Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An encounter with a minister

On a cold winter morning, about a year and a half back, I was catching a flight back to Calcutta from Delhi. It was a usual back-to-work flight for me after having spent a weekend at home. I was travelling by Indigo- and had booked a front row aisle seat which I felt was most comfortable for an entry and exit from the aircraft. I was early- and had to make way for a middle aged couple who took up the seats next to mine. The Gentleman in the middle and the lady to the window.

The first thing I noticed was the pile of newspapers for the day that both carried with them. Amongst themselves- they had probably a total of 9 publications and given that it was 6:30 AM in the morning- I could make out that they had something to do with public service.

The flight took off; I remained engrossed in my book, and except for the initial polite hello didn’t converse much. And perhaps wouldn’t have opened my mouth either- except for a PA announcement by the pilot on a sighting of Mount Everest through the left window which made me crane my neck to get a view- and for which the Gentleman very politely shifted. We had a clear sighting and it was an intriguing view-though we were cruising at 30000 feet and I knew from memory that Everest was 8 thousand something feet tall-it felt as if we were parallel to the mountain.

I voiced my surprise aloud and that was a conversation starter. He gave a confidant explanation of which I wasn’t convinced- but didn’t dispute. He enquired about my profession, and that led to perhaps one of the most hilarious exchange of credentials in my professional life till date.

Me(with a note of pride): “I am a consultant in PwC. What do you do?”

Him: “I am a minister in the Government of India.”

Me: “Oh”

He turned out to be Dinesh Trivedi- Minister of state for Health in Oct of 2010 and currently India’s Railway Minister. At that point of time- I did not know of him but later read reports that talked of him belonging to a rare breed of politicians in India who are sophisticated, suave, and at the same time have a connect with masses. In our subsequent discussion- I could see behaviors which would vouch for all of the above.

He was inquisitive and curious to know more. He wanted to know more about Assam and what’s happening there- what works and what does not. I talked to him about the 108 Ambulence service and how that has been a transformational initiative. He had an evolved view on corruption and how it did not matter in the long run- as long as people deliver what they promise in the end. The backdrop was the ongoing Commonwealth Games organized by his government which had gotten off to a good start inspite of massive corruption. He was curious about what the business community thought of Bengal- and humbly sought my opinions on the same. Though his party was considered anti-industry at that moment- he took pains to explain that it wasn’t so to me. In fact the suggested that I see the latest Hollywood movie of the moment- the sequel to “Wall Street”- which I remember thinking was quiet ironic.

As for his energy levels and humbleness-one incident stands out in memory. There was an elderly and obviously poor man who was on a flight for the very first time and he could not figure out how to use the lavatory door and was struggling with it. Mr Trivedi saw that and immediately jumped out of his seat, opened the door for him, and also waited outside patiently till the man finished his business and then he helped him back to his seat. I was floored- realizing that it was a minister of the Government of India doing this!

As I write this, I realize today in the 26’th of January. Mr Trivedi- I also realize our republic needs a lot more ministers like you.

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