An Intrepid Maverick: Lalit Das
Aug 01, 2016 | Team MM
A distinguished IPS officer, an alumnus of IIT-M, IIM-B and NIT-R, a member of the world peacekeeping force, a saxophone player, a cyclist and a marathon runner. Lalit Das is a man of many talents. His roots being in the Metallurgical and Materials Engineering of NIT-R, he has gone on to be successful in every field he has ventured in. His suave, polite and calm attitude should be an example to all. Team MM caught up with this all-rounder to have an insight into his life.
MM: Tell us about life before NIT-R happened?
LD: I had joined REC (now NITR) in the year of 1982. Initially, I had been admitted into the discipline of Chemical Engineering but was later slid up to Metallurgical and Material Engineering stream. I was born and brought up in Rourkela.
“For us, getting into REC was our dream. We had the Rourkela Steel Plant and we had dreams to become an engineer. The people of Rourkela loved us.”
I completed my secondary school at Ispat Vidaylaya, Rourkela. Thereafter, I pursued my I.Sc. in Government College, Rourkela. Following that, I was fortunate enough to get admitted at REC.
MM: What are some of your fondest memories during the time at NIT-R? Any interesting anecdote you would like to share?
LD: I have always been an ardent sports enthusiast. I used to be a good cyclist, bagging a silver medal for two years straight. My senior was a better cyclist and when he passed out I won the gold medal. Most of the time, we used to watch movies in the theatre. However, I missed out on the fun activities in the hostel, being a day scholar. I was declared best all-rounder and was the branch topper.
MM: Following that you joined HAL and pursued your masters at IIT-M. Tell us about your remarkable career path after that.
LD: HAL had sponsored my masters in Aircraft Engineering Production at IIT-M. I pursued it during the years 1987-88. Thereafter, I continued working with HAL till 1992. In that interval I gave my Civil Services Examination and joined as an IPS officer. IIM Bangalore happened later on in 2006 during my tenure in the service where Govt. Of India had sponsored us to do a course on Public Policy Management.
MM: Being from an engineering background, what struggles did you face while preparing for UPSC?
LD: Back in those days, the exam had Mechanical, Electrical and Civil Engineering as optional subjects. My friends from Mechanical Engineering discipline had also appeared for the same by opting for engineering subjects as optional, whereas I had taken interest in Geography. Since school days, I had an interest in the subject. Hence, I opted for Geography and Sociology as my electives.
Being an engineer, it was difficult but was also a boon in disguise. In case of optional engineering subjects, the scope of error is high. But, subjects pertaining to humanities fetch marks as haphazard answers also ensure some marks. A large majority of my friends didn’t make it through because of this reason.
MM: Tell us about your tenure as a distinguished IPS officer. What challenges did you face, on the field and off of it?
LD: “When I was an engineer, I didn't believe in god. When I was in police, I converted to a theist. That was the biggest change in me.”
In engineering, things are under your control. You make sure your machine, raw materials and workers are fulfilling their roles and the final product is assuredly according to your expectations. Policing, however is an entirely different story. Catching a culprit, cracking a case, maintaining law and order made me believe in a supernatural power.
We had challenges in the form of a super cyclone at Paradip, where 10000 people died in 1999. The advent of Maoism and the escalated Naxalite attacks at Odisha was another challenge we had to face. Being in the Indian Police Service is a tough service where you have to handle stress. Working at HAL enabled me to manage a team and deal with people, which was extrapolated to public services.
MM: You were a part of international peacekeeping force. How was that experience?
LD: “I had gone to Sierra Leone, in the west coast of Africa. It has a lot of diamond mines. Rebels from Liberia invaded the area killing many civilians there.”
UN peacekeeping force was assigned to that place. There we trained the local police force for a year. Working with an international community gave us exposure in learning about different communities. People from all walks of regionalism merged together to work towards a common goal, which felt really great.
MM: You are known as a proponent of the saxophone, which is a quirky instrument as far as Indian music scene is concerned. What was your inspiration behind it?
LD: My father is a musician. He had taught me the art of tabla but I found it to be a percussion instrument where you had to accompany someone whereas in saxophone you can play independently. Sometime during my career in HAL, I started singing and decided to pick up an instrument.
“Music helps, especially at a later age. I wanted to play the bagpiper in the police pipe band but no one taught me. So I decided to take up saxophone.”
I play Indian music but have yet to learn jazz which remains the goal for my future.
MM: You also have an adventurous side, and are a renowned cycle marathoner. Tell us about some of your recent journeys.
LD: As I told you earlier, I was an avid cyclist right from my REC days. Nowadays, the presence of geared cycles enable us to go up mountains. I first took an expedition from Manali to Leh over the couse of a week. There was another expedition from Bhubaneswar to Bhutan which took us nine days. We also do running in addition to that and have done a full marathon (42km) in Mumbai and a half marathon in Delhi (21km). I have been running since my days at Sierra Leone and it has been 12 years. Running and cycling are complimentary as they benefit one another.
MM: You were awarded the honor of star alumnus at the NITRAA golden jubilee meet held at December 2015.How was your feeling?
LD: You need to apply for this award, following which a panel of judges shortlist and select you for the same. Some of my friends advised me to apply for it.The judges probably awarded me the honour because of my social service. In NIT, everyone is a star in their own field. Everyone is unique and has a special talent whether it is recognized or not. I felt embarrassed when I was given the award.
MM: How has the institute changed since your period of stay?
LD: It was in a rudimentary stage then. I have seen IITs, IIMs and NITs. Infrastructure of NIT-R is at par and even better than many IITs. Our library and workshops were very good. Now the infrastructure has improved, but it was at a very advanced pedestal during our times also. During my studentship, the professors were very talented and took a lot of care. I am sure that this remained the same as of today also.
MM: What is your take on the alumni relations persisting at NIT-R? What can be done to improve the same?
LD: After passing out, our friends had lost contact with each other. When the email came, we started to get back into touch and now via social media we are more connected. We have our own REC WhatsApp group. However, communication across other batches need to improve. I visited US and Canada this year and if I had known who the NIT-R students there I would have helped them. If there was an app of NITRAA showing the students who were nearby with their addresses and phone numbers that would be a good solution to curb such a lack of interaction.
MM: What is your mantra for success?
LD: My mantra has been always hard work. You should give back to society. You should always bring out the best in others. Be an effective leader and a pathfinder.
MM: Finally, what is your message for your juniors?
LD: “We lack in research. I feel that any person who is pursuing research should continue to do so without losing focus. In any field, one should do research based on data and experiments. One should be aware of their special talents and not compare oneself with another person. Everyone is a creation of God.”