Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I wish to dedicate this page to Jane Schukoske whom I met in Delhi yesterday.

A trip to Delhi in the hot summer months is never a welcome prospect. One does not relish the idea of getting up early to catch a jolting train to a hotter region. Moreover, for a die-hard Chandigarhian, Delhi is a nightmare. It has a temperature several centigrade higher. With its heat and dust, its noise and pollution, its chaotic bus-lanes, its nerve-wracking traffic, its tempo, it is just too much for one who is used to the green calm of the City beautiful. It s just too much for me.

But of course, there are times when one is called upon to undertake such a journey to the heartland of the country. So it was that I caught a train yesterday and was at the Fulbright House in the evening.

The occasion was a somber one – a farewell to Jane Schukoske who has served as the Executive Director of the USEFI for the last eight years. I was not obliged to attend the reception; it was just a casual, informal suggestion made to me –Jane is leaving, would you like to attend the farewell? – and I thought, Oh my God, I hate to see her go but, yes, I would like to be around to say bye to her! I have interacted with her closely over the years and have tremendous respect for her not only as the head of a prestigious institution but also as a person, as a human being.

I record here a few basic facts about her tenure as Executive Director, USEFI, and also the little gestures that made Jane such an endearing person.

In the year 2000, while scouting around for funds for our MELUS-India Conferences and also for the survival of the ASRC I met Jane several times in the company of people like Richard Cohen and the late Isaac Sequeira. The Fulbright House was then coming apart. Literally crumbling, or so it seemed. A historic structure, hard to maintain, it seemed antique and uncared for. Look at it today and it is transformed completely. Two months ago I stayed overnight at the USEFI Guest House and it was then that her contribution to the place sank in fully. While the building had the same imposing, historic fa├žade, the insides had been restored and renovated to suit contemporary standards. A brand new cafeteria on the premises, the gardens, the lawns, everything seemed new, and yet the same. The sense of history was not sacrificed as it combined with modernity. Everywhere there was evidence of a woman’s sensitivity and an impeccable aesthetic sense that could only be Jane’s.

Inside the offices, as I waited for the Program Officer to attend to me, I noted the easy conversation and the bonhomie among the staff. It was not hard to see that the positive vibes had percolated from above. There was this palpable feeling of oneness, of belonging to a single family, and of mutual cooperation.

Jane did it all!

I also wish to refer to an incident that told me a lot about Jane’s functional style. It was a stray complaint I made to the USEFI office. In retrospect it seems insignificant but at that point I was rattled so I had shot of a heated email to her. The response I got from her was a gentle note admitting a lapse on the part of her office, offering a handsome apology for the same. My resentment vanished immediately. I realized that I was dealing a magnanimous woman who did not hesitate to look at herself critically. She held a high office and didn’t really need to apologize. And yet, she was willing to admit a mistake and make amends! That was an eye-opener. In my estimation she soared high and I grew to respect her even more. There have never been any ego hassles with her. No holier-than-thou attitude problem. Nothing overbearing

And then, when I was working on my novel (Spots of Time) she offered to be my sounding board. “I like reading at night,” she said, and offered to give it a quick read and make suggestions. For this kind gesture I shall always be grateful. Some of her suggestions went into the revised version of the book which came out last October.

Hers must have been a difficult position – negotiating between two governments, Indian and American, but she has carried it off with aplomb for eight years. As she prepares to depart, Jane becomes a part of USEFI history, along with other Directors who have served the institution in the past. No doubt, many more will follow.

There are leaders. And leaders. Some of them make a difference. Jane has been one such person – who not only did her job but put her life and soul into it. I wonder if the future will match her contribution.

Music, when soft voices die, echoes in the memory, so said the poet.

And so your thoughts, Jane, when you are gone. Your deeds, your work, your soul. The essence of you at the Fulbright house will linger on....

I will not say good-bye, Jane, for you are in my list of permanents. And we will stay in touch.