Collector Bro reveals his real face
Prasanth Nair IAS, familiar to Keralites as ‘Collector Bro’ has always been in the headlines for his citizen-friendly and participative approach in governance. The 4th rank holder in the 2007 UPSC exam, he rarely displays the highly sensitive, philosophical or vulnerable side behind the usual smiles and the tough persona of a bureaucrat. Mathrubhumi tries to explore the unique traits of his character which he generally does not talk about.
Have you ever fallen in love?
As humans, anyone who has not experienced these emotions has missed out on something seriously. Maybe many may not have had the opportunity. Falling in love is a great feeling which has a spiritual aspect too. Once you fall in love, both partners evolve together. The real challenge is to continue to be in love!
Do you remember having a crush on someone?
I studied in a boys school. So I didn’t really get a chance for that, but I remember thinking Sonali Bendre was really pretty and when Aishwarya Rai entered films, it was like how could someone be so beautiful!
Do you think the values of society has degraded as even the law doesn’t render extra-marital affairs punishable?
We can’t blame the law for everything happening in the society. If there occurs an affair outside marriage, then the relation between the couple has already had a shift. There should be commitment between the partners and a resolve to fulfil it lifelong. It’s all about evolution. If we look back, we have always had a colourful society with different systems of marriages or relationships, where there was a lot of space for many things. I would not be judgmental. The youngsters today might be focusing more on individual happiness. The social system undergoes changes over time. The legal system reflects only what the society wishes for or is prepared for.”
How different are you from other civil servants?
I would not consider myself as much different. It could be the generation shift that was inevitable and I might have just been there at that moment. I might be thinking slightly differently or using the technology available effectively. Even in the psychometric analysis done as part of mid-career training in Mussoorie to assess the risk-taking mentality, decision-making, etc., projected me as somewhat deviant with out-of-the-box thinking style which was completely opposite to the traditional bureaucratic way of relying on precedence. I was a loner in that batch of about 100 in that segment. We have to live with our individual personality type after all- be it for good or bad. I try to leverage my traits in a positive manner as far as possible and perhaps that’s what people think is so different.
You always don a pleasant attitude. When do you become angry?
It’s not that I don’t become angry at all. Sometimes we have to put on a show of being angry for expressing displeasure or to get the job done from subordinates. I usually don’t get excited with these kind of emotions, but the key is to not allow anger to use us. As Swami Chinmayananda said, anger should be used as a tool like scissors and put back after use. People in Kerala are known to be extra sarcastic and cynical. I am no exception which helps me handle many situations with humour.
Do you think the education system we have now is like comparing elephant and mouse with the same parameters?
Anywhere in the world, education is seen as only providing some basic skills. Unfortunately, we don’t have a customized education system in India which if at all available, is very expensive. In some countries, there is an elaborate homeschooling system. But our population is huge and the administration is struggling to provide even basic education for all, with the limited infrastructure available. We might have many potential Einsteins who might not even see a school. For the time being, the parents can try to understand and not insist on turning children into robots. If talent is noticed, that can be encouraged. Let’s hope more facilities would come up to cater to individual differences in our education system.
What were the barriers you had to overcome while preparing for UPSC?
There were a couple of challenges. Since the civil services preparation extends to more than a year, the interest to study needs to be maintained. Willpower and perseverance is most important. Since I was still in college, it was tough to manage the university exams, classes & UPSC preparations. Finally, my Mains exam date clashed with annual exam of the year where I went ahead with the former and attempted the latter on a later date. I had made up my mind to get through the obstacles to reach my target.
The reason behind selecting law for graduation?
Legal knowledge is highly empowering. Law is something I was passionate about which is absolutely needed for administration. That was an important subject which was advantageous for UPSC preparation too. Looking at it in a different way, it was sort of a backup career, since getting into civil service hugely depended on various factors apart from the highly competitive aspect. Legal profession gives you much independence and you’re your own boss.
How would you describe yourself as a person ?
As a person, one should be highly adventurous and explorative to find out what you are, that is the philosophy that drives me. I tend to observe even the slightest movement of the other person and sense their feelings. Also, I don’t mind if my eyes well up after witnessing a real life situation or watching an emotional movie because that is only human! I tend to get deeply disturbed by the pain of fellow beings and don’t hesitate to spend hours solving their problems. Why should we hide our compassion or vulnerability unlike other emotions? Perhaps I’m vulnerable and emotional. I’m also a tough cookie at times. I keep double guessing people and I like it when I get it spot on.
Why the inclination towards psychology?
Psychology was my optional subject for civil services exam because it has deeply intrigued me. I had friends and relatives who have had serious issues. Psychology has applications on a day-to-day basis and when it comes to disorders, you suddenly understand the seriousness. When you have exposure to those having serious mind disorders, you start appreciating the knowledge. What I have seen is that everybody in this world has some disorder or other. There is no such thing as normalcy. Everything is connected to psychology- the core perception, happiness, achievements, mood swings all boil down to your mind. Even the advertisements, electoral campaigns, exams, business- all try to play with your psychology.
How different is actual bureaucracy from the image you had before joining service?
“Before entering the service, you are this angry discontented young man unhappy with the government. But once you are into the system, it is a phase-change where you have to actually take responsibility for situations. I am not sure I have actually completed the transition as I am always a citizen at the other end. That is why I try to find solutions for the people approaching me.
How do you discover and pursue your interests in various fields?
I just follow my heart. I don’t believe one’s personality should be constrained by the job you do. As a school kid, I used to be fascinated with movies, especially Roja, and wanted to direct something. After one has chosen the career-path in life, why not think about travelling through the side-routes left behind? There is one single life to amass the experiences you wish to gain. Personal and professional lives are different, one should know where to draw the line. We should not be afraid of failure as it would restrain us from trying anything. We should explore our opportunities to the maximum and find out where it takes us.
How do you handle criticism?
Initially I used to feel upset, but now I realise, if millions of people can like me without even knowing me personally, I must feel fine to accept dislikes too. I don’t care about people judging me. I don’t subscribe easily to suggestions and advices as to what I should do. I need to be thoroughly convinced.
Quite different from the trend of officer wives becoming entrepreneurs, your wife is content as a homemaker?
Oh, she would be the last one to get into a business, though she is an MCA by qualification. Our entire family depends on her for everyday life. She manages the household in the best possible manner, thereby keeping the family together and happy. As of now, she has set her priorities and we are okay with it.
What is happiness according to you?
While mentioning happiness, people search for ecstasy, laughter or thrills. This is a wrong pursuit where you become unhappy once you are used to a particular level of happiness you have already achieved. It is a never ending greed for more where you keep raising your threshold. Happiness for me is pure contentment- when you are happy with your surroundings and also with what you have! Generally, for humans, happiness cannot come by sitting isolated; it comes when connecting and interacting with those around you. My happiest moments were not spent alone either. When you think again, these are happy, memorable moments. But even while I’m alone, I’m content. Perhaps nothing memorable and nothing grand to recollect from those solitary moments. The most peaceful and blissful moments can visit you when you are on a long flight and you observe the silence and calmness around you with closed eyes. Mindfulness or meditation may be a label you would like to use for such moments. Happiness ultimately, cannot be invented, it has to be discovered and observed when it happens!
(The author is Chairperson CSA, Dir TGL, Sr Dir FWO, Editor The Intl Journal)