Inspirational encounters

  1. Meeting the great Dr.Kalam

When Kalam Sir was the President of India, like all other Indians, I too thought “OMG! This is one great human being I would like to meet and take blessings from!” Here was a man after Gandhiji, in “Flesh & Blood” who literally and completely kept a Nation in complete awe of him! Here was an inspiration the Country was looking for after Gandhiji….

As an IAS Officer, I thought I was always doing great things in every posting and deserved to be meeting Dr.Kalam! When we created the Rural BPO FOSTeRA at Krishnagiri, there was a general talk that Dr.Kalam would come visiting this unique social innovation… Subsequently when I had just taken over a few days earlier as the MD ELCOT, Dr.Ramachandran, then Vice Chancellor of Periyar Maniammai University, Thanjavur invited me, where they had invited Dr.Kalam to launch their PURA project on 02.08.2008. This was organized in association with FOSTeRA. That was the first time I shook hands, spoke and shared a dais with the great man! It was a thrilling experience…. one that will go down in my memory was one of the most cherished occasions.

Then in May 2009, came the big announcement; that Dr.Kalam was visiting our rural BPO at Sanasandiram Village, in Hosur Panchayat Union, in Krishnagiri district. That is a day I can never ever forget…I had the opportunity to sit, have lunch with and share the dais again, and travel along with Dr.Kalam! The Colector, Dr.VK Shanmugam IAS and the Additional Collector Dr.Darez Ahmed, IAS and Mr.Purushottaman, NASCOMM Regional Head, and a huge audience of children and adults were also present. I immediately became an adolescent of 17 years! But Dr.Kalam was as inquisitive as a 10 year old!!! It is almost unbelievable that such a great human being can spark inspiration in the minds of all and sundry that he touched!!!

When I wanted to inaugurate the CeTIT (Citizen Empowerment through Information Technology) Summit, a 2 day conference at the Chennai Trade Centre in 2010, I had no doubt that Dr.Kalam should be the Chief Guest. So, I requested Dr.Kalam’s Man Friday and my dear friend Dr.Ponraj, if that was possible. Lo, and behold, I get a call! Dr.Kalam was on the other end! I told him my request, he said he will come, but when was the date? When I told him the date, he chided me for not giving him adequate notice, and explained that all those days he was travelling….I thought to myself…what a chance I am taking with the man….But his didn’t disappoint… He told me “Santhosh, since it would be impossible for me to come, I will do the next best thing…I will send the next best person I can think of to represent me…and that is Dr.Ponraj!” Look at the humility of the great man! He didn’t want to disappoint me…and Dr.Ponraj didn’t disappoint either! He gave a terrific and inspiring presentation on the initiatives of Dr.Kalam in Africa…

Then came this, out of the blue! I was travelling to a village in Kancheepuram in January 2012, as Commissioner of Horticulture & Plantation Crops, to take part in the State wide launch of the Hon’ble Chief Ministers’ programme for farmers “Uzhavar Peruvizha”. Four Ministers, and the Secretary Agriculture were to attend. During the journey to the village, I slept off…and woke up to find a large number of missed calls from the offices of the Public Secretary and Chief Secretary! I called the Public Secretary Mr.Kumar Jayant IAS, who told me that Dr.Kalam wanted to speak to me, and asked me to await his (Kalam Sir’s) call. Then I got the call and Dr.Kalam was on the other end, wanting to know how and what I did as Collector Krishnagiri through the innovation! I was thrilled…..had goose pimples for sometime….Dr.Kalam was at Delhi and had set up a team for the discussion and I was on the a mobile phone in a village at Kancheepuram….I quickly entrenched myself in a classroom in the village school, hoping that there would be a power point to charge my iPhone if the need arose. Then I explained the whole process including the creation of the Village Volunteer Force (VVF) in all 337 Village Panchayats, creation of the Panchayat Level Convergence Committee (PLCC) in all 337 Village Panchayats and subsequently took him through the software…half way through, the application failed to respond….and then I asked Kalam Sir, which browser he was using….and he said “chrome”….and when I said my application worked best on Internet Explorer, he was furious…chiding me…”what kind of application have you developed, that is not browser neutral”…and the like…. I was feebly explaining to him that at that time I was not so familiar with IT as I was then etc…I could hear him ask his team whether anybody had a laptop with Internet Explorer browser…and somebody replying in the affirmative…once this was done, then it was smooth sailing…. meanwhile the function was about to begin and a few times my Office Assistant came around to remind me that my boss was calling me to the stage and that the programme was about to begin…I had to wave him away…I had almost finished taking Dr.Kalam on a tour of the application, than the unthinkable happened!!!! My iPhone had powered off!!! and almost simultaneously I was called to the stage, where the initial welcome and other ceremonies were already on….Imagine my sorrow….Here was a situation where somebody whom you adored, admired and would do anything for, came on the telephone to you and you are not even able to express your gratitude…..

But then the next unthinkable happened…. Dr.Kalam (Obviously his team) mailed me that this is the part of the speech where your work figures…and that he would be speaking about my work at the 7th National Civil Services Day at New Delhi on 21/04/2012….and would I want any revisions to it?!!!!Incredible?!!!!! Well, as you can imagine, I was on cloud nine! And when my junior colleague from Tamil Nadu, Ms.Sigi Thomas Vaidyan IAS, called me from Delhi to tell me that Dr.Kalam had spoken about my work, and that too in the presence of the Prime Minister, my thrill knew no bounds! Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam speech titled Evolution of a brand of integrity was delivered on 7th National Civil Services Day at New Delhi on 21.04.2012. All the work put in by my team especially, the late Mr.Ganeshamoorthy of UNICEF, the Chief Education Officer, my NCLP project team, the SSA team, my VVF members, my PLCC members, my other district officers of Krishnagiri, my esteemed Village Panchayat Presidents etc who had helped me realize the goal of bringing back and retaining about 10,000 “Out of School” children had finally borne fruit…. This was a moment in all our lives…where a unique team effort was lauded by no less a person than Dr.Kalam!!!

2. Early morning rendevous with an Ex-Chief Secretary

In 2001, while staying at the Omandurar Govt Estate, there was an early morning visitor, who rang the bell at about 5.30 am! I was hardly out of bed. My wife was astounded to see the former Chief Secretary Mr.TV Antony, IAS, right in front….he bad come on a bicycle! My wife hurriedly woke me up and in 5 minutes I was ready to greet Antony Sir! You could say that I was in a semi shocked state…. a former CS, that too aged about 75 years had come to visit me!! Antony Sir told me that there was no time for niceties and said that we could go for a ride in my car! …….and he took me to all the public toilets in Chennai!…. just to illustrate his point that we do things perfunctorily and not as per the requirements in the field! Well, if could have another word for commitment to a cause, it is TV Antony Sir! Here was a senior citizen, that too a retired Chief Secretary, who envisions a Tamil Nadu, where every citizen uses a toilet and is acutely aware of the need for personal hygiene and public sanitation, something I too share about passionately…Here, I am reminded of yeoman service in the area of sanitation done by Madam Shantha Sheela Nair IAS, Ms.Amudha IAS and others…

3. Visit by CS to see my paperless office

in 2000, I and Madam Qudsia Gandhi, IAS had made the Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women LTD, into the first paperless office in Tamil Nadu. This was post a visit to Chittoor in AP, where my batchmate Venkatesham ( then Joint Collector) had created the fist paperless Collectorate in India, using a software KM-ATOM, developed by APTS ( Andhra Pradesh Technology Services). Based on my telephonic request, the then MD of APTS Mr.Suresh Chanda, IAS ( Telangana, 1985 batch) flew down a few days later, and ensured that his team stayed on to complete all formalities related to the installation of the software. I was fascinated by his deep knowledge, passion and commitment to governmental transformation! Needless to say, my passion for technology as a transformational tool, was ignited by Suresh Chanda Sir and of course Venkatesham! We were lucky that my predecessor Mr.K.Rajaraman had provided computers to everybody on his desk in the office, and all were connected in a LAN. The newspapers, the Hindu and the Indian Express had hailed the entry of “paperless government offices”! One afternoon, I received a call directly on my mobile…. ” I am Shankar here….can I come and see your paperless office?”…. I asked him could he explain who he was? He simply said, “Santhosh, Shankar, Chief Secretary here”!!!! All hell broke loose in my head! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…..I was having goose pimples all over…..and in a few minutes Shankar Sir walked into our office! Sir spent more than one hour understanding the entire process….and then spending time with M’am and me! This will forever remain a red letter day in my life….This only shows the greatness and magnanimity of a senior colleague and that too a Chief Secretary in encouraging his juniors…..his advise to all Secretaries (as told by one Officer to me) during the All Secretary’s meeting was to take a bus and visit my office! Before that only Mr.Vikram Kapur, IAS, Dr.Senthil Kumar IAS, Karthik IAS and DP Yadav IAS had visited my office.