Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An IPS officer's effort to inspire children

My editor suddenly gave me a book to review. Its author, C Sylendra Babu, is undoubtedly one of the stars of the Indian Police Service. An officer of the 1987 batch, the Special Task Force chief and inspector general of police, Tamil Nadu, is a recipient of the President of India’s Medal for Devotion to Duty, the Prime Minister’s Medal for Life Saving and the Chief Minister’s Medal for Gallantry. ‘Boys & Girls Be Ambitious’ is not Babu’s first book; he has written five others, including ‘You Too Can Become An IPS Officer’.

‘Be Ambitious’, as former director general of police W I Davaram mentions in the preface, is a sort of wake-up call for boys and girls who have lost focus and don’t really know what to do with their lives. The subjects range from ambition and ability to nutritious food and meditation, from enthusiasm and character to leadership and communication skills, and from fear of learning to falling in love with work.

A book by a person with Babu’s credentials is bound to get a second look. In this case, Babu could have made his work stand out from the numerous self-improvement books you see in book stores across the country if only he had brought in much more of his personal experiences to enthuse the reader. Indeed, his various stints, including those as superintendent of police in different districts, as joint commissioner of police, Chennai City, and chief of the STF would have provided him enough fodder for providing inspiring examples. But what we have is less of that and more examples of Martin Luther King Jr, John Kennedy, Terry Fox, even Rober Clive. That may all be well but there is quite nothing like bringing your own experiences to the fore.

At the end of each chapter there are brief sketches of people who symbolise the subject in that chapter. For instance, at the end of the chapter on ‘Ambition’ is a resume of Alexander the Great; the Rani of Jhansi is chosen to exemplify overcoming ‘Fear’. Here again, contemporary heroes would have scored much better with the reader. Gautama Buddha, Alexander, Sir Isaac Newton, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Albert Einstein, Thomas Alva Edison and Christopher Columbus are all there, but children (the target audience), even others, would already have read about them in history books. Babu himself writes about children looking for role models, other than film stars and cricketers, who can inspire and transform. Thus, it would have been so much better if all the people mentioned were contemporary heroes, such as a Narayana Murthy, an Azim Premji, a Vishwanathan Anand, a Kiran Bedi or a Walter Davaram. Of such, there are only three – APJ Abdul Kalam, AR Rahman and Abhinav Bhindra. And Indian examples, please. We have our own Sylvester Stallones and Jackie Chans.

In the end, it’s a painstaking effort by the author who has interacted with students over the years and loves academia, but 250-odd pages is a little too much, so is the Rs 140 price tag. A 150-page book priced below Rs 100 would have been much better.