One of the most corrupt professions in India is Civil Engineering. There is a common joke here that even tailors know which of their customers are civil engineers – they make our pockets extra-large! Having been trained as a civil engineer, I wanted to escape the rigors of temptations in field work into the ‘safe’ job of being a teacher in an engineering college. My professor in IIT Madras, where I completed my Master’s course, also wanted me to go on to complete a doctoral program and join the faculty. God, however, had other plans – He took me by the scruff of my neck and ‘threw’ me into a job with the Central Government. I was to look after the buildings in what was then the Posts and Telegraphs Department. The recruitment was conducted by the Union Public Service Commission through a stringent process of examination and interviews.
I began my first job as a raw young man designated as an Assistant Executive Engineer, in the city of Bombay on June 4, 1965. Till then, I had not travelled beyond Hyderabad outside my native Madras state. My first question to my first boss – Mr B T Wadekar – was, “Is it possible to be honest in this job?” He gave me a diplomatic – what we call these days a politically correct – answer, “You can be honest but do not expect others to be honest!”
Another escape route that I considered in those early days was entering full-time Christian service. I missed applying to the Union Biblical Seminary in Yavatmal (now in Pune) by just a few days in January 1967. This was because I believed that I had a ‘call’ for full-time work and my job as an engineer did not
deserve to be called as a response to a ‘call’. My first paradigm shift was to recognize that God can call us to anything that is ethical and creative – He is the great Creator and has made us in His image so that we can be His co-creators. I therefore determined that I shall design and construct buildings that will in some measure reflect God’s creativity in me.
To my pleasant surprise, I found that there were not too many incidents where contractors approached me with a ‘bag of gold’ to bribe me in their favour. My
second lesson was the discovery that once an officer established her/his reputation in the early years, one’s reputation travelled faster than one did! During my tenure, I served in 7 cities – Bombay, Nagpur, Madras, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Shillong and Calcutta. In very differing conditions and with officers and contractors of varying backgrounds, I found that certain factors were actually common – they respected a person who had clear ethical standards. I can think of only one instance when I had to clearly tell my Chief Engineer that I would not do a wrong thing that he was pressing me to do. From 1980 to 1985, when posted in Shillong, I had to work closely with the Minister in the Indian cabinet who was from that region; I cannot remember a single occasion when he asked me to do something that was ethically wrong.
Having been brought up in EU and EGF surroundings, I had learnt that one should not be engaged in wrong practices. However, during my early years in the Government and this was my third lesson, I learnt that this alone was not
enough. God is not only interested in His children keeping their hands and consciences clean from sins of commission; He expects us to make a positive contribution in what we do. Daniel and Joseph were my role models – Daniel 6:4 says that Daniel was neither corrupt nor negligent. This means that he was not only honest – he was hardworking and competent as well. One of the interesting paradoxes even in a corrupt system is that if you are competent, your bosses will have to put up with your honesty – after all, somebody has to get the job done! I therefore do not rush to sympathize with Christians who complain that they are discriminated against because they are honest – I make it a point to make sure that they are competent and hardworking and do not wear their morality on their shirtsleeves, so to speak! I think India suffers from two groups of people – those who are totally corrupt; and those who are honest but think that they alone are honest!
One of the early resolutions that I had made – although I number it as my fourth lesson – was to learn to treat my bosses, colleagues, subordinates and contractors as human beings made in the image of God. I did not realize the far-reaching consequences of that one single attitude. Otherwise corrupt contractors turned out high quality work for me; even mediocre officers worked hard to produce outstanding results so much so that my career was continuously appreciated by my officers and politicians at the highest level. After serving as Superintending Engineer for 6 years in Calcutta, I was promoted as Chief Engineer and was to be transferred to Delhi; I was given to understand later that the Cabinet Minister took the decision to retain me in Calcutta because he felt that I could handle the difficult labour situation in Calcutta better than any other officers.
My colleagues and associates in my job were quite familiar with the message of the Christian faith by what I shared with them from time to time as well as the way I carried out my job. There was one anonymous complaint about me that I went around baptizing people (!) – my boss in Delhi told me that he had thrown that letter into the trash bin! I was able to make time also to study Greek and Hebrew on my own so that I could handle Scriptures better when called upon to teach. I remember one of my officers quipping during one of my tours – “Your briefcase is heavier than your suitcase” – because it was only during my travels that I could spend time to catch up on reading. Here again, Daniel was my model – a civil servant who did double-duty as a prophet!
So at the end of 28 years 6 months and 26 days in the Indian Government, I relinquished charge as Chief Engineer on October 29, 1993; I had another 10 years of service left in the Government. In my last position as Chief Engineer with the Department of Telecommunications based in Calcutta, I was looking after 12 States and 1 Union Territory; the area was about one-fourth of the
whole country and I had about 250 engineers working under my charge. The reason why I have taken pains to count the days of my service is that that period is what gave me credibility for the 18 years and 11 months of service (from November 1, 1993 to September 30, 2012) with the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. When a member of the Board in Delhi came to know of my decision to take voluntary retirement, he said something like this to me: “Please preach whatever you want to preach and take whatever leave you want to avail but do not leave the Department!”
One of my discoveries about full-time Christian work was that, in spite of its importance, the environment in which it is carried out is artificial and contrived and therefore out-of-touch with the realities of the marketplace. When young people fresh out of university approach me with their perceived vision for full-time work, I normally advise them to work in the marketplace for 5 to 10 years before they even think of entering Christian work. It is when one is tried in the crucible of real life that one is better qualified to serve the Lord full-time; the sermons one preaches on Sundays will consequently have relevance to life and work on the other 6 days.
Harvest Times for Your Family June 2013/Volume 10 Issue 6