One of my favourite times at Svanir is when guests gather around in the evening under the shady canopy of Karanja and Neem to share stories about their life and travels.
Recently one of our guests Deb (Debapriya Dasgupta) shared a humorous story about his father, Debashis. He tells us that after completing his graduation his father landed in Calcutta (Kolkata) to give the Indian Railway Service exam (now know as IRTS). As his father’s ambition in life was to travel, he was inclined to join the IRS which would allow him to travel in India on trains. If you remember in the old days’ first-class train travel was even more luxurious than planes. You had your coupe, with attached bathroom, hot meals and attendants. If you would like to explore a city you would unhinge your compartment from the main train and park. When you were satisfied with your meanderings in that city your compartment would be hooked back to another train which was headed towards your next destination.
But as luck would happen, just before the day the exam was scheduled, there was a looming threat that Japanese fighter planes might raid Calcutta. So the exam was cancelled and everyone was advised to stay indoors or leave the city. Having nowhere to bunk in Calcutta, Debashis decided to head to Vizag (Visakhapatnam) where his father was the Principal of the college. The arduous journey which included train travel, bullock cart rides, and miles of walking took several days but he finally managed to reach his father’s house. “ How did the exam go “ was the first thing that his father asked. When he explained the situation his father was not at all sympathetic. Our protagonist announced that he wasn’t giving any other examinations and would become a teacher in his father’s college. His father insisted “at least give the exam”. To the serious question of what was more important his son or a stupid exam, his father said “ Don’t worry you will not die. Go and give the exam”.
After a month when the announcement came that the exam has been rescheduled, Debashis was so bored that he decided to give the exam a shot. If nothing else it would make his father happy. He went back and gave the exam. As the story goes he cleared the exam and was called for the interview. At the interview, a panel of bored-looking gentlemen asked a few preliminary questions before telling him he wasn’t eligible for IRTS. They pointed to his thick spectacle and told him his eyesight was bad. Debashis argued that nowhere was it written that perfect vision was a compulsory requirement. They shrugged their shoulders and Ghosh babu, the head interviewer said nothing could be done.
Debashis asked them was there any other way to enter. Mr Ghosh replied jokingly “ Why don’t you sit for the IAS ( Indian Administrative Service) exam. Then you can choose any service “. By now Debashis had decided it was IRTS or nothing.
So his father studied for another year and appeared for the IAS exam. He cleared that as well. When asked cadre what he wanted during the IAS interview he promptly replied he wanted to join the IRTS service and not the IAS. The panel members were perplexed and told him he was overqualified for that post and his merit allowed him a much higher service. ( I believe you have to clear 9 papers for IAS and IRS around 4-5 papers). But he wouldn’t budge and they finally gave him the order papers to head to the Calcutta office. Within a week he arrived back in Calcutta and as luck would have it Mr Ghosh was present conducting interviews. In between interviews Debashis walks in and says “I’m back”. Mr Ghosh exasperatedly says to him “ I told you, you can’t join”. “ I’ve cleared the IAS, “ said Debasis with a smile. Ghosh babu almost fell off his chair. As he read the papers handed over to him, he rose from his chair and said “ Welcome to Indian Railways Eastern Division sir ! The rest is history as they say…