My Muse: Surf, Bhasha and Basa

Subhash Mathur

Subhash Mathur was born and brought up in small towns in Rajasthan. During his school and college education at Jaipur, he was keenly involved in sports, journalism and public speaking. His civil services career has given him a platform for spreading his ideas about modernising tax administration to benefit the common man. Post retirement he is devoting his energies, along with his wife Tilak, to public and humane causes.

Diu is a popular tourist destination for Indians and foreigners alike. Diu has the best sun soaked all sand beaches. The blue waters are still and calm. The right ambience for exotic music, dance, drinks and fun. Chock-a-block resorts offer plenty of choice. Choose the one that suits your pocket.

The beach at Diu at sunset.

The beach at Diu at sunset.


But not everyone goes to Diu for a holiday.

In 2002 that’s precisely what transpired when a letter from Directorate of Inspection, Delhi informed us that a Parliamentary Rajya Bhasha delegation of eight Members of Parliament headed by Ms. Sarla Maheshwari would visit the enchanting sea destination to inspect the office of the Inspector of Customs. After fifteen days.

I was simply aghast. I was the Commissioner.

Committee of Parliament on Official Language, New Delhi.

Committee of Parliament on Official Language, New Delhi


For all practical purposes there was no customs office at Diu except for a shed to send out patrol boats everyday. Only one Inspector with a few sepoys was posted at Diu plus the ‘contract’ boatmen. They were sent out for night patrolling along with coast to maintain vigil. They were all from Kutch. They were all illiterate. They did not know Hindi : how to speak or write. The Inspector just maintained was an attendance register and a master folder for correspondence received and the leave applications of the crew.

That’s why this stunning piece of news from Delhi sent us all into a tizzy. Deputy Commissioner Hemlata called in panic. After all it was the inspection of a formation in her Bhavnagar Division. The question uppermost in her mind was: where’s the data in Hindi or any other language to inspect? She asked for guidance.

I had none to offer. But I had an inspiration.

I called up Director Nigam, Rajya Bhasha at Directorate of Inspection at Delhi. Of course he had an answer to all my queries. He removed all my misgivings. After all he was a vet. He said ‘I will visit Ahmedabad with my team on Friday morning and work with the concerned staff over the weekend. By Tuesday morning the report would be on your table. Please advise everyone concerned to be available for marathon.’ The Commissioner was exempt. Some privilege indeed.

I felt somewhat relieved yet concerned.

Cometh the Tuesday morning and Director Nigam walked into my chamber with a a thick report neatly bound. The folder was a bundle of lies cooked up overnight to amuse the Parliamentary delegation. Obviously Deputy Commissioner Hemlata played little role in the preparations. Since the Director Nigam was happy, I accepted the folder with huge reluctance.

At this point in time I decided not to attend the Inspection as it was of a minor formation where practically no work was done in Rajya Bhasha. Deputy Commissioner Hemlata was disappointed. She made sure I got the message. I think she felt abandoned by the Headquarters. She hardly spoke two words in Hindi correctly as she came from Tamil Nadu. Forget about writing anything. The Director was surprised and could not hide his feelings.

But I stood my ground. I would not be party to so much skulduggery. I quickly approved the compendium before me and wished everyone happy ‘facing‘. The Inspection committee was also duly informed that the Commissioner was not going to be in attendance.

The Conference was arranged in a banquet room of a resort as customs had no office in Diu.

But I had planned to attend. All along. Secretly.

I reached Diu late in the evening and boarded at a resort far away from where the MPs and my officers were staying. I had made my own arrangements but kept the CC in the loop.

The meeting was to start at 11 sharp. The official side had taken their places. A nervous Deputy Commissioner and a confident Director waited for the MPs to stroll in.

Two minutes to eleven I walked into the Conference room.

Deputy Commissioner Hemlata jumped with joy. A huge smile flashed across her face. Happiness was writ large on her countenance. Facing the MPs alone was no longer her baby. Director Nigam hastily rearranged the seating and handed me a copy of the thick ‘brief‘.

I waved around and took my seat.

Within a minute eight MPs led by Ms Sarla Maheshwari trooped in.

My presence was a huge surprise for the MPs as well. But, being a veteran, Sarlaji recovered fast. She welcomed me with a smile and a big cheerful Namaste.

Introductions over, the meeting began in earnest with Director Nigam making the opening statement with a flourish. He reeled off some impressive data.

Sarlaji then invited me to make my pitch. To defend the indefensible.

I pushed aside the thick ‘brief‘ portfolio. Discarding protocol, I stood up spoke slowly and deliberately. In Hindi. My opening gambit was “Ma’am, would you like to hear the truth or shall I rattle off the false data in this massive ‘brief’?”

Pin drop silence. Even breathing became controlled. The gambit was audacious.

I too waited with bated breath. Will it work? Had I risked too much? I was in a sink-or-swim kind of situation.

Sarlaji weighed the options. Quickly, she consulted her colleagues. Then she spoke in chaste Hindi, “Commissioner Mathur, we knew the truth all along. Even we were surprised to see such a massive ‘brief‘ with so much presented to us this morning. Thank you for being bold and beautiful. We appreciate your honesty. Let’s forget this inspection. Commissioner Mathur, instead give us a detailed presentation on the customs operations in Saurashtra.”

I was ready.

At the conclusion of my presentation she responded magnificently, “Commissioner Mathur, you and your entire team are invited to joins us for the lunch.”

The gambit had paid off. I was swimming.

The resort served succulent basa with chilled Budweiser.

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