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Robin Gupta

Robin Gupta

Robin Gupta

Please tell us a bit about your foray into writing. Was it difficult to take time out of your busy schedule as an IAS officer to write?

I have been writing all my life. My first poem ‘Conflict’ was published in the Bishop Cotton School Magazine while I was a student at Shimla. The school, founded in 1859 after coronation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India, was called Eton of the East. At the time of India’s independence, the Viceroy of India was the president of the school governing body. Of course, public schools at Dehradun, such as the Doon school came up much later. The masters were Englishmen and one of them encouraged me to write and appointed me as editor of the school magazine-‘The Mitre’, in 1964.It is worth recalling that Ruskin Bond, our local icon is from B.C.S.

I was always a writer, partly I suppose, owing to a lonely childhood in which I was left in the charge of an English Nanny and servants in large houses for most parts of the day. Also, I grew up in a house where formality governed our relationships with parents and elders. Writing was my release from loneliness. Also, during my early childhood and much later as well, the influence of British rule on social mores, intellectual pursuits, manners, extra-curricular interests, secular thought, cuisine, ethics and most of all, striving to excel in the English language was a natural reflex. Anybody who wanted to do well in a career had to know good English.

In my case, though my parents spoke in English at home, also, relatives and friends, I may have been gifted with a special relationship with the Muse, owing to the unique and sad circumstances of my loneliness.

Therefore, there was no special attempt that I made to foray into English writing after I joined the I.P.S in 1972 at the first step of my career and was later selected to serve as an I.A.S officer. In spare time or even while traveling on tour or sitting in the court, I would keep writing and scribbling, most of which were lost, some were retrieved later and used as notes for the articles, poems and books, that I wrote. Also, during my 37 year long engagement with the government wherein I served in many significant capacities, I found that my interaction with people and my encountering curious situations helped me to write for this was the only release I had during periods when important decisions had to be taken on the spot and without any guide but consideration and empathy for humanity, as well as the dictates of my conscience. Not so strangely, it is easier to write after, or during the tumult of life’s paces, rather that the desolate recesses of a mountain retreat from where one must rely only on recalled memory or reminiscence alone. It was easier for me to write prose; poetry also, while in the midst of the storms and thunder of life, in the services.

What is your opinion on the reading culture in the country?

Apart from elite circles where reading books written by known authors or books that have done well in terms of sales and reviews (manipulation of which is in itself a fine art aided by social media and internet), generally speaking, the reading habit today, has considerably shrunk. In today’s pace of life, reading books sounds extremely boring, since one can ‘access’ information within seconds and move on to a discotheque for a long unwinding session of song and dance. The joy of treasuring a book and reading it with concentrated interest, of rejoicing in its physical presentation is a matter of the past. When I came home from school on annual vacation, my sister and I were taken to the ‘Reading Room’ of the Delhi Gymkhana Club by our parents with the choice of good literature, chosen and made available to us. Parcels of books when they arrived at our home was one of the greatest joys I can remember.

There is no reading culture in India in that sense. At least not in the attractive urban conglomerates. In the rural areas and small towns, in homes for elder persons, the reading habit is in evidence.

For all the budding writers, what are the things they need to keep in mind before kickstarting a career in writing?

For creative writing it is  fundamental that one must know what one is writing about in some depth. Research is required even to describe a small green leaf. Therefore mining of facts is a prerequisite.

Also, one must write very simply, using short sentences and follow the principle that each paragraph can showcase just one idea. Mixing up ideas in a single sentence causes great confusion and can be counterproductive. One should avoid showing off by using heavy words and foreign phrases to make an impression. And one should never resort to self praise at any cost on the simple maxim that a braggart pleases none but himself. Further, one must always write with honesty on the maxim that truth and truth alone has a volcanic momentum. For creative writing however rich may be the young writer’s imagination, he must read vastly and wisely without which his creative impulse to write will stand alone in an arid desert where the trees refuse to bear fruit, flower, blossom or, leafy foliage. Also, the writer must not be judgemental at any cost. He must state the facts beautifully clothed or clothed in gristle and mire, as they are and not as what they should be. The judgement is always the prerogative of the reader.

What would be the top 5 books that you would recommend to our readers?

It is difficult to shortlist recommended books to just 5 :

However the books that readily come to mind are Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky,The Autobiography of a Yogi, Namak ka Daroga–Munshi Prem Chand, Madness and Civilization—Michel Foucault,Rajmohan Gandhi’s classic work—The History of Punjab from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten, Train to Pakistan–Khushwant Singh and more recently Mr and Mrs Jinnah—-The marriage that shook India.

What is your opinion of the numerous literature festivals happening across the country?

The importance of literary festivals is their bringing together in camaraderie and dialogue, thinking, creative, open minded, sensitive individuals who are an on-going inspiration for India, now a country in motion.  Also, the festivals are of touristic value since they bring into focus historic, beautiful places not known earlier.

The session schedule for VoW looks really promising. What are you looking forward to at the Valley of Words International Literature and Arts Festival 2017 organized in Dehradun?

The Valley of Words festival at Dehradun will open flood gates of thought and opportunity for the hitherto neglected areas of Uttarakhand. To my mind, the great importance of this international festival is the ongoing linkage with the large world outside these beautiful blue mountains, that it will forge as a conduit to modernity and progress on the one hand while the better equipped world outside will be able to drink at the waterfall of classical and pristine simplicity, tradition and nobility.


About the Interviewee:

Mr. Robin Gupta is the Principal Adviser to the three day Valley of Words International Literature and Arts Festival 2017. Born in Delhi on 1 October, 1948, Robin Gupta decided on a career in the civil service early in his life. After a brief stint with the Indian Police Service, he was accepted into the Indian Administrative Service in 1974. His deputations included challenging assignments throughout the country, and he was posted as commissioner in the field on seven separate occasions, a record in the history of Indian civil service. His final posting before retirement was as financial commissioner, Government of Punjab. For a man coming from a life of dry notes and files, Robin Gupta has an excellent flair for words He has authored several books, including the best seller ‘And What Remains In The End’ and ‘A Bouquet of Thoughts’, besides anchoring literary sessions at prestigious institutions.