Jainand Gurjar reviews Journeying With India- Memoirs Of A Civil Servant by Y. N. Varma (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2023)
Journeying With India is a memoir that Y. N. Varma started writing in the mid-1970s, a few years after he retired from the services. He completed the first draft in 1981 and for some reason, it never got published, till his descendants decided to get it published, which resulted in this book.
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About Y. N. Varma
Y. N. Varma came from a village in Ayodhya district and became one of India’s most senior bureaucrats. He worked under various ministries and with various popular politicians and personalities- Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Baldev Singh, Indira Gandhi, Josh Mahilabadi, Nandini Satpathy, and others to name a few.
Having served in both, the Provincial Civil Service in the British Era and to Indian Administrative Service in Independent India, the author shared the firsthand experience of not only witnessing the Quit India Movement, Gandhiji’s and Congress’s impact on the grassroots level, partition, and rehabilitation, the developing capital city-Delhi, the changing scenario in All India Radio but in the administrative aspects of it as well.
The Narrative and Storytelling
Y. N. Varma talked about his experience in the British Administration in detail and how they were fair and just in their administrative outlook, until and unless His Majesty’s Government was threatened it was targeted. And also how as a bureaucrat, it was important for him to do justice to the people of the country and at the same time be true to his position, and how he worked to achieve that balance and the maximum welfare of the people, by showing us the various examples during his service.
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While talking about the Quit India Movement, Y. N. Varma commented that the combined effect of the efforts of the people of our nation impacted the British. But at the same time, he mentioned, “I dare say, on the basis of what I saw and felt at that time, that the Quit India Movement lay soon in shambles, and the British, if they so wished, could have continued to rule without much trouble. It was their weak economic and political position after the Second World War that forced them to grant Independence.”
Y. N. Varma also shows the personality of Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi that we don’t see much in the mainstream media through his experience while working with them on various occasions, especially with Mrs. Gandhi. While talking about Pandit Nehru, he recalls an instance when he visited Jerusalem for a conference, while buying something there, the lady at the shop reduced the price for him because he comes from the land of Nehru. He remembers that Mrs. Gandhi retained a girlish, playful temperament even when serious affairs faced her before she became the Prime Minister and responsibilities weighed her down.
He also briefly mentions Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Nandini Sengupta, especially the latter and her way of working, and how it changed with time.
Mr. Varma was a keen observer and had a long vision and efficiency in it. When he wrote in the book about the situation of Indian democracy, we got to see it. He said, “In these times of speed and lawlessness and industrially underdeveloped conditions, and the confusions generated by overpopulation and poverty, it appears to many that only a dictatorship can act and deliver. I see the age of dictatorship arriving at our doorstep gradually but surely. In fact, with Mrs Gandhi at the helm, it is almost here, wearing the false apparel and trappings of democracy.” And we all know what followed up after that.
Overall, this book provides an administrative perspective on the history of events that led to partition and days after that. And if you are looking forward to reading a book in this genre, this is a perfect read for you.
“We Indians boast about Gandhiji, Subhash Chandra Bose, Pandit Nehru, and those others who suffered at the gallows with a smile on their faces during the national movement. Today when the old guard is no more, politicians of all colours are vying with each other across the country in perfidy, brigandage, sectarianism and plumbing the depths of human degradation.”Journeying with India by Y. N. Varma
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