The history of modern India is almost always told through the careers of well-known political leaders. But the Indian nation, especially in the first decades after Independence, was shaped as much by a few hundred remarkable, largely invisible civil servants—part of the ‘steel frame of India’. This fascinating book is the memoir of one such extraordinary administrator.
Y.N. Varma rose from modest beginnings in a village in the Faizabad/Ayodhya district to become one of India’s most senior bureaucrats. He joined the Provincial Civil Service in 1936 and worked in the districts with some extraordinary—sometimes extraordinarily eccentric—British Collectors. During the Quit India movement, he struck a difficult balance between nationalistic sentiment and the duties of governance. He witnessed the tragedy of Partition and worked for the rehabilitation of refugees. Immediately after Independence, as Home Secretary of Delhi, he was instrumental in setting up the state’s administration, and supervised the building of the Tis Hazari courts and Tihar Jail. In the mid 1950s, he managed the Indian Airlines Corporation, and in the ’60s, he was Director General of All Indi Radio and also worked closely with the then Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Indira Gandhi.
Drawing upon these rich experiences of over thirty-five years, Y.N. Varma gives us a rare and revealing glimpse into governance in both British and free India with insight, honesty and rare humanity. In the process, he also gives us memorable anecdotes about luminaries like Nehru, Rajaji, Sardar Baldev Singh, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Indira Gandhi, Nandini Satpathy and Josh Malihabadi. Clear-eyed, insightful and always engaging, this a record of a remarkable life, and also a valuable historical document.