Introducing a young IAS Officer and his adventures in Manipur

A brief review of C. Balagopal’s book on Manipur, 
“On a Clear Day You can See India”

The inimitable C Balagopal (or Bala to his friends) wrote “On a Clear Day, You Can See India” with tongue firmly in cheek. The very title suggests that while writing his book on Manipur, which was and is a part of India, many differences remained to set it apart.

Mr Balagopal in addition to his formidable skills as a raconteur is up front about his motives for the book. He says in his introduction, “This book will lead to a better understanding of the problems of the region, and from that should flow better policies.”

The book is a great way to get acquainted with the region. Bala’s puckish humour is redolent of P. G Woodhouse. 

Here is an account of a journey by Jeep: "Only those who have traveled in the rear of a Jeep with the seats facing each other will understand the marked lack of interest in small talk in that part of the vehicle. As the occupants hang on to anything that offers them a handhold to prevent them from being thrown off at every curve. The presence of a large shaggy canine in our midst did not help matters. Each sharp turn found the four occupants of the rear on the same side of the vehicle, wedged firmly together in a tangle of coats, trousers, arms, bushy tail, cold wet snout etc."

Bala also manages to frame the narrative with some useful geography and history as well. He would have us know that “Manipur covers an area of 12,000 square kilometres with a large flat valley in the centre surrounded by a series of mountain ranges.” The writer continues, “Two things about the North East stand out; the economic backwardness, and the insurgency that has spread to almost all parts of the region.”

The book affords a rare and a charmingly honest insight into the rarefied world of the IAS rookie and his (or her) daily routine). There is a helpful list of abbreviations and their meanings for those not familiar with the plethora of designations involved.

The book also has some refreshingly deft descriptions of people and their interactions. Speaking of a Deputy Commissioner or DC the writer says, “The DC, belonging to that minority of the human race who believed that humans were designed for walking long distances.” ”As usual he was accompanied by his big shaggy dog of indeterminate parentage.” 

Meanwhile, the writer describes himself self-deprecatingly, “I marched along, trying to give the impression of being a hardy mountain type for whom such a trek was a mere saunter.”

There are also many vignettes of life in Manipur, from coping with the insurgency to insights into the government machinery and how various beneficiaries are selected. 

Apparently attempts at honesty may well have resulted in a transfer just 29 days after the author’s first posting!

All in all, these insights into “The little world of the District Official” are well worth the read. The book has some great colour pictures that illustrate what life in Manipur must been like then? 

C. Balagopal as he is today

Bala does us all a great service by sharing his insights on the North East. Says Falguni Rajkumar, IAS (retired) and former Chairman of IIM,  Shillong, “A fascinating book….Balagopal sensitively shows the core social, political and developmental issues that shape the lives of people living in this remote, beautiful wonderland called Manipur.”


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