By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Disadvantages And Disconnections of Diversity

A rather discouraging thing about Articulations Online is that it has no chance of uniformly pleasing a universal audience, because its progress is characterized by so many sudden twists and turns.  The following facts will indicate the true reason for such a kaleidoscopic perspective :-

Recalling my reflections as an articulate layman -- writing in some of the most prestigious English-language newspapers in India for more than 50 years -- had gradually evolved as the main objective of this column, as explained in the preceding post (The Never-endingExpansion Of The Great Cyberian Ocean).

Unfortunately my contributions had never been collected in book form, which could perhaps have made a progressive impact on more and more readers, especially those belonging to younger generations.  So it seemed to be a good idea to dig the best of them out of cold storage and present them in this blog -- with suitable introductions and postscripts to make them relevant today and tomorrow in a historic sense (and also with helpful glossaries and annotations, to let the texts make sense in global terms) -- thus consolidating them into a durable, universally accessible source of reference.

But my intellectual excursions in the cultural, social and organizational realms, spanning five decades, had been extremely diverse in character, content and style.  Naturally, readers of Articulations Online who are fascinated by some of my vintage reflections tend to look for more and more recollections of the same kind, and are likely to be disappointed when they encounter something totally different -- which in turn may fascinate some other readers (who may not be pleased by texts of the first kind, of course).

After all, even bestselling novelists like Dick Francis or John Grisham must have displeased millions of their devoted readers when leaving their standard settings like race courses or courts of law and venturing into some far different scenario on rare occasions.   And who knows, at the same time they might have pleased some other readers who found those unique novels more interesting than the authors' usual works!

Twin tracks

At this stage, when I set out to review the merits and constraints of this ongoing endeavor to salvage and preserve some of my most significant articulations in a universal source of recurring reference, I must explain my concerns both as a professional civil servant and as an amateur journalist. 

I was an innovative officer of the Indian Audit & Accounts Service (IAAS) for more than 35 years in the second half of the 20th century, and also a forceful freelance journalist for 30 years till the end of that period.  Thus I had a combined track record of more than 65 years as a successful bureaucrat-commentator when I retired from civil service towards the end of the century.  On my superannuation, I worked for a couple of years as a consultant to the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India and the Press Trust of India successively, on certain unusual assignments.  

On the official front, whether as an accounts executive, internal financial controller/adviser, or external auditor -- in the Audit Department as well as other government departments or organizations on deputation -- I invariably streamlined existing working methods or introduced new ones, usually achieving impressive results (and sometimes spectacular ones, as during an intensive ten-year spell when I emerged as the leading pioneer in the field of investigative government audit in India). 

As an amateur journalist, I began by writing English essays of the classical kind in THE HINDU (then published only in Madras), but later on wrote humorous articles including satire, and turned to Indian and Western music as constant and substantial sources of material --  writing successively in the Free Press Bulletin in Bombay, Indian Express in Madras, Shankar's Weekly and Hindustan Times Evening News in New Delhi, and again THE HINDU (music in the New Delhi edition, essays on art and culture in all editions).  I had also drawn cartoons to illustrate my light-hearted weekly column in the Evening News and the HINDU essays.

There were a couple of unusual contexts in which these parallel track records proved my credentials for undertaking two unprecedented assignments.  The first one, a few years before I retired from government service, was when I was the sole candidate for the position of Member-Secretary of  a special panel in the Culture Department reviewing the performance of four prestigious national institutions concerned with music, dance, drama and literature -- a choice made personally by Mr. P.N. Haksar, a distinguished ex-diplomat and cultural philosopher, who was looking for someone who had achieved excellence as a bureaucrat, writer and artist at the same time.  

Style and status

The second occasion arose a couple of years after my superannuation, when THE HINDU appointed me as a special correspondent on a semi-professional basis, mainly for writing a forceful and unprecedented column on the audit reports of the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India.  This feature, titled India of C-A-G, explained the substance of the most significant current audit findings in a historic perspective, recalling relevant past scenarios, and analyzed important related issues.  

Mr. N. Ravi, the Editor, gave me absolute freedom of expression, and allowed me to adopt a lucid personal style and illustrate the texts with my own cartoons, which simplified even the toughest topics and made audit and accounts almost as interesting as art and culture. He also gave me a remarkably free hand to draw cartoons in a startling style in a weekly feature called Talk Exchange in the business section of the newspaper.

That assignment, which gave me a  prominent semi-professional status among leading newspapermen in India, was the summit of my progress as a journalist.  I thought it would never end, but it did after five years, for some mysterious reasons. I tried continuing the CAG saga in a monthly column called Auditscan in the online edition of the Business Today in New Delhi, but I couldn't cope for long with the tensions created by criticizing the fraudulent activities of businessmen in a business magazine.

After that I went on what amounted to a sabbatical for a few years, making an unsuccessful attempt to transform into reality my lifelong dream of writing a humorous bestselling book on management which would project some intriguingly original ideas.  But in due course I found my way back to my alma mater, THE HINDU -- once again as an amateur contributor -- and wrote a fortnightly column called Musicscan for several years, conveying many useful insights into concepts and trends relating to Indian and Western music.     

Changing tracks

Obviously, presenting even some selected articles on such diverse topics (written in several different styles, depending on the contexts and contents) in a single source of reference carried the risk of building up an amorphous mass of writing, which would have no continuity and might please some readers sometimes but none of them at all times. 

Anyway, I fished out more than a hundred vintage essays or reviews or sketches from my old records and posted them in the blog at random, just stringing together some of them now and then if they were of the same or a similar kind or flavor. In mid-2016, however,  I lined up more than 30 articles in a row with a common thread running through them, highlighting the perceptions and and preferences of ordinary lovers of Western music in India, which cried out (and still cry out today) for the serious attention of local organizers and foreign musicians visiting this alien land. 

Actually there were many more articles which would have reinforced the above theme, but this exercise in continuity and total concentration on a specific idea had to be halted at some point because it was excluding so many significant articles on different topics which were worth recirculation for the benefit of readers with other expectations.

Thus, whether there has been continuity or discontinuity in building up this body of writing, I haven't been able to fully satisfy any set of readers anywhere in the world.  And of course, the fact that I haven't been able to devote myself exclusively to this task due to other important preoccupations, resulting in wide gaps between posts, has been another source of dissatisfaction.

As I take fresh stock of things at this stage, I find that I haven't included in this collection (or recollection, if you like!) some of my best essays, and not a single one of my articles on audit or cartoons.  So let me change tracks again now, though I know I may be incurring the displeasure of even some of the readers who have taken an extremely tolerant view of the disconnections so far!

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