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My Career – an Autobiographical Account – Part II

Recall “My Career-an Autobiographical Account” Part-1.  click here.

Working in DST

Prof. Menon then moved to Department of Science and technology as Secretary, with the additional charge of DG, CSIR. He said “you would also come with me”. Since I had almost reached the end of my present grade, I asked him what is my future and also sent him a small note informing him somewhat bluntly, no more of this Private Secretary business, and that he should think of something higher and different in terms of my responsibilities.

Autobiography of C.V.subramaniamI was soon appointed as Staff Officer to Secretary, a newly created post (higher grade than my grade at that time, the first time any Secretary in Government having a Staff Officer). Duties also changed. I was to go through all files, study them, and then brief him about each file based on which he would clear the file. A very interesting, tough job though. The other problem was that within the limited time that he would be in office (after attending various meetings in between)’ I had to also prioritize in terms of files requiring quick signature, Top Priority matters (eg. PM’s references, Cabinet matters, Parliament matters and so on). Sometimes I would get whole one hour, sometime less, some time just 10 minutes.

The priorities have to be arranged keeping this in view. Officers would have to first meet me and then, if necessary, the Secretary.  Regarding letters, notes etc, I have to keep ready drafts, fair letters as appropriate. Having studied his way of operation, this turned out to be an easy talk. I would often think this way: if I keep a draft, the tendency for him would be perhaps to correct, if I keep a fair one there were fair and reasonable chance of his signing as such.

Amongst the various draft notes I prepared were recommendations (through proper write-up, with justification) for national awards (Padma awards), membership of various prestigious national science academies, nominations for FRS, a nomination (which somebody wanted to make) for the Magsaysai Award for Prof. Menon for which Prof. Menon left the matter entirely to me. I remember having prepared a twelve page write up, with proper citations etc. suitably worded.  He didn’t even want to see what I had prepared, since he had complete faith in me. He was of course not selected for the award.

Some Digression

Some digression here. I had to accompany him invariably to airports when he goes on tour, mainly to clear files and papers. It appeared that more files got cleared that way, since no interruption by people, telephone etc. He used to be normally too busy, that many officials wanting to see him used to say: it is always easier for one to see him in Frankfurt than in his office. And, as for foreign tours, there used to be also frequent trips.  When I too wait for him to be ready before leaving for the airport from his house normally, Mrs. Menon used  to tell him: Goku, don’t blame if you are late to reach the airport, I want to give Subramaniam upma, vada, fruits (depending upon what was available then), and plead to me to eat  slowly. A wonderful, kind-hearted, graceful lady who had done her Psychology in Bristol University (she is a Gujarathi).

Saturdays, Sundays, holidays etc, didn’t have any special meaning for him, all days in the week were working days. I remember working for almost 25 days without a break, once. No complaining, of course. Working with him was a pleasure of course, particularly when you consider the opportunity to learn.

In Planning Commission

From DST to Planning Commission:

Prof. Menon was appointed by Government  as Member, Planning Commission, with Minister of State rank. By virtue of that position, he was also Chairman, Science Advisory  Committee to the Cabinet. Well, I had to go with him again. Here,  I was to attend to all his ‘other activities’, since Planning Commission being a policy making body, very few files, if at all would be there to deal with. Since he was also then, Chairman, Science Advisor Council to the Cabinet, I could also, to some extent, get involved in these sort of activities. Often, notes would be required to be sent to PM etc. I could excel in drafting of various such types of notes. I was also assisting him in giving him the requisite material for his various speeches.autobiography of C.V.Subramaniam

A few instances of such speech material:

He had to talk on Perspectives in Science and Technology in the Sixth Five Year Plan. Until the previous day he didn’t give me any hint of what he wants as material. Suddenly, around 4.00 pm on the previous day he called me. “You sit with me”, he said. Then he asked me, how do I begin. I said, Sir you could begin with…. Okay.  he said, and then? I said something;  after that he would give some points. this went on for some time, in the meantime, he said “you go on noting”, which I did. When I had on my notebook, 12 to 15 points, he said, “you just give that to me”. I said to myself. “CVS you are great!”. And, of course, he also would have thought so. I had also gone to IIT Delhi, where he was to give this talk. And believe me, I could have easily told the audience what exactly he was going to speak.

A draft speech was prepared by him for use by PM Indira Gandhi for the inauguration of the annual Indian Science Congress Session. He had finished dictating the whole draft and was going through the typed material. It was around 1.00 pm and he was to go for lunch to home. He called me and said: “This is the draft speech…… I want to hand over this to Mr. Sharada Prasad  (Principal Information Officer to PM) and then go for lunch. You have a quick look at it, I don’t want to make any changes”. I took it to my room, read through, but at some point I found there was no proper link. I went inside his room,and  told him what I felt. He kept looking at that portion, and said “Okay”. I wanted to know his reaction to my bluntness, and while leaving the room I saw him in a thinking mood. Suddenly, he called the Private Secretary, dictated something and I could see the Private Secretary Retype one whole page. Guess what? I was so elated, of course.

On yet another occasion, he was to give the key-note speech at the World Energy Congress. With the material that I had collected for him he just prepared four transparencies and that was all. I had also attended his speech. It was a wonderful and amazing presentation, lasting about 20-25 minutes only.  After a week or so, the organizers wanted a manuscript of his speech for publication in the Proceedings. He then called me in his room and said: “Look, you were there when I gave the speech, and here are the transparencies that I used, you prepare the manuscript, you can do it!”. And, as for me, since I always liked such challenges, I called my PA at once, dictated about 12 pages and when the typed stuff came to me I felt confident that Prof. Menon would also find it okay. Unfortunately, for several days he never looked at it (that was what I thought) nor did he say anything about it; the organizers also did not pursue the matter.

How am I to know then what I prepared was liked by him or not. Two months later, he was invited to speak at a major Energy Conference again in Rome or so. As usual I asked him: “Sir, what about the material for your talk?”. He simply told me: “you had already prepared my speech at the World Energy Congress; I would use only that, may be with some changes in the statistical numbers somewhere, and would ask them to change the title appropriately”. My joy and satisfaction level was at it’s peak.

Apart from my work which I always enjoyed, I used to help my colleagues and particularly peons, drivers etc. (who generally do not know much about rules and who look to someone to  properly guide and help) with the result I had always a large number of followers and I commanded much respect too.  Even after leaving DST and Planning Commission, whenever I visited those departments I used to be amazed at friends  there crowding to see me, enquire with me about my well being and with invitations to them for tea, or whether I would like to get dropped in the staff car to any place. Such was their affection. And I am sure, even after fifteen years of my retirement, there would be those people remembering me. In Planning Commission, whenever I used to visit later, the peons in the first floor, sitting outside each rooms of officers like Member, Deputy Chairman etc. used to stand up and salute me like they used to generally do when the officers enter their rooms.

Opportunities Galore

Opportunities galore: all due to my luck and with blessings from God, I used to get opportunities one after another, because I had perhaps created a demand for me and people wanted me to work with them.

Back to DOE:

I was due for promotion in my parent Department, from Private Secretary to Under Secretary to the Government of India. I was the senior-most administrative person there. But it was the first time anyone from DOE was to be considered for appointment as Under Secretary. On this account, there were lots of problems, which the department could not handle properly at that time. A big story, of course. Finally, everything got sorted out and there I was, the first Under Secretary from within DOE.

As I had earlier mentioned that I had created a demand for me, even before joining DOE in this post, Mr. Ashok Parthasarathi, then Addl. Secretary had a claim on me and he talked to me on phone to say that I would have to work with him. I was made responsible for Parliament work and work relating to Electronics Commission.  Both I enjoyed, though new to both work. And I could show my expertise in those soon, through various initiatives I took . Apart from that, Mr. Parthasarathi also depended on me for various other important matters that he was handling, and here too I could win his appreciation. His dependence on me for some consultations, particularly in administrative matters, rule positions etc, continued even after he moved from DOE to  other departments.

Working for SAC-PM

In the meantime, something more challenging was waiting for me. I was being considered for a senior post (next level) at the DST, in the secretariat of the then newly constitute Science Advisory Council to Prime Minister (then, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi), under the chairmanship of Prof. C.N.R. Rao, an eminent scientist. The proposal suited me, since it offered further challenges. The Council members were then not happy, with the then incumbent, who, though a scientific staff member, could not take care of the requirements and expectations of the Members of the Council. My appointment was cleared by the then Minister of State for Science and Technology, Mr. Shivraj Patil .

After one week of my joining the new post, the Council met. I had prepared the briefing papers, agenda etc. so well that all the members appreciated and congratulated me.

Whether it is organizing meetings, preparation of agenda, minutes etc.etc. all went so smooth every time, that the members often asked my immediate boss, Dr.Lavakare,where from he got me. While traveling in plane for meetings at various locations, some times, seeing me and Dr. Lavakare talking together, one Member used to ask: are you discussing preparation of the minutes of the next meeting?. Such was the speed with which we could work that all members of the Council were more than happy.

At one meeting, where the Council was rehearsing a presentation to the PM, while Dr Ashok Ganguly (then Chairman of the Hindustan Lever in India) was showing some transparencies, I had to boldly intervene about some correction needed in the transparency. Though not much time was left, they readily agreed to get it redone the way I had suggested. Work in SAC-PM was perhaps the golden period in my career.

My one year reputation to DST was about to come to an end. Meantime, Mr. K.P.P. Nambiar, became Secretary, DOE and he  had no one senior enough in administration. Hence, he personally called me to DOE and wanted me to return back to DOE to assist him. At the same time, DST had sent a proposal to PM’s  office for extending my deputation.  Mr. Nambiar had also sent a file to PM’s office arguing that I should be sent back. The then joint Secretary in PM’s office was confused and called up Dr. Lavakare about both the files. I requested Dr. Lavakare to send me back to DOE, where anyway I was due to get my next promotion and for my sake PM’s  office need not be pressurized. There were exchanges of letters between Prof.C.N.R Rao, Secretary, DOE and Secretary, DST.  Finally, Mr. K.P.P. Nambiar won the  battle, so to say.

11. Back to DOE

I went back to DOE and was immediately given the charge of the Personnel Division,and was reporting directly to Mr. Nambiar, till a Joint Secretary was to join.

Work load, direct reporting, new challenges in Personnel Division, NIC parting from DOE and going to  Planning Commission, all gave me enough challenges which I enjoyed and which I could handle with ease.

 (To continue…)

This article is a part of the book “74 Not Out and some cheeky singles” written by Shri C.V. Subramaniam. He retired as Director in the Department of Information Technology, GOI and has held several important positions in the Government including the Science Advisory Council to Prime Minister. He has published 70 plus articles in various leading news papers and has published a book on Human Resource Management.