Father could read write and speak English as if he was a professor of English in some English-speaking country. A wonderstruck group of white tourists had given him the certificate of English proficiency like this: ‘Sir, you know and speak English better than our professors!’ So that is a kind of indication of his mastery in the field. He worked as a middle-level governmental employee in the Life Incorporation of India (LIC) and spent most of his working years at the LIC headquarters at Connaught Place in Delhi. He commuted daily by train to office. So his was a day stretched in contrasts—the day at the most cosmopolitan spot in India and the night at the most rustic village. During the weekends he simple read books. He provided the money for the upkeep and Mother carried the domestic cart on her strong peasant woman shoulders. She did the household chores, took care of the cattle in the barn and managed farming as well. Father looked a saintly man, somewhat a worldly hybrid—in looks at least—among Swami Ramakrishna, Shirdi Sainath and Maharishi Raman—and wore plain kurta-pyjama. So when one day when he was in full form giving a lecture in English to some young college students in the train on the way to office, a disbelieving farmer nudged at his neighbor and exclaimed, ‘This man is haunted by the ghost of an Englishman!’ Father heard it and from then on it became his identity in the family.
Well, I inherited his skills to a partial extent and the little group of villages in the countryside declared me to be the most suitable candidate to crack Indian Civil Service (ICS) examination, the gateway to the most powerful bureaucratic positions in the country. So naturally I found myself preparing for the corridors of power. I was the darling of the entire village’s eyes. They wanted me to become a big magistrate or commissioner to have a part in ‘power game’ so that they would have someone from the village to protect them when there were traffic challans, family feuds, drunken fights, bloody skirmishes over lands, etc. A few drunkards in the village were sure that life would be a cakewalk for them once I became a bada sahib and they would stay at my official quarters. One particular liquor-lover, whom I had seen falling from his bicycle many times, already appointed himself as my future official driver once I became a district magistrate.
These days the Indian Civil Services exam has been pared to test majorly the attitudional smartness of the candidates. But during our days it was a behemoth of syllabus literally covering everything on earth. The exam went through the year across various stages requiring one to be buried in tomes of books. There were so many books as would fill up a decent-sized room to the ceilings across its full dimensions. So that was a tapasya. It was just studies, studies and studies. It was just like a yogi buried in tapasya in his cave. For seven long years I was in day-night studies and hardly remember anything else from my youth.
I came very near to fulfill the dreams of my father and the entire village. I had cleared two stages of written exams and the final interview remained, the all-important half hour that could undo the entire year’s labor. I had scored very high in the written test, as I would come to know later in the final marksheet. If things would have gone even averagely good, given my high written score, I might have been selected for the most coveted diplomatic corps, the group of elite officers who represent the country as ambassadors. But the higher forces! My brain went numb during that half hour. Something pushed the talk into the zone of negativity, non-confidence and arguments. I received the least possible marks in the interview to be summarily rejected. I had four chances, so for four years I futilely ran into the wall only to be recoiled into failure.
The villagers hadn’t yet lost their faith in me. The second most coveted bureaucratic posts at the provincial level (Provincial Civil Services—PCS) were still available to fight for. So my next three years were spent in this tapasya. Once you have cleared the ICS exam, clearing the PCS is very easy, so I was clearing the PCS exams pretty easily. But selection to the PCS involved lots of tests, not strictly falling in the zone of examination and personality test. One had to, at least till then, clear the written exam with very high score and for facilitation in the minutes-long personality test one had to either own a few sackfuls of currency as well as political recommendation from the highest political elements. I had none. So as it would happen, I would score very high marks in the written part but would be shown the way out in the interview, which used to be a gross mockery, a mere formality for manipulation, during those times.
That is when the element of faith entered in my life. I had realized that certain forces, bigger than any of my effort and academic capabilities, were stonewalling my efforts. And only faith in powerful deities can break those walls. There was this very famous astrologer who boasted about a certain mantra sadhna. He proclaimed that if done by serious students he/she can easily enter the astrological chart of raja yoga, that’s a sharer in ‘power’ in the most coveted positions. It involved 125 thousand chantings of a mantra after taking the sankalp of that goal to be achieved. The mantra I would keep secret for its sanctity. It was in worship of Ma Tulsi, holy basil, the sacred plant, a representative of Ma Lakshmi. The ritual involved getting Ma Tusli and Saligram (a phallic representative of Lord Vishnu) married with a mauli thread tied for their sacred union and chanting the mantra 125 thousand times with a Tulsi mala in hand. Now please read carefully about my sankalp, my purported blessing from the sacred plant in lieu of my mantra sadhna. ‘Hey Ma please get me selected to the HCS,’ I sought the blessing in this literary presentation. It meant, O Mother Tulsi please get me selected to the HCS. Here HCS stands for the Haryana Civil Services. They become additional commissioners and sub-divisional magistrates, a step down from the all-powerful ICS.
My mantra sadhna started. It was rainy season. I had set-up the divine union between Ma Tusli and Holy Saligram in our garden and would daily chant the mantra, just lips moving and the mantra vibrating across my being, holding the Tulsi mala in hand, eyes closed, a butter lamp and incense burning in front of the deities, rolling my fingers over Tulsi beads. I would daily perform the mantra sadhna for three-four hours for about a month to complete the count of 125 thousand mantra japs. In between I got one of the worst malaria bouts of my life because there were mosquitos, it being the rainy season. My condition was really bad but I kept the schedule and chanted while lying flat in front of the little instrument of my faith for those two days when my weakness didn’t allow me to sit. But thankfully I was successful in completing the task. The mantra sadhna was complete.
The next attempt brought miracles. I was selected. Finally. So much for Mother’s blessings. To be selected for a post for which, even then, people would offer 50 lakh rupees in corruption money, for which a recommendation nothing short of a state’s Chief Minister’s direct recommendation would do the trick, me, a simple guy without that much money and that big political recommendation, was a miracle. Somehow things had taken a course as to facilitate me through the hitherto unsurpassable hurdles. The group of villages went into celebration. They would finally have a magistrate to shift little battles in their favor. I would always give extra affection to those whom others spurned, so the much-maligned liquor-lovers declared that now their woes are over, they would live with their dear magistrate.
I had asked to be blessed with an ‘HCS selection’ and with the punya of my mantra sadhna I had got ‘selected’. However, a massive ‘but’ remained. Destiny still chuckled with glee and anticipation over the futile efforts of its puppet.
Now I share the most important part in the game of mantra sadhna. You must have read stories about demons doing hard tapasya, doing rigorous sadhnas for a blessing by the devtas. The devtas would finally appear and ask them for a blessing. Now a little-brained, with loads of muscles though, a rakshasha would blurt like a child and ask for the boon, foolishly wording it in a way that it left a big loophole for their own undoing even with the Godly blessing. I had done the same. I had demanded to be ‘selected to the HCS’ and Ma Tusli blessed me with a ‘selection’ in lieu of my mantra sadhna. I thought that was all that was required to change one’s destiny. But there was more to it. There is a big difference between getting ‘selected for the HCS’ and ‘becoming a HCS’. Then the unthinkable happened. It happened for the first time in independent Indian history that a duly selected PCS officers batch was denied appointment. Mother’s boon ended at getting me ‘selected’. In my folly I hadn’t insisted on ‘becoming an HCS officer’. I thought both are same because till then getting ‘selected’ was synonymous with ‘becoming’. So sometimes Gods would take help of linguistic loopholes to still have their say despite all of your efforts.
The batch got into political controversies between rival chief ministerial candidates fighting an internecine battle for power. And it was messed up. The case is still gasping with feeble breaths in the courtrooms even after 18 years. During this time I have seen the grossest of misuse of power by judges and powerful politicians. There were sometimes very shiny days in between when all were assured that finally justice would be done but it would soon get undone by a sudden squall of unexplained events that would again cast gloomy shadow on the case. I can report all those mysterious, sudden events but it would take several pages. Anyway, of that sometimes later. I’m still involved in the litigation, not for power or pelf. What do they matter now? But it’s just out of habit maybe, or possible an inclination to stick to the concept of justice. It just draws me sometimes to keep the case alive.
I don’t blame corrupt judges and powerful politicians for the episode. They are mere puppets in the bigger game unfolding around. If at all there are some lacunae, they are there in the wording of my seeking blessing in lieu of my mantra sadhna. Like a cute little demon, seeking boons and blessing in return for tapasya, I left a linguistic loophole which allowed destiny to fulfill my wishes as well as guard its own mysterious plan.
And I don’t have any complaints against Ma Tusli either. She knows better what is good for the child. Recently during the rainy season, I slipped horribly and landed like a log on the stone floor. I landed near a pot bearing holy Mother Tulsi. The fall was so hard as to leave me numb for many minutes. There was absolutely no pain or injury. Like a grounded child, rattled out of my senses, I looked at Ma Tusli. One of her branches was broken. Didn’t she receive me in her embrace like a kind mother and taking a looming fracture on her own? I haven’t removed that dry broken branch till now. It reminds me of what she has done for me. Then it becomes so easy to forget and walk over what wasn’t done.