There is much to commend in Ram Varma’s chronicle of the life and times of the Lals of Haryana and the juxtaposition of his own life in the IAS therein.
The meticulous detail with which he goes about describing what is veritably the history of the state since its inception makes for an engrossing read. The general advice that civil servants receive during their early days is to maintain a daily diary throughout the long years ahead. Varma has written his memoirs with such exactitude that he must have banked heavily on his diaries from years gone by.
The three Haryanvi Lals and their quaint personalities have been described vividly by Mr Varma, though with only a few exceptions to the general public impressions of them.
Thus, Bansi Lal easily comes across as the most ruthless but also most effective of them, despite his tragic last years and an eye-opening incident concerning a lifer vanishing from jail the day after the CM had tears in his eyes at the prisoner’s inability to meet his mother! Bhajan Lal has been pilloried for the most part by the author, who worked under him directly in the Agriculture Department; and, several insinuations about the wily politician’s improprieties abound in the book. Love-hate relationships like theirs are the norm in a small state like Haryana, where everyone seems to know everyone else. Thus he enjoys a swim in a canal with Bhajan Lal in the early days but goes on to be targeted by the Lal when he proves to be ‘inconvenient’. Bhajan Lal’s somersault brand of politics and his bulging suitcases also attract the attention of the author. The melodramatic manner in which the cleverest Lal shifted allegiance and supported a resurgent Indira Gandhi on her comeback trail is also well brought out.
Devi Lal, perhaps the tallest leader of the three, is presented as a genial, warm-hearted human being, with a mass base that had no match. He could also be vengeful, as Varma found out when the Emergency was promulgated and, literally, the tallest of the Lals became the CM. Devi Lal had not forgotten a couple of incidents of ‘belittling’ by the author, who had then been in a position of authority, and had allegedly not offered the respect Lal had expected.
An IAS officer will necessarily suffer ups and downs in a politically volatile state like Haryana. Varma is no exception and he highlights his own tribulations and those of his family members rather well. From Chandigarh’s green and clean environs to the dust bowls of the state’s interiors, his journey reflects the somewhat zany nature of any civil servant’s life. The fact that Varma himself experienced the extreme positions of being in the CM’s closest circle with Bansi Lal, and that of an insignificant other during Devi Lal’s tenure, makes him a worthy candidate to describe the craziness of the never-ending Haryana soap-opera.
Varma has succeeded in portraying much of Haryana’s history along with that of the three famous/infamous Lals, but one wishes that he had actually cut down a bit on detail, and spent more time delving deeper into the real meaning of the shenanigans that he witnessed and sailed through so capably over the decades. But for its forthright description of the political animus of Haryana, his book is a must read.