Rajkumari Sharma Tankha
Tell us about your life – where were you born and bought up, your education, parents, siblings, and the beginning of your writing career (you write for newspapers). Is writing energising or exhausting?
The Moral Compass (HarperCollins) by Hardayal Singh delves deep into why people behave in a certain manner under certain situations. The 17 stories in the book draw heavily from spirituality, philosophy, psychology as also the four decades of the author’ experience at the helm of critical decision-making. It will surely help you find balance and purpose in your own life.
Born in Lyallpur (now Faislabad) in undivided India in 1947, Singh spent the early years of his life in Simla, Nangal and New Delhi thanks to his father’s job. “My father worked with Bhakra Dam project. When he was inducted into the Indian delegation that represented the country before the World Bank in the river water dispute between India and Pakistan, we too accompanied him to Washington DC,” he informs. Back to India in 1958, Singh finished his schooling from Modern School, Delhi and then went on to study history, economics and political science at Punjab University, Chandigarh from where he took his Master’s in 1969. In 1970, he joined the Indian Revenue Service.
Singh retired as Chief Commissioner of Income-tax, New Delhi, in 2007, and later worked as Ombudsman to the Income-tax department, Mumbai, wherein he established an effective grievance redressal mechanism for taxpayers who had been wronged and turned to the institution for justice. In an email conversation with Life & More, Singh talks about his book and more. Excerpts:
Are the 17 stories real life stories, or real incidents turned into stories?
I would say a bit of both. Many chapters are based on real life incidents but fictionalized. Some are real life stories reflective of modern 21st century middle class India. The important question is not so much whether the stories are true or not but whether they reflect real life and whether the reader can relate to them. “Could I be placed in the kind of situation in which the protagonist finds herself?” Is the question the reader will ask herself?
Your stories often have characters in dilemmas – did you anytime face any such dilemma, and looked for answers? Who helped you in that situation?
Undoubtedly. Like all people, I too have faced dilemmas in my life. At such times, I have always tried to turn to certain principles which we all believe in. You could call this the common heritage we all share. This binds us despite our different cultures, faiths and languages.
You give answers on how to live, but is life that easy that it can get sorted after reading such books…
The book makes no claims to finding instant solutions to problems. You have to find your own dharma, your own road to happiness. But it does at times point out the pitfalls you may encounter when you embark on a particular journey. It is really an in invitation to introspect and find out your own solutions. As someone wise once said, you get in life what you put into it.
Tell us about the making of this book. Who/ what motivated you to write this book. How much time did you take to complete it – cover to cover. How was the whole experience.
Based on my own personal experience, I found that we all flounder when we are put in a situation we would rather not be in. Costs of any decision we take at such times are huge. I thought maybe I could share my own experience when we find ourselves in difficult situations .
Contrary to what you may think, it took me a very long time to write this book. There were times when I felt frustrated because it hardly seemed to move. The first draft turned out to be too abstract; people told me it was boring. When I shifted to storytelling I was told the stories were too long. I hope I have finally got the balance right. All told I took about ten years to finish the book, end to end.
Are you planning a second book. If yes, tell us a little more about it.
Not quite as yet I am afraid. I’ll write a second book only when I passionately believe I want to share more insights.
Considering you have been with the numbers (income tax dept), what explains your interest in writing, and that too a sort of spiritual/ philosophical book?
I have always been fond of reading writing and debating. While in school, I was the editor of students’ magazine Sandesh. I was a journalist for a short while before I joined the Revenue Service but continued my writing even afterwards. I gave talks on the All India Radio, Mumbai when I started my career in that city, and continued to write for the Times of India, the Indian Express and the Economic and Political Weekly, among others. Within the department I was posted as Assistant Director of Training and got an opportunity to pioneer management training for officers. This afforded me an opportunity in understanding organisational behaviour.
Which is your favourite book, and author?
I have always been fond of reading. One of my favourite writers is John Le Carre. In college, I enjoyed reading Rudyard Kipling, Philip Woodruff, Sir CP Snow, Sir Isaiah Berlin, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, JK Galbraith, Arnold Toynbee, etc. Each of these writers opened a new dimension for me in my understanding of the world.
Is writing energising or exhausting?
Writing is enjoyable, even though it involves a lot of hard work.
What are your other interests – like what do you do in your free time.
I enjoy music of all different genres ranging from old western pop to Beethoven’s symphonies. I particularly like the seventh and the ninth symphonies. I am also comfortable hearing Indian classical music (instrumental more than vocal) and old pop music of the fifties, sixties and seventies.
These days I love walking and do yoga to keep fit. In my younger days I enjoyed playing tennis, squash and badminton- all for fun and not at a competitive level.