When I was selected for the Tourism job in 1958, the trauma of partition was already remote. Life had resumed normalcy, especially for younger and educated Punjabi refugees. I was one of them.

I was earmarked to head the Publicity Division in the Department of Tourism. Instead of writing and promoting tourist literature on behalf of the Department of Tourism, I would now be a client of the Publications Division, in Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It would also be my responsibility to get the necessary budget sanctioned from Ministry of Finance to execute the jobs relating to tourism promotion in India and overseas. I was looking forward to this new job.

As I was about to take over, Mr. Chib, the Director General of Tourism, called me to his room and said, “For the present, Mr Seth, I am going to appoint you as the Director of Administration instead of Director of Publicity.” I dreaded the work of office administration for which I thought I had neither the aptitude nor the experience.

Without stopping to think, I said to him in Punjabi, “Sir, administration work has not been done even by my father! How do you expect me to handle it?”

Fortunately, Mr. Chib found this funny, “I know, Pran, that administration was not handled by your father – not even by my father. But, sometimes, one is required to learn it. Administration, to my mind, is pure common sense and I credit you with a fair share of it. You should take it.” He added that our Administration in the past had been run by sticklers of rules and precedents. They could not take into consideration that tourism is a new industry. New rules have to be made to meet new situations and not the other way around. That is the way administration works.” I started thinking afresh. After all, Administration was only the handling everyday affairs of an office or a Department. Also, I really had no choice so I responded to Mr Chib, “I will abide by your decision, Sir.”

I took over the Administration Division and really had no problems with it. He was right; administration was mostly a matter of common sense. We had 20 Tourist Offices in India and 10 overseas at that time. The total staff strength, including the head quarters, was around5400. There were experienced Section Officers who advised me on the rules that applied in the case to be decided and attached the reference books for me to check personally. In six months, I simplified the procedural delays and reduced the number of files to such an extent that Mr Chib questioned me as to why he was not seeing many files coming to him from Administration Division.

A good example of why not, was the change I made to how leave was sanctioned in the Department. Leave applications of all executives in our worldwide offices had to be approved and sanctioned by Delhi at the level of the Director General, and so everyday a couple of files pertaining to leave were put up to the DG. The normal office procedure was that every leave application received in Delhi was opened by my personal assistant. I was supposed to mark it to the Section Officer concerned, who, in turn, marked it to the Diarist. The job of the Diarist was to register each letter which came into the Department. Another Lower Division Clerk, at his convenience, would put it in a proper file and link the previous record of the officers' leave account. The file then moved to an Assistant's table, who wrote a note recommending or rejecting the leave, giving reasons. It moved to the table of the Section Officer who rechecked everything and it put up to me with another note and a draft letter for my approval. If I approved, the file moved downwards again via the Section Officer to the typing pool to be typed and then returned to my table through the same channels.

After watching the process for a few days, I displayed a chart of various offices on my wall with their respective staff strength. I would write on the leave application itself – “Leave sanctioned if due. Please put up the approval letter for my signature.” In the case of Directors of the Overseas office, I would get Mr Chibs consent on phone and then issue the letter myself. There was no more movement of files, especially to the Director General on trivial leave matters.

I experimented with short cuts in other areas too. The distribution of paper and stationary to different sections had, in the past, been in the hands of the Director. Section officers, would come to seek my approval in this connection. I entrusted the distribution of stationery and other office equipment to a good Assistant. I made sure that no paper on stationary matters came to me.

In a few weeks, I received phone calls from the field officers thanking me for sanctioning their leave within one week when the earlier procedure took months. I was told that some of them had had to come on private trips to Delhi to get their leave application expedited in the past.

This was the situation in the 1950s and early 60s. Our bureaucracy had been created by the British and they had incorporated many layers of checks as they had little trust in the Indian staff. We continued with most of the old procedures, possibly because we were not used to questioning the established rules. Another distinct possibility is that the existing procedures suited new rulers also - it was patronage in their hands.

Procedural delays and lethargy in government offices was the norm rather than the exception. To get something done in a sister Ministry of the Government expeditiously, I usually tried to find a personal contact there or I would take the concerned official out for lunch – even a frugal one. This helped. Otherwise, you could send scores of reminders without results.

Administrative procedures did improve in subsequent years. However even today, if a member of our famous bureaucracy wants to delay or make life difficult for an applicant, he can cook up any number of excuses like overwork or missing records to delay things. As the new Government of India involved itself in more and more areas like public health, education, rural development, child welfare etc., government employees found that every delay helped them to extract money from the common people. Corruption, especially at lower levels was already in existence and over the years would move to higher and higher levels of the bureaucracy.

Just as I started enjoying my Administrative role, a year later, I took charge of the Publicity Division of the Department of Tourism. This Division had the responsibility of producing all the tourism publicity literature (booklets, brochures, posters, guide books, maps...) for display and distribution to all our offices. Apart from printed literature, we produced tourist documentaries through the Films Division of the Government of India. The Department of Tourism focus, in the 1960s, was on international tourists. Domestic tourism was quietly discouraged as it put extra pressure on Indian Railways which were already over-strained with increasing traffic.

Our advertising overseas was decentralised. The assumption was that local advertising and marketing could be best done with the active assistance and involvement of a local advertising and public relations agencies from the country in which each office was located. Each office was autonomous in selecting its Agency though they needed the approval of the Ambassador of India in that country. The Publicity Division in Delhi scrutinised the annual advertising plans prepared by the overseas advertising agencies with inputs provided by the local Director of the Tourist Office but we could not do much sitting ten thousand miles away

I wanted to change this system as I thought better results could be achieved by co-ordinated advertising and marketing world -wide. This could be done by using one major international advertising agency with an office in India to handle the world-wide India tourism account. However, I was toying with this idea in the 1960s. The officers posted abroad resisted this move fearing that their autonomy was being eroded. I was new to the job and gave up the plan. Today, India has adopted the same policy with a word wide theme – Incredible India with excellent results.

My other plan was to rationalise the huge range and variety of literature we produced for our overseas and India offices. I asked the Tourist Offices to advise me about their stock positions; the pace of its distribution; how and to whom this literature was sent; where was the literature stored and what were the costs of storage. To my dismay, I discovered that more than half of the tourist literature sent to them over the recent past, was still lying in the godowns - keeping the obsolete literature in storage cost them more than the cost of of literature.

I asked our officers overseas to off-load the pamphlets and brochures, which in their opinion, had outlived their utility. The stock position in the tourist offices in India was even worse. The quality of literature sent to them was so unattractive that even school children did not accept them. At my end in Delhi, I scrutinised the 'ancient' literature and did some weeding.

We prepared a new Plan, reducing the range of literature to be produced from 250 to 50 – focussing only on India as one tourist destination. Previously, the Department had been producing small brochures on every conceivable aspect of India - its cities, states, its major monuments, dances , music etc . Instead, we produced a 16 page comprehensive brochure which covered all the key aspects and attractions of India, its dance, music, art, history and heritage, touristst attracrions etc. In the overseas offices, this consolidated brochure became our principal tool for educating foreigners about India- every foreigner got this brochure on request. Apart from English, we had them in French, German and Spanish too. Other brochures focussed on particular themes like Hill Resorts of India, Dances of India, Temples of India, Hotels of India, etc. We consulted our offices overseas and despatched only those items which they ordered .

The feedback from the overseas offices indicated that there was little planning or thought given to who should get our literature – we had the list of all travel agents in USA and would send a bundle to everyone irrespective of the fact that they had other business or no interest in India. We suggested to our overseas offices that newsletters be used to communicate with travel agents and the media. Through the same newsletter, they could advise them of the literature they had in stock so that they in turn could ask for the ones they needed. A standard newsletter was prepared for the overseas offices which could be adjusted or amended according to local needs.

A similar review of the tourist documentaries produced for overseas offices was undertaken.

We tried to produce new documentaries of essentially tourist interest to overseas visitors, for example ‘An Indian Holiday’ which covered the tourist attractions of India through the eyes of a foreigner; ‘A Holiday in Kashmir’, ‘The Taj Mahal Story’, ‘Jaipur – the Pink City’, ‘Temples of South India’, ‘Folk Dances of India’, etc. The Films Division (who actually produced them) started consulting us. They agreed to allot tourist films only to the best producers in the country irrespective of cost. We agreed that price could be negotiated with the producers. The quality of our films improved.

Two years later, my boss decided that I should have field experience and he nominated me to head the Tourist Office in Calcutta. Calcutta Office was responsible for tourist promotion in Eastern India – Bihar, Bengal, Orissa and Assam.

This news upset my family, especially my parents. They now lived with me in my government accommodation which they liked. Private telephone at home, in the early 1960s, was not common except for senior government servants or big businessmen. My mother was most comfortable with the telephone she had by her bedside. She liked her daily conversations with my sister who also had a telephone at her residence! I managed to pacify them with the possibilities of a pilgrimage to Puri (one of the four major pilgrimage centres of the Hindus in India) as well as a dip in the Indian Ocean.

They had to reconcile themselves to my move. Our relations from Lahore had settled in many different parts of India. For us, the refugees from Pakistan, this was now a fact of life. My parents moved in with my elder brother who had built a new house in Delhi.

The work involved in running an office in Calcutta, with a staff of 35, was different. The key challenge was co-ordination in tourism matters with the four state governments. Each state had its own Tourism Department and Tourism Development Corporation to promote and develop tourism to their respective states. Essentially, Central Government took active steps to promote international tourism while state governments took measures to promote domestic tourism. Central Government put up mew accommodation in states where it was needed to house well-off foreign tourists, while the state government constructed Lodges or Holiday Homes which could be afforded by Indian travellers. The Tourist Bangalows in Konark and Bubneshwar came up during my posting to Calcutta.

Under our federal system, tourism is a state subject and thus cooperation of States is essential with the Central Government. This assignment enabled me to gain more experience and insight into the state governments’ views on tourism as well as their processes for developing tourism. I found that the concept of a tourist centre as well as the vision of facilities needed varied from state to state and the man or woman who headed the state tourism department. The Centre could only issue guide lines.

My assignment as the chief of Calcutta Office benefited me in other ways as well. Most of my staff were University graduates, willing to learn and work, and from whom I also learned a lot. One of the two Assistant Directors was an unmarried Bengali gentleman- very fond of music and Bengali Theatre. He introduced me to the Bengali theatre and took me to see some of the plays. Calcutta, was definitely more advanced in stage-craft than Delhi. I also relished the melody and language of Rabinder Sangeet.

Soon after joining the Calcutta Office, I invited 12 of my senior staff with their wives to my house for luncheon. For me it was a natural way of getting to know my staff and their families but, apparently, this had never been done by any Director before. Two months later, my staff along with another cultural organisation staged a play in a leading theatre hall of the city which brought our Tourist Office a lot of appreciation and publicity. During my tenure in Calcutta, we developed quite a trust and understanding in our team of workers.

Within the first few weeks of my posting, I made it a point to call on the Mayor of Calcutta, the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, Collector of Customs, Director of International Airport, Controller of Immigration and practically all the senior officers of the Government of India who could make life easy for tourists.

In the sixties, major international airlines had their headquarters in India located in Calcutta and I made friends with their Chiefs. To get to the key tourism players (travel agents and tour operators), I decided to visit them in their offices. For me this was a way of actually seeing their premises and assessing their business. However, they were pleasantly surprised at my visit to their offices as they never expected a senior government officer visiting them in their offices. The tradition and protocol was to call them in the government offices, but I did not believe in the protocol. Initial rapport and trust was created with the industry. They too, started visiting my office more often and thus I was always well-informed about what was happening in the industry.

The focus on developing relationships with people always pays off in some way.. Six months into my Calcutta posting, my boss decided to visit my office. I lined up a busy two-day programme which involved his meeting all the people, based in Calcutta, who mattered in tourism. I gave a luncheon in his honour and it was attended by the Mayor of Calcutta, Chief Secretary of West Bengal Government, Collector of Customs, Director of Calcutta Airport and Controller of Immigration etc

In the afternoon, all the airlines managers came to my office to have a meeting with the Director General of Tourism. The Travel Agents Association of Eastern India hosted a cocktail to meet Mr Chib while the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of Eastern India hosted a dinner at the Oberoi Grand. At the end of his hectic visit, as I accompanied Mr Chib to the airport to see him off, he asked me, “Pran, you have been here only for six months. How did you manage to know so many people on first name basis?” I gave the credit where it belonged, to the team in my office. He smiled, and then told me, “This office used to be notorious for its intrigues.”

Calcutta also taught a practical lesson on my limitations as a tourism officer. One day, I escorted a foreign travel writer from the Airport to the Oberoi Grand Hotel. He was a guest of the Government of India. As I left him in his room and came out of the hotel gate, a well-dressed young man asked me in fluent English what kind of a girl would I like for my friend. He could offer beautiful Anglo Indian young girls, Bengali college girls, a Punjabi girl, a Bengali model or girls from the south!

I was shocked and angry. I thought about that incident all night. I had decided to take action to stop this harassment of the foreign visitors. The next day, I sought an appointment with the Chef Secretary of West Bengal to discuss an important matter. The Chief Secretary, patiently heard my story and suggestion that police be posted at the Oberoi Grand Hotel entrance to stop this menace. He then suggested, “Mr Seth, don't you think this business is as old as man himself and not much can be done to eliminate it.”

I was adamant though. “I agree, Sir, but in this case, they are harassing foreign visitors who are our guests and this hurts the image of India.” The Chief Secretary called the Police Chief and conveyed my suggestion to post two policemen at the gates of two major hotels to remove touts.

I thanked him profusely and felt elated. I had managed to make a difference. Two policemen were posted at the Oberoi entrance. I told my colleagues in the office and they were impressed. I felt quite proud of myself.

After a month, I accompanied a group of American travel agents to the same hotel. When I emerged out of the hotel gate another man, not as well spoken as the first, accosted me and offered a similar menu of girls. When I made enquiries, I was told that now the touts who operated there gave a cut to the policemen!

I remember, around the same time, a meeting with the General Manager of the Great Eastern Hotel in his office - an elderly Englishman. He was on quite informal terms with me. He showed me an application from a girl addressed to the General Manager. She described herself as a good-looking and smart woman, an experienced secretary with excellent knowledge of English stenography and typing and offered her services to the Hotel. If selected, she added, I will do any service for the boss and by this I mean everything. This time, I had a good laugh.

In 1964, my Calcutta assignment ended and I was ordered to go to the west coast of USA and take charge of our San Francisco office.