Achala Moulik's latest novel takes a hard look at bureaucracy

rogues among the ruins
In no way does Moulik try to either defend or defame bureaucracy and presents both sides of the coin. Image courtesy: IANS

New Delhi, April 5: Based on her personal experience and that of her colleagues as bureaucrats, Achala Mouliks latest fiction "Rogues Among The Ruins" (Niyogi Books) has a ring of truth to it! That is what makes the book, a fast-paced, action-oriented story, believable

Much has been written about corruption in India. There have been numerous articles, novels and critiques written and several plays and films depicting it visually. Yet, it continues.

The novel's first part is a gripping fictionalised account of the working of Archaeological Survey of India highlighting the predicaments of a dedicated scholar lured with temptations while the latter part deals with the same scholar's son (Raman), a morally indifferent bureaucrat. It is through Raman's encounters with the sordid reality of men and women, who think they rule the nation, the reader realises the dramas of sycophants and hypocrites.

In no way does Moulik try to either defend or defame bureaucracy and presents both sides of the coin. If there is a Miki Sting, a self-serving Secretary on one end of the spectrum then there is Subhash Chowdhury, an upright officer, who resists blandishments of power and is unwilling to bend rules or himself for the political bosses!

Elucidating on this, Moulik says, "The he novel does not aim to preach or condemn. It attempts to narrate how some civil servants adhere to ethical conduct at a cost to themselves and others are swayed by considerations of power and success." Citing some of the bright stars of bureaucracy, she adds: "There is one of our greatest novelist, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhay, a Deputy Magistrate in the Bengal Presidency who put his prestigious career second and patriotism first when he portrayed British misrule in 18th Century Bengal in his celebrated novel 'Anandamath' which contains the poem Vande Mataram. Likewise, another outstanding administrator was Sir Thomas Munro who rose from being a seventeen-year-old clerk to Governor of the Madras Presidency; and contributed to revenue laws and procedures, and caught the deadly cholera contagion and died while supervising relief measures."

The author does well to shade Raman, the sutradhar in grey. Having been inculcated with the sense of right and wrong from childhood, he perceives it well as an officer but is caught up in the dilemma of either furthering his career and turning a blind eye or speak out to incur the wrath of bosses! "The novel attempts to portray the functioning of the bureaucracy; the intrigues, the courage, the ideals and the cynicism. These qualities do exist in some civil servants. But sometimes their authority is marginalized by political persons aided and abetted by morally neutral civil servants," she observes.

The narrative provides an up-close peek into the working of bureaucracy, especially the Archaeological Survey of India, including what they do and how; how files and documents move up and down, foreign trips arranged and the hierarchy of officialdom and their wives and what transpires in their social gathering. As an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, having served as ASI Director-General and Education Secretary to the Government of India, helped her bring out the nuances and finer aspects of civil service. Quipping her tenure in ASI, Moulik says, "As ASI D-G, I saw the monumental (pun!) achievements of archaeologists, both in British India and in the early days of Independent India. Yes, there has been a deterioration though even now there are dedicated archaeologists."

Despite all its flaws, civil services continue to be aspirational for the young generation, in fact, the number one choice of career for a majority. "The IAS offers numerous opportunities for nation-building. This does not and need not prevent professional success. Legions are the civil servants who raised the status of the bureaucracy with their conduct and achievements. The service was and is built on the contribution of such bureaucrats. They encouraged independent juniors, innovation and even dissent. Unfortunately, others have and still view the service as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Is this not true of other professions?" observes Moulik.

A prolific writer, Moulik has published books on political and cultural history, novels and the play "Pushkin's Last Poem" which was performed in Moscow and St. Petersburg. She is the recipient of the prestigious Pushkin Medal (2011) and Sergei Yesenin Prize in 2013.


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