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I, LBSNAA

An autobiographical letter by the enigma called LBSNAA



The Academy as seen from George Everest peak



Dear Trainees, Aspirants and those who know me,


I was imagined as a hotel, I was run as one. I was transformed into a sanctuary and a Mecca for civil servants and I delivered. I am Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, LBSNAA. Its been decades that I have seen batches come and go. The Foundation Courses, the Phase 1s and Phase 2s, the MCTP and JCM and a few others. They all fleetingly come here and leave with their imprints on these pavements of cobblestones that lay on my bare chest, standing testimony to the ethos of public service that I strive to instil in them. The cobblestone pathways and historic buildings create an ambiance that encapsulates the spirit of the academy.  I hold within my walls the memories of trainees who have passed through my gates. The academy becomes a time capsule, freezing moments of camaraderie, academic rigour, and self-discovery.


 I am not merely the culmination of bricks and mortar; I am a living, breathing testament to the evolution of the India, that is Bharat. My narrative is interwoven with the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of those who have passed through my gates. As the echoes of decades reverberate within my walls, each batch leaves an indelible mark, contributing to the rich tapestry of history that defines the academy.



One of the remenants of the original Charleville Hotel



In the annals of time, on April 15, 1958, the visionary Union Home Minister Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant announced the establishment of a National Academy of Administration—a haven where the recruits of Civil Services would receive training. The amalgamation of the IAS Training School, Delhi, and the IAS Staff College, Shimla, birthed what would become the LBSNAA, finding my home in the picturesque Charleville Estate of Mussoorie.


The early days in Charleville were marked by niggling glitches and gaps, a metaphorical reflection of the challenges trainees face during their transformative journey. From the lack of horse-riding facilities to the thundering hooves resonating through Charleville Estate within two months, the academy mirrored the resilience that would later define its own narrative.


I was the first hotel built in Mussoorie, initially crafted in 1854 by General Wilkinson and later purchased by Mr. Hobson in 1861. The Charleville Hotel became a historical anchor, with its name, ‘Charley-Biley,’ paying homage to Mr. Hobson's sons—Charlie and Billy. The grounds of Happy Valley, acquired in 1904, witnessed events like the 'Pagal Gymkhana' during World War II, embodying a history steeped in tradition and service.



The workers curating the Director's Lawns



The fire that engulfed the Charleville complex in 1984, tragic though it was, became a metaphor for the academy's resilience. From the ashes, emerged new structures like 'Dhruvshila' and 'Kalindi Guest House,' symbolizing the phoenix-like spirit inherent in the pursuit of public service.


As trainees delve into their training at LBSNAA, the academy's historical timeline seamlessly weaves into their own stories. The Charleville Hotel, which housed the academy during its early days, whispers tales of antiquity. British author Rudyard Kipling, a guest in 1888, and Queen Mary of the UK, who stayed in March 1905, add layers of historical grandeur to the my foundations.


A postcard of original Charleville Hotel (Source - Internet)


When Rudyard Kipling visited Mussoorie in the summer 1888, he wrote two verses by hand in a book of photographs in an album of photographs by Alex Hill (now in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.), which can be found on the website of The Kipling Society, the first under an image like that of the postcard above:


A burning sun in cloudless skies

And April dies,

A dusty mall—three sunsets splendid—

And May is ended,

Grey mud beneath—grey cloud o'erhead

And June is dead.

A little bill in late July

And then we fly.



A photograpgh of original Charleville Hotel (Source - Internet)



and a second under another photograph of the hotel (Wutzler was the manager):


And there were men with a thousand wants

And women with babes galore—

But the dear little angels in Heaven know

That Wutzler never swore.


The Charleville Hotel Mussorie was also the only Hotel in Mussorie patronized by Her Majesty Queen Mary (as she later became) during her visit to Mussoorie in 1906.



The Coffee Shop at AN Jha Lawns


I have been through a lot since the time I was imagined. I was initially just figuring out how to train the steel frame of India as envisioned by Sardar Patel. Over the years it was the steel frame that shaped my outlines for the coming generation of bureaucrats. It was like a circle of life, like clay to brick to clay again. Many generations of stalwart directors have given shape to me. From AN Jha who was the first to serve and dish out fresh civil servants to the legendary Yugandhar who not only birthed Satya Nadella but also a generation of well bred IAS officers who are instrumental in shaping India.



LBSNAA a concept 

To many, I am the Holy Grail—a revered initiation ground for Civil Service aspirants. To the IAS officer, I am 'Karmabhoomi,' the world-stage where deeds play out. To the Faculty, I am an oasis of peace after the rigours of the field and an opportunity to revise and relearn. Regardless of the role, I reside in the heart and mind of anyone associated with the Civil Services.



Valedictory picture of 2021 IAS Batch with Hon'ble Finance Minister (Source - LBSNAA)


My transformation over six and a half decades is both physical and conceptual. From a Grande Dame fallen on hard times, I have evolved into a boutique hotel, mirroring the enhanced entitlements of senior officers. The decision to conduct Mid-career Training programs in 2007 was a game-changer, bringing forth spanking new facilities that transformed life at LBS.


The academy's evolution from Metcalfe House to Charleville Hotel in 1959, and subsequent expansions over the years, echoes the resilience and adaptability inherent in the civil services. The buildings, Gyanshila, Silverwood, and Valley View, added in 2011, stand as witnesses to my commitment to growth. With the Monastery now adding its magnanimous presence to me, I can match the mighty Himalayas in stature and stand testimony to the new India that’s ready to bear the crown and responsibility of leading the world as a Vishwaguru.



The life and times 

Life at LBS has undergone a sea-change since the '80s. The once joyous mix of academic and extra-curricular activities has given way to a whirlwind of lectures, seminars, treks, river-rafting, and cultural events. The term 'Probationers' has made way for 'Officer Trainees,' with the extinction as well as revival of the detested 'Keen Type Probationers' (KTPs). The Academy's Gross Happiness Quotient may now be in the orange, but it is a testament to the hectic but fulfilling life of Officer Trainees.



A sunny afternoon banter between trainees



Trainees, drawn from diverse backgrounds and cultures, converge to share the common dream of serving the nation. In the crucible of learning and shared aspirations, friendships are forged that withstand the test of time. I become a microcosm of society, where trainees learn not only from textbooks but also from each other's experiences. The cobblestone pathways and historic buildings, etched with the imprints of countless predecessors, set the stage for a journey that goes beyond the pages of textbooks. It is a melting pot where the rich diversity of India converges, breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of unity in purpose.


Like any great institution holds the secrets of its inhabitants, so do the silent corners and cobblestone pathways of LBSNAA. Trainees confide in the academy's architecture, whispering their fears, hopes, and desires into the very stones that make up its structure. The academy becomes a confidant, a keeper of the untold stories that unfold in the midst of lectures, discussions, and late-night contemplations. The stones, weathered by time, carry the weight of these shared confidences. In every nook and cranny of this academy, there is a whisper of legacy—a legacy that they inherit and a legacy that they contribute to. It's a silent conversation between the past, the present, and the future, conducted in the language of service, sacrifice, and unwavering dedication. As I pay homage to the batches that have walked these paths before me and anticipate the ones that will follow, I am reminded that I am is not just an institution; I am a living, breathing testament to the ideals the trainees hold dear. The cobblestones, especially in the quiet corners of the academy, have a peculiar allure. It's here that a tradition, whispered from one batch to the next, takes place. As trainees prepare to move forward, they pause in these secluded spots, leaning in to share their aspirations, fears, and midnight confessions with the stones. It's as if these stones, polished by the shared hopes of generations, become silent confidants, listening to the innermost thoughts of those who pass through.



Trainees merging with the academy


The misty mountains of Mussoorie become a metaphor for the trainees' journey, mirroring the uncertainties and challenges they face. The academy's picturesque setting, where the Charleville Hotel once stood as the first edifice in the hill station, adds a layer of aesthetic charm to the rigorous training. The fire that engulfed the hotel in 1984 serves as a poignant metaphor for the trials faced by those pursuing a career in civil services—a reminder that challenges may come, but resilience prevails.


As I pen down these reflections, I am acutely aware that every trainee is but one chapter in the larger narrative of LBSNAA. The academy has seen countless batches before, each leaving an indelible mark, and it will witness many more to come. It's a humbling realization, standing on the shoulders of those who came before, and paving the way for those who will follow. I see that weight of aspirations in these eyes on sunny mornings with chilly winter gusts flying in.



The benches that hold numerous conversations


I also strive to ensue a feeling of unity within these batches. I remember one rain marred afternoon. One drizzly afternoon, as trainees gathered on the cobblestone courtyard, a trainee recounted a tale from their early days. Caught off guard by an unexpected snowfall the academy’s gloom transformed into joy and frolic. As if by unspoken mutual recognition they classes were suspended and the whole life inside me rushed up to the open lawns of AN Jha plaza to soak in the nature’s wonder. There was a song in the heart of every trainee that day that each snowflake that fell onto my bare chest echoed with its fall. The image of probationers huddled together, laughing amidst the snow-soaked grass and cobblestones, remains etched in the collective memory—a symbol of resilience, camaraderie, and the serendipitous beauty of shared moments. 


Snowfall at LBSNAA


Numerous tales of the famed Himalayan Trek where hardship and mountains bind trainees in blood and flesh into lifelong friendships come back to me every winter. The Village Visit becomes the first touchpoint for delving into the reality of our motherland and the people of this land that look at you with wonder, pride and most importantly - hope. 


A constant in the life of Officer Trainees is matchmaking—a pursuit that intertwines with the quest for emotional succor. From love-birds seeking the same tutor group and trek group to the complexities of love triangles, the Academy becomes a stage for romance, adventure, and, sometimes, cynical machinations for cadre change, better known as CBM.



A dutybound guard, reminder of being in service of the nation


In its essence, the Academy is a captivating blend of learning, sports, debates, and culture. A temple of learning, a sporting paradise, and a cultural hot-spot, it remains an incubator for the talents of the country's finest brains, shaping them for a challenging yet rewarding career. The occupants of this hallowed institution live a charmed life—a life of adventure, romance, and excitement, sprinkled with the star-dust of a fulfilling career in public service.


The academy is more than a training ground; it is a personality that evolves with each generation of trainees. From the early days, when the rooms were musty and the paint peeling off the walls, to the present, resembling a boutique hotel, I have grown physically. Yet, the essence remains the same—a crucible of talent, a temple of learning, a sporting paradise, and a cultural hot-spot.


The rooms of Ganga, Narmada and Kaveri have housed the greats of this nation. It is the same space that every batch crams into, rather unwillingly but comes out aching to stay in them for one last time. The lazy afternoons and evenings spent at Home Turf or Ganga Dhaba are possibly the richest conversations that I have been privy to. Sometimes the casual idea sharing over a cup of pahadi-chai may reusult into a game shifting policy years later. Sometimes I wonder whether the trainees think about the magnitude of the fact that they may be occupying the same four walls that some of the greats of this country have. 



Happy Valley


And now the treks. The aching joints and creaking knees detest the climbs to George Everest, Benog and Landour at first. They climb and climb and crib about the unnecessary ordeal. Little do they realise that these steep climbs are their journey to greatness and preparedness for many such uphill tasks that they will face once on ground. These treks are also the best ice-breakers, friendship catalysts and bond-forming exercises. Somehow the shared toughness and physical strain removes all facades and brings out people as they are - raw, bare and humane. 


I have seen them run to their lectures, a bread in one hand, a coffee in another. I have seen them groan in agony when at 6 am alarm rings for the life-sucking PT call. I see them completely detest the faculty and their methods when their individual freedom is challenged and curbed. I see them grovel in silence when there is an impending exam the next day. To this I say, as Thoreau, father of the pragmatic philosophy movement once said, “any fool can make a rule and any fool will mind it”. The important thing is to keep your stride equanimous and take it all in. 



The cobbled pathways


As trainees navigate lectures, seminars, treks, and cultural events, they find themselves caught in a whirlwind of activities. The once-perfect equilibrium of work and life may have shifted, but the challenges and rewards of the journey remain unparalleled. The trainee's life, documented by the academy over decades, is a fascinating blend of adventure, romance, and excitement—a life sprinkled with the star-dust of a fulfilling career in public service.


As each trainee contributes to the legacy, the academy stands not only as an institution but as a living, breathing testament to the ideals held dear. The feelings of camaraderie, shared aspirations, and the weight of responsibility are etched into the very foundation of LBSNAA. It is a journey that transcends the professional, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of those who pass through its gates



A snowy evening at Mussoorie


As I reflect on the countless memories etched into my walls, I stand as a witness to the legacy that is LBSNAA—a legacy that continues to evolve with each passing batch, contributing to the enduring story of this alma mater of the IAS.



What I expect from you

Be yourself, be your peers, be your past - the doyens that made you who you are. You are respected because the steel frame has held its fray over the years. It had brought this country to where it is - step by step, one small action after other. All the tears wiped from the faces of the poor, all the smiles spread by one action of kindness. 


There will be days when laying back and sipping on wine seems ideal, but remember your country and your people may call on you at any point in time. And that’s the time my eyes will be on you. No one would be watching, but I would. And I would always expect you to stand tall and stand with the people who have all the expectations from you. 



Statute of Shri Shastri at LBSNAA


Remember that fleeting excitements and offers may spring up from time to time, but as I said earlier, they are fleeting. Do not let the slippery slope take you for a never ending ride of pleasure and guilt, so intertwined that one loses focus of the apparent. 


I expect you to be me, for me and for this country. 



What I expect from myself 

I expect betterment, modernisation and rising above cacophony of aggrandisement. I wish to imbibe in every resident on my grounds the sense of responsibility to each other and this nation. I want to rip apart any embellishments that I adorn with unbearable weight of grandeur and lay bare my core to reflect what I truly am. 



Evenings to remember


To the aspirants who wish to land on these hallowed ground of mine I do not want to just be a destination but an invitation. An invitation for change and a life worth living in service of the nation and its people. LBSNAA should not just be an emotion but a vision and motto for excellence and passion. 


I may be growing older by the day but the wisdom I carry and the wisdom I impart are both relevant and important for the nation. As if refinement has its own wins and triumphs. If nothing, take this letter as a message to 'keep walking' from an old soul.



LBSNAA



And finally 

Is rare it is very rare that I speak out like this about myself. I may be an old soul, but my soul isn't alone. It's a soul that carries the life and breath of decades and with every new batch there's a buzz of lightning that strikes the soul and renews it again. It's difficult for me to say everything that I feel, sometimes the feelings I have looking at the humans who tread on me are difficult to put into words. I think the next 25 years of my existence are crucial. This is the time perhaps where my mettle will be put to test. But these young minds that I have fostered are my hope. I hope that they will not only make a name for themselves but also make me keep my head held high amongst these lofty mountains that are ever imposing. I hope that years from now when I possibly write another soul searching essay of mine the words will be easier to come by, the pride will be higher than imagined and the nation shall stand tall on the robust foundation of our steel frame.



Always,

LBSNAA





** All pictures by the author except one's metioned with source.

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