It was winter 1977 in New Delhi. The conference hall was packed with senior officers and veterans. Some management trainees (MTs) were stiff and visibly worried about their future (performance), but I was enjoying the panoramic view of the city through the window on the eighth floor and the picturesque, stout and tall gulmohar trees. Each one of the MTs, selected from non-Hindi speaking states, had to compulsorily speak a few lines, at least for three-five minutes, in Hindi on a given topic. Hindi was Chinese to the selected MTs. For preparation and practice, some of them had jotted down a few lines with help from their cronies. A few others had noted down parts of a Hindi speech, read out by somebody, in the English alphabet. Later, they mugged up this speech to deliver at the chosen hour. Among the 15 selected trainees, I from Tamil Nadu, could not take it seriously.
Hours before commencement of the event, the MTs were rehearsing their speech, criss-crossing the conference hall. I, however, sat in a corner, reading the last chapter of Future Shock, a fictional work authored by Alwin Toffler who had predicted in the 1970s that the next world war would be fought over oil. As I did not seem to be ready, my batchmates wondered as to what was in store for me; some believed I would get adverse remarks and my training/probation period would be extended. Finally, it was reckoning time. Our trainee officer was calling the trainees one after the other to the podium and introducing them to the audience, briefly mentioning his/her bio-data. Before my turn, Mr Ramakrishnan from Tamil Nadu had delivered a wonderful speech, but with a strong Tamil accent. There was a tremendous applause when he concluded.
After thanking Mr Ramakrishnan profusely and showering him with praises, the trainee officer loudly announced my name into the mike, inviting me to come on to the stage. From an obscure side room, donning the Khadi cap and clad in an immaculate divided dhoti and slack shirt, I walked into the conference hall with a regal gait.
As I approached the stage, my training officer and others welcomed me with loud claps and peals of laughter. After briefly stating my academic credentials and previous stints in other departments and institutions and the state to which I belong, the trainee officer rang the calling bell, gesturing me to commence the speech. Keeping in view the time limit of three-five minutes, I began my speech thus, with an appropriate articulation in an ascending tone: “n-a-m-a-s-t-h-e. bahiyon aur behanon, hamara ithna bada Bharat desh may anek rajya hai; aaur har ek rajya may har ek basha hotha hai. Jammu Kashmir may Kashmiri, Delhi may Hindi, Bihar may Bihari, Bengal may Bengali, Orissa may Oriya, Maharashtra may Marathi, Andhra may Telugu, Tamil Nadu may Tamil, Kerala may Malayalam, Karnataka may Kannada ...” I went on and on. Many in the audience, including senior officers, couldn’t contain their rib-tickling laughter; some were laughing and wiping tears; my speech got drowned in the chaotic comedy.
I continued in this manner, almost mentioning all the then 26/27 states and was about to utter names of even the union territories. By this time, the trainee officer rang the bell, disrupting my speech. I concluded abruptly in a trailing, hesitant voice with a final statement: “this is my anektha may ektha, aur ektha may anektha (this is my unity in diversity).” The trainee officer came on to the stage and summed up my speech thus: “He came like a thunder and went like a drizzle.”
Later, after being posted in Bombay, I had a couple of enjoyable promotions and hospitable local deputations and an innings that lasted almost three decades. Now, I am happily superannuated.