Vipul Mittra, Principal Secretary (Tourism) of Gujarat, talks about his experiences of working with superstar Amitabh Bachchan and writing books, while on a recent visit to Kerala
By Shevlin Sebastian
On August 16, 2010, when Vipul Mittra, the Principal Secretary (Tourism) of the Gujarat government went to pick up superstar Amitabh Bachchan from a five-star hotel in Ahmedabad, he was taken aback. Amitabh, who was wearing a khadi kurta pyjama as well as a white shawl, walked barefoot to the car. When Vipul asked why, Amitabh says, “I am going to a temple.”
However, it was not to a temple that they went, but the Sabarmati Ashram, where Mahatma Gandhi lived for several years. “He was in a meditative mood throughout,” says Vipul. The superstar had gone to the ashram to act in one part of a series of films he was shooting, at the request of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, to highlight Gujarat tourism. Not surprisingly, once the ads were aired on national television, the impact on tourism was soon felt.
In 2009, there were 1.7 crore visitors to the state. This has now gone up to 2.5 crore in 2013. “When Amitabh’s advertisement comes on the TV, people don’t switch channels,” says Vipul. “Plus, the films have been made differently.
There are many advertisements where they showcase the entire state in one minute. But we decided to base each film on one destination. People who see our advertisements will not say, 'I will go to Gujarat'. Instead, they will say, 'I will go to Dwaraka, Somnath or Lothal'.”
Vipul is a multi-layered personality. In the early part of his career, he had been the Collector of Ahmedabad and Surender Nagar, as well as the Principal Secretary (Rural development). And in his spare time, he writes novels. “It is important to be creative, since I am working in a disciplined system,” he says.
His first novel, published by Rupa, in 2011, is called 'Pyramid of Virgin Dreams'. It is a story of a man who becomes a member of the bureaucracy, travels through it like an outsider, and views his job in a humourous manner.
One smile-inducing anecdote is when the protagonist, a collector by the name of Kartikeya Kukreja, is transferred from a place called Dhansa to an unimportant posting. At the time of the transfer, everybody starts ignoring Kartikeya because he is no longer powerful. However, a faithful tehsildar, Joshi, offers to help with the packing. But after he does so, Joshi refuses to take any money. Nevertheless, when the goods are being sent by lorry, Joshi ensures that the television set is stolen, so that he could recover the cost of the packing.
Not surprisingly, Vipul has had many interesting experiences during the course of his career. “As a bureaucrat I see all types of people,” he says. “And I have stayed in so many different places.” One day, he felt the urge to put down what he had seen. So, he started writing. Thereafter, whenever he would get some spare time, Vipul would write. Eventually, he took seven years to finish the novel and another three years to get a publisher.
And now the bureaucrat has written his second novel, 'Dream Chasers'. This will be published by reputed publishers, Random House and released by Amitabh in Mumbai on September 26. “The youth these days believe that they have to follow their dreams,” he says. “Chasing a girl is a dream. Doing drugs is a dream. Going to cabarets is a dream. But the youngsters lack focus. And I wanted to highlight this in my novel.”
Interestingly, like the characters in his novel, when he was a young man, the 6’ 1” tall Vipul had a dream of being a film star. However, once he got selected into the Indian Administrative Service at 22, Vipul decided to embark on the bureaucrat's path.
And his background left him unprepared initially. “I grew up in a modern city like Chandigarh, and suddenly I was posted to Kutch,” he says. “In 1987, my telephone number was two digits: 30. And the so-called ‘lightning call’ to Delhi would take 12 hours to go through.”
Another hassle which he encountered was the endless sycophancy. “People were always trying to please you because you are the man in power,” he says.
Nevertheless, Vipul has no regrets. “I enjoy my work a lot,” he says.
But Vipul has not given up on his dream of becoming an actor, because his chances have brightened. Thanks to his sister’s marriage, he is an uncle to the superstar Hrithik Roshan, while Vipul’s brother, Rahul Mittra, is a producer of films like 'Sahib Biwi aur Gangster'. “Most probably, after my retirement, I will go into acting,” he says, with a smile.
One remembers what Diana Nyad, 64, the first person to swim from Cuba to the USA said, moments after she stepped on shore at Florida, “The first lesson is that we should never, ever give up. Secondly, you are never too old to chase your dreams.”
Incidentally, Vipul had come to Kochi to give a presentation on Gujarat tourism, at the convention of the Indian Association of Tour Operators. Asked whether he was worried about the shuddering national economy, he says, “I doubt whether it will affect the travel industry. Because of the depreciation of the rupee, it becomes easier for foreigners and NRIs to come to India. And because of the rise in cost of the dollar, less Indians will travel abroad. Instead, they will do more domestic travel.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)