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Monday, February 22, 2021

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS VI

In wake of the PM's remarks on the the versatility of the members of IAS in the Indian Parliament , I am posting an article ,that I wrote about 25 years ago in the Times Of India. It is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. And perhaps shall remain so a hundred year later.
I have edited and made minor changes form the published version and instead of The Mighty Service , I have captioned it The Indian Almighty Service

THE INDIAN ALMIGHTY SERVICE
Mr. Fixer cautioned me before embarking on this mission to meet the members of the Service, that it would be only proper for me to apprise myself of the genesis and background of these Platonic guardians, lest I commit some blasphemous faux pas. It will be my endeavour to reproduce what he said as faithfully as my memory would allow me to. "The myth of the creation of the Almighty Service, this is how the group likes to describe itself, dates it to hoary antiquity - say about 150 years ago. An empire was seized by the urge to civilise the dark-skinned natives of Atlantis, offer them good governance. “If we can’t give them independence, let us at least give them good governance.” They happily termed this enterprise as the white man's burden and to this end, they especially raised a group of people who were imbued with a sense of destiny to advance the noble and self-effacing enterprise which some griping iconoclast has termed as ‘imperial’ and 'colonial'. But be that as it may, these people were great pioneers and in the manner of the Nordic heroes who raised dykes to save the Netherlands from being submerged into water, they built a strong wall-known as the ‘steel frame’ to protect the Empire and keep it going.
They are a cut above the rest of humanity; absolutely unapproachable and above board but Fixers( I have explained the difference between Fixers and frauds, a very important difference, in a previous episode. ) have easy access to them. So the Fixer took me to the man who presided over the local district administration. We entered an imposing bungalow where a gentleman was sitting under a garden umbrella in the neatly manicured lawn, doing his files. The Fixer greeted him but he took no notice and continued with his precious labour. Intermittently he motioned in the direction of the sun. He was getting irritated when a man came running and adjusted the angle-poise umbrella in such a way that he no longer got the sun in his eyes. He grunted in satisfaction and returned to his files. The peon explained to us that the Sahib was getting the sun in his eye so he was motioning to the sun to get a move on so that he could carry on his momentous task! I looked puzzled but the Fixer remarked by way of explanation that there was a time when the sun was also in bondage, like the rest of Atlantis, and was forced to shine on some part or the other of the Empire. Some of the defenders of the Empire had perhaps not taken note of the fact that after the liquidation of the Empire the sun was, like the rest of us, free to do as he pleased. ( The Service still clung to the belief that it was in the nature of things that the sun should go round the earth because it was their abode.)
Spurned by the Sahib we tried to seek an appointment with another one of his tribe. His house was a veritable museum with bric-a-brac strewn all over. On the wall, there were several citations in laminated frame comparing him to the preserver and benevolent god. Many photographs showed him inaugurating this or that. But, what intrigued me most was that several contraptions that looked like shock absorbers were fixed at regular intervals on the floor, on the driveway, and all over the place. A bow and a quiver of arrows were neatly hung on the wall. The Sahib was in the office but the peon obviously read our minds. He said, "I am sure you are keen to know about the bows and arrows and of course these shock absorbers. Our Sahib thinks that he has entered this service by defeating other pretenders just as the mythical Lord Rama won his consort in the competition. This bow and arrow is a reminder to the Pretenders belonging to the intermediate services. As for the shock absorbers, the Sahib had a drop too much in the club sometime back and he has persuaded himself ever since that this drunken swagger was the result of the earth shaking under his footsteps. Out of compassion for Mother Earth he has had these shock absorbers fitted."! was bowled over lock stock and barrel but the Fixer explained that these people had often notions which were inconsistent with the common man’s point of view but they have good reasons for such beliefs." The Sahib, alas! Had left for his office.
“It is better to catch them in their office,” the Fixer said, “because what is a Sahib without the seat from where he exercises his authority.” We decided to meet the Provider of shelter to the government servants in his office. There could be no more appropriate activity to begin my education as the issue of allotment of government quarters was very much in the news. There was a large queue of favour seekers in front of his office. Mr. Fixer urged the Provider to enlighten us on the procedure to allocate the limited number of houses to a host of supplicants, er applicants. He said without looking up from his files, “it is simple, you see these houses here." A large number of houses in miniature were stacked in neat rows. A group of posh bungalows was set apart and hidden from view.
He explained to us the objective criteria for allotment and confidently said that they followed it religiously.
(I) Member of the Service.
(ii) An adequate number is reserved for the members of the Service who came on premature transfer.
(iii) A certain number is reserved for the lackeys, hangers-on and others who surrendering all their duties seek refuge in the Service alone.
(iv) Seniority list which is prepared in accordance with rules.
While he was thus describing the procedure there was a commotion outside. An agent of the Court entered and rapped the functionary on the knuckles, picked up a house, and gave it in to the petitioner. He wrote on top of the list "Be you ever so high the law is above you.” The functionary looked embarrassed and shame-faced. There was a mighty clang and his huge ego fell in heaps on the floor. We made a hurried and undignified exit leaving the presiding deity to collect the pieces.
Atlantis being a democracy the people are the real masters, the governments are made and unmade by the people. The governments try to propitiate their masters in the manner of Gods of ancient times by sacrifices known as developmental programs. And as in the manner prescribed in their religious texts the Service has cast itself in the role of Agni, the mediator who appropriates and apportions the sacrificial offering. Naturally, they occupy the highest position in the hierarchy of public service and are universally courted. The newspapers however were full of heretic stories about the misappropriation of the sacrificial offerings of cows and buffaloes for the tribal gods er people.
The Developer was sitting on a high hobbyhorse and was persuaded to come down only in order to stamp the heresy, once and forever. This is what he said: "When you offer sacrifices to the gods when you pour clarified butter, coconut and various fruits, etc in the fire, when you make an offering of gold to the various deities do you seek an account from the priest. Has anyone seen God eating the prasad or wearing the gold ornaments? You leave that to the priest. Were they to furnish accounts of every single offering the whole ritualistic routine will come to a standstill. It is blasphemy to even raise such questions about development funds, whether buffaloes were bought or goats were sold leave alone investigate. " The case was argued so well that one couldn't refute it one way or the other. For good measure, he lamented the fact that the subordinates¬ were so inefficient and corrupt that nothing got done really. He came forward with a litany of complaints of malfeasance of the other servants of the government of Atlantis-the lowborn subordinate services even the intermediate services who kept staking insane claims of parity. “Look at the absurdity of their claims-the doctors want to run the health care system, the dim-witted generals would like to decide which gun is best suited for their artillery. We have lost the Empire once by making silly concessions. Never shall the mistake be repeated. It strikes at the heart of the system of governance by ignorance we have perfected over the years. We have allowed them to carry water and hew wood but now they want to be in the decision-making positions.” He mounted his hobbyhorse again not even indicating that the interview was over. We imperceptibly faded out.
The Service members gather at regular intervals and debate serious issues as a cure for their collective flatulence and dyspepsia and let out a lot of gas. They sometimes play a game called Ali Baba in which, through secret ballot, they reveal to themselves the well-known fact as to which three of them are the most corrupt. Sometimes they meet just to flex their muscles. One such meeting began with their ritual prayer in which all the other hostile forces were soundly abused and “we are the masters of the Universe", was chanted in Chorus. Speaker after speaker occupied the high moral ground and thundered revenge against an alleged assault on one of their members by an elected representative of the people. They even threatened to withdraw their benign protection for a day by going on mass casual leave. The whole world shook to its foundations. But the tension dissipated itself as quickly as it had built up. The lion tamer twisted the tail of one of the leading members of the pack and they all fell in line. They relented and stayed at work and had a good laugh at the cost of the frightened populace. The Fixer appeared to be totally exhausted. I immediately offered him a glass of water, switched on the fan, and told him that it was enough instruction for a-day. If I feel like I'll see him next week.

Monday, February 15, 2021

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS III His Encounter With Police


Police is a very powerful but unpredictable deity in the pantheon of such beings of the natives of Atlantis, who are too ready to worship anyone who even wields a semblance of authority. It is Janus faced - one of its faces has a fawning look of idiot amiability and abject servility while the other is cold, indifferent, even abusive, forbidding, angry. As the occasion and circumstances present, the viewer may view one or the other or both of them in quick succession.
The seat of this mighty deity was a large rambling place with debris of vehicles and other bric-a-brac strewn all over the compound. It was a perfect picture of disorder as indeed in this land of contradictions the agency responsible for maintaining order should appear to be. My escort tried to catch the attention of the man who was sitting on a chair. A thick ruler was placed on the table, in front of him, with which he kept tapping the table intermittently, with his left hand. His right hand was dedicated to the task of twirling his moustache. There were many people on the verandah outside; I particularly noticed a child who would intermittently howl and lisp as if he was also trying to catch the attention of the same worthy. My escort again ventured to engage the man seated on the chair and briefly caught his eye. He motioned him to wait, suggesting that there were others waiting in the queue. A lowly functionary informed us that the motley crowd was in fact the queue and since it would take some time for their turns to come they were sauntering around. They were all carrying a number which designated their place in the queue. The sharp piercing howl of the child provoked my curiosity no end and being by now slightly conversant with the local language I demanded to know who the child was and what on earth could he have come to complain about. A chirpy old man who appeared to be very knowledgeable upon matters related to Police and their activities looked at me with quizzing eyes and realizing that I was new to this land offered to explain to me. It seems that the child was standing at the head of the queue in place of his mother, who died some time ago. The mother of the child had been forcibly initiated into woman hood by his employer. When she arrived here to file a complaint , unfortunately for her, the Police was in a state of red alert and hence they were unable to attend to their duties. The woman died in childbirth and her child was thus the natural inheritor of her place at the head of the queue. Seeing me evince a lot of curiosity he was prepared to instruct me further but not before I had pandered to his vanity and offered fulsome praise to his land and its institutions. While we were thus engaged in conversation, a man stormed into the room and headed straight to the worthy personage who was still rhythmically tapping his table with the ruler, and enjoying the sound as if it was a percussion instrument. He looked up, only mildly interested, demanding to know the reason for such importunity. The intruder mentioned some occurrence upon which the Police straight-away dismissed him saying 'Oh, that does not fall within my jurisdiction' and returned to his musical occupation. But it appears that the intruder was a man of some substance for he would not immediately leave as others did at the mere hint of having been dismissed. Whereupon a map of some sort was fished out and spread upon the table. Still more haggling took place but to no avail and the intruder finally departed. My new found guide observed that the Police sets a very high store by the limits of their jurisdictions and they never-but never, even as peer at the territory of their neighbours. I wondered aloud that would it not be a comprehensive solution of the problems of Atlantis to post all such conscientious men to its international borders. These people seem to understand the meaning of sovereignty and non-interference and were they in charge all incidents of cross border firing, violation of international border would stop. Violent debates in the international forum will cease and the countries can take care of their more urgent problems.
Meanwhile, I found some people hopping up and down, up and down rather in the manner of spot running. My guide proudly commented that you are uncommonly lucky to witness the state of red alert. In such a situation they can take no other action but remain alert and hyperactive . It has been found that the vibrations caused by the rhythmic stamping of the foot soothed the frayed nerves of the people. My guide would have commented some more when from behind the half closed door was sighted a man sans his cap and his belt reclining on a chair. His legs were on the table and his chin was resting on his chest. He appeared to be in deep thought or was perhaps half asleep. Before I could query my guide, he read my thoughts and explained to me that the fellow had gone into the state of amber ambivalence which means he had retired into this state unofficially and challenged to prove, otherwise he will attain the state of red alertness. My guide took me to the back verandah where many people were reclining or half standing with their muskets in various degrees of inclination. I particularly noticed that moss, lichen and other vegetation were growing out of the various orifices of some of these men even as they appeared to be in a state of deep slumber. My guide promptly diagnosed this state as that of green inertia. Some of these poor souls could not handle the frequent call to red alert and their internal circuitry had got burnt and they had lapsed into this state. All these people with such symptoms are either swept under the carpet or relegated to the backyard.
My self- appointed guide was in an expansive mood. He began to dilate on the name and nature of Police. Presently he motioned to a man who was supported by a young boy. This man was number 2 in the queue. Some years ago he had come to report the abduction of his wife. By the time he could up move up the queue his abductors taking advantage of his absence and abducted his daughter as well. Now the son had come with a fresh complaint about his sisters abduction; since earlier complaint had been registered the authorities with great compassion had given him the number 2.5.
Meanwhile, the Police was ready to look into the case of the raped woman who had died in child birth and was now face to face with the deity. The Police took out fat, musty, old books on forensic science, jurisprudence, criminal procedure, penal codes and even poetry from the shelf, leafed through half a dozen registers, spoke to his superiors and berated his juniors, drank endless cups of tea and smoked cigarette, regaled himself by playing the table as a percussion instrument and finally ruled that there was no need to proceed in the matter. The woman was into dangerous and subversive reading and had willingly forsaken her virginity under the evil, occidental influence of the poem "To His Coy Mistress” which urged nubile young women to make a gift of their bodies to whoever coveted them because in the end all of them are dead. In her diary the Police actually found the lines in hr won hand and heavily underlined,
“Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave is a fine and a private place.
But none I think do there embrace."
The child could not hold it back any more and he started wailing at the top of his voice. But the plaintive cry of the child was drowned in a great din and commotion. An important looking personage, followed by half a dozen flunkies, was the cause of all this perturbation. There was a great deal of activity and many more people emerged from the various nooks and niches of the same building. The child was quickly bundled up with the file in a red cloth with the inscription CASE CLOSED and sent to the record room.
The man with the ruler as well as half a dozen others of his kind collapsed on the floor-or so I thought. Actually they had fallen on the feet of the mighty personage in order to lick his boots. A tall well-built man bet everyone to it and was able to licked the boots with great relish and licked it clean and shining. The VIP mildly reprimanded him for soiling his cherry blossomed boots and asked him to do his duty. Meanwhile, the man at no. 2, who as I noticed, had already gone white with fear. The half a dozen worthies promptly gave number 1 to the newly arrived VIP and added + 1 to every one standing in the queue. The VIP was now in front and lodged his complaint. The gist of his complaint was that the old man and his son were ungrateful blackmailers. The fact of the matter was that VIP had summoned the daughter in order to give her mother company who was feeling lonely. He wondered why instead of feeling grateful he was being reviled in public, and as he had learnt only now. Being a conscientious citizen he had come to report to the Police. He saw a sinister foreign hand behind all this activity. The complaint was investigated impromptu and the father and the son (no. 2 and 2.5 in the line) were arrested and confined to a cage like room as lock up. My guide gave a triumphant smile and dared me to find parallels to this efficiency and wisdom in my own country. He also added for good measure that this was the state of ultraviolet activity - a rare sight as it was beyond the pale of visible of their duties spectrum, and I was fortunate to have witnessed it, in presence of VIP sometime leads to such a state.
Meanwhile the knowledgeable person advised my escort that either he should he patient and await his turn, or approach someone who could command the obedience of Police. The Police are like a vault - unless you have the secret code, (and only the rich and powerful have it ) you can’t' open it. He gave me the necessary information and bade me goodbye. I said to myself that having come this far I might as well go through the whole. I prepared to seek an appointment with the holders of the secret code

GULLIVER IN PATALIPUTRA


My peripatetic travels have taken me to strange lands. In Lilliput, I encountered human creatures the size of thumbnails, whereas I had the discomfiture of being reduced to thumbnail size myself in the presence of the mighty Brobdingnagians. During my voyages, I have met craven politicians and mad scientists, barbaric homo sapiens as well as civilised horses. After having taken the measure of the endless variety that nature had to offer, I hung my haversack and donated my compass and telescope to the local museum. The exclusive account was given to my literary executor, a certain Mr. Jonathan Swift who, I am told, later went insane. This is perhaps just as well, because for anyone to handle such bizarre tales is job enough. But my travel agent was pestering me for the last few decades to visit Atlantis, which he described as the Pearl of the Orient and like nowhere else on this earth. The name was exotic but I refused to bite the bait until I received this cable: "Buffaloes and bulls cultivated on bonsai scale. Handy enough to ride pillion on tiny scooters but have gargantuan appetites. A sight fit for gods". It was difficult to resist this last temptation and I cabled my assent.
The world was really becoming a mean little place now with so many barriers and restrictions on the movement of human beings. For a certain fee, the tour operator offered to take care of all the currency, immigration, passport and other formalities. I packed my bag, picked up my Handycam video camera and boarded a Boeing Aircraft for my destination. After many hours and changing many an aircraft, finally, I was hovering over the airport of my destination - Atlantis. I was not much used to this mode of travel, so I enquired of my fellow passengers the reason for this. I couldn’t have spoken sooner, because the pilot was on the mike to announce that a couple of young blue bulls were gamboling on the runway. The authorities were trying to persuade them to change the locale of their amorous pursuits to their nearby home.
It made quite an impression on me. In these unregenerate days when the flora and fauna were threatened all over the globe, here at least in a corner of the planet, the convenience of the lesser members of the animal kingdom was being accorded priority over such human nostrums as punctuality etc. We landed a few hours behind schedule but still in time for the magnificent parade that these people hold annually to celebrate their Republic Day.
En route to the parade ground, I was very impressed by the love of nature and natural surroundings that these people had. Cows, goats, pigs all roamed around, sharing the same bit of macadamized stretch of path with cars, buses, trucks. The dwellings could serve equally well for men and pigs! It was indeed a bit of a welcome change from the other countries, where they practice complete segregation. Not only animals, birds were shown equal consideration. At numerous places, tall human statues were erected through public funds to serve as perch for them, and also for them to do their dirt upon. In an ingenious move to placate the churlish taxpayers - for Atlantis was a democracy - these statues were cleaned and decorated once a year and dignitaries performed some ritualistic mumbo jumbo to justify the expense incurred.
Finally we arrived at the parade ground where a separate enclosure was erected for the distinguished personages. A leisurely crowd of courtiers lounged about. These went about with familiar sounding names of officials in British Civil Service. Atlantis prides itself in unity in diversity and a fierce commitment to originality and independence of views. They are a people remarkably free from jingoism and false national pride. The more reactionary and conventional courtiers were present in the de rigour bandhgalas, but the more progressive ones sported tweeds and blazers and various jackets, very much akin to people in our lands. Being a sociable people, the courtiers displayed a natural tendency to garrulousness while the children - the more noisy adults in miniature - played a small game of hide and seek in the enclosure. In the meantime the National Flag was unfurled, and people got up and sat down at their pleasure, while the National Anthem played merrily. The general atmosphere of gaiety and even levity left me in no doubt that they are a highly evolved people politically and they treated such holy icons as national flag, national anthem etc. with just the right dose of cynicism. The next morning’s newspaper carried a story of the national flag slipping down the pole; at some other place it was unfurled upside down. I could now see the foolishness and the fanaticism of soldiers, sailors and citizens back home prepared to kill and be killed for a quilted piece of cloth called the Union Jack.
The parade was over, and the tableau relating to achievements of the state began to emerge from behind a curtained enclosure. The first one, that nearly took my breath away, was a school without teachers, followed by a school chock-full of teachers but with no students. Atlantis, being a very ancient land, had evolved the method of self instruction and, as the story goes, when denied access to a teacher they make do with his statue - as somebody called Eklavya seems to have done. Similarly, the teachers, who are in the lineage of the great sages, are all the time in pursuit of the realization of the ultimate knowledge. In this vibrant democracy, politics has been accorded - and rightly - the status of the ultimate pursuit. Needless to say, these teachers are elected. Hospitals without doctors, doctors without any formal medical training or degree - the presentation was getting to be a little jaded when suddenly, in the distance, a procession of scooters emerged.
The audience was electrified, and a deafening applause demonstrated how justly they were proud of their achievement. It was a sight which I witnessed with no mean surprise. Buffaloes and bulls the size of thumbnails were neatly stacked, one on top of another, and on one scooter at least I counted four score and six. It was confirmed by the excited crowd that each one of them ate animal feed equivalent to one hundred normal animals. I had no doubt in my mind that they are a people much advanced in eugenics and genetic engineering. They appeared to have crossed Brobdingnagian animals with the Lilliputian ones. Invention as they say is the mother of necessity. These animals were to be given away to the poor tribals who had very small huts. So the compassionate state bred these animals commensurate with the needs of these poor people. The copious dung of these animals was pure gold, and was collected as reward by all those associated with this noble project. The compassion and the efforts of the welfare state touched me deeply.
But the piece de resistance of the whole show was the award giving ceremony. In our country, thieves and scoundrels were publicly hanged. The intent behind such a public ceremony was that the general populace should take heed and desist from such deeds. But the barbaric practice did leave them brutalized to that extent. Readers will remember that these people are highly evolved politically, and are above jingoism and sectarian patriotic claptrap. Dr Johnson's dictum "patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel" was understood in the true sense of the terms. But rather than punishing, their scoundrels who resorted to patriotic acts like keeping the enemy at bay on international borders were called out publicly for such misdemeanours. The rationale was that these who got foolishly killed should be rewarded with petty sums to underline the comicality of their endeavour. I was reminded of the punishment meted out to dissenters in the Roman days, who were made to wear the mask of a clown to rob them of the dignity of their deeds and deaths. There could be no other reason for a compassionate state which honours criminals or their victims, or people killed in accidents and natural calamities so handsomely to be so stingy. But the deeds of these people were described in very fulsome terms. The French pride themselves on having the most polite manner of saying things - if they have to abuse you, then they will abuse you sil vous plait!
It was a grand spectacle which drove home the message pointedly and left the people elevated rather than brutalised. Britain and other advanced nations have much to learn from this country and the colour of the skin of these people may be darker but their hearts have hues of gold. The first leg of my journey had greatly instructed me in the ways of the modern world

REPRISE SERIES

The IAS is in the news. The Prime Minister himself eloquently told the parliament about what they can and they cannot do , so I thought it would be a good starting point , to share with the world Gulliver's impression of the Mighty Service.
By way of an introduction to the article "The Mighty Service "that I am going to post shortly ,Gulliver's Travels, a humorous series that I wrote about 25 years back , could not proceed beyond the sixth part.It was written with active encouragement from my dear friend
Uttam Sengupta
then RE Times Of India , and published in the year 1996-97(?) in the Times Of India and was published without attribution to the author for obvious reasons.
The inspiration for the series was a bizarre incident. An airplane couldn't land at Patna airport even after hovering over it for quite some time because a couple of frisky blue bulls had strayed on the runway, nobody knew from where. And of course writing in 1997 who could put away the thoughts about the infamous Animal Husbandry Scam that burst upon Bihar. In the same year on the Independence Day security personnel were honoured with cash awards like 2977.50 paise. (Rs.22.50 were deducted as charges for preparing the bank draft etc.!) Such financial prudence went hand in hand with the withdrawal of hundreds of crores of rupees from the treasuries without budget, without allotment, without proper authorization. Bills for transporting thousands of bulls and buffaloes on scooters were also paid for with the taxpayers money. On the other hand criminals killed in police encounters – fake or genuine -were rewarded with sums like Rs.2 lac and above should they belong to the politically favoured caste or those who owed allegiance to ruling political party. The first part of the serial tries to look at these events from the viewpoint of an alien that is one who carries no bias.
The Police serials( 2,and3) were similarly triggered off by topical events which have now faded away from public memory. Sl. 2 was occasioned by a spate of kidnappings and train dacoities. Since many of the dacoits owed allegiance to powerful politicians or caste groups police were understandably reluctant to act.
Sl 3 :Deepa Murmu, a young poetically inclined and politically ambitious girl was raped, first by a government functionary, and then allegedly by the minister himself to whom when she had gone seeking his help, in nailing down the accused. Forced to investigate the influential offender police investigation meandered through literary , and metaphysical alleys and byways, and finally get lost in the maze of court procedure . Senior officers wrote eloquent disquisitions on the etiology of the crime of rape and mapped the psychological profile of the rapist in great detail. Meanwhile the raped girl who had conceived, died during childbirth. SL. 3 pays homage to this attribute of Police. SI 4 is in breathless adoration of arms merchants, their resident agents and other lobbyists and liaison men. It also celebrates the vanishing trick of a certain highly connected Italian gentleman who figured in a defence deal but agencies dared not take his name. SI 5 and 6 are about the two warring tribes- the IPS and IAS. The 5th in the serial is in the context of 5th -pay commission recommendation and the sole concern of the IPS for parity with the IAS etc. The sixth part describes the deluded descendents of The Men Who Ruled India, about their fondness for mulcting of development funds, the brazen episode of out of turn allotment of government houses where in the Supreme Court and Patna High Court in their respective jurisdictions had to intervene. The whimsies and other peccadilloes of the Bada Sahibs (IAS) has been described from the perspective of the lesser folks.I do not remember why did I stop this serial. I guess I got bored with myself.
I had discovered the old drafts sometime back and I am trying to reconstruct the articles .Since the IAS is in the news, I thought it would be a good starting point , to share with the world Gulliver's impression of the Mighty Service, even though this is the last of the Gulliver’s series.
Mr . Gulliver first port of call is in Pataliputra . He meets a local who acts as his guide and takes him to places. This post is by way of introducing The Mighty Service which I shall post in a short while.

Monday, February 1, 2021

In A Maze Of Books

I succumb to the enchantment of books very easily and end up buying or collecting more books than what I can chew and digest. Some books remain untasted for years and in many cases I have followed Francis Bacon’s advice by reading them “only in parts”.
Umberto Eco’s huge personal library proclaimed his insatiable lust for books, and he took an impish delight in leading his gawking but boorish visitors, on the false scent. To one such curious, nosy parker who had perhaps, little, or no interest in books, and wondered whether Eco had read all the books in his capacious library, he said something to the effect that ‘no, this is my weekend reading. My main hoard is elsewhere. Mine, of course is nothing compared to the great professor of semiotics, polyglot scholar and renowned intellectual, but even in my modest collection, whenever I look up at the bookshelves, I sigh the lack of time or rue my tardiness for not having read all of them, from cover to cover. Like Seneca, when I go to bed, I tell myself “Today I forgive you. But tomorrow ...” That, however, does not seem to have improved matters.
“You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older,” I sought solace in, Nissim Nicholas Taleb, “and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.” I am not sure about accumulating knowledge but the ‘anti library’ is slowly growing and I fear that just as the collision of matter and anti-matter promises a cataclysmic end – of – the – world – what if the collision of library and ‘anti library’ may lead to some minor explosion, an apocalypse at smaller scale.
My father was a cross word freak and a great gormandizer of books. Though trained to be a lawyer his passion for reading claimed him entirely. In his efforts to ignite a curiosity in me not only for mathematics, but for a whole lot of other things, led him to acquire many books for me. So, on my shelf sit curiosities like Fantasia Mathematica and Mathematical Magpie, books of 60s vintage, sit with my own acquisitions.
He introduced me to Arthur Porges’ classical story on Fermat, The Devil and Simon Flagg , as a child. (I have read it several times now as an adult). A man challenges the devil that he could give him a task which the devil could not perform even in twenty four hours. "My question is this”, said the man , “ Is Fermat's Last Theorem correct?" My father explained to me that Fermat’s Last Theorem was the most difficult problem in mathematics . I am supposed to have asked him ‘more difficult than the table of twenty six.’ He said, ‘way more.’ Since then I have been in religious awe of the Fermat’s Last Theorem, feeling somewhat relieved at the same time that the theorem in question was his last .
The devil set the terms refusing to take him as a slave in case he won. "I deal only in souls. There is no shortage of slaves. The amount of free, wholehearted service I receive from humans would amaze you.”( I have heavily underlined this portion!) To cut a long story short, the devil, the doer of impossible acts was defeated by Fermat’s last theorem.
My father’s diligence alas! did not improve my standing in mathematics( such as it was!) but it imbued in me a curiosity about the subject much beyond my capability. So I always aimed higher than I could shoot. That is how I got to surround myself with a lot of books on mathematics and mathematicians, always meaning to wade through them with stoic patience , grit and determination. One of the by-products of this is Fermats’s Theorem in four versions, including Andrew Wiles’ and Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem , explained and simplified for laymen. Apart from Nagel and Newman’s classic Godel’s Proof I have the shiny new Godel’s Theroem , Its Incomplete Guide To its Use and Abuse by Torkel Franzen, books on David Hilbert, Gauss, Cauchy, Abel, Cantor, Weirestrass and of course several on Ramanujan. Burnished by deference and blackened by incense, they occupy a distinctive corner on the shelf. My only encounter with many of them was when I opened them to write my name to establish ownership. I wish it was as easy to own the content but I will speak of my missed opportunity to master mathematics some other time.
There was a time in my life when I could relate to Pablo Neruda’s lament in his memoir, “ A bibliophile of little means is likely to suffer often. Books don't slip from his hands but fly past him through the air, high as birds, high as prices.” But a bibliophile suffers in equal measure when books start raining in great profusion : it is great pleasure but brings with it great pain too. Aware of my separation from my horde of books, my daughters , who are bibliophiles in their own rights, have plied me with a whole lot of books in these last lockdown months , many of them are my old favourites , but many that I had not read. Despite my best efforts many remain unread .Books have been not only the solace but sustenance during days of forced separation from the world outside. But now the very presence of so many of them which I crave for when I cannot find them, has a hugely distracting presence. They fail to entice or hold my attention for any length of time. It agitates me, it confuses me. A profitable reading depends on your ability to obtain and hold attention. I will tell you what.
I was reading Dipesh Chakrabarty’s The Calling Of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth last evening, nicely cruising along his elucidation of ‘public history’ and ‘cloistered history,’ which lead me to think of my own many notes to myself on epistemic violence to the history of Indian independence. The thought also crossed my mind that half-finished “The Loss of Hindustan The Invention of India by Manan Ahmed Asif, and a very interesting paper by Sanjay Seth: Reason or Reasoning? CLIO OR SIVA? Sanjay Seth remain to be finished. My sense of guilt was made worse by that insistent tom tom inside my brain, reminding me the presence of a partially read Burkhardt and a book of Norberto Bobbio, of whom I was unaware until very recently.
Confused as to the order in which these books need to be marshalled for reading or rereading, unable to choose between Dipesh and Manan I settled for the well-trodden routes, via many well-loved diversions. Yesterday I found myself checking out for the umpteenth time Lucky Jim to see what Dixon was up to and then dropped in to catch up on Bellow’s Herzog . Italo Calvino’s General camping in the library assessing the dangerousness of books in his unputdownable story The General is a favourite port of call.
For the night cap I picked up A Wall Of Two , a collection of poems of Henia and Iloma Karamel .These poems were written by two survivors from the camps of Hitler’s pogroms , poems of resistance and suffering from Kraków to Buchenwald and Beyond. To be continued .....
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Monday, January 18, 2021

Adieu Ajit

Ajit Datt , my dear friend and batch mate in the IPS , passed away in his sleep, at his Gurgaon residence, yesterday. In a manner of speaking , he was lost to us , his close family and friends sometime back; what died yesterday was his body . He was suffering from dementia, his memory had been badly impaired. Memory is what creates the illusion of self-hood , memory is what makes a person human, and relatable. He had become a complete stranger to himself , what comfort and cheer could he bring to those close to him? We often used to look him up but Corona put a thousand miles of sea between friend and friend and to my lasting regret I had not seen him for quite a while.
He was a good athlete, a proficient sportsman and a fairly competent boxer. But he was outstanding in his sportsman spirit and sense of fair play. Life, however, played foul with him, it hit him below the belt.
He took to his job as a policeman with great gusto and commitment . As A S P (undertraining ) at Rohtas, Sasaram in Bihar, his chase- and -grab sequence during the arrest of a notorious criminal – had the hallmarks of a block buster crime thriller. There may not be official records , he left no personal account of the event because he thought his job was over, the moment he had performed the task . It was for the government and the police department to recognise his service, to memorialise it for successive generation of officers. He was never into marketing himself , into the odious business of pimping for oneself which is the sine qua non of some officers these days . Some young IPS officers whip up tales of valour and fictionalise routine work- a- day events as great acts of courage and bravery. All these Singhams stalking the social media, all these privates posing as generals were not heard of in our time ! Just to underline the bitter irony , a local newspaper recounted that heroic deed of this arrest in Sasaram ,Rohtas, in great detail, sometime in 2013- 14, about 40 years after the incident, but put a different IPS officer, with the surname Dutt in the central role. The heroic deed lives on in public memory , but the hero is forgotten. I shared it with Ajit’s daughter
Kamna Datt Bangaru
on facebook , because Ajit was too serious for frivolous activities like facebook .
During the Sikh riots, as SRP Dhanbad, he went beyond his call of duty to provide succour and solace to the marooned Sikhs in trains, on Dhanbad railway station, including arranging for medical help for a woman who was pregnant. Bokaro and Dhanbad were the worst affected districts, as far as the riots were concerned. But the defining moment of his career was his deputation to Bhagalpur, to quell a communal riot that was raging for some time. The PM was greeted with slogans of Jay Sri Ram by the local constabulary. There were unseemly stories about communal bias and abdication of responsibility against the previous SP. (He later went on to become DGP Bihar)
Ajit not only brought peace to Bhagalpur, he brought to light one of the most brutal events of the carnage in which scores of people were killed, their dead bodies disposed of and cauliflowers planted over the patch of land where they lay buried. He was posted as a regular Dy. IG Bhagalpur and stayed there for ten years, during governments of all shades of political opinion and Bhagalpur enjoyed a peace like never before. His testimony as the prime witness during the trial of one of the most important cases of communal carnage was crucial and the ring leader was sentenced to death. Government of the day added another feather to its secular cap but Ajit’s much expected promotion to the rank of IG never came about.
His personal courage, bravery and the ability to take responsibility was amazing. He never blew his own trumpet, so his sterling qualities went unsung, unrewarded. The good is bound to be interred with his bones but an instance of carelessness in managing his inventory as SP Nalanda , or maybe his implicit trust in his subordinates, embroiled him in a CBI case that dogged him throughout his career . For even someone who was himself a part of the criminal administration system, the system took thirty five years to come to the conclusion that he was not guilty as charged . He retired as Dy IG, but eight years after his retirement he was promoted as DG retrospectively, and given the benefits. Many insiders believe that the genesis of the infamous ‘uniform scandal’ lay in a clash of egos between two powerful IPS officers. In an effort to chastise the junio officer for his impertinence , a case of conspiracy was built. Ajit and many others may have became collateral damage.
Even God in whom he had unshakable faith played foul with him. His young son died sometime back. Balancing his personal grief against his belief in God, may have been a bit more than he could handle. We – I and my wife - visited him after his son ,Neeraj’s death. His dementia was not that bad . I could see that he was perfectly aware of his situation , while recounting events he would some time lose track , but that was more because he was making great efforts to fight off his tears . ‘Do tears not yet spilled wait in small lakes? , I wondered , ‘Or are they invisible rivers that run toward sadness?” I wanted to tell him, ‘let the dykes of restraint burst ,let the tears irrigate and inundate your whole being. Men , even brave men, have a right to cry sometime.
He came to see me off till the gate, assuring me all the while that things were normal , that he had come to terms with the situation, but his voice sounded hollow and lacked that conviction which was his hallmark. As we drove on, I saw a slouching figure, walking back in the semi darkness , with measured steps to counter the effects of Parkinsonism. That is the last I saw of him . I did not know that this was the last I was going to see of him .