Only Busy Persons Can Find Time

This article is part of the author's column: By Grace of God

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After completion of my professional training at the National Forest Academy, I joined for district training at Cuttack in 1984. Harmohan Patnaik, an IAS officer of the 1974 batch, was the Collector. Besides being a very efficient officer, he was one of the best persons I have ever met.

In those days, Cuttack was a huge district in terms of population as well as area; it was later divided into four districts. There were 26 Assembly and 4 parliamentary constituencies in the district. What is more important, all these peoples’ representatives were high-profile, each one having the potential and aspiration to become a minister, if not Chief Minister. Cuttack being the vortex of the state’s politics, invariably was in a state of turmoil. I was a bit apprehensive about whether I would get the attention of the Collector during my training period. But the day I joined, Mr Patnaik told me, “You are a boy from Cuttack and I don’t have to tell you anything about the district. It is always on the boil. I will always remain busy but don’t worry, a busy person can always find time! You follow the training schedule prepared for you, for attachment in various sections, but whenever you are free just come to my room. Observing how your mentor works is the most effective way to learn. I carry my packed lunch from home; from tomorrow I will get lunch for two and we can discuss anything and everything during lunchtime. And whenever I will go on tour you can accompany me.”

He was so soft-spoken that all my inhibitions were over in a matter of minutes. I preferred to be in his chamber most of the time and watched him handling crises situations. Every day someone or the other would get into his room with seemingly impossible problems. But he never got rattled and handled everything with a smile. I never saw him losing his temper or getting agitated. Rather, he hardly spoke; he just allowed the visitor to vent out his or her steam. He hardly ever promised anything to anybody, but people would go out of his room visibly satisfied. He never told me anything, but both of us knew the training was very effective. Later, he joined the Government of India as a Joint Secretary, but unfortunately passed away due to cardiac arrest. I have a hunch he perhaps kept too much inside himself that it could have proved fatal.

Saroj Patnaik, an IFS officer, was my mentor when I joined the State. In those days the headquarters of the forest department was at Cuttack. Saroj Patnaik was the only Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) stationed at Bhubaneswar. As such he was in charge of Nanadankanan zoological park, but he was actually the link between the forest department and the state government. Therefore, he always remained very busy and attended to office work mostly in the afternoons. Whenever he would be in office, he was full of energy and ready to attend to any issue. One hardly ever saw him agitated about anything.

Sometimes he did feel bad that he was not able to give as much attention to me as he would have wished to. But he would say, “An IFS probationer is actually not required to be ‘trained’; he is supposed to learn. You learn official procedures from the ministerial staff and field-related issues from the field staff. To be a good learner you must give up your ego and inhibition. I have given you full authority to call for any record and examine any file. You have to sit with the concerned dealing assistants to learn the nitty-gritty of procedures in different branches. Of course, I am always available for you, don’t feel shy to ask for anything, however silly it might appear. In less than two years you are going to be in full charge of a division. Everyone has his or her own unique way of running an establishment and you will have your own. I suggest don’t follow anyone; you pave your own path.”

I joined as DFO, Dhenkanal, in August 1986 and continued there for three years. My tenure was almost coterminous with that of Anup Kumar Patnaik, the SP of the district. Anup Patnaik got into IFS in 1977 and was allocated the UP cadre. The same year, he was selected for IPS and got home cadre and preferred to join IPS. In Dhenkanal, the quarters of the SP and the DFO share a common boundary with a small passage connecting the two.

Both Anup Patnaik and his wife are wonderful persons and excellent hosts. My wife spent almost the whole day at their place unless Mrs Patnaik was at ours. On most evenings all of us would sit together over a cup of tea. One day during our evening tea, I told him, “My range officers are complaining that they are not getting enough cooperation from police for solving forest cases.” He immediately came up with an innovative solution, “Let us plan our tours such that we go to the same place on the same date and travel together. Our wives can also join if they feel like. After reaching there, you do your field inspections and I do mine. You will see all these problems will be sorted out automatically.” I really liked the idea and we started implementing it. It did wonders, my range officers never complained about non-cooperation by police staff after that.

During my Dhenkanal days, for one year Satish Agnihotri, an IAS officer of the 1980 batch, was Collector, Dhenkanal. He was a workaholic and believed, “There is no defined work, you have to create work for yourself, for a Collector, even 24 hours in a day is inadequate.” His wife and batchmate, Anita Agnihotri, was posted in Sundargarh during this period. He was quite happy about it, “During the tenure as Collector one should give the entire time to the district.” He was always busy, but still had time for everything. One day, over our evening ‘tea-party’, he suggested, “Let us go to different forests on bicycle or on foot on Sundays. We can discuss many issues on the way, we can have more time to discuss with forest field staff, it will be good for our health and definitely will be great fun too. Sandeep can always join us (Sandeep Tripathi was an IFS officer of the 1984 batch undergoing training at Dhenkanal).” Sandeep and I immediately agreed to his proposal. But I knew it would not have been possible for Anup Patnaik to find time for this, as he used Sundays to look into pending works of the preceding week, both official and personal. But smart and witty that he is, Anup Patnaik chuckled and said, “I have no intention of burning my hard-earned fat.” I wondered whether Satish would really find time for cycling and trekking, but he did. We experienced several interesting incidents in the process.

Such experiences often remind me the truth in Harmohan Patnaik’s observation, “Only a busy person can always find  time!”

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