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J.S. Lall

By R.P. Noronha
Vikas, New Delhi, 1976, 182, 35.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 1 January-February 1977

One of the stock criticisms of the post-Independence I.C.S. is that it is totally devoid of unusual individuals. Unique­ness and occasional eccentricity, it has been said, vanished with the British. Civil servants in Independent India are uniformly dull. There are no Indian counterparts of Freddie Mills of the Naga Hills, Wyndham of Mirzapur, Ramsay of Kumaon and Cotton of Etah district in U.P. The preference ­for outlandish places, miles away from hospitals, schools and the company of their fellow men, has not distinguished the remnants of the I.C.S. after 1947, and their successors of the I.A.S. even less. It has become the fashion to run down administrators as squares without it being appreciated that their daily lives are under far closer scrutiny than they ever were in British times. A curious service tradition evolved, with much encouragement from state govern­ments, which imposed a dead uniformity on the behaviour patterns of their civil servants. In some states shikar was frowned upon and photography tabu. Administrators were expected to be absorbed in higher pursuits. For some unknown reason, never convincingly formulated, interests of this kind were thought to be incompatible with the nobler traditions of service. But unusual men will not be contai­ned by any system howsoever rigid. N.K. Rustomji has spent a lifetime on the Enchanted Frontiers of north-eastern India and his name will be remembered there at least as long as Freddie Mills. K.A.A. Raja, R. Yusuf Ali and N.D. Jayal are other distinguished frontiers­men who have successfully avoided more comfortable postings. R.P. Noronha is another example. He spent many years as district officer of Bastar and Commissioner of Jabalpur division, acquiring a reputation in the process of being one whose views on tribal matters were entitled to respect. In addition he was, as he says, mad keen on shikar. A civil servant who prides in a record of over a hundred tigers must have been pretty brazen about it. Tho­ugh he was denied his early ambition of being a photographic journalist, beca­use of his success in the I.C.S. exami­nation, he handles photographic equip­ment as skillfully as any professional. He does not disclose whether he has tried his hand at journalism, but A Tale Told by an Idiot is briskly and at times racily written. It is anything but ...

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