Readers will be left wondering if the story of Vinod Rai’s who at the apogee of his life with his vast background and experience is to be judged by the referred case studies alone or he will have a second take, let the unsaid unfold and another volume touching untouched or less touched areas of his life will soon be with them, writes K. K. Srivastava.
Let an anecdote precede the beginning. “It is impossible to clean the kind of clothes we wear today!” It is Franz Kafka writing from his Trip to Weimar and Junghorn dated 9th July 1912. On 10th February 2010, I communicated this line to a group of my literary friends telling them that I felt it was the crux of Kafka’s diaries and sought their interpretation. Much to my chagrin none responded. Two and half years later on 17th June 2012, one writer named dan zafir enlightened and this is what he says—‘Clothes, I think, are the psychic layers… They were made “pret a porter” by our parents, society, peers, etc…not necessarily in our ‘true size’ As about dirtying them, we got them already dirty, and it is one’s job to clean or change them with ‘clothes’ of one’s true size. Now I have a question for you! Who made the Emperor’s clothes?’ The answer has eluded me thus far.
Normally memoirs by superannuated bureaucrats: their filled creative vacancy representing surrender to nothing grandeur- neither ideas nor emotions nor imaginations are replete with hackneyed facts, suffer absence of esthetic vigilance and are by and large divorced of literary merits. Rarity, of course, shines. The book by a former CAG late C. G. Somiah—The Honest Always Stand Alone, an autobiographical venture really stood alone as not much media coverage or reviews accompanied it. Nor was there any somber discussion over the value addition it has made to the society or any group of people. But Vinod Rai’s book Not Just An Accountant—The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper is certainly not standing alone. Massive media coverage and interviews hailed the arrival. And for some with irrepressible glee galore, it is time for rejoice: ’Hey presto-there we are.”
In this review an attempt is made to go beyond ‘five case studies’ and focus on other material in the book which could have made splendid material for reading but for the lack of amplification and hence hardly noticed.
The book has three parts: the journey, follies and course correction. Vinod Rai names the book Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper. Diary sometimes defined as ‘a former version’ of the writer normally is meant to act as recording of entries over a long period of time. Importance and beauty of this genre lies not only in periodic narrations but also the gaps that separate the entries. With liminal spaces diaries or memoirs cease to be amorphous. For a diarist some part of one day will always be in the days gone and so will be the spaces but the difficulty for the writer is in his abandoning these. Further, vagaries of external stimuli in place of neutralizing, dim the objectivity of distance which constructs and controls substance. After all, a diarist recalls and in the process obtains his ‘former version’. From the book it is not clear if it represents an exercise spanning a few years or is it an attempt to sum things up towards the end. A curious reader will certainly miss how Vinod Rai went along creating stages of writing in his Diary.
Vinod Rai calls the Diary-‘the story of my life’ but there are hardly any narrations of his childhood and adolescence. Childhood is in itself a complete story: a story of all stories of life and other stories spring from it. Though initial seeds are sown there, writers always struggle with that story and only a few successfully handle it. One wonders why there is not much about it in the book. A reader would have loved to hear about the background of the place, schools he went to, the buildings, markets, quality of teachers/teaching, the books he read and what influenced him, and so on, but is disappointed to find just about one or two page or so on these and that too interspersed amidst other looming details. The book has material about his period in Nagaland, Kerala, etc., but that has hardly been noticed in the media.
The book has many interesting episodes honestly recorded by the author and a serious reader would wish that the author could have delved deep into hidden connotations of such happenings and analyzed the episodes further. In one place he records ‘.…the Rajya Sabha MP….. used to refer to me not only as a bhumihar, but as a ‘bhumihar from Ghazipur’. While it may be an intellectually discouraging comment, methinks the stress was more on place than caste though Rai goes on to justify how, ‘the significance of caste had been lost on’ him. V. S. Naipaul’s ancestors lived in Gorakhpur, a place not far off from Ghazipur (and such places of early fifties to eighties) that Naipaul (after his visit to such places) described as ‘half-formed societies’. While the gentleman in question might still be having Naipaulian vision, some expansion on the part of Rai as to the possible deeper motive behind such a comment with its wider psycho-social-economic ramifications would have made interesting material. Sometimes small, cryptic comments need real mental probe as to their origin. Frills must hunt the principal theme.
Language’s simplicity attracts; narrative is straightforward and style is realistic. Explanations are succinct and careful. In some places sense of humour is remarkable. Realities candidly observed when described can be irksome for the author. Author’s sensitiveness exhibits that irksomeness in some places. Structure proceeds on cohesion.
Readers will be left wondering if the story of Vinod Rai’s who at the apogee of his life with his vast background and experience is to be judged by the referred case studies alone or he will have a second take, let the unsaid unfold and another volume touching untouched or less touched areas of his life will soon be with them.
Like the beginning, let the review end with another anecdote. I had the honour of presenting my poetry collection, An Armless Hand Writes to Vinod Rai when he was CAG. After two years when I met him again, he asked me why the title, “An Armless Hand” It pleased me that the then CAG still remembered “An Armless Hand Writing”! I told him of Chaucer’s long poem, “The Monk’s Tale: and its relevance to the title. In his farewell dinner speech (I was not present as I was not posted in Delhi), at one place he asked,“Where is that armless writer?’ It was reported to me by three of my colleagues. “Vinod Rai Sir, you have given not only great strength to the arms but also arms to thinking, rational human beings and very successfully delved into readers’ conscience.’
And you, dan zafir-‘How true; how true, dear?’ Further-sometime later.
K. K. Srivastava is an Indian Audit & Accounts Service Officer of 1983 batch and currently posted as Principal Accountant General, Kerala. He is a poet and reviewer too with three poetry collections-Ineluctable Stillness (2005), An Armless Hand Writes (2008) and Shadows of the Real (2012). His forth book The Diary is expected in 2016.