There was palpable excitement in the air. My spouse was posted at the BHEL Bhopal Unit of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and message had come that Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya who was IG (Inspector General) South West Sector, headquartered at Mumbai at the time was coming to Bhopal on an official visit. She was on deputation to CISF at that point. I still remember the month and year, it was November 2000. I was excited and looked forward to meeting the real life inspiration behind the serial Udaan which aired on Doordarshan between 1989 and 1991.

When I read about her passing away on August 26, 2019, the memories of her visit came rushing in.

She was an inspiration for thousands of girls who were looking to break the glass ceiling like her. She was after all India’s first woman Director General of Police, and the second woman IPS officer after Kiran Bedi. My father being from the police forces I had lived amidst khaki personal all my life and went on to marry a police personal as well, but this was the first time I was going to meet a personality like Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya.

Serial that empowered

There has never been a more inspirational serial like Udaan. At a time when we were being fed with mythological serials with unreal characters, Udaan was like a breath of fresh air. Here was a girl, so real, so next-door who dreamt big, wanting to break the cage and soar and we wanted to be with her in her journey, see her fail and try again and finally succeed. Kavita Chaudhary, actor and model, who was popularly known as ‘Lalitaji’ from an ad for a detergent powder was her sister and played Kalyani Singh the reel life character portraying Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya. Kavita was the director of the serial as well.

The serial was my first introduction to women empowerment and a lesson in feminism. The story shows how she battles gender discrimination and various problems before successfully becoming a police officer.

The serial was my first introduction to women empowerment and a lesson in feminism. The story shows how she battles gender discrimination and various problems before successfully becoming a police officer. For viewers like me it was so refreshing to see a woman IPS officer that was not only humble, but also wanted to perform her work in letter and spirit by going to the public and placing the public’s needs ahead of everything else, in the true spirit of a public servant. Kavita portrayed her role of as a friend and guardian of the public who the public should want to go to for help, not a policewoman that everyone should fear. In fact in several episodes of this serial, Kalyani Singh IPS rebukes her constables and other police officers for speaking with the public in a rude manner. Wouldn’t it be nice if the police personnel of today took a leaf out of the serial on public behaviour?  And to elaborate on the impact of the serial further, if I remember clearly there were several suggestions by the public and the media that all police officers including IPS officers could benefit from viewing this serial and learning from it.

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Shekhar Kapur is an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer and plays the love interest of Kalyani in the serial. Her ideals are so high that even as he tries to impress and marry her, she first evaluates his ideals to see if they are compatible with her own, before making a decision. That speaks volumes about her character. What I loved about Shekhar Kapur’s character was that in a patriarchal society like ours, he treated her as an equal and set a benchmark for young women as to how a partner should be. I still remember the scene when he proposed to her in a jeep. That was so endearing.

I would like to add here, that it’s a sad state of affairs today as far as TV serials go. One wonders if we are progressing or regressing watching them.  Thank God, when I was building my foundation looking for meaning in life I had serials like Udaan to motivate me.

All I can say and remember about the serial is that I wanted to soar high too if not as an IPS officer like her but atleast do something meaningful and worthwhile in life.

All I can say and remember about the serial is that I wanted to soar high too if not as an IPS officer like her but atleast do something meaningful and worthwhile in life.

The much awaited visit

We get confirmation that she is finally coming, and then just one day before her arrival we get a message that she wants to check-out the antique silver jewellery from the Chowk bazaar of Bhopal, of which she had heard so much about. I discovered a new facet of a Police Officer who was also a woman – her love for silver jewellery. Everyone was in a scurry. So, it was left to me, who was from Bhopal, to find the exact location and place where we could take her. I remember rushing to the bazaar and speaking with jewellers and shopkeepers if they had antique jewellery. I was happy that they did and Kanchan Ma’am will not be disappointed.

She finally arrives, goes about completing her official duties first. Bhopal Airport was newly inducted into CISF and it was just in the aftermath of Kandahar Case and so she had come to inspect the airport security preparedness as well as visit the BHEL Unit. In the evening when she was finally free we headed out to the bazaar. On the way she tells me “Kavita would never forgive me, if I didn’t bring back something for her. Like me she loves silver jewellery too.” I take her to a shop I had previously visited. The shopkeeper asks his assistant to bring in the jewellery. And what have you; he brings two sacksful of silver jewellery and literally empties the sacks in front of us. We looked at each other and at the two mounds of jewellery and then dive into them. She finally selects a few pieces.

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With this important task done we look to other aspects of the bazaar, she looked at some of the famed Bhopali batuas and chappals. Before leaving, I persuaded her to try the gol gappas at a centre of the bazaar which is very popular. A scary Police Officer? No, she did not have any airs; at that point she was like another regular woman who loves her clothes and jewellery while wielding the proverbial stick. This memory is etched so deeply in my mind.

Her life story through the serial was special because at a time when girls only aim in life was to get a good match and settle down in quite domesticity along comes a girl in Kalyani, who says dreams are achievable.

She taught me nothing was impossible

Her life story through the serial was special because at a time when girls only aim in life was to get a good match and settle down in quite domesticity along comes a girl in Kalyani, who says dreams are achievable. She gave a new direction to girls, and overnight they wanted to be like the khaki clad Kalyani. More importantly the times that this serial was aired, it was not commonplace for women to seek to join the elite government services in India such as the IAS (Indian Administrative Service), IPS (Indian Police Service) or the IFS (Indian Foreign Service). Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya life story through this serial told girls that they could dream big and achieve it too if they persevered.

Her illustrious career

If we take a look at her career she handled many sensitive cases in her 33 years of service. This includes high profile cases like the murder of seven times national badminton champion Syed Modi in 1987 and the Reliance-Bombay Dyeing case.

The highlights of her career are when she was selected to represent India at the Interpol meeting held in 2004 in Cancun, Mexico. She was felicitated with the President’s Medal for long and meritorious services in 1989 and President’s Medal for distinguished services in 1997. She was also awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Award in 2004 for Excellent All-Round Performance. In 2004 she made history when she was appointed as the DGP of Uttarakhand after which she retired in 2007 and joined active politics. She contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Haridwar on AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) ticket but had lost the seat.

Farewell!

Thank you for showing me both sides of an officer the one with the uniform on and one behind it. Your rich life changed one person’s perception towards life, mine!

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Smita Singh is an editor with the SheThePeople.TV team. The views expressed are her own.

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