‘Life is not a bed of roses, roses also have thorns’
TWO months ago, when I set out to write about unusual retired civil servants, I hunted for suggestions. An IAS officer, generally known for his acerbic tongue and derisive comments, told me to write on SS Jog, a former Director-General of Police in Maharashtra. The suggestion itself was atypical; when I discovered that Jog had settled down in Amravati, I sensed an unusual story.
But, getting hold of Suryakant Jog was not easy. At 87, he does not use email and his hearing is also now impaired. So, I had to find some other way of getting an authentic story. Decorated with an array of medals, including three President’s police medals — for distinguished service, for gallantry and for meritorious service — and the Asiad Vashishta Sewa medal, Jog is off the radar of Google and Wikipedia. Anyone who has remained so modest must have some stuff, I thought.
Jog did his schooling in the local municipal school followed by college in Amravati. He only moved to Nagpur for post-graduation in chemistry and stood first in the university. But, his accomplishments as a sportsman sound even more impressive. To have represented Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy and the Governor’s XI is no mean feat. When the Commonwealth XI cricket team toured India and Pakistan in 1949-50, the team played 17 first-class matches. SS Jog was on the first and second Commonwealth XI teams as well as the India XI team. Simultaneously, he represented the state of MP in football too.
After he joined the IPS in 1953, securing the third rank, his early years were spent in Madhya Pradesh at a time when Maharashtra state was yet to be formed. After an initial posting as SP, Buldhana, he moved to Sambre, then in Karnataka, where he was drawn into the Goa liberation movement. He proudly recalls: “For services rendered before, during and after Operation Vijay, I was given the police medal in the 9th year of service — an exception.” Soon after, he was appointed Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Goa, where he had to also function as the Exposition commissioner for the relics of Saint Francis Xavier. The mortal remains of the saint, who died in 1552, are kept in a casket in the Basilica of the Bom Jesus church in Old Goa. Every ten years, they are brought out for closer public viewing. At that time, thousands of devotees from all over the world congregate to pay homage, a huge challenge for the little township of Panaji.
Jog’s first posting in Maharashtra was as the Superintendent of Police in Aurangabad, which was, in his view, an eye-opener. A district, which was recognised for communal harmony, saw an unexpected flare-up. Local politicians got him bundled out. Having attended his farewell party, he was half-way to Akola district to join his next posting even as his successor was about to reach Aurangabad. When he was midway, orders came, directing him to go back to Aurangabad. The Chief Minister had given in to a counter public demand not to transfer the SP.
Jog’s postings in the city of Bombay (then) were for him the best years of his career in many ways. He handled all key assignments any policeman looks forward to: as in-charge of pecial Branch, Crime and Traffic. The Bombay Police was kno n the world over for its efficiency and discipline. He attributes his own success to two factors: a great Chief Minister, Vasant Rao Naik, and loyal subordinates.
With a change of Chief Minister — after Yashwant Rao Chavan became the CM — Jog found himself moved from one unimportant assignment to another. A posting on central deputation brought nothing better until he was appointed Joint Secretary in charge of Police, in the Ministry of Home Affairs. He makes an interesting observation: “In the police, seniority and hierarchy overtake everything, whereas the Cabinet Secretary (an ICS officer) would ask my opinion directly when I was a mere Joint Secretary.”
After Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Jog was appointed the Police Commissioner of Delhi. He was the first to argue that the job should go to a cadre officer, but was overruled. Unfortunately, the high-profile posting was not propitious for him as the ensuing years brought him neverending grief. Soon after taking over as Police Commissioner, his wife began to be treated for an illness that seemed to have no diagnosis. After six months he was posted back to Maharashtra as the State DGP. The first shock came a few months later when his 23-year old son, his youngest child, crashed while flying a MiG-21 at Tezpur. That was 1985. A year later, some say to that very day which was October 3, his wife succumbed to cancer.
ANAMI Roy was DGP in Maharashtra some 20 years later. He had this to say: “I worked as the AIG directly attached to Jog sahib. I was his staff officer. I was present when his wife died on exactly the date of his son’s first death anniversary. For some time the DG stayed at home, but returned on one condition which he put to me as his staff officer. If he passed any order which was harsh or uncharacteristic, I was to withhold the file and resubmit it as he did not want his decision-making to be clouded by his own mental agony.”
Roy adds, “Jog sahib was a methodical person. A bit scary, because he had a photographic memory and could recall facts, figures, faces and even numbers from 20 years before when he too worked as staff officer to the then DG. I have seen so many magnetic personalities in the police service. Some were born leaders, usually larger than life — they seemed to command things to happen without doing much personally. Jog sahib was different. Meetings lasted just a few minutes when his memory would swivel back to exactly the file, the precise noting, the exact year, when something relevant took place — whether it was a law and order matter or a police investigation. You had to be perfect with facts when you faced him. But every time I came out of his room, I came out wiser. Every minute with him was a learning experience.”
When Jog retired, he sought nothing from the government; nor did he look for benefactors in the private sector. Instead, after 38 years he returned to Amravati. “What is so great about going back to your hometown where you already own a house?” a Maharashtra colleague, with whom I discussed Jog’s story, asked me.
But a glance at Amravati (map on next page) shows just how far this district is from Mumbai. That it is among the 12 backward districts of Maharashtra and has been receiving funds from the central Backward Regions programme, is an indication that Amravati is no land of bounty. How many of us have retired to anywhere excepting the state capitals, I thought.
Jog too had initial doubts about Amravati; only circumstances willed otherwise. As he puts it: “I expected to find many friends but discovered they had all moved away. I wondered whether I had made the right decision in coming here. I spent my nights scribbling what I could do to make a difference, only to score it out the next morning. One day I decided to find a way to engage youngsters. I started organising youth camps in Semadoh village, which is located in the dense Melghat forest, by taking advantage of my police connections. My aims were three: Push them to become adventurous; implant a sense of discipline and instruct them about forests and wildlife. My greatest achievement was that I spurred them to do it. If they scaled 10 feet in a day, they yearned to reach 20. A 10-kilometre trek was never enough for them, they had to double the record that very day. The camps were a great success, but critics doubted what could be achieved in 15 days, the duration of each camp. I told them that every young man was selected after an interview and, at the end of the camp, each one got a sense of pride and discovered his potential. My financial burden was greatly reduced when the Central scheme for youth affairs began to extend support.”
“Around that time,” continued Jog, “the Chief Minister announced that Sainik schools would be set up in every district. I jumped at the opportunity, but all I could muster was Rs 11,000. I went about collecting every tiny contribution — nothing was too small for this cause. At last, I was able to get a residential school to start in the Chikaldara sub-division, some 100 km from Amravati. Thereafter, I persuaded every Chief Minister to make a donation and the school could expand and finally move up to the Class 12 stage. It has now completed 22 years, has nearly 300 boarders and has a 100 per cent success rate.”
This story becomes heartrending when one realises that Chikaldara falls in Melghat subdivision, which records one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the country. As recently as August 2013, the Times of India headlined more than 400 deaths in Melghat from malnutrition (confirmed by government statistics).
Jog had another passion, rainwater collection. A small investment on the hostel roof had performed miracles. He pursued the idea with the dream of resurrecting the orange orchards of Amravati that once stood second only to the famed oranges of Nagpur. He tells of how he looked for support from Oxfam, NABARD and the Aga Khan Foundation, but all his letters of entreaty met with failure. But when his mission seemed doomed to collapse, it was the Council for the Promotion ofApplied Rural Technology (CAPART) which proffered support. Soon the village wells and tanks began brimming with water. But his dream of reviving the orange country was not to be: the villagers decided to grow vegetables instead to rake in Rs 50,000 a year in preference to a five-year wait for the orange trees to fruit.
This policeman-turned-farmer friend was also a great advocate of the check-dam strategy. But not everything he touched became a success. Jog pursued the local MP and MLAs to contribute, but not a single legislator parted with even one rupee for a scheme which could have provided a perennial source of water to the villages. Although a government resolution was passed making it a model scheme, disappointingly, when the officers changed the scheme went into disuse. The story only reinforces what we see happening time and again.
FOR some more years Jog continued to find ways of fulfilling his passion for giving back something to his beloved Amravati. In the meantime, his second son had joined the Indian Police Service and was posted as the DCP (Crime) — one of the key assignments in the police setup in Mumbai. But, with not even a hint of what was to come, he suffered a severe cardiac arrest and died instantly. Living as he was in Amravati, Jog could only reach Mumbai in time for his son’s funeral. This was the third calamity that Jog had to contend with in less than 10 years.
When one talks to the man, there is no sign of bitterness or remorse. No complaints about God’s ways. And unlike so many who take sympathy and support for granted, even afterso many years he is grateful that the then Chief Secretary of Maharashtra spontaneously asked him to continue to live in his son’s official house for as long as he needed to. In less than two years Jog left the house, carrying with him the responsibility for his son’s widow and two fatherless grandchildren.
Very recently Jog was hospitalised in Amravati due to an illness. At 87, he is a shadow of his former self. But even so he has this to say: “Your life is not a bed of roses. The roses also have thorns. One’s life will always have ups and downs. One has to face them with courage; suffer the unfortunate tragedies of life with fortitude and carry on to the best of one’s ability.”