The Puranikoti Diaries: East Of Mashobra

Many years ago, when the bad moon of superannuation was beginning to edge worryingly above the horizon, I decided to improve my chances of reemployment by obtaining a diploma in Marketing Management. I poured the midnight rum for many months and got my diploma from IGNOU. Unlike the 14 day Yale diploma of Mrs. Smriti Irani which made her a union Minister, however, the IGNOU one didn’t work for me. Not that there was anything intrinsically wrong with the diploma itself; the fault, dear reader, lay in my stars. As a friend in the private sector confided in me: the effect of degrees on IAS chappies is not to be trusted- without a diploma they are only half-wits, with one they are complete nitwits.

But the late night swatting did impart an important lesson to me in the form of a basic management principle which Rahul Gandhi appears to have mastered, viz. do not let your area of concern exceed your area of influence. In other words, don’t waste your time on things you cannot change. Or, as my late lamented Golden Retriever would have put it in his lingua franca – if you can’t hump it or eat it, then just piss on it and walk on. Eminently sensible words, which I have decided to follow. I have written reams on our deteriorating politics, economics, justice system, environment, but the only effect it seems to have had is that I get pissed on more often than a fire hydrant outside an all night bar . And so, as the Raven said: No More. I shall write now about more salubrious subjects, beginning with my village, Puranikoti, a safe 12 kms away from Shimla.

The state PWD has put up a board in the village saying- PURANIKOTI. JAN SANKHYA: 190 . The problem is, I have been counting the folks here for the last 15 years and never get beyond 49, or at the most 50 if you agree with Neerja that I have a split personality. There can be only one of two explanations for the PWD’s figure: either this is their normal practice of inflating all estimates and figures by three times, or we are missing the significance of the word JAN SANKHYA. Perhaps this word is imbued with a historical perspective and the PWD is referring here to all past residents of the village too and is counting also their long departed souls. Which, naturally, has me worried: are they counting me among the living or the dead, or among the living dead (which is the state of most retired IAS officers once their commuted pensions are restored after fifteen years of retirement )?

Photo of Puranikoti in 2002. Author’s house is in the center. Image by Sidharth Shukla.

 

Puranikoti today (Oct 2020). Photo by Sidharth Shukla

 

When I bought my land in Puranikoti in 2002 it was a verdant, gently sloping ridge of green fields, ghasnis and thick forests. There were only two old, traditional village houses there. No more (the Raven again, unfortunately). Today the village resembles an aspiring West End or Sainik Farms. The plots of cauliflower and peas have all gone, as have the open grasslands. Fortunately, most of the trees remain (I myself have added about 100 to compensate for Neerja’s carbon footprint, which resembles that of Godzilla’s when she is let loose in Delhi with her mother and sister). Puranikoti now has three hotels, four home stays and 32 private buildings, of which 17 have been lying unsold for the last five years: their builders obviously did not factor in either Mr. Modi or the pandemic. And since both are here to stay for the foreseeable future the pigeons have moved in to these houses, assured of a tenure till 2024 at least which is more than what Mr. Skittish Kumar of Bihar is likely to get.

Fortunately, the money-bags of Delhi and Punjab have not yet discovered Puranikoti (which is why I have cunningly not given its location!). But I do have impressive neighbours; there are four Additional Chief Secretaries (two retired and two still yoked to the wheel), a well known member of the Rajya Sabha, one retired ex- Ambassador and novelist, one ex- Advocate General, one corporate honcho with Bollywood connections, one international level Iron Man athlete, a top Punjab politico whom Kejriwal is very fond of during election times. There are no defense guys here yet, but they are not far away: they are camped at Mashobra, just four kms away, in full brigade strength and spend all their time looking for lost golf balls and single women. Since there are no golf balls in Puranikoti, only tennis elbows, and since most of the single women here are all approaching triple digits in age, the veterans have stayed away. But all that may change if Kangana Ranaut , the iconic ” beti ” of Himachal, decides to shift here from her demolished Pali Hill house. She has not so decided yet but one cannot find fault with the poet who said that hope springs eternal in the human breast. Even if it’s one that measures only 36 inches and not 56 inches. And I’m not referring to Ms Ranaut here, folks.

[More about my village next week ]

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/

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