What is immediately striking about the biography Caught by the Police is the deep reverence of the children for their father. The book is co-authored by Ranjit Gupta, former Indian Ambassador, Harsh Gupta, I A S, former Chief Secretary, Himachal Pradesh, Meera Yog, HoD, English, Lucknow University, Madhukar Gupta I A S, former Union Home Secretary and Deepak Gupta I A S, incumbent chairman, Union Public Service Commission as a tribute to their father, Dr Anandswarup Gupta, who laid the foundation for the Himachal Police force as its Inspector General. He set up the Bureau of Police Research and Development in the Home Ministry, Government of India.
Spanning a century, the book mirrors the life and times of Anandswarup Gupta and his traditional family, living initially in the small town of Mainpuri, in the erstwhile United Provinces, and later straddling the sub-continent through a lifetime of recognised public service. While he helped in modernising the police force his brother joined the hallowed Indian Civil Service, and served the Bengal province with distinction. Another sibling was appointed Judge of the Allahabad High Court. The book captures the nuances of the British colonial administration, its racist response to India’s aspirations as a nation seeking self-determination and independence. One also gets a peep into some of the fine British traditions in providing stable administrative structures as well as the thoroughness of British rulers in holding together, a disparate sub-continent with steeply uneven levels of economic development.
This book is a compelling commentary on the last days of the British Raj in India and the difficult period of transition that followed to the Independence of the country. We also become privy to vignettes of a fledgling democracy in motion.
Unlike legends of kings and palaces, colourful extravaganza and splendid profligacy, the story of the Gupta family is an exemplary saga of disciplined and focused lifestyle, invariably accompanied by success. The family was known for high intellectual pursuit, frugal and disciplined living and maintaining the traditions of a joint family in a rapidly changing social milieu. Modesty of means remained a constant feature in the family but it was never seen as a shortcoming. It rather acted as an impetus, instilling in children of each generation a fierce desire to excel in their studies and other endeavours.
In Allahabad, it was understood that if there was a Gupta boy, he would stand first in the University. Indeed, all nine siblings stood first in class. In the years that followed this remarkable family covered itself with distinction in all fields of governance at a time when the British rulers spared no efforts in axing Indian candidates, coming down heavily on the Indianisation of the imperial services.
In what proved to be a tragic saga, Gupta, who was selected for commission in the Royal Air Force in 1934, in a short period of over one year, owing to his all-round excellence as a trainee, in which he left behind English candidates at the Cranwell Academy, he was boarded out on medical grounds. He was deliberately administered medical treatment that made him sick and then dangerously ill. Thus the gifted officer’s sense of exhilaration and feeling of sheer power and freedom as he soared to the skies during his first sortie in England, crashlanded his career in the Royal Air Force owing to racist prejudice exhibited quite flagrantly at the Academy.
Gupta returned to India a medical wreck, without a job and yet not a graduate. In a cuttingly incisive comment on the British sense of fair play, Gupta observed, “So far as I am concerned I think it is very difficult for an Indian and an Englishman to be really sincere friends … if you think someone is vain or trying to impose himself on you, leave him severely alone. But do not quarrel with him. Never lose your dignity and respect.”
And yet, aided by deep reservoir of inner strength and spiritual insight, he was able to cure himself of the disease and disability, completed his BA course, and joined the Indian Police force in 1939.
Throughout his career, he never let go of his muse; he kept up with his writings, despite having to deal with dusty files and criminal records. Some of his rare verses are shared at the end of the book.
The book is written in Queens’s English and directly addresses matters in hand. It reveals in Gupta, the complex phenomena of a committed nationalist Indian with refined English sensibilities; something of a Macaulay’s child and a misfit in the police force, which however benefited from his visionary command.
This is one of the few books that capture the sensitive beauty of family circumstance and close relationships in a quiet town about which not much has been written unlike the dramatic stories and legends of turbulent Bengal or Punjab.
The authors wax eloquent while describing the Indian festivals and seasons; ‘The first one in the year was Basant Panchami, the harvest festival of India, and the harbinger of spring when handkerchiefs would be dyed in yellow, the colour of rejuvenation, followed by Holi, the festival of colour and goodwill. Red flowers of the Flame of the Forest tree would be used to make natural red colour. After summer came monsoon when Teej would be celebrated with mehndi, jhoola and songs of nature’s beauty, the rain and love. This was followed by Raksha Bandhan, the special festival for brothers and sisters. And then came the birthday of Lord Krishna with jhankis and tableaus depicting Krishna’s birth. This, in turn was followed by Dashera — celebrating Lord Rama’s defeat of Ravana; triumph of good over evil. Diwali followed — return of Lord Rama to his kingdom of Ayodhya.’
This book is recommended for all aspirants to the civil services, institutes of public administration and students of the socio- economic history of modern India.
Above all, it is a beautifully written biography of love and relationships of a closely knit family that successfully overcame the slings and arrows of misfortune at a time when the British government, which had dug its heels in its attempt to stay on in India, was firmly shown the door.
(The writer is a retired IAS officer and author of the book: And what remains in the end.)