The probability that two of your classmates will become Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister is as close to zero as you can imagine, what they call epsilon in differential calculus.
But epsilon tending to zero does not mean zero. And therefore the probability is what the maths wallahs call non-zero, non-negative. It is for that reason two of my classmates from the Delhi School of Economics, batch of 1970-72 have made it to that utterly thankless job.
The first to get there was Pulok Chatterjee in 2012. And now it is Pramod Kumar Mishra.
Pulok came to DSchool from St Stephens. Pramod came from Ravenshaw College in Cuttack. And I came there from Hindu College.
We all--about 25 of us--met in Jubilee Hall, the post graduate hall of residence in Delhi. DSchool didn’t have its own hostel then. I don’t know if it’s got one now.
Since Hindu and Stephens are across the road from each other and all those who lived in the hostels would meet often, Pulok and I knew each other from before and became close friends.
But Pramod was from beyond the pale. We had no idea who he was and given how shy he was, we didn’t get to know each other well.
He stuck to his core agenda, which was to get a first division in MA and then the IAS. I stuck to mine which was somehow to pass and maybe get into one of the civil services or some bank or the RBI or some public sector company. I failed in all. He succeeded in achieving both his goals.
The first year of MA went by in a glow of happiness for most of us, but for Pramod it was very much the classes, the library and the tutorials. Little did I know that those tutes, as the written essays arising from the tutorials were called, would become life savers in the final year of the MA.
The exams came and most of us did badly. Many of us decided to repeat the exam. And this is where I discovered the brilliance of Pramod and his generosity with his notes and tutes.
He had straight A’s in all his written work and a first in the MA first year exam, called MA (Previous) those days. Clearly, we had all underestimated him.
I have forgotten much of what we were taught and what Pramod wrote. But there was one essay on market failure comprising a critique of Francis Bator’s work which I will never forget. It helped me pass.
The precision and comprehension was, as they say these days, awesome. He would have made an excellent journalist too.
My modus operandi was simple. Mug up what Pramod had written and regurgitate. It always worked.
Pramod was a loner in DSchool and in Jubilee Hall. Looking back, that ability to stay focused in a big city with all its seductive charms was almost ascetic in nature.
The workload in DSchool was horrific and none of us knew that Pramod had decided not to wait to complete MA before taking the IAS exam. He took it in the second year of the course — and got in. He was the only one to do that that year, I think.
The next time I saw him was in 2009 when he was food secretary. He had no recollection of me, which was natural considering I hardly trespassed into the library and he rarely had time to waste outside it.
I have no idea how he spent his bureaucratic career but from all accounts from his cadre mates he excelled in his quietly effective way.
He now has a critical role in government, which in some ways is more important than even of the Cabinet Secretary. Few amongst those who know him doubt that he will deliver with a sense of fairness and generosity that was so visible 50 years ago.