On Rajeeva Ratna Shah’s Footprints on the Sands
“Lives of great men all remind us,
We can make our lives sublime ,
And departing leave behind us—
Footprints on the SANDS of time!”
These lines by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s PSALM OF LIFE, were the inspiration behind the book—FOOTPRINTS ON THE SANDS! But whilst some FOOTPRINTS are transient, some leave their mark! Such a personality is Shri Rajeeva Ratna Shah! His evolution from district officer to his final destination as a Secretary to the Govt. of India is really remarkable!
Replete with monographs on matters germane–general, historical, management and technology related, the book tells us about the modernization of the Lucknow founded by the Nawabs of Awadh, the century old Shia Sunni rancour, its resolution by the 1998 accord, Varanasi’s antiquity, Kala Bhavan Varanasi and sorting out the AMU and AMUSU problem!
It is October 15,1987 and the author is approaching the end of his tenure in New York, and taken three months leave to complete his MBA degree program, when he’s summoned for the job of Commissioner Varanasi Division! A major cultural shock awaits him as he shifts from the world’s most modern city New York, to it’s most ancient Varanasi! For three years everyday in Varanasi is a day of discovery for the author!
Epicentre of the hindu religion, the city is supposed to be perched on Shiva’s trident! Kashi has been mentioned in the BHAGVAD GITA! Though it has been the citadel of Vedic rituals and orthodox practices, yet it’s the springboard of the voice of the heterodox, the Upanishads, Buddhism and Jainism! Older than history, legend and tradition, it is twice as old as all of them put together! Addressing the International Convention of Musealogists, organised by the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), the author puts across his thesis, that Varanasi is one the world’s two oldest living cities! In fact the world has known only two cradles of religion—the plains of Jerusalem and the Gangetic plains with Varanasi as the crucible of Indic religions! Both have survived the onslaught of time, pulsating with life! “The city of lights” is placed on a timeline and the results are astonishing! Kashi was in existence 1600 years before Hazrat Nizamuddin and 1000 years before Jesus of Nazareth—-the Christ!
To carry the lay reader along his thought processes, the author has made technology related monographs— the story of computers, the mysterious world of genes and chromosomes and nano informatics! Shri Rajeeva Ratna Shah has tried to make the reader’s journey through different knowledge domains smooth and effortless!
The book also shares management essays—communal riot management, burnishing India’s commercial brand image abroad and preparing a blueprint for the concept of NDMA as Secretary Disaster Management–setting up the NDM and the DRF fund for disasters natural as well as manmade, including the current COVID CRISIS, bridging the digital divide and harnessing the demographic dividend!
Chapter 16 speaks about the management of the BHUJ earthquake! On January 26,2001 an earthquake with an intensity of 6.4 on the ritcher scale, shakes Gujarat and the nearby regions! Its epicentre is at Bhuj in Kutch! Shri Rajeeva Ratna Shah is summoned to oversee the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in Gujarat! 20,005 human lives are lost and 21 districts are affected! The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming and resources are limited. Mobile emergency teams are brought in from Israel, Spain, Denmark, France and Turkey! The International Red Cross from Scandinavia is able to set up a 380 bed hospital to substitute for the decimated Bhuj hospital!
The book is an amazing account of the career of a most remarkable Civil servant of his era! An honest portrayal of the path breaking contribution of a bureaucrat. “FOOTPRINTS ON THE SANDS”—-brings out the creative and imaginative mind of the author as he describes first hand encounters with a dreaded dacoit, managing the dip for salvation, setting up the KUMBH MELA (Building Rome in a day) and managing the riots after being airdropped in a city in flames.
REBRANDING INDIA and building a brand image of India in the American markets is another important contribution of Shri Rajeeva Ratna Shah. A meeting with Dawn Mello of BERGDORF GOODMAN, leads to working together for 10 months and coming up with the INDIA PROMOTION, which is launched on November 25th 1985, with great fanfare and lasts through the peak merchandise period of Christmas and New Year, till January 1986, where all show windows and all floors display Indian Merchandise!
The abiding contribution of the author is that as Secretary IT, he recreates the concept of UID—which blooms into the world’s biggest unique ID programme—AADHAR! Another important contribution is National E Governance, rechristened as E Kranti, which has permeated the entire Govt.of India! FOOTPRINTS ON THE SANDS— is a must read for all, particularly for the civil servants, both serving and the aspiring ones. It deserves full Mark’s for illustrating dynamic and creative governance and should be stocked in the library of every administrative institution of the country!
Reviewed by Lippi Parida(Author)