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The Northeast diary

  • Hillside History: C. Balagopal. Photo: V. Ganesan
    The Hindu
    Hillside History: C. Balagopal. Photo: V. Ganesan
  • Hill side story: C. Balagopal Photo: V. Ganesan
    The Hindu
    Hill side story: C. Balagopal Photo: V. Ganesan
  • On A Clear Day You can See India (Harper Collins)
    On A Clear Day You can See India (Harper Collins)

Former IAS officer C. Balagopal describes the Manipur of the late 1970s in his first book On A Clear Day You can See India

A 24-year-old IAS recruit landed in Manipur on a wet, cold day in 1977. Having spent all his life in South India, he was not prepared for what he was to encounter in the land of the hills he was posted in. “Everything was different,” recalls C. Balagopal. “The people looked different; the language was different; the customs were different…it was as though I had landed in Vietnam or Cambodia,” he smiles. It was here, where he was “overcome by a sense of strangeness” that he was to spend the next three years. Over 30 years later, Bala wrote of the Northeast he experienced as a Sub Divisional Officer in On A Clear Day You can See India (Harper Collins). “The book is a collection of 20 anecdotes,” explains Bala, who was in the city recently.
Soon after he joined work, his fellow officers called on Bala one morning, as is the convention in civil services. In a chapter titled ‘The Courtesy Call’, he writes how a man approached him, shook hands and said ‘I’m Peter, SDO, Ukhrul’. “I was confused,” says Bala.“For I was the SDO. Was he pulling my leg? The head clerk, who walked in with a file, wished him. The man then told me that he was with the underground!” Bala has recorded anecdotes such as these in his book. “The book has a semi-fictional tone,” he explains. “I’ve described the Northeast that I observed as a young IAS officer,” he says, adding that it’s not his solution to the problems in the region.
However, during his stint in Manipur, Bala got the opportunity to understand the reason behind insurgencies and related issues. “The Northeast is backward in terms of high-tech industries; there are no prospects for the young, which makes it a feeding ground for insurgencies,” he feels. When asked for a solution to the issue during one of his book readings, Bala says his answer was that the armed forces should be “unilaterally withdrawn”. “Nothing bad will happen,” he adds. The identity of the “warm and beautiful” people of the region, he says, has long been handled insensitively. To them, India is a faraway land whose “good side” they hardly get to see. A young man asked Bala at another book reading: what was he going to do about it? That’s when Bala decided to put his skills and experiences as an entrepreneur to use for the people who inspired his first book.
He launched an incubation centre at Imphal this month, which will help start-ups market their ideas.

Bala’s idea is to identify talent and help fund their ventures and also find them a mentor.
This will in turn help youngsters find jobs and will benefit the people. For instance, a youngster has come up with a proposal to start a bicycle courier service in Imphal. This will be a boon to people in the city famous for traffic jams, feels Bala. He is currently working on his second book, based on his experiences as an IAS officer in Kerala. He is also set to write a book on public services.