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Sunday Special » Kaleidoscope

Posted at: Mar 11, 2018, 1:18 AM; last updated: Mar 11, 2018, 1:18 AM (IST)BUREAUCRATIC TALES

To be an officer and a gentleman...

Maninder Singh
When an officer appears to depart from his demeanour, it draws attention
To be an officer and a gentleman...

By Maninder Singh

The classic and iconic image of an officer in India may be that of a gentlemanly figure, well-dressed but not garishly, suave and soft-spoken, oft blessed with a pleasantly dry voice, mild-mannered and the very picture of well-bred and studied composure.

When every once in a great while, an officer appears to depart entirely from this hagiographic, picturesque sketch, it evokes notice and consternation. 

Long ago and not so far away, there was an officer who could well have been the author of the authoritative “How to lose friends and alienate people”.  This officer, lacking some of the virtues of a gentleman, had begun his career in the Academy by causing a fracas over a matter of matrimonial misunderstanding and went on to accuse the Chief Secretary of the state of high pride and low prejudice.

Unlucky process server

Early in his career, this redoubtable officer was greatly displeased when a process-server of the High Court came to serve a notice of contempt upon him. The humble “pawn” of the great court made an appearance at twilight when the officer was disporting himself in a beguiling game of squash. 

Since there is no Act of the sovereign Parliament against disturbing the peace of officers, when they are engaged in the passionate pursuit of sports, whether colonial or some endearing local diversion, the process server was emboldened to persist. He had reached at that hour when office had closed, darkness had begun to engulf the district and the last bus to the state capital was about to depart.  Therefore, he attempted to engage the officer’s attention. The Sub-Divisional Magistrate, having realized that he was dealing with an ardent spirit, did what he had never done before. He disengaged himself from the riveting game and, not blessed enough to be in a position to shoot the messenger, he did the next worst thing, which was to rain blows, punctuated by appropriate verbal counter-punches, upon the unlucky process server.

The High Court, not willing to let the majesty of the law be overcome by such unexpected setbacks, took the action that it thought was warranted, resulting in the unhappy postponement of many more squash games for the delinquent officer.

The ‘women’s court’

There was yet another magnificent officer, imbued with all robust qualities of impetuous decision making, who carved a great name for himself by resolving matrimonial disputes in a swash-buckling cowboy fashion.  Whenever any such matter came to his passing notice, as the Divisional Commissioner, he ferreted out the warring couple, always convinced that the male of the species must be at grievous fault.

He would then proceed to threaten, till such time that the wavering husband decided to capitulate and reconcile to a life of unwavering serfdom.  On a quiet afternoon of lazy siestas while the division slept, an erring husband was even dangled down from the balcony of the imposing Commissioner’s bungalow.  Legs flailing, the face a pitiable ashen and white, the tormented husband was threatened that he had a choice, in a few quick minutes, of either being dropped or to drop his recalcitrant and bullying ways towards his wronged wife.  

Forgetfulness at work

An Inspector General of Police, who was in happy times as an officer and a gentleman, had developed the knack of instant forgetfulness towards unliked juniors. Once the mood of dislike and distaste was upon him, the conversation would proceed in, somewhat, the following terse and laconic manner:

“Sr. Officer: Who are you?

Jr. Officer:  Sir, I am…

Sr. Officer:  Never heard of you

Jr. Officer:  Sir, I joined the service a decade ago and have met you many a time.

Sr. Officer:  I don’t know you at all.  You can go now.”

Many of us have wondered if there has been a more effective way of quickly disposing of younger colleagues, without much ado or promise.

Then, there was the rumbustious Deputy Commissioner, who was rather peeved with the tea garden planters.  They were summoned and a hundred of them came to the district headquarters of that nature-rich Eden of a tea-growing region.  Assembled there in the conference hall, planters, young and old from proprietarial tea estates and company owned gardens, were mortified to hear themselves described as “thieves”, who were of no positive consequence to any man or beast or the government. 

Perhaps, this loss of composure might be attributed to mood-shifts, distempers of the blood, inherited dispositions (why blame oneself?), quirks of personality and, in this new millennium, rising and falling blood sugar levels, mimicking the movements of stock market quotes on ticker-tapes.  Irrespective of any great and worthwhile work being undertaken, and whether any favour-seeker, humble supplicant or chronic petitioner be ever appeased, honeyed words that rob the wild bees of Mount Hybla of their sweetness might do all civil servants a world of enduring good.    

— The writer is an Assam cadre IAS officer currently on deputation in Chandigarh

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