C. Balagopal adopts an anecdotal style to write about his sojourn in Manipur in the 1970s

C. Balagopal, a former IAS officer, through writing that is evocative, humorous and sensitive, presents a personal account of his sojourn as a young administrative officer in Manipur in his debut book, On A Clear Day You Can See India.

Balagopal’s narrative style is so lucid, that it seems as though writer is having a conversation with the reader during a balmy evening over drinks, making it a page turner. “My friends told me, Bala reading the book is like hearing you speak. About half of these anecdotes are based on recollection. Interesting things happen to all of us, we are not open to seeing them. We are so weighed down by our cares and worries, we miss all this,” says Balagopal, when he was in the city, recently.

Balagopal focuses the spotlight on the many interesting people he met in Manipur, while maintaining objectivity as a narrator. “One of the things I thought of when I set out to write this book is that I wanted to present the people of Manipur. I’ve written about the office superintendent, my driver. The story is about them, if you allowed anything to intrude into this, then the attention goes away from them,” says Balagopal, who joined the IAS in 1977 and worked in Manipur and Kerala till 1983, and later became a successful entrepreneur.

“I had decided that I will actually just narrate incidents which happened and not my conclusions,” Balagopal continues, “So this is, to my mind, a truthful retelling of these anecdotes which relate to incidents that actually happened in the 1970s.”

Though written in an anecdotal style, On A Clear Day You Can See India also explores the question of identity and nationhood. “The basic point I want to make, is that there are issues of identity, there are troubling questions of nationhood, which as a very junior IAS officer I had seen. These stories can be read at one level as amusing misadventures of a young official, but underlying them is this thread that they all tie back into this question of identity.”

Even in these times, the politics of identity is rearing its head all over India, a fact that Balagopal rues. “It troubles me a lot, I still think like an IAS officer though I am a businessman. Our tolerance level is so low that we immediately explode into violence. Why is there no space for reasonable conversation, negotiations or discussions? The politics of identity means that political identity is getting more and more impoverished. People are running out of ideology and they are finally grabbing at straws. So the North-East represents in that sense, a microcosm of India.”

Balagopal says that governance can improve if the district administration were allowed to function without interference. “The district administration has a proper understanding of local realities and so are better able to deal with any exigencies.”

On A Clear Day You Can See India is a Harper Collins publication and is priced at Rs. 299. The images in the book are by Ram Sinam.