An Ode to my Mentor

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Indian bureaucracy thrives on sycophancy and who would be the most favourite officer depends on how flexible an officer can be to please some people. However, whenever there was a major crisis, this gentleman officer, my mentor, would be called in to manage the situation. Hemashri tells us how difficult it is for honest and credible people to work, unscathed, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

I have been on an eternal quest for mentors. Everything we need to know about life cannot be found in books. To refine my search may be the first thing is to know – who is a mentor?

A mentor is a person or a friend who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modelling positive behaviours. An effective mentor understands that his or her role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned to the needs of the mentee

I have met a variety of mentors in my life.

After qualifying for the state civil service, I had to submit two recommendations from two renowned persons. One of them was an Economist of great repute and the then Director of Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE), Dr. DD Mali. I knew him personally as he was the father of one of my very good friends, Archana. I went to his office with my father and explained the purpose of our visit. Uncle very promptly wrote the letter and gave it to us and narrated an interesting experience.

He said that the beautiful building of IIE stands on a plot of land which was actually occupied by some illegal encroachers due to which he could not officially take possession of the land. The construction was getting delayed. So he had submitted an application in the office of the deputy commissioner requesting to clear the land. He even met the then chief minister for this land as the encroachers were politically influential people. After a series of initiative finally, an instruction was issued for eviction of encroachers. The order was entrusted to an executive magistrate. So for carrying out the eviction, an executive magistrate arrived with full preparation.

Uncle said that he saw a lean and thin executive magistrate and was worried thinking how this man could handle the goons having strong political patronage. He thought something untoward might happen and he would be a helpless witness. The executive magistrate that day displayed a remarkable display of his nerve of steel and was totally in command of the situation where a dozen of unruly youth tried to resist him and their advocate threatened him of dire consequence. Starting at 8 am in the morning, the executive magistrate demolished all illegal structures by the evening.

This was followed by a high voltage political drama due to the intervention of an honourable minister. The executive magistrate skilfully managed the situation being a highly knowledgeable man when it came to citing rules and provision of law under which he carried out the orders of eviction.

Narrating the story, Uncle told me, “You are going to be an officer. Please be like that officer who cleared this land on which this structure stands today. We need officers like him. His name is Rajat Baran Mahanta”

It was a strange coincidence that in my very first posting, I met this gentleman officer as my senior colleague. He was very helpful, cordial and he was my first mentor in my service life. I learned from him how to write orders in CRPC Cases.  He suggested me books that an officer should have and must read those thoroughly. I noticed he would be always in his chamber and when there was no file he would be reading something. In my humble estimate, he is the most knowledgeable, capable officer but he was not the most favourite officer of the big boss.

In fact, I heard how this man would be ill-treated by the big boss on the slightest pretext. Indian bureaucracy thrives on sycophancy and who would be the most favourite officer depends on how flexible an officer can be to please some people.

However, whenever there was a major crisis, this gentleman officer would be called in to manage the situation. I saw it many times, personally, especially during the elections. When a central observer found out a procedural lapse, the big boss promptly called in the most competent officer for effective damage control. That was some 20 years back.

I again met him after 10 years of my first posting. That time we were officers in the same department. He was the same man, cool and composed in his chamber. I never saw him going from this chamber to that chamber to have tea or small talks. After a few years, I came to know that he joined a newly set up university as a registrar on deputation.

All throughout he was my trusted mentor and whenever I needed counselling he was always there. Sometimes when he appeared too busy, I would come back seeking another date to meet him. I saw him working very hard to set up the university, which started initially in one remote corner of a government office building. He took voluntary retirement to continue his tenure as the registrar.

I was out of touch for a few years. After maybe two to three years when I again went to his office, I was told that the university now had its own building and he had shifted to the new office. I went searching for the new building and I was surprised to see that within just two to three years the new university had established itself in a beautiful building in a scenic location. I felt happy to see my mentor sitting in his new office.

After a few months, the earlier Vice Chancellor left and a new VC took over. I came to know that due to some rivalry between the outgoing and the new VC, my mentor was suspended on some frivolous charges though the actual reason was the unfailing integrity of this strong man in a frail frame. He did protest some illegal decision which antagonised some influential people. I am still in touch with him.

He is battling for his honour and I am cent percent sure that my mentor will come out unscratched. The only thing that pains me is the prolonged struggle and the stress and strains that the family has to endure with him. I pray that God gives them the strength.

It is not easy to be a man of uncompromising integrity. Rajat Baran Mahanta is still the most trusted mentor for me. Twenty-one years down the line, I have no idea to what extent I could or I can live up to the expectation of Dr. Mali Uncle. There are very few who can imbibe the indomitable courage this man possesses. I am happy that he has been my most trusted mentor for more than two decades. Only time or those whom I serve can say if I am his worthy mentee.

Salute to an unsung hero, my trusted mentor.

©Hemashri Hazarika

Photos from the Internet

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Hemashri Hazarika is an Officer of the Assam Civil Service since 1997. Her research on Assam Civil Service brought reforms in 2015. A first-class Postgraduate in Economics from Gauhati University, she was awarded JRF/NET by UGC in 1997. Her experience as a bureaucrat has sensitised her to human sufferings. A solutionist by passion, she takes an active interest in issues related to Governance, Development, Women, Children, etc. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Painting are her hobbies.