In short, it's that rarest of things -- a highbrow book that's vertiginously thrilling. Mercurio's understated empathy, his starkly elegant prose and his Werner Herzog-like instinct for juxtaposition lift Ascent far above a Boy's Own adventure.
The Ascent of Man by Mathilde Blind
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Add to Cart Add to Cart. Table of Contents Rave and Reviews. Dubbed Ivan the Terrible, he amasses more jet kills than any fighter pilot in history, but his feats must remain unknown to his countrymen, his victories un-celebrated. After the war, his achievements are scrubbed from the records and he is exiled to a base above the Arctic Circle, where he flies patrols on the edge of American airspace.
There he learns that Yuri Gagarin has become the first man in space, the greatest of all heroes. And then, as America's Apollo astronauts prepare to reach the Moon, he is given a new name and sent into cosmonaut training.
Throughout his career, he has craved a place in history, in the climactic clash between the two great powers. At last his country calls him. And somewhere between the Earth and the Moon, Ivan the Terrible finds his mission to create history, to exceed his own life.
The reality, as is always the case, is much different. But the IAS officer is also buffeted by political changes, must deal with unsavory and thuggish political leaders, corrupt businesspeople, jealous colleagues, and the cussed and easily manipulated ordinary citizens. Ramachandran recounts his many such interactions with political leaders, foreign experts, helpful colleagues, jealous and scheming superiors, and does so without overwhelming the reader with minutiae.
Yes, his deep love for the mining and mineral industry and his wonkish involvement with what the mineral-rich state of Odisha could be transformed into comes through clear and in much detail. Surely, his grounding in the sciences, a BA in physics and interest in telegraphy, stand in good stead as he wades into fields that he is not an expert in but becomes easily and happily comfortable with — from bauxite mining to ferrochrome plants, and from sponge iron manufacturing to ferrovanadium plants.
Add to this the fact that Odisha, a region full of tribes, with deeply forested and hilly land, and with the great river Mahanadi flowing through it makes for a setting that is truly out of an exotic novel. Ramachandran writes of the remote locations through which he had to travel, the tiger and snake infested backyards of the official bungalows he lived in, the rising river of Mahanadi as it was dammed at Hirakud and how the animals and the people suffered. My mother still recounts those days when she, still a teenage mother, living in a big house, was scared during the day as my father went to work, and scared at night because of all the creatures inside the house and the sounds of animals outside the house.
Yes, young engineers and young administrators did sacrifice a lot those days, and they were the ones who gave their blood, sweat and tears to put India on the path of becoming a modern, developed country. Tirumale Iyengar was also the chief engineer for the Tungabhadra multipurpose dam project, on which my father worked too, as a young engineer.
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In he was promoted as secretary industry for the state, and because of political gamesmanship, his colleague SK Ghose was asked to resign as chairman of OMC, and thus Ramachandran had to take on the role of chairman, OMC, and then his designation changed to secretary, Mining and Geology, after which he took over as Secretary, Irrigation and Power, in , and as Land Reforms Commissioner in There is a treasure-trove of details about all these phases of his career in the book for the curious reader.
Honest officers do pay a price, and Ramachandran paid dearly, with a false case foisted on him, and he suffered under a cloud for 10 long years before the courts cleared him of all the false allegations.
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To name names, the people who gave him the most trouble and sought to undermine his career were Deputy Chief Minister Pabitra Mohan Pradhan; chief minister Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo; and Prahallad Mallick, deputy minister, irrigation and power. Ganapati, who sought to put every kind of spoke in the wheel to delay and derail the good work that Ramachandran and his colleagues sought to do at NALCO.
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He must have kept copious notes throughout his career, indicating the discipline and dedication he brought to bear on what he did. The book is made more enjoyable by the inclusion of a carefully curated set of photographs, and the lovely foreword by Prof. Kadayam Sankara Ramchandran is that rare man whose life work he has made accessible for us to read, celebrate, and learn from.