My Career – an Autobiographical Account

biography of Submanaian[M]any a time when my son saw me sitting idle, brooding, with nothing to do, (almost like ‘now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn, or crazed with care, or crossed in hope -less love?)’ he  used to tell me: ‘Appa, kuch to karo, if nothing, write your autobiography’ I used to say, ‘autobiography?  Who will read, I am not that great!’ and just to make him think that one  can still be busy, would turn on the TV. I didn’t have a computer those days, and I had  to write in my own bad hand-writing ( sometimes my own attempt to decipher which would fail) go to the typist at the Railway station, get a first draft, go to him again…. I was so bored doing all this, even when something flashed in my mind to be converted into a tolerably readable stuff.

To day, I am in almost the same situation, idle, of course with an iPad  (latest wonder gadget, about which most will envy) and my mind  started drawing up the contours of a ‘story’, and I thought,  what harm if I go ahead.

I remembered that someone had said that the best way to motivate oneself is perhaps to recall one’s own success stories and achievements. Since I had some of these, both in studies and in my career, I thought I would dwell on those, to be shared with others.

First, my school days, where throughout the first year (1st standard)’ I  played the bunking game, troubled my parents  a lot and failed of course; what a fine start, , will anybody read further? Of course, from class 6th onwards it turned out to be a golden period for me, what with first prizes in all subjects, general proficiency prize every year in a long row, with 28 books as prize!. College also was same story, with the few girl students always flocking to me (no gudbudy thoughts), to grab my practical note books and copying the same to fool the lecturer. Without boasting I could claim that all my practical record books were so clean, without any red marks, and mostly with ‘good’ or ‘very good’ comments and marks always above 8/9. The only blot in them was the nail punch by the outside examiner, in the final exam.

The lecturers would specially ask me about my marks in other subjects. One lecturer was very keen to finish off the portions to be covered as per syllabus, and would arrange special classes on Saturdays or Sundays. Since these were not generally well attended and the few who attended were also not serious, once he announced openly, ‘well, I am arranging these classes keeping in mind only Subramaniam”.

I could claim that the only one, or the first one to stand up every time to answer questions  in the class both in school and college was me. Once, one lecturer said, well you always stand up, I want to check up if anyone else could do, and prompted another student to stand up and start, of course, the whole one hour period was spent helping him to complete the answer.  Education beyond a degree was not destined, due to various compulsions, interruptions etc I could, of course also go half way through to becoming a Cost Accountant. All the same, this was more than compensated by the opportunities I got to work with and be associated closely with, several eminent personalities, including top scientists and administrators.

2. Into Working  life

First employment, clerk, private firm, salary Rs.95 (Rs.5 added by the Chairman for my proficiency in Hindi, with 70 marks, my certificate mentioned distinction);  he didn’t at that time realize that I was still new to the Bombay and Hindi). Nothing much happened here except that my handwriting in the registers was appreciated.

Next was All India Radio, Bombay where I worked as Program Secretary, typing out cue sheets etc. The dislike for Bombay somehow made me homesick and I desperately tried for a mutual transfer to Calicut and succeeded.   Soon, I landed in Calicut and continued my journey to join AIR at my own home land. What a change – all male staff in white dhoti, talking in Malayalam, and my feeling embarrassed to see my own predicament -the only pant-walla.  Here I was dealing with booking of artistes for music, women’s program, and children’s program. I had the pleasure of welcoming Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and the like, great musicians of those times. AIR arranges special invited audience programs on occasions like Onam etc, where live programs – music concert, drama and so on are arranged. Some of my friends knowing that I was in AIR and that too in the music section, would often come to me to get free passes for those programs to which I obliged as best as I could. Some periodical notes we had to furnish to higher ups in Delhi was drafted by me, which was appreciated by the the Asstt. Station Director, Mr. Rangan.

After some time, may be a year, I got bored in Calicut and again tried for a mutual transfer to AIR, Bombay, in which I succeeded. Here again work was more or less similar, particularly keeping the artistes’ library, with their grading, last booking etc. updated. On the day I came to join back in AIR, Bombay, Mr. Vaidya, one of the Assistant Directors, called me to his room and asked me: why have you come back again?  Before I could answer, he told me that he had agreed to my transfer back to Bombay only because of the good confidential reports that I had. I thanked him for this. While working here I had applied for a post of Stenographer in TIFR, and was lucky to get selected. And this, in a way, was the beginning of the turning point in my career.

3. Work in TIFR

Next stint in TIFR, the National Centre for Research in Nuclear Science and Mathematics, as a stenographer. I was stunned by the beauty and cleanliness of the building and took some pride in being able to work there. So particular was the late Dr. Bhabha about cleanliness that he once issued a circular on cleanliness which ended  with a warning, ‘if you can’t maintain cleanliness, perhaps you have no place in the building’.  After working for 11 years with Professor  Sreekantan  and conferring Ph.Ds on 19 scientists (through my scientific typing), I was catapulted to the fourth floor, to work as PA to Director. Professor Sreekantan had earlier recommended three special increments for me, besides the normal one. I believe, I was perhaps the only stenographer daring to take scientific dictations – not only that, I could even straightway cut stencils transcribing such scientific dictations.

I had by then passed with 90 plus marks, a Departmental Examination in which only two (including myself) from within TIFR appeared and I was the only one internal candidate to have been finally selected, rest being outside candidates. I had option also to work as an Administrator, having passed that exam.  But destiny had other plans. I was asked through my then boss, Prof. Sreekantan, whether I could accept to work as PA to Director, Prof. M.G.K. Menon. I thought working with the top man of the Institute would certainly give me more challenges and I readily agreed.

4. Working with Prof. Menon

The fear of the fourth floor, where the room occupied by the late Dr. Bhabha, still remained locked in one corner, and having to work late hours, including on Sundays and holidays, haunted me, as to whether this was the right place for me to work. One colleague had warned that those working with Prof. Menon could as well forget when the sun will set.

First day encounter with Prof. Menon:

The very first letter that he dictated I dared to correct, without bothering about the consequences. When the letter came back signed, with the note I had kept about my daring act, he had scribbled on it ‘correct, good’. Oh God, I cried within myself, excited. It was while working in TIFR that some Professor from abroad addressed me wrongly as Prof. Super maniam (I considered lucky to have been honored by an unintentional honorary degree (?) and that too with the name adorned with a superlative term. Prof. Menon already had at that time dual assignments – one, that of Director, TIFR and the other, Chairman, Electronics Commission and Secretary, Department of Electronics, GOI. An additional responsibility was also given to him by the Government, as Secretary, Defense Research, Director General, DRDO and Scientific Advisor to the Defense Minister. All this made him think of shifting to Delhi, and relinquishing the TIFR work.

5. Working in DOE, Delhi

Next came the turn to say bye to TIFR and Bombay.  Prof. Menon wanted me in Delhi, the territory (at that time) totally unknown to me, since that would give me a chance to widen my horizon and learn more. He offered me the post of Private Secretary to Secretary to the Government of India, with six advance increments in the grade. I could also visit Delhi, see the office where I was to work, talk to people there and then decide. Several senior officers in TIFR advised me to accept the post, since the very fact that Prof. Menon himself was asking me to work with him, it would be a great opportunity which I should not miss. Keeping all thus in view I decided to work for him in Delhi.

While in DOE, I had to also assist him in his work at DRDO. Often while at DRDO he would ask his personal staff: get me ‘my office’, (meaning me) while he had four or five persons to assist him there, Including a Staff Officer.  Work was always hectic and the usual office hours for government employees did not apply to me, nor the holidays, Saturdays and Sunday’s. I could of course have my Saturday and Sundays free, if he was to be on tour. I had no one else to assist me then, except  a clerk and a peon.

The work was really tough and added to that I was also then new to governmental systems and procedures. My departure from office to home would normally be around 9.00 pm or even later, and those I stayed at a faraway place involving change of bus twice or thrice.

(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.