It's with a sense of sadness and loss that we register the death of Mr Bahukutumbi Raman (B. Raman), who needs no introduction for the regular readers of our website.
Mr Raman wrote very matter of factly about his battle with cancer ever since he was diagnosed with it, always willing to share his experiences to spread greater awareness about what he called his live-in-companion.
His determined optimism about fighting it off seemed almost convincing earlier, but from last month onwards, once it became known that his cancer of the bladder had spread to his liver, as he put it himself on Twitter, the countdown had started.
On May 23, he tweeted:
Am in terminal,stage of my cancer.Very painful. Thought will share my knowledge with them before I die in Oct.frustrated— B.RAMAN (@SORBONNE75) May 23, 2013
In the end, the end came much before October, though he still sounded positive in his last tweet on May 31:
Hanumanji willing, shd be back home coming Saturday— B.RAMAN (@SORBONNE75) May 31, 2013
But physical pain, which some of his last tweets mentioned, did not take away his urge to share his views on what he considered pressing matters, whether it be the attack by Maoists in Bastar, or the news of Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy. When the latter hit the headlines, Mr Raman, only recently having been diagnosed with terminal secondary liver cancer, while admiring the Hollywood star's courage, was still focussed enough to point out that the real issue was the "lack of basic cancer care facilities for our poor pple & in our backward areas".
Born in 1936, Mr Raman lost his father when he was very young. He wrote with characteristic candour and lack of sentimentality about his childhood:
From a young age, we were conscious of our poverty. We were never ashamed of it. We took our poverty in our stride...
I did not do too well in the college. I did a one-year journalism diploma course after leaving college and got a job in The Indian Express on a salary of Rs.100 per month. I managed to save enough money to study for the UPSC competitive examinations, sat for them and was selected for the Indian Police Service.
I was quite successful in my career and achieved all I wanted to achieve. It was not only because I was a good professional, but also because I was a balanced individual. Our poor mother and our poverty gave all of us a sense of balance and a determination not to let our poverty come in the way of our achieving whatever we wanted to achieve. All of us did well in life.
An IPS officer of the 1961 Madhya Pradesh cadre, he was handpicked by Rameshwar Nath Kao to join the Research and Analysis wing, right from the day it was carved out of the Intelligence Bureau in September 1968.
He went on to serve the R&AW for 26 years, heading the agency's counter-terrorism unit from 1988 until his retirement in 1994 as Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat.
After his retirement, Mr Raman was associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and was a regular contributor to the South Asia Analysis Group, serving as Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.
Till the very end, Mr Raman remained a prolific commentator on security and strategic affairs, writing his last full-length piece on May 15, and even after that continuing to share his wisdom on Twitter, despite being in great physical pain.
In his 2007 memoir on the R&AW, The Kao-boys of R&AW – Down Memory Lane, Mr Raman made a strong case for parliamentary oversight. He maintained that major debacles like Kargil and Rabinder Singh's escape could have been pre-empted by a suitable monitoring mechanism for RAW, on the pattern of the CIA and Mossad. He also wrote about his anger and bitterness at the US State Department.
This is how he described himself in this memoir:
Throughout my 26 years in the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency, I was known as a man with a poker face.
As someone, who showed no emotions or passion on his face or in his words.
As someone, who led a robot-like existence, working from 8 in the morning till 9-30 in the night — seven days a week, 365 days in a year.
As someone, who took life in its stride.
It was a description, his colleagues said, fitted his life even post-retirement. So absurdly well-informed he remained about terrorism in South Asia even after retirement, as evidenced by his columns, that a reviewer of his book recalled wondering whether the agency had continued to keep him briefed at regular intervals. Au contraire, his interlocutors in the agency informed him, it was the other way around: he was still regularly briefing the active agents! Siddharth Varadarajan, the Editor of The Hindu, summed it up on Twitter:
RIP B. Raman, analyst and commentator extraordinaire, there was often more wisdom in his memo style notes than several days of TV discussion— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) June 16, 2013
A few autobiographical pieces:
- My Live-In Companion (on cancer)
- Teach The Children Well (on his childhood and growing up poor but proud)
- The Nation's Right To Know (on the need for transparency)
- USA, China, Pakistan (Sharing What R.N. Kao thought of these countries)
- Lessons From Mumbai (on how in matters concerning Pakistan India could not totally trust the US)
- Eagle Has Landed (on the first Moon mission)
- Angry & Bitter (On US State Department and Counter-terrorism in Pakistan)