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Continuity with change…

Bal Krishna
Associate Editor, [email protected]
[email protected]
Dr. Prithvish Nag, the Surveyor General of India, when I met him, I found a very down to earth person. I was not there to interview the Surveyor General of India but to know more about the man behind it. And when I started speaking to him I realised that everything in life doesn’t come in platter. So was the case with Dr. Prithvish Nag. His life epitomises an odyssey that reflects the consistent and sincere hard work, sparkling brilliance and determination on the eventuality of any tragedy.

What inspires you most? ‘Gita’ was a prompt reply. And probably that is why he does his bit and leaves the rest to God. The battle of life starts for Dr. Prithvish Nag in Mathura, birth place of Lord Krishna who anchored ‘Gita’ in a battle field. Dr. Pradumna Chandra, his father who happened to be a renowned professor in Veterinary Sciences, at Veterinary College Mathura might not have realised at that time by naming him Prithvish that his son is really going to be Prithvish, and some decades down the lane as Surveyor General of India, the position which only a few civilians could achieve in the history of military dominated Survey of India.

After completing his primary and secondary education in Mathura, he went to Benaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi for higher education. “I had a strange combination of subjects at my graduation. It was Physics, Mathematics and Geography. After my graduation I chose Mathematics as a subject for post graduation. I even attended Mathematics classes for a week. However, my geography teachers managed to persuade me to take up Geography as a subject. I also got convinced, as that would enable me to become a lecturer at a degree college. I always wanted to be a lecturer,” Dr. Nag recalls. “Those two years I studied very hard. My day used to start early in the morning in library and after attending the classes, again back to the library in the evening. I used to do my practical late nights. And all that hard work paid me later on. In the first semester I was behind by 2 marks from the student who topped in the first semester but later on I managed to establish convincing and considerable lead,” adds Dr. Nag. He received a cheque of Rs. 70 along with a certificate of merit but interestingly he spent Rs. 200 for celebration and party. Dr. Nag considers that it was shear hard work during Masters that provided him the firm grounding in his discipline-Geography. Dr. Nag completed his Masters in 1972.

The story of PhD is no less interesting. He started his PhD in Settlement Geography under the supervision of Professor A S Jauhari taking Zambia as a case study partially due to the fact his father worked there and also the then President of India, Shri V V Giri asked Indian scientists to help that country in development and planning. The Government of Zambia was also encouraging to take up such studies. However, his study was marred by tragedy in his personal life when his father expired in 1974. He had the responsibility to support the family and hence he started applying for jobs. His application for the lecturership in BHU was not accepted because he was too young. By the time, he completed his PhD, he applied to National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO) and got selected there.

Cruising into the memory lane Dr. Nag recalls, “I never missed an opportunity. Also I took interest in activities of various international geographic organisations, which has given me recognition at international level. Recognition in India came much later.” He had been the Corresponding Member of International Geographic Union’s Commission on Population Geography for eight years, which is rare for an Indian. In 1980, he chaired a technical session in 24th International Geographic Congress in Tokyo. He authored several books such as Census Survey Mapping, Population Settlement and Development in Zambia. His Book “Population and Disaster” published by Oxford was reviewed in Nature. He got the Bursary grant on the occasion of 50th anniversary of Royal Geographical Society, London that took him to the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. “But I felt very important when I became a father” Dr. Nag recalls. And what about marriage? “It did bring change in life. My wife had been very supporting and she had played a major role in my growth and progress. She takes care of home and helps my in writing by doing the necessary editing”.

Dr. Nag with his wife

Dr. Nag although has a long list of achievements but he considers his tenure in Oman as a consultant very fulfilling as he was involved in organising the first census of Oman, demarcating district boundaries and other territories. And any failure in life – Yes, he wanted to become a hockey player but couldn’t. Professionally, he considers Prof R L Singh and Prof S L Kayastha as his ideals. The moments of his life he cherishes are getting Gold Medal, Chairing International Congress and becoming Director, NATMO and now Surveyor General of India.

Dr. Nag is a down to earth person, a person living next door, very close to common man. This is reflected in most of his actions. Very accessible and keeping others in comfortable position. He happens to be the first senior government officical to visit CSDMS when it was a very small oraganisation. He loves old Hindi film songs and doesn’t like snobbish people. In his spare time, he watches TV and meets people. He manages harmony between his professional and personal life. He loves home food and his favorite country is England as there he finds greater sense of belonging. He wants this world to be more organised and humane. Last year when he made a miraculous escape in a road accident in Dehradun, he coped with tragedy with faith in himself and God. The accident has made him more confident and more determined.

Lastly, when I asked him what are his plans as Surveyor General of India, he said, “I believe in continuity with change”. And probably that’s what the Survey of India needs today.