The Deputy Commissioner’s Dog

For an IAS probationer there is only one God - the Deputy Commissioner.

Those joining the IAS come from all religious faiths and creeds, excluding possibly the Mormons and born-again Adventists. But for any IAS probationer training in a district there is only one God – the Deputy Commissioner. The DC (as he is generally known) has all the attributes of divinity, is to be obeyed without question, can make no mistake, is the acme of success, represents the majesty of the state, and his every word is etched in stone. That was the prevailing general wisdom in the spring of 1976 when I was informed at Mussoorie that I had to do my district training in Mandi district in Himachal: the DC, I learnt, was one Mr. C.D.Parsheera of the 1967 batch.

Mr. Parsheera was precisely 5 feet 3 inches tall and it took me some time to spot him behind the huge table (mounted on a two foot high platform) from where generations of DCs had dispensed justice. He handed me a folder and said, with an impish gleam in his eye that was his hallmark: “Shukla, here’s your training schedule in various offices. But your real training will be at my residence, from 7.00 PM to 10.00 PM every evening. Don’t even think of missing it!”

And that’s how it was for the next six months. During the day I learnt the hardware of government – rules, procedures, processes, programmes – and in the evenings the vital software and OS, without which the former was useless. Mr. Parsheera was fond of the Hippocrene and used to boast that he could do what even Jesus could not: whereas Jesus converted water into wine, he could convert wine into water! – and he did, prodigious quantities of it. But I’m getting ahead of my tale.

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On my first visit to the DC residence that evening I was shown into an empty sitting room; I was as nervous as a patient in a dentist’s chair. I straightened my tie. combed back my hair (had plenty of it back then), polished my shoes with my hankie and sat back, as if reclining on an egg souffle. Presently, a little wire haired terrier ambled into the room with a swagger that indicated it was aware of its exalted position as the DC’s dog. It saw me, gave a magisterial bark as if asking me to identify myself. I sat still, unaware of the social status of a DC’s dog. The little horror walked over to me and started sniffing around my ankles. Suddenly, it raised one leg and piddled all over my polished shoes! I instinctively kicked out, landing a satisfying blow on its ribs: the pooch howled and made for the door – through which in walked the DC. His practiced eye took in everything in an instant.

“Shukla,” he asked in a menacing voice, “did you just kick my dog?”

“Yes, sir,” I blurted, “he piddled all over my shoes.”

“Consider yourself privileged, young man – he usually ignores all probationers. But don’t EVER kick my dog again.”

“But…but..sir,” I tried to explain, sticking one foot out,”my shoes…”

“Irrelevant!” ruled Mr. Parsheera. “Take this as your first lesson: A DC’s dog ranks above an IAS probationer at all times, and you will not raise your voice, let alone your foot, against him ever again.” So that was my first lesson in service, and a good one too, for in the IAS your batch and seniority determine the rest of your life. In fact, there’s nothing more interesting than watching two IAS officers, strangers to each other, meeting for the first time: they will circle around each other like two wolves in a wolf pack, sniffing tentatively, trying to determine each other’s batch; once that is figured out and the pecking order established, normal social behaviour is restored.

The evenings at Mr. Parsheera’a house, with the whiskey flowing like a perennial mountain stream, taught me more about government than the year I spent in the Academy. His core team, hardened Bacchanalians all of them, comprised (if I remember correctly) Mohar Singh the G.A, T.R. Sharma the SDM (Sadar), Captain Hiralal the LAO, and Dr. Pandeya the C.M.O. Listening to this merry band of Revenue Officers I was exposed to the entire gamut of survival techniques needed to progress in the bureaucracy: how to handle the ego (and more important, the personal staff) of a visiting Chief Minister or Governor, how to keep an MLA on your side without doing his work, how to extract a new car from a stingy Finance Department, how to reply to an Assembly Question without giving any worthwhile information, how to control an unruly mob when the police have all run away, how to show the same water-harvesting structure from four different angles in order to quadruple the performance statistics! Invaluable strategies that stood me in good stead and later enabled me to rise even higher than my generally acknowledged level of incompetence.

Mr. Parsheera was only about 32 years old at the time but looked like he was 22 or so, as all Lahaulas do till the day they are buried. but he was mature and seasoned far beyond his years and watching him deal with the public and politicians was a treat. He was also instinctively smart and savvy far beyond his humble beginnings in a small Lahaul village. To cite just one example: he hardly ever went to the District Club even though he was its President, though he would tipple at home every night. I once asked him about this and his reply was: “To avoid rubbing shoulders with people who have some work with me. Always remember, Shukla, its very difficult to say NO to a person with whom you’ve had a drink the previous night,”

 On one occasion he asked me to accompany him to Shimla for a meeting, just to prove to me what a waste of time Secretariat meetings were. In those simpler days DCs had no cars, just Willy’s Jeeps. Mr. Parsheera insisted on driving himself, his boyish head barely visible above the steering wheel. We drove into Shimla at full speed, the black flag of the DC fluttering imposingly from the bonnet. At the bus stand we were stopped by a police constable, an unusual occurrence for a DC’s car. The constable walked over to Mr. Parsheera’s window, looked meaningfully at the flag, patted the DC on his right cheek and said: “Beta, jab Papa gadi me nahi hote hain to jhandi utar diya karo.” (Son, when your dad is not in the car then you should remove the flag). Completely unabashed, Mr. Parsheera pointed at me, said ” Yeh mere papa hain !” (He is my Dad!) and drove on. There was nothing officious about him (as a tribal boy who had made it to the IAS there was nothing left for him to prove) and he could always see the funny side of things – another survival technique, by the way!).

Mr. Parsheera was keen that I should marry a beautiful Mandi girl. In those days Mandi was known as the Paris of north India and its girls were pretty, fashionable and educated. I was advised by the DC that I should hang out at Gandhi Chowk every evening and in no time at all my plight would be trothed with some hill beauty. Now, for those not acquainted with Mandi town, Gandhi Chowk is to Mandi what Connaught Place used to be to Delhi or Oxford Street to London – the fashionable hub for the young and trendy. Gandhi Chowk is the offline equivalent of Matrimony.com where couples suss out each other, meet, date and eventually tie the knot till debt do them part. For a probationer, “advice” from a DC is actually an Order, so I took to hanging out at Gandhi Chowk every evening, circumambulating around the statue in the middle more times than the Orbiter has gone around Mars. It was, however, to no avail: the maidens of Mandi were not only beautiful, they were also smart and obviously detected in me the fatal flaw which in later years prevented me from becoming Chief Secretary! They stayed away, and I had to go back to Kanpur to find a wife – in UP you can be a lump of Kryptonite, but if you are in the IAS, your marriage prospects are bright. For Mr. Parsheera, however, it was an abiding regret that he could not succeed in this venture.

One never forgets one’s first DC, just as one never forgets one’s first love. My DC died young. Mr. Parsheera suffered a massive heart attack while crossing the Rohtang pass in 1983 and was dead by the time they brought him to Manali. I attended his wake the next day at Manali: it was the last evening I spent with him and got thoroughly drunk. I know he would have approved.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

24 Comments

  • How right you are, Avay. One’s first love, one’s first drink, and one’s first boss … they are all difficult to forget. Not only do they leave a lasting impression upon you, but some of the qualities and character of one’s first boss not only rub off on a young officer but persist in his/her personality as well.

    You were so lucky to have CD as your first boss …. it made you the man you later became …. admired by all for your youthful spirit, straightforward behaviour and upright dealings, among other traits.

    • Among other traits is right Sir. Kabir.

      But if there’s one thing to be said about Avay’s written work (I know that sounds like a school report card but once a school teacher always a school teacher I guess) it is that he is a very very funny satirist in the true sense of the term. I know he has started thinking he can write any and everything and get away with it since there’s no one looking over his shoulders, but this beautiful piece and the classic one on the art of prostration could stand world-wide circulation.
      I would also like to mention how much I appreciate your closing comments, “…admired by all for your youthful spirit, straightforward behaviour and upright dealings, among other traits.” He deserves every bit of it. kabir.

  • While on the DC’s dog you frowned
    But on goodly advice felt duty bound;
    Don’t tell me on your evening walk,
    Round after round of Gandhi chowk,
    No Mandi damsel thought you sound

    Enough?

  • Excellent piece of writing, showing your skills, full of information , humour & advice to newcomers.

  • Thanks, Pankaj, though you’ve been overly generous in your assessment of my qualities- but then, that’s what old comrades-in-arms are for! But you are right about the importance of having a wise mentor at the beginning of one’s career: it does shape one’s value systems and provide a role model to emulate. We don’t usually succeed fully in the effort but the process of aspiring to it is itself an achievement. As Robert Browning said: ” A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

    FOR NODNAT
    To continue your little ditty, Nodnat:

    ” From Mandi I went empty-handed,
    But by luck a damsel in Kanpur I landed.
    And though I acquired a wonderful wife
    I became her probationer for life-
    Seemingly free, but to matrimonial custody remanded !”

    • Alas, that too, is common fate
      To take the plunge, tired of wait,
      No matter how it goes thereafter*
      Never to forget who is the Master,
      Tethered as we are to our destined mate!

      (*also reminds me of: “Vaakif nahin hai paanv men paD.ti hain beDi.yan / Duleh ko yeh khushi hai ke meri barat hai.”)

  • here’s something to bring you back to earth or take to flight forever….

    Tamer and Hawk
    By Thom Gunn

    I thought I was so tough,
    But gentled at your hands,
    Cannot be quick enough
    To fly for you and show
    That when I go I go
    At your commands.

    Even in flight above
    I am no longer free:
    You seeled me with your love,
    I am blind to other birds—
    The habit of your words
    Has hooded me.

    As formerly, I wheel
    I hover and I twist,
    But only want the feel,
    In my possessive thought,
    Of catcher and of caught
    Upon your wrist.

    You but half civilize,
    Taming me in this way.
    Through having only eyes
    For you I fear to lose,
    I lose to keep, and choose
    Tamer as prey.

    —————————-

  • I have checked about Anupam, Kabir. You’re right- Anupam is indeed Mr. Parsheera’s son- he was in BCS and went on to Stephens. When I knew him he was no bigger than the terrier and went by the name of Raja.

  • Sir what a beautiful piece….thoroughly enjoyed and your take on Mandi damsels ..amazing, shows your youthful spirit 🙂

  • Reading this has been a bittersweet experience. While i marvel at the kind of person my father was, I also feel a deep sense of loss at the very short time we had him in our lives.
    Thank you for sharing your story of him.

    • I completely understand your feelings, Shyamala. But rest assured he lives on in our memories, not as some cynical, boring and tired old man that most of us become in later life, but as the ever youthful, lively and perceptive Deputy Commissioner that he was. And not just in my memories- the overwhelming response to this article attests to the multitude of friends he had, and the hundreds who will always remember him fondly. No man can ask for a better legacy, but very few are fortunate to have it. God bless.

  • What a beautiful memoir sir… Hats off to your memory. As Mr. Khullar has rightly stated that one’s first love, first drink and first boss is difficult to forget.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences about my late father which otherwise I would have never known. The emptiness will always be there, but life goes and I still cherish the memories I have of my father.

    And you must thank god for not finding a girl in Mandi or else you would have missed out on a wonderful and graceful person like Neerja Aunty, whom I have interacted during our Brock Hurst days and thereafter when she taught at BCS.

    For the record, the terrier is a good 4-5 inches taller than his father.

    The Sea by John Banville:

    “We carry the dead with us only until we die too, and then it is we who are borne along for a little while, and then our bearers in their turn drop, and so on into the unimaginable generations.”

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute..

  • Hi Raja, good to hear from you. Yes, I remember your Brokhurst days and all the parked cars that you( and my sons)played havoc with ! Grow taller in stature- remember, you have big shoes to fill. Here’s a beautiful piece of poetry- an elegy- that I picked up somewhere; its by an anonymous poet:

    ” Do not stand at my grave and weep
    I am not there, I do not sleep
    I am a thousand winds that blow,
    I am the diamond glint on snow
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain
    I am the autumn rain.
    When you awake in the morning hush
    I am the swift, uplifting rush
    Of birds circling in flight,
    I am the stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and weep
    I am not there
    I do not weep.”

    He’s all around you, Raja.

  • It was nice to read the piece about Sh. CD Parsheera which was laced with wit and humour. Sh Parsheera was from a humble back ground, had his education in a small town Hindi medium school and graduated from a nondescript college. Yet, his command over English language, both written and spoken was impeccable and he could easily give a run for money to any convent educated type. Despite his modest education, he made it to IAS in his very first attempt and became an inspiration to the aspiring youth of Lahoul & Spiti distt many of whom followed suit and made it to various All India Services and Group A Central Services in the years to come. Even though short in height, Sh Parsheera more than made up for it by his towering personality. Indeed, he was much taller than the 5 feet and 3 inches that he carried. He displayed maturity, savoir faire, grace and sophistication far beyond his age and beyond his seniority in IAS. When he lived with his family in Brokhurst Cottage in Chhota Shimla, even though he was only 8 years into IAS, Sh Pandeya, the then Chief secretary and IAS officers many years senior to Sh. Parsheera including Sh. Om Yadav used to be regular visitors to his house over weekends and Sh. Parsheera used to be at perfect ease in their company. He had great qualities of head and heart and had his heart in the right place and head firmly on his shoulders. He was well versed in the art of dealing with politicians and instead of having to kowtow to their dictates as is customary with many IAS and IPS officers, he often had them eating out of his hand. He was among the finest of IAS officers that I came across during my 37 years in IPS and his untimely demise was a huge loss not only to Lahoul & Spiti distt but to HP as a whole. He was a thorough gentleman and had a large number of friends in bureaucracy, among politicians and, indeed, from all walks of life. During his visits to Manali, he always made it a point to meet up with his old friends irrespective of their social status. Even though Raja and Chinnu had him in their lives only for a few years, they can be justly proud of the fact that their Dad was a wonderful human being who, as I pointed out earlier, had many qualities of head and heart. He was also an outstanding officer of impeccable credentials who left an indelible imprint of his calibre and competence during his short service period. Even though he passed away several years ago, I will always cherish fond memories of the times that I spent with him and his loving family during my visits to their place. Since Sh. Parsheera was my uncle, I can easily be accused of indulging in hyperbole while describing his various qualities, But, I am sure, those who have known him or worked with him or had an opportunity to watch him up close, would agree that the pen picture that I have drawn of him is not wide off the mark. I wish the family all the best!

  • Bandhoo tu ne to career bana liya, apna to pata nahin; ” DC ya to UDC”

    These were precisely the words of Late C D Parsheera, while congratulating me on my getting admission in Medical college, Amritsar in the year 1966. And exactly after three years, he turned his dream into reality by becoming IAS,in his first attempt which was deemed to be unachievable in those days by breaking the prevailing myth. Also 1969 was a landmark year in history of Lahaul & Spiti when three young men got selected in All India Services, namely, CD Parsheera in IAS, Tashi Dawa in IPS and DC Thakur in Indian Forest Services. This historic event enthused the entire youth of Lahaul & Spiti who thought that they can too compete and achieve.

    And while they were undergoing foundation course in National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie when I got an invitation from CD Parsheera to visit their academy which I gladly accepted. It was an unique opportunity to enjoy the regal hospitality of the academy. Happy Valley, Stapelton Hostel and Savoy’s annexe where thay were boarding. I rubbed shoulders with multitude of probationers for a week, gormandizing the lavish cuisine, visited library and played Lawn Tennis. In the evening used to have coffee/Beer in Whispering Windows at Library point, where the probationers often uttered OLQ ,which I was unable to decode. This acronym intrigued me a lot but I could not dare to confide ignorance with Tashi and DC Thakur, both being senior in age; which I could only share with my friend and classmate CD, who told me that it stands for “Officers Like Qualities” I was familiar with only one acronym GOK which our Anatomy Professor used to say when the entire class could not give the answer and it stood for “God Only Knows” which medical fraternity could not to adopt. Hence has to toil, sweat 24X7 during the entire course and later in curative field.

    This was an unique experience and I carried only this word from Mussoorie to Amritsar. I applied the concept in letter and spirit during my 33 years service, first as Health care provider and later as a Health Administrator. So did my friend, in toto. during his brief but bright illustrious and charismatic career.

    I totally agree with Mr Avay Shukla and Mr Prem Singh both for their astute observations and convey my gratitude for remembering the legend.

    I have nothing more to add except an instance of his audacity i.e. he has the courage to address Ladies and Gentlemen as Sajjanno aur Sajaneo, while participating in college debate and walked away with Ist Prize.

    ” Bandhu, aap hamari yadon mein hameshaa raheinge”

  • A wonderful portrait of your first boss laced with humour and a remarkably accurate insight into the ways of working in district administration.Some of the advice CD Parsherra doled out and so accurately penned by you seemed liked a mirror held on your hands for anyone working in the administration through the country. Thanks so much Sir.

  • A wonderful portrait of your first boss. A remarkablly accurate account of working in district administration laced with humour and genuine insight. Hope there are more such gems as this one from where they come from. Loved it Sir.

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