An interview with Mr. Suman Billa,
IAS, Secretary of Kerala Tourism
Mansi: How and when did your association with JNU begin? What was your first impression of JNU?
Mr. Suman Billa: When I was finishing my graduation at the Madras Christian College in 1990, JNU was easily the best university in India and was the place to "go to". Back then India hadn't liberalised yet and the lure of the IIM's was limited. So if you wanted to be in academics, civil services or journalism, JNU was the obvious stepping stone. It was natural for all academically oriented students to take the entrance exam for JNU. The first impression was the sense of freedom with the apparent lack of any controls, and the spirit of enquiry and intellectual orientation that pervaded the campus.
Mansi: How would you describe your years at JNU?
Mr. Suman Billa: Time spent at JNU was a lot of learning, growing up and fun. In many ways it was about discovering yourself and the world.
Mansi: You have studied at various locations within India as well as outside. How would you say JNU is different from other places?
Mr. Suman Billa: JNU certainly has an academic rigour that few institutions in India can match. It was a place where your learning was not limited to what you learnt in the class but reached to all of those things that were happening in the world. So in that sense the orientation that JNU gave you perhaps equipped you to face the world better. I also had the opportunity to go to the London School of Economics. Both of them have strong academic rigour. However, there is a strong linkage between academic learning and its practical application in the real world at the LSE, which was missing in JNU. Perhaps we could have had a stronger industry, government and civil society linkage for all of that academic learning to make a difference in the real world.
Mansi: What was the trajectory your career took after you left JNU?
Mr. Suman Billa: Having got in to the Indian Administrative Service while still being a student at JNU, the trajectory was perhaps simple and predictable as is the case with government employment.
Mansi: What would you say is the best part about your work and which is most challenging and difficult?
Mr. Suman Billa: Government service offers you an opportunity to make a difference to the lives of those around you and to work for the betterment of the community. The challenge is our seeming inability as a nation to seize the opportunity and make change happen for the better.
Mansi: Any memory of JNU that you would like to share with us?
Mr. Suman Billa: There are many fond memories of my time in JNU. Friends that I made in JNU continue to be my dearest friends even now.
Mansi: What is the message you would like to give to the JNU student community?
Mr. Suman Billa: Make the best use of the opportunity and persevere with your goals. Even a single step a day can take you a long way. And more importantly have fun in what ever you do!