Book: Like a Bird on the Wire; Author: Chhavi Bhardwaj; Publisher: Amaryllis; Pages: 327; Price: Rs. 399
If 1983 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Upamanyu Chatterjee’s “English, August” gave readers a slick English-speaking young bureaucrat, floundering and trying to make sense of the classic city-village conflict, Chhavi Bhardwaj, a 2008 batch officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, in her book “Like a Bird on the Wire” tells us a story about two young IAS officers trying to make sense of themselves and the profession they have chosen to be in.
Bhardwaj’s two protagonists are Avinash Rathore — a go-getter, dapper, efficient, a picture-perfect manifestation of a “successful” young officer; and Nethra Kaul, Rathore’s batchmate and former lover, who despite her skill and talent, has self-doubts about her job in particular and her life in general.
The book opens with a tentative message from Kaul to Rathore after she comes across a photograph of the dapper officer winning the “PM’s Excellence Award” on the occasion of Civil Services Day, which the author, wittily describes as the equivalent of the Oscars for IAS officers.
Kaul’s congratulatory message is the first outreach between the two after they parted ways seven years before, following their dalliance at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, and sets the tone for the plot.
While Rathore is the “rockstar” officer and a “happy” family man, Kaul is unmarried, considers herself banished to bureaucratic exile in a department called the State Institute for Skill Strengthening of Youth, which incidentally also has a acronym which does not inspire confidence: SISSY. And despite the seven years which have passed, she continues to have sometimes dormant (and sometime swelling to the brim) feelings for Rathore, who is married to the homely Malavika, a non-career minded woman.
Despite the fact that things are working well for him, Rathore also has Kaul dogging his mind every now and then, a fact which is not missed by his wife, who is anxious about her husband’s past relationship with his batchmate.
Do not expect standard signature bureaucratic penmanship while reading this book. In the absence of long-winded, convoluted sentences, the craft is more on the lines of Chetan Bhagat meets District Magistrate, with a liberal spattering of Hindi and Hinglish often used to underline the drudgery of an elite civil servant while dealing with his or her underlings.
Bhardwaj’s work is not necessarily a classic primer about the goings-ons in the lives of young bureaucrats, but it does provide an intimate window to a niche world, at which the average reader would normally look in awe.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)