At a Leadership Conclave

That versatile genius, my late mother, Dr Louella Lobo Prabhu, would comment in mock despair that she had to work extra hard to match the three letters after my name. I thought she was being facetious, though she spoke with wry experience of the fabled ICS suffix to J.M.Lobo Prabhu’s name. But this conclave underscores to me that a career in government is far more enduring and significant than imagined. It’s six years since I bid adieu to the bureaucracy, the three letters IRS are prefixed with an ex, but are still the apparent raison detre for my inclusion here as a Next Generation leader.

A few years ago, I was addressing a meeting of Rotarians. In the question and answer session, I was asked why of all the things in the world I chose to be a government servant, the implication being that I had deviated from the norm of all that is worthy and valued. Indeed when I qualified in 1990, I was greeted by bewilderment locally- the UPSC exam was mistaken for some exotic educational qualification rather than as a mode of recruitment to the higher echelons of government.  In point of fact, I wasn’t into anything particularly new- a few decades later I was somewhere emulating my father JM Lobo Prabhu who was in the far loftier ranks of the ICS. It  was sufficiently worthy and valued in terms of the peer group at Jawaharlal Nehru University where I was a student, and the predominant aspirations of North India. But from the viewpoint of Mangalore, a career choice in government is offbeat from the regionally prized professions of medicine and engineering.

The mere feat of entering the civil service is an intellectual challenge that should engage more of our brilliant students. It increasingly attracts even highly qualified professionals away from well placed jobs for its aura of matchless power and prestige. The ranks of the civil service are a fairly level playing field  open to all disciplines. In the recent past, I inaugurated the State level Arts festival at St Agnes College. What really drew applause and encouraged the students was that as a humanities student, I was still able to rank higher than many of those at the top of the youthful totem pole, the IIT engineers and IIM managers, the doctors and chartered accountants.

The civil service has a more enduring import to me- the very basis of my name Giselle D. Mehta and the felicity of my family life. A woman entering a prestigious workplace gets more than a job; she also has a chance to find a spouse on terms of mental equality, to venture beyond the usual homogenous parameters of creed and community . Dharmendra  Mehta and I vibed well in the funfilled academies of our probation to make a match of it. No one will deny that national integration and communal harmony are the crying needs of our fractured society. We have offered perhaps a subtle lead in civic practice, in a composite approach to faith and culture in the conduct of family life, the very melting pot in miniature.

Indeed I have very warm memories of being in government. It’s incredible to recall that both my husband and I enjoyed wonderful adventures on the job, had an opportunity to wield authority far in excess of our youthful years, while growing all the time in wisdom and maturity , which ironically prompted us to move on.  J.M. Lobo Prabhu left the bureaucracy for political life to make a point with a certain Chief Minister, protesting the erosion of rule of law and personalized politics of post- Independent India. For Mr and Mrs Mehta, an  unusual constellation of obligations and opportunities suggested  the  autonomous stimulus of new things. Both of us had achieved sufficient selfhood in the bureaucracy.  The millennium seemed a time for venturesome exploration, to stay in step not with the steady rungs of a hierarchical ladder, but the fast paced change of the world’s markets. And reservoirs of self-confidence from the bureaucratic life flowed into creative entrepreneurship.

As an officer, one is doing good work, but more or less in line with predecessors and successors,  because the system is programmed for continuity. As an entrepreneur, one can see the direct and indirect impact of one’s initiatives in employment and income creation, not only for oneself but innumerable others. In January 2005, we bought an expensive painting at Mangalore Today’s fundraiser for tsunami victims. It was possible to subscribe to the twice worthy causes of art and the afflicted, because as entrepreneurs with autonomy to determine the frontiers of  financial growth  it is easier  for heartstrings and   purse strings to open in the same direction. We have nevertheless utilized our expertise for the benefit of the community with inputs to various organizations of trade and industry. It is thus that I involved myself in confabulations for  the Special Economic Zone  Interestingly, I attended meetings for planning the Mangalore International Airport as an officer right from 1997, and continued to do so till the end from the concerned Chamber of Commerce  Committee.

The theme of this conclave suggests the reference point lies in the past. I’ve been true to tradition in both my entry and exit of a career in government. My father’s brainchild, Lobo Prabhu Court, the first high rise  apartment building was an amusing novelty of its time, but bore an administrator’s foresight that a place whose viable land is limited by hills and sea  under pressures of population and development can only grow vertically. Owning prime land steered us similarly into construction as one of our activities, for rational use and value addition of a scarce resource whose utility could be more generally enjoyed. Our own challenge was entering amidst the pessimism of recession with an insightful prediction of a change in the market cycle. In fact, it was in the pages of  Mangalore Today that DB Mehta first shared his riveting theories of market cycles  which have been substantially vindicated by what followed.  We have also  introduced a new benchmark of aesthetics and quality , bearing in mind that dear little Mangalore is on its way to becoming a global economic destination. It’s a moment of satisfaction that our offerings have a high end national and international clientele and  subtly blaze a trail for the commercial skyline of Mangalore.

Those of us who stayed back in the hometown or returned for whatever reason are sometimes gripped by a  wistfulness for better opportunities and lifestyles in bigger cities or abroad. Recent interactions with NRIs and Persons of Indian Origin reveal that the metamorphosis of the hometown has come as  an unexpected surprise. Bad infrastructure apart, the gap between Mangalore and Manhattan, in terms of individual lifestyles of contemporaries could be narrowing down, and with it doubt about whether one is really that much better off in alien lands. Mangalore has always stayed in step with the mainstream march, while staying true to its roots. It is a new generation which furnishes the innovative products, services and concepts ushering in living standards that seemed the prerogative of the first world and the metros.   There is   palpable excitement in the air, the sense of being on the threshold of change, and a chance to partake in initiatives to engender this change.

The dynamic of change in the urban space has long permeated my  personal space as well. I am never  bound by the static and life for me is a continuous trajectory of learning in the process of self evolution. If it is perceived I’ve been following in my father’s footsteps,  equally  it is the creative persona of my late mother which inspires my inner life today. Delving into my own creative and introspective depths  balances the more practical areas of life, for subtle leadership in the realm of ideas.  In the coming years, given my many interests and inclinations, there’s always the possibility of  being other things, if not adding atleast a few more dimensions to an  existing persona.

I have sought rather fiercely for my own identity, like an intrepid plant in the shade of tall oaks. I realize with belated gratitude that all along both my parents each furnished me the underlying paradigms of versatile personhood.  This lent itself well to the concept of leadership gauged in  the multiple demands of the UPSC interview,and highlighted in training as an officer. One was made to understand  that leadership is  a subtle thing that animates one’s calling or  workplace and seamlessly extends beyond it. It flows from the composite self, duly reflected in an integrated lifestyle. Indeed, each individual is more than the sum total of  formal achievements listed in a biodata- we are found  in the diversity  of multi-tasking activities, our commitments as familial and social persons,  our qualities of head and heart, our attributes of body and soul.

My generation is at the prime of  productivity, probably mentoring younger people in the workplace. It is a generation of the “now”, where productivity is matched by an appetite for the good life. It is centered  in the nuclear family with its own distinctive bonding and competitive mindset.  Still being predominantly  parents, it is possessed of its own sympathetic sensitivities that often translate into  altruistic impulses and socially constructive activities.

The values of  forbears have  imprinted themselves imperceptibly in this generation, even if  the meaningful past is redefined as social relevance demands, and transmitted onward to the future. In a reciprocal process, our  young  impinge and reinforce our consciousness with their concerns, as also  inputs of enrichment and advancement. Unfulfilled aspirations are perhaps deferred to a new generation with more opportunity. We are like a bridge which constitutes a useful section of the road in itself, while linking the preceding and succeeding  segments for that back and forth traffic of ideas and actions spanning yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Human history is the fascinating interplay of change and constancy. Thus, each generation, my own included, here and elsewhere, blends heritage with progression for yet another significant step in the onward march of civilization.

-Giselle D.Mehta

( My Speech at the Mangalore Today Conclave 2007, the theme of which was “ Gen Next, The Future. I was expected to share my leadership perspectives as a former Civil Servant. I was rather more eloquent on the the Evolving New Me)


About proteanpen

Giselle Mehta, an entrepreneur, engages in writing, theater,public speaking and activities with a creative/intellectual stimulus. She is the author of the acclaimed novel "Blossom Showers."
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