Book Review: A Bouquet Of Beautiful Flowers With Lingering Fragrance

‘By the Grace of God’, a collection of articles by Sidhant Das, is like a bouquet of beautiful flowers with attractive colours and a lingering fragrance. They are essentially personal narratives that sustain readers’ attention because there is invariably a basic inspiring idea constituting the foundation on which the edifice rests.

The first article ‘A Good Human Being and a Good Boy’ speaks dotingly of his maternal grandmother who taught the author basic human values of empathy, consideration and unselfish help. It is interesting to be reminded of the distinction between ‘a good boy’ and ‘a good human being’. As an adolescent, despite being acknowledged as ‘a good boy’, the author was yet to learn the lesson of being ‘a good human being’.

With a disarming honesty, he reminisces about how he had been telling lies and watching movies clandestinely, besides even forging his Test Report Card.

‘One Last Chance Please’, dealing with a personal tragedy and the struggle to cope with it, also tries to sensitise the common middle-class in India to the stigma attached to psychiatric disorders.

Likewise, ‘Not Fair, but Lovely Please’ highlights the widely-prevalent obsession in India of treating beauty as coterminous with the colour of skin. The complexes developed by his own daughter, due to her being dark-coloured, and exacerbated by the comments of well-meaning relatives and friends, are well illustrated. Fortunately in this case, she could be free from all such shackles as she got opportunities to live abroad in a free ethos where she received abundant compliments on her beautiful looks.

The author has deftly used his rich experience as a senior bureaucrat to reflect on some essentially human situations in their multifaceted complexities. The rigidities of government and even international organisations such as World Bank, that defied simple common sense, humorously termed as Artificial Intelligence and Natural Stupidity, has been focussed in practices such as limiting selection of executing agencies only to those ‘with previous experience’. Even if it meant exorbitant costs, without giving a chance to otherwise competent parties at much lower costs.

The personal experiences of the author as Faculty Member of IGNFA, and Course Director of certain batches of Indian Forest Services Officers in probation make an interesting account. Adopting a humane attitude while helping the young officers with their personal problems, the usually recommended conventional ‘professional and dispassionate’ attitude is not favoured. Referring to the Bollywood blockbuster film ‘Munna Bhai MBBS’, the caption ‘I Beg to Differ Mr Asthana’ captures immediate attention.

“’You may be George Bush, we don’t care,” reminds one of the renowned writers like R K Narayan in its focus on simple, contented people living in his home town of Cuttack. Jadu the barber in his small saloon postponing hair-cutting of the author as his earnings were sufficient for the day; Halu the bicycle repairing mechanic proud of Cuttack believed to be on the two ‘biggest bridges’ on rivers Mahanadi and Kathjodi (one of which he had not even seen); Sadia the tea stall owner’s hilarious account of Saddam Hussain being Odia contractor Sadam Sahu and being appointed as President of Iraq by Biju Babu and losing the war against the US because of his earlier practice of selecting inferior defence weapons from the lowest bidders — remind one of the life-like common characters of ‘Malgudi Days’ by Narayan.

In a rare exercise of introspection, the author states that the entire exercise of writing this book could be possible only by ‘The Grace of God’. Beautifully bringing in American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham’s analysis of the Compound Numbers, his own personality has been analysed.

With a winsome modesty, it is stated that though his school teachers thought that he had the potential to participate in debates, essay competitions, and contribute to the school magazine, he himself never showed any interest in this kind of writing. After superannuation, backed by his wife’s full confidence in his potential and ability, he attempted writing. The outcome is this beautiful book.

The entire collection makes very interesting reading with its easy, flowing style. The narrative offers deep insights and is refreshingly without any flamboyance or melodrama. I loved every bit of it!

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