Book Review

Indian values, English sensibilities

by NARENDRA KAUSHIK

CAUGHT by the Police, a biography of Anandswarup Gupta, a 1939-batch Indian police officer who served as the Founder-Director of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) in 1970, has many firsts to its credit.

This, arguably, is the first biography penned by six persons—the late Anandswarup Gupta himself, his four civil servant sons, Ranjit Gupta, Harsh Gupta, Madhukar Gupta, Deepak Gupta, and only daughter, Meera Yog, a retired English professor.

This is the first biography written in third person but which frequently quotes the subject to buttress its claims. And this is probably the first biography which publishes English and Urdu poems by the subject as part of its latter half.

Divided into two parts, the book tells the story of an “extraordinary life” lived in “ordinary places”. The first part, comprising nine chapters, are partly based on what Anandswarup had written in his incomplete autobiography, as well as notes, letters and diaries (discovered from steel boxes which stored documents collected from the Guptas’ bungalow in Lucknow which they disposed of in 1981) and what the siblings could remember and share about their father.

The first eight chapters borrow heavily from what Anandswarup wrote about the trajectory of his life and career, first in the Royal Air Force in Britain and later in the Indian Police. It talks about how Anandswarup flirted with the Royal Air Force for a year (1934-35) before the British “medically invalided” him, how he passed BSc after his return from England from a hospital bed laid out in the examination hall and could not sit for the civil services exam for one reason or another and instead appeared for the Imperial Police examination.

The story traverses all the major cities of Uttar Pradesh—Meerut, Moradabad, Lucknow, Allahabad and Sitapur—Shimla and Delhi, the places where Anandswarup served during about three decades of his chequered service. In Chapter Nine, the siblings take turns to narrate what they remember of their father.

It is their journey of rediscovering “our father and reliving our lives with our parents”.

Besides narrating the contemporary history of Uttar Pradesh and India in the pre-independence and post-independence years, Caught by the Police tells how the British discriminated against Indians, denied them equal opportunities, how Indians adopted English food habits and manners, how the country grappled with communal tension and how politicians over the years have treated the bureaucracy by saying ‘do what I say, or you are not my man and you go’. It also chronicles the history of the Gupta clan, its overriding interest in the civil services and the morals it has observed unscrupulously over the years (one of the earlier Guptas returned gold mohars sent to him by a contractor as a Christmas gift).

The biography claims Anandswarup suffered greatly during the reign of Chaudhary Charan Singh as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh because the latter believed he was not his man.

It lauds the immense contribution of Anandswarup to the BPR&D despite his ‘heart’ not being in the police force. Gupta was also the first Director of the Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, New Delhi.

The book is a tribute of lasting value to Anandswarup Gupta’s memory. Its only drawback is that it moves backward and forward too frequently leaving the reader confused about whether the writers are referring to their father, grandfather or great grandfather, and the subject is primarily seen from his children’s perspective.

It also lacks personal details which elevate an autobiography or biography to an art form.

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