Sanjeev Chopra superannuated from the IAS as the helmsman of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) and he is currently working on the biography of the man whose name is the masthead of this institution. He has been associated with Garhwal Post (GP) as a columnist, essayist and book reviewer from the times GP was still a weekly newspaper. Extracts of his best-selling Memoir “Ten Thousand Crores – a personal memoir of Industrialization of Uttaranchal” (the name of the state till then) were published in the GP, and the book was launched by the then Governor, Sudarshan Agarwal. His book ‘At The Crossroads: Development Discourses in India’ was released by ND Tiwari when he was the CM of the state. The compilation of his long running weekly column, Agri Matters, was launched at the Raj Bhawan of Hyderabad when ND Tiwari was the Governor of undivided AP. The then Union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, wrote the Preface for his edited volume, Vignettes of Indian Agriculture. Post-retirement, he has written ‘We the People of the States of Bharat: The making and Remaking of India’s Internal Boundaries’, which was published by Harper Collins India. This was launched last year by Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and Editor-in-Chief of The Print. Dr S Farooq is now arranging the Urdu translation of this book from the Tasmia Academy.
He is a regular columnist for the Garhwal Post, The Print, Fair Observer and The Millenium Post, and also a broadcaster at the AIR and Radio Zindagi.
Some excerpts from the interview:
You seem to have made a very smooth transition from the IAS to your second avatar as a writer and scholar. Would you like to share your journey from being an administrator to a writer?
Well, I have always been very fond of reading, writing and critiquing books, and participating in discussions around them. Even before I joined the IAS, I enjoyed reviewing books in my student days. One good incentive was that the reviewer got a free copy. And I must confess that it’s always a pleasure to see one’s own byline!
While in the IAS, I made it a point to read up everything on the district I was posted in – and also started documenting the changes in the administrative landscape. I was fortunate to get an opportunity to complete my MBA, my PhD and my LLB while in service – which again ensured the connect with books. The Fellowship years at Cornell (Hubert H Humphrey) and the World Bank (Robert S McNamara) gave me the ‘space, the time and the platforms’ to discuss my research findings. While at the Academy as a Deputy Director, I really enjoyed my perch at the ‘PK Jain Gyanlok Library’, and it was always nice to be surrounded with books.
While on deputation to Uttarakhand, I was extremely busy, but Dr RS Tolia encouraged me to keep a journal -which later morphed into a book, Ten Thousand Crores, – a personal memoir of Industrial Development in Uttarakhand. Thus began my foray into the world of writings. And then I was posted to Kolkata, again a city with lots of book stores and literature festivals. During my stint in New Delhi, I started a monthly book reading programme at CSOI called Books and Authors, where we would take up one book, mostly by a civil servant, or a commentary on governance, and have a discussion around that. And, from 2017, I had the experience of starting VoW.
The credit for having VoW in Dehradun goes entirely to Rashmi, for I was then posted in Kolkata, and nearly agreed to be the festival director of one of the more prominent (and well-funded) festivals of the City of Joy. It was she who told me that this should be done in the city where we are going to settle down after our retirement! This is how we convened the first preparatory meeting for this festival in March 2017 in which the Editor of GP, Satish Sharma, also participated. In fact, back then, we did not even have a name – this wonderful expression: Valley of Words (VoW) came from Kishore Menon, who is our Board member and heads our ‘pro bono’ design team.
Can you tell me about the quality of writing in recent years?
The quality of writing in all genres is simply superb. The themes that have been taken up – for non-fiction books are so varied – from the role of the opium trade in strengthening the economics of the Empire, to the way languages have evolved, to the story of Hindi language journalism in India. We had GN Devy’s Mahabharata: the Epic and the Nation as well as a book on the exchange of letters between the Mahatma and his son, Devdas Gandhi, the father of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the former High Commissioner of India to South Africa and the Governor of West Bengal. Likewise, with nonfiction writing in Hindi. This has covered large spans of history – the winner in this category, ‘Dinank Key Bina’ by Usha Kiran Khan, is a great chronicle that spans seven decades of our independence. The jury had a tough time in selecting the best book for, both, English and Hindi – and finally the book chosen in English was Udayan Mukerji’s ‘No Way in for English’, and ‘Sheher se Dus Kilometre’ by Neelesh Raghuvanshi in Hindi.
VoW claims to have done a lot in bridging the language diversity of our country. How do you do it?
The one genre that has really grown in recent years is that of translations from the 22 Bhashas of India into Hindi and English as well as into each other. VoW is proud to mention that, while we were the first to start acknowledging translations as a category, other prizes have emerged in recent years ~ and they are far better endowed than VoW. But I am very happy that both the JCB and the Bank of Baroda have started offering prizes for this genre.
The VoW selection in this genre for this year is really outstanding. We have the Hindi translation of ‘Bhaga Hua Ladaka’, by Amrita Bera. This is the first part of the trilogy on the life of a Chandal penned by a Namsudra refugee from East Bengal, written by Manoranjan Byapari, who learnt to read and write as an inmate of the Presidency Jail. The English translation is Hari Mohan Jha’s Maithili classic ‘Kanyadaan’, which has been translated after nearly a century by Lalit Kumar, an academic and scholar of New Delhi.
One of the taglines of VoW is that it is intergenerational. How do you achieve this?
We do it in multiple ways. Apart from running a separate vertical for writings for young adults, and one for children, we have Iti Natya and Iti Nritya – the celebration of theatre and dance, the best of which is showcased at the signature festival. We mentor our young volunteers to get actively engaged with the organisation and the conduct of the festival. They are the ones who run around, prepare the author CVs, collate all the book reviews, engage with the social media teams and prepare all the peppy posts on Insta and shots for YouTube
There is a lot of buzz around Ekam Vadati Pustakam. What is this about?
“Ekam Vadati Pustakam : Manuscripts tell their stories” is VoW’s collaborative project with the India International Centre. This is a selection of digitised South Asian manuscripts from national and international repositories, illustrating what manuscripts tell us about their authors, the process of composition and the world of their readers. This is the first time an exhibition of this scale is being organised in Dehradun, and I would like to acknowledge and thank Harry Mann of the Doon International School for having sponsored this.
How do you manage such a big festival?
The credit goes to my team members and my volunteers, as well as to our partners. Thus, we do the Iti Natya with support from Young Indians (Yi) Dehradun, the Young Adults vertical with Daly College Indore, the Children’s vertical with Him Jyoti, the Hindi vertical with Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya, Haridwar, the English and Translations stream with the Chennai International Centre. RIMC is our partner for the pan India school debate, and the Gaura Devi National Inter-University Debate is anchored in the Doon University, and last, but not the least, all of you at the Garhwal Post who give us abundant support and feedback for our sessions and programmes through the year.
I would like to thank the Board members of VoW: Vice Chancellor Rajendra Dobhal, educationists Jyoti Dhawan and Amna Mirza, Lt Gen PJS Pannu, Padma Bhushan awardee Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Padma Shri awardee Leeladhar Jagudi and our Chairperson, Rashmi Chopra. Much credit also goes to Shalini Dhanda our Adviser for Logistics, and Shalini Rao for Iti Nritya besides, of course, the Programme Director, Dr Tania Saili Bakshi, and our accounts and administration head Bikram Singh.