I have stopped giving the cow any cattle feed, only grass and its health has improved. The fruit trees are growing well. I do not need to  buy vegetables for my self, only carrots, onions etc. Cabbage and cauliflower are on trial but I think they need the cold to thrive, let us see.  

But I know that for a garden to fully develop takes 5 to 7 years, no activities can be crashed, CPM will not work. Now I understand the patience of the farmer. All in good time. Compared to these labors, the  Sardar Sarovar, GACL and the GSFC turnarounds were straightforward, the rest were child's play.    

 

   

# I was invited as the Chief Guest for the Founder's Day celebrations of my school, Sherwood College, Nainital.  On 5th, June, 2014, I spoke to the assembled students, staff and others. My speech is reproduced.   

"    It is indeed a great honor and privilege for me to be here today with you as the Chief Guest at the  145th Founders Day function of  Sherwood College, Nainintal.

        Founder’s   Day is important as it is then that we look at the past, show case the present and craft a vision for the future. Schools need never turn old even though we students do. Schools can bloom in perpetual youth. But they must be well led. I feel a great sense of joy and elation today. Sherwood looks good, it is wearing festive colors and the Sherwoodians are brimming with confidence and zest for life. The cultural displays we saw were of a high standard and the PT demonstration was stupendous. I congratulate the students for their good show and the masters and staff for making it happen. My grateful appreciation to the Principal for the role of good shepherd he is playing, nurturing the school and bringing out its best. It means a lot to us.      

             I stand here as one who is greatly indebted to the school for the priceless boon of good education I have received here.  The 64 batch of Old Sherwoodians who are here today  also  joins me in expressing  gratitude  to the school as would so many   of other  batches. Our visit here 50 years after passing out  is a sort of pilgrimage to a shrine, our alma Mater. We express our debt to those who taught us. Mr. Malcolm Johnson is here with us. It was not swimming he taught us but how to overcome our fear. He showed us what courage was when a man’s life was saved on the steep slopes of the Cliffs; he also brought out this quality in the dozen or so Sherwoodians who were with him. They got their man back. We remember the others too –Mr. Thapa,  Mr. Abraham, Mr Tiwari, Mr. Oliver Hakim, Mr. Walter Lambert,  Miss Dyson, Ma Fordahm ,Ma Mcloud , Mr Thomson Mr. Theophilus, Mr. Luther, Mr Beamon -  as fifty years is a long time some of the faces have blurred.    I particularly wish to pay my tribute of praise to the remarkable Rev. Llewellyn, our principal then.  He was the toughest, kindest and wisest man I have ever known. During his last years his photos show us the perfect image of a mystic, overflowing with love. The Telegraph of London called him ‘a godly Church of England  priest’ when he passed away .  

 Sherwood  has stood  for 145 years , maintaining its position as one of India’s finest. There have been momentous historical upheavals, the fall of an empire, the birth of a great new nation, the significant changes in Indian society, a period where school such as this were suspected of elite snobbery and of being out of date with a the aspirations of an emerging India – all these Sherwood has survived and  yet grown  in prestige.  All through these years, the commitment of the school to provide the finest education to its students never wavered.  A look at the assembly of buildings here demonstrates this commitment beyond a shadow of doubt. Form follows function and the function of the school is to develop young adults  fully, mentally, physically and morally –the chapel, the dormitories, the infirmary,  the class rooms, the libraries, the playgrounds, the swimming pools , the gym , the music centre, and so many other levers to bring out our best ,  they all proclaim this.   The grounds Sherwood  stands on are magnificent, high mid rock and wood,  at the edge of the greatest mountain range of the world. We saw the wild  beauty of this landscape every day, it subtly changed  us without us being aware of it  and it made us think of big things.  The school opened our eyes to the world, not by moralizing sermons or book learning  but through the  awareness brought about by ceaseless activities of the mind body and the artistic imagination.  It helped us overcome our fears, fear would always be there but the important thing was to overcome it. Life would confront us with situations which intimidate us but the habits of Sherwood helped us to overcome them.   Today, Sherwood is admired in India. That is why I have no hesitation in calling Sherwood a great school.   Let me narrate one incident which describes this admiration. In 2001, I was presented the Distinguished Alumnus Award by the IIT, Mumbai - Jairam Ramesh and Manohar Parikkar were among the others. All of us were required to speak and were introduced briefly by the Director. The IIT audience quietly noted the fact that I had been the MD of the Sardar Sarovar Nigam and Gujarat Alaklies. But when the Director mentioned that I had done my schooling in Sherwood College, Nainital, there was a sudden audible gasp of appreciation in the hall, across the entire audience, it was unmistakable.  Perhaps it was the Amitabh Bachchan effect or Kabir Bedi. But the school does not shine merely in reflection of their light. Would either of them have become what they did had they not felt the excitement of Sherwood. The image of Sherwoodians is one of dash, panache, daring and openness to the promise of life, saying yes to life. We have an appetite for life, we seize the day. It is our years in Sherwood which have given us this. That is the true aim of education.   Sherwoodians are the only true romantics today. Danger and risk draws us on and we long for those glittering prizes life awards to those who accept her dares. It is Sherwood that is responsible for this. Here we saw the visions of a better life and like Don Quixote, have been chasing it ever since. Blame it on Sherwood!

 

                                          Every chief guest is expected to give some advice to the young  lads, some pearls of wisdom. So  from one who has had a balanced  life  share of successes and setbacks, I give you my thoughts. My real audience today are the Sherwoodians, the girls and boys seated here.  I will not condescend to simplify what I have to say to you, it will be the full dose , no dilution. Between the ages from 12 to 16 , as I remember, was my  mind at its  sharpest and most absorbent to new insights , after that it has been a steady downhill  for the next fifty years. So, here it is.    “Let each one merit his prize”, is the school motto. Be worthy of your prize, work for it. Mere wealth or privilege will not do. You must earn what you wish to achieve, earn it  by hard work.  But what if it is the other way round? What if you have already received the prize. Must you not make yourself worthy of it afterwards?  So it will be with you when you leave the school, finish your professional education and begin work at your profession about five to seven years hence after leaving the school. So it was with me when I joined the IAS.   You are one of the fortunate few. You are relatively well off, though perhaps not  wealthy. And you have had the priceless boon of a Sherwood education.  So what do you do? Do you really want those    recognitions fortune has in store for the brave?  Then begin from day one to change the world.  Yes, change the world. A great thinker had said, that philosophers had till then only attempted to interpret the world, the point was to change  it.   Work for a better world. Now I do not mean you should become an activist or a mystic. Ethics must be demonstrated not in the ashrams and monasteries or on the streets  but in the real world we experience every day. No one person can improve the whole world. But each one of us does control or influence a  part of the world no matter how small. We can improve that.  But you have to do it in your professional sphere, not outside your office, activism outside the profession, weekend work,  is pointless.  How does one do it? There is risk but no  real danger, the virtuous have a shield of protection. No harm  will come  to you, the mantle of ethics will cover you like armor. So how do you go about it? This is the way.  Pursue the true aims, the foundational beliefs of your organization.  When we say that a gun , a ship or a cycle is in true alignment or true to itself, then what is meant is that is doing what it was meant to do when it was designed. That is the truth you must chase.   Do not pursue your own career goals or chase wealth in any other way.   You must assume, even against all evidence to the contrary, that if you are successful in achieving the organization’s true objectives independently, then you will be rewarded by those who control the organization.. That is the only reward, other than your regular non performance salary, which you should expect.  If you are living in a good society or working for a good organization even in a rotten society, then you will be rewarded. In organizational set up, that is the truth,  that you must pursue. A school teacher has in her control for around forty  minutes a  class of about thirty to forty children. That is her organization. Its assets are the room, the desks, the notebooks, the text books, the undeveloped potential of the children’s minds, the teachers knowledge and  ethical commitment, and the time asset of forty minutes. The true purpose of the classroom is the development of the children’s minds by making  them  desire to learn. The method is to engage with the children make them ask questions, tell them facts and make learning an interactive process where the children play a  role. If the teacher succeeds in doing this, she is successful in the basic goals of education, she is pursuing the truth.  Whether she gets appreciation or not depends not on her but on how wedded the school management is to the true stated goals of the organization. But in the objective world of facts and values, the teacher has succeeded. So I am not talking about companies only. This is the only kind of success we should aim at. That is the only way we can make better worlds around us. This is the truth we must seek.

 If you are heading a company, then the basic foundational goals are clear. The company is formed to put savings to work so as to provide some product or service the society needs. It uses the share capital and borrowed funds to set up the plants, factories and other productive assets  and hire the employees. The company must work in such a way to use these assets most efficiently, provide the products to the customers, look after and pay its employees well, protect the environment and nearby residents from pollution, act within the law, and share the profits and commercial benefits fairly among all its stakeholders. See that there is no diversion of company money particularly by the owners. And see that the cake size grows by utilizing the assets including its employees most efficiently. A management which pursues these goals to the exclusion of everything else can be said to be ethical by pursuing the true  foundational goals of the organization.    

A similar exercise can be done for any organization. Ethics will clearly point the way forward.  

                      So the world can be bettered by the pursuit of truth in the practical world. The pursuit of this truth in the practical world is ethics. Ethics does not have to be learnt, there is an ethical person in each one of us. Allow him to develop.

 

 Truth is not an inner feeling of righteousness, or what is written in books, or the wisdom of the ancients, all of which must be junked when searching for the real truth.

 All religions place a high value on truth.    The Bible says seek the truth and the truth shall set thee free. Yes, this is profoundly  correct. Truth will set you free from the dilemmas and doubt we face in the ordinary business of life.  Truth is the path opening up in the front, a lifting  of veils. It sets you free to move ahead loosening the bonds of indecision which held you back.  It tells you the way to go. It is always a summons to act and never a static fact being stated.  I am not a religious scholar and I claim no absolute copy right on this interpretation may be there are better ones but  this is the one I find eminently satisfactory.  But for truth to have any value it must be a new truth discovered in that unique point of time and space.  Only the undiscovered truth has any value. It points us to the way forward. That which is known to others is a truth without value, mere fact, a triviality. The capital of India is New Delhi is correct but cannot be called a truth in the sense we talk about..

         You are on your own during your entire life. No one has faced precisely the kind of situation you face at this instant, the answer you seek must be generated at that point. That is the undiscovered truth you must discover then. Other’s orders or guidance  is not the truth. It must be understood that this freedom to act is only in your area of competence.  You can only use powers which you legitimately have. You cannot order around others even if they are committing mistakes in their own legitimate sphere.

  The Upanishd says  Satyamev Jayate.  Usaully it is translated as Truth alone triumphs.  Does it  mean that whatever has prevailed is the truth? Or that left to itself, the truth will prevail ultimately?  I have issues with this. Both these interpretations are unsatisfactory. What has prevailed is most often not the truth, you cannot derive an ought from an  is, as the philosophers say; truth cannot prevail on its own. Truth is suppressed and attacked everywhere. What it probably does mean is that the righteous man should make the truth prevail by his efforts. Before doing this, he must discover the truth.

                   Truth is an essence, a direction finder,   lamp  pointing the way ahead, telling you to do something or resist something. It is a call to action. It has no force  of its own, no armaments  of power to enforce its will  or  the trumpets of commerce to sing its praises. These will very likely be ranged against it. On its own it will perish easily. Truth must be armed, it must be the armed truth, armed with the conviction in it of a person with some power who intends to act as the truth commands. Only when men believe in it and are prepared to fight for it does it acquire an irresistible force. Man without truth will be blind and fail in his tasks. With truth as his guide he cannot fail. All our ventures will be crowned with success. This is the way of ethics. Ethics or truth guided working will release the best from your team who have been holding back thinking you are pulling a fast one on them or manipulating them in some way. Transparency is an essential ingredient of ethics. This is how ethics is always successful.  

Morality is best understood by what the philosopher emanual Kant called his categorical imperative. This rule says that you can judge the rightness or wrongness of your acti8on by imagining what would happen if everyone did what you plan to do. Working hard is good because if everyone did it, the world would improve. Similalry stealing is bad etc. The second requirement which Kant stipulated was that the welfare of each individual is paramount. No one can be sacrificed for any abstract good. Man is not the means to a higher end but the end itself.

That is all the advice I can give you and all you will ever need. The rest is up to you, you will have to feel your way forward taking coordinates and feedback and making  course corrections frequently .  As long as your ends are ethical you cannot fail, failure is impossible for an ethical. You will succeed in everything you attempt. But there are no certainties, I do not mean the world ahead is hazardous but it is uncertain. Any fixed attitude will fail. “If hopes were dupes, fears may be liers.”  Neither  be an optimist nor  a pessimist nor a cynic. The optimist, all evidence pointing the other way, will assure you everything is fine, without doing anything to fix the problem. The pessimist, again doing nothing, will tell you no matter what good is happening, things are headed rapidly downhill and it is only a matter of time before it is curtains. The cynic feels that whether things improve or collapse is of no importance and will advice you not to get so excited. None of these attitudes work.  What will come in handy is what Sherwood has taught you, which is to engage and play the game of life. Everyone who plays wins, the losers are those who do not play.

You can decide whether you want to be ethical or not. It is not a way I recommend to everyone, go for  it only if you feel deeply  for it. Adopt ethics only if you are in a fairly strong position. Working ethically in organizations you will invite opposition from those who were benefiting from an unethical setup.  With ethics you will always succeed, you cannot fail.  Faith can move mountains particularly if they have made  mountains out of  molehills. Usually that is the case. Things are never as bad as they look. I was sent to organizations only when everything had been written off, nobody else wanted to come and its last rites were to being performed. But when I took charge I found things were not so hopeless. Important decisions were not being taken. I went to the Sardar Sarovar Nigam as MD when every work of the giant project was at a standstill.  The World Bank had withdrawn financing and the Supreme Court  had stopped the dam construction till the rehabilitation of the project affected persons was satisfactorily done. So nothing was going on. The work on the canal network too was stopped even though the Court had not ordered stoppage of work there. The thinking in the Gujarat government was that if the dam was not being constructed why waste money on the canals. I went to the government and asked for money for the canal work arguing that this would create a forward momentum and keep the project alive till the dam stay was removed, the canal work was much larger than the remaining dam work. It was the search for truth looking to the foundational goals of the project that showed me this path. So the canal work began in full swing and created enthusiasm in favor of the project. Then I suggested to Mr. Nariman, our distinguished advocate, that the Court  insistence on first doing the rehabilitation work and then going to the Court would doom the project permanently. Let us hypothetically slice the remaining portion of the dam to be constructed into 5 m. slices. Let us do rehabilitation for those who would be submerged  by the next rise in dam of 5 m. and then go the Supreme Court with this certificate. Construct this 5m slice and repeat with every such increase in height. The Court agreed to this even the Naramada Bachao group could not object. Here too it was an undiscovered truth which pointed out the breakthrough path. I found situations similar in all the “sinking”  organizations given to me. The solutions became apparent through an ethical lens. So it is only through such actions that we move ahead.  In the water you will sink if you do not move your body. If you leave a patch of ground uncared for, there will be weeds. The attitude so typical of all bureaucrats was let us wait and watch let us not do anything in haste, why are you in such a hurry. This is the wrong attitude to take when the ship is taking in water and likely to sink. There is a difference between what is complex and what is difficult. What is difficult needs the will, muscle endurance  and plain unwillingness to quit. What is complex needs an analytical brain. The problems India faces are not complex but difficult. Analyses will not do. Most bureaucrats are analysts with an allergy to act. At the best they will tell someone else to act, never will they take the steering wheel themselves. So I decided to  Ignore them and use my powers independently to act . You too  must turn from theory to action,  be a walker not a talker, a doer not a doubter, a farer not a fearer , a pathfinder not a group thinker. That is my advice to you. India will progress not by centralized policy making or leadership but through ethicals dispersed throughout the length and breadth of the country. The land will be lit not by a master switch but by hundreds of ethical lights scattered over our entire land. You are a patriot if you work ethically at your job. That is enough. Standing on the stage and singing songs is not necessary once you become a professional.

                This is a Founders Day celebrations and not a management seminar so I better cut this short. But ethical problem solving, in its essence  would work within Sherwood itself  and you need not wait till you leave its portals. Other than this,  even leaving aside  ethics,  Sherwood has equipped you to respond in real time as you navigate in the real world because you have conquered your fear of unfamiliar situations and can approach the future as a friend with whom you can deal. Today you are identified as a Sherwoodian by your badge. After you leave Sherwood you will have no identification. So behave that people, looking at you, will say, this must be a   Sherwood girl, this must be a Sherwood boy.

                               I would like to end  with a poem called  Desiderata. This word means that which is desired. The poet is  Max Ehrmann.

      

    Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence. 
As far as possible, without surrender, 
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious
to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter, for always
there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the  changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment;
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

 

 

              I thank you all, for listening so patiently to me. I once again express my gratitude to the school principal, Mr. Sandhu for having invited me and my wife for this occasion. "