Remembering BN Yugandhar, an Activist at Heart
An activist at heart and a bureaucrat by profession
Hazaron saal nargis api be noori pe rothi hai
Badi mushkil se hota hai chaman mein deedawar paida
For thousands of years narcissus weeps at its sightlessness
Takes an age before a visionary is born in the garden
These lines from Allama Iqbal epitomise my colleague and friend B N Yugandhar who passed away yesterday at his home in Hyderabad.
I met him in 2004 when we all took oath as Members of Planning Commission. I was a novice and quite ignorant amidst all elite economist men around me. Yugandhar Sahib, as I began to call him from day one, was not an economist. He was an activist at heart and a bureaucrat by profession. The activist part resonated with me.
His room was two rooms down from mine. I was in awe of this man who used his unambiguous loud voice for the voiceless, demanding for them rights, food, education, health. It did not matter who he was addressing.
I saw him at our Internal PC meetings, our meetings with the PM at 7 Racecourse. He was forceful, argumentative outspoken, all in the best possible way. He spoke with his hands, and I, who often sat next to him, listened carefully to his words and watched his hands. He always addressed me as Madam, never called me by name. That must have been his IAS training.
The first thing he did after we started at Yojana Bhavan was to invite us for a Hyderabadi Biryani lunch at his home. That and ‘double ka meetha’ was the most delectable combination. It broke the ice for those of us who turned up at his lawn, that sunny October afternoon. There I met Prabhavatiji, a Sanskrit scholar and teacher who welcomed me in the kindest way. His comrades in PC were Abhjit Sen (we called him Manik) and B L Mungekar; he never took me as a 'comrade' despite my strong links with the left. Yugandhar Sahib was slightly oblivious of me; a trait I found quite endearing.
We had some unforgettable times together. Like our four day visit to Meghalaya and Nagaland. Our fellow traveller was PP Srivastava, Member of North East Council. Long stretches of mountain roads, stopping at small Bamboo workshops, weaving centres, Yugandhar Sahib talking to Khasi and Garo young entrepreneurs. He was Member incharge of NorthEast and I was there to study the ground reality of our schemes for women and children.
One story he told us, I can never forget. It was about his habit of reading while eating, never once looking at his plate. One day his grandmother who was fed up with this habit and had admonished him many times decided to play a trick. So instead of Upma she placed grass shavings on his plate. Yugandhar, looked at his book, ate the grass, picked up his school bag and walked out!
In Meghalaya we were saying at Raj Bhavan where these two men gave me the best room. Yugandhar had to cross my room to reach his own small room. At night he used to walk across my room without noticing or acknowledging my presence, I was just another plate of grass!
He loved telling stories of his two closest friends with whom he had gone on some high drama missions. They were Mr Kannabiran and Mr Shankaran. I was fortunate to have spent time with Mr Kannabiran during a fact finding trip. But I never met Mr Shankaran. One Yugandhar story about him never leaves me. The day Shankaran retired as Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, he said farewell to his colleagues, his chaprasis, his servers. Than he walked out of the building, took a bus and went home.
During our tenure he once sent his resignation to the PM on some irreconcilable matter. The resignation was returned and following some persuasion it was retracted. Yugandhar remained Member until the end of his term. Bu for some reason I feel that he always carried his resignation in his pocket. Gadi, Bangla, taamjhaam meant nothing to this man.
I visited him once in his home in Hyderabad post retirement. It was a simple home next door to Jaganmohan Reddy’s. He did not like the new VIP culture acquired by his quiet neighbourhood. Prabhavatiji sadly was in a wheelchair. Her warmth and hospitality was the same as ever. When their son was appointed Microsoft CEO I asked a friend to take them some flowers as a Mubarakbaad token; I should have realised that tokens meant nothing to him.
The last time I talked to him was a couple of years ago. First I spoke to his attendant. I was hesitant but the man insisted on handing the phone to him. Yugandhar Sahib was in an oxygen tent, I think. He told me ‘Madam, I have difficulty breathing and talking’. But he was very grateful for my phone call. After that I thought about him but never had the himmat to call him. And now…
I began my piece with a couplet. I can almost hear him saying, ‘O Madam, just forget all this poetry. I am a simple rustic…’ But the analogy is true, Yugandhar Sahib. Among thousands who walked out of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, you are the visionary who unlike the narcissus flower is born after many many ages.