An excerpt from the book, Tiger Hunting Stories: Lessons on the Art of the Possible by  K. Pradeep Chandra.

Rajahmundry was on the national highway and also the railhead for both the Godavari districts. Therefore, VIP visits and their protocol arrangements were an occupational hazard for the sub-collector. Thanks to the training of good old S.P.J. Vijaya Rao in Karimnagar and the enterprise of Sheikh Madina, I was able to handle these VIP visits quite efficiently. One such visit was of the governor for a function of the Hitakarini Samaj. The governor always comes with a huge entourage and the demands of the ADC and support staff can be quite exhaustive. Being a young and mischievous officer, I sent a detailed bill of expenses to the Raj Bhavan after the governor’s visit. I soon received a reply from the secretary to the governor—a seasoned IAS officer. I got an itemized payment for the governor’s expenses—two idlis and milk for breakfast, four biscuits and tea in the evening and other miscellaneous expenses amounting to about `10. The actual expense had been around `100. My superior had got the better of me. I laughed and then heeding the wise advice of S.P.J. Vijaya Rao, left the future handling of VIP expenses to Madina. I had better things to do.

The governor always comes with a huge entourage and the demands of the ADC and support staff can be quite exhaustive. Being a young and mischievous officer, I sent a detailed bill of expenses to the Raj Bhavan after the governor’s visit.

One visit of the governor put me in a difficult situation. He was a religious man, and as part his programme, had requested a visit to a local godman, who had set up an ashram in Dowleswaram, with some encroachment on government land. I was also not a believer in swamis and godmen. So there was some tension between the revenue department and the ashram. Maybe this was why the godman had invited the governor—to show me up. As the governor got ready to leave the guest house, I explained the situation to him and asked for his permission not to accompany him inside the ashram. The governor, a seasoned and senior politician, who went on to occupy important positions for the country, smiled benignly and patted my back. I then accompanied him till the gate of the ashram and then waited for his return in the nearby gram panchayat office. I heaved a sigh of relief as the visit went off very well. Later, thanks to the efforts of Madina, we could recover part of the encroached government land.

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More than the VIP, taking care of the PS to the minister or the ADC to the governor can stress out the local protocol officer. I distinctly remember Rajiv Gandhi’s election campaign in the district. He had two meetings in my jurisdiction and in each stop, the helicopter crew insisted on taking on board huge packets of cashew nuts, ostensibly for the VIP. Luckily, it was one of those big MI6 helicopters, otherwise a smaller chopper may not have taken off at all; being weighed down by all the free cashew nut packages the crew had picked up at each stop. The families of the crew and pilots must have enjoyed kaju for decades.

I was to be tested by another godman too, this one a very influential person with an ashram in Ananthapur district. ONGC had just started exploring in the Godavari basin and Mr Farooqui, the deputy general manager of ONGC, was located in Rajahmundry. As the sub-collector and land acquisition officer (LAO), I was acquiring land for their office complex. One day he came to my office with a worried look. He told me that he was being pressured from some important persons in the ministry, on behalf of a prominent baba of Andhra Pradesh, to acquire a particular piece of land in Rajahmundry town, completely disconnected from the main land being acquired for the complex.

I reviewed the land document and opined that the lady had willed the property to the trust for the welfare of the youth of her community and the husband was only a trustee, with no rights to alienate the land, especially when the proceeds of such alienation would not benefit the Toorpu Kapu community.

On examination of the land records, I found that the land was owned by a Toorpu Kapu (a farming community) lady who had willed this land to a trust she had created to take care of the young men of her community who came to Rajahmundry for education or in search of employment. On her death, her husband had become the trustee. He had become a devotee of the baba and wanted to give away the land to the godman. Farooqui said he was under immense pressure to pay a very high compensation under a consent award, the proceeds to be donated to the baba’s trust. I reviewed the land document and opined that the lady had willed the property to the trust for the welfare of the youth of her community and the husband was only a trustee, with no rights to alienate the land, especially when the proceeds of such alienation would not benefit the Toorpu Kapu community.

This opinion was not to the liking of the devotee bigwigs. A senior and respected police officer came to Rajahmundry and spoke to me about it. I explained the reason for my written opinion on file. Later, a legal opinion purported to be written by the then chief justice of India, a baba devotee, was produced before me but I stuck to my interpretation. Finally, D.V.L.N. Murthy officially asked for the entire file to be sent to him. I was happy to oblige, as he had the administrative authority to do so, and his decision could override mine. But no such decision was taken till he was transferred so it appeared that I had made the right interpretation. I think Farooqui left Rajahmundry on promotion, a relieved man.

Image Credit: K. Pradeep Chandra/HarperCollins India

Excerpted with permission from  Tiger Hunting Stories: Lessons on the Art of the Possible by  K. Pradeep Chandra. 

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