Monday, August 8, 2022
My Facebook post dated 3rd May 2022. Why Writing A Memoir/Autobiography Is Not A Good Idea
A friend's suggestion that I should write my memoir plugged straight into that universal vulnerability; we all believe that we have a story to tell and the world is eager to listen to it. Well, not exactly. Not everyone, but there are a fairly large number of people who would probably want to tell their stories should they have the requisite skill, the time and the logistical wherewithal. In that sense of the term autobiography is the proper democratic genre; it admits to its portals people without any distinction (pun intended). Civil servants and police officers as a class, are as eager to make their contribution to the society known as anyone else.
There are many ways of framing a life. Police officers generally like to be seen as swashbuckling heroes, chasing gangsters and drug peddlers, hunting down terrorists and desperate criminals. Those looking for inspirational or sensational literature of this kind will find their expectations undone. To them, it will not quite appeal as a readerly text. As an IPS officer, I did not kill anyone in hot pursuit nor in the heat of battle; custodial interrogation to the accompaniment of aesthetic torture was never a part of my professional repertoire. Never admitted to the first circle of power, never enjoyed the confidence of chief ministers, nor lent my services to Mafia dons, therefore, never performed tasks in the stealth of night for them - the cloak and dagger stuff - which should be now ripe for sharing.
An autobiography must be a frank, bare all document, to get the monkeys off your shoulder. But I do not have any confessions to make. I never felt called upon to atone for my sins and to find solace in spiritual activities. Salacious stories of secret liaisons, scandals, or adultery, would also be found missing from this account. I am afraid I have nothing to confide by way of intimacies or intrigues. So, of what interest will be the career of someone who had simply walked through life ‘without a horse, a saddle, or a sword’ ?I feel honoured but I feel mystified too.
But there is another style of policing. It is less spectacular, affords no drama, has no climactic moments; it is the determination to act, and go on acting, strictly according to the dictates of law. It is a lifelong painful grind, the humdrum of the routine, the refusal to accept the law of the implicit and unstated “exceptionalism” that colonial police was grounded in, and has become part of the unstated ethos of Indian police as well.This ultimately becomes the brick and mortar in which the strongest pillars of a society governed by the rule of law is rooted. But the formula that clever professionals apply in their pursuit of that bitch goddess called success, is to recognise the special rights of people who matter, by recognising their enclaves of privilege marked by crossed bone and skull. Their lives become easy, their reputation in circles that matter soars and they have the best of both worlds. You have to make your choices early, changing horses midstream is not the best bet. The effect of your routine quotidian effort begins to show in the confidence and respect of the people you serve. If you are consistent, if you persevere despite reverses or setbacks then your reputation travels by word of mouth which is much the more durable and authentic.
My father was a lawyer, my grandfather was a lawyer too and my great, great grandfather, Munshi Chatrapat Sahay, was a judicial officer who, according to the family folklore, stood up to the British dictate of using law as a weapon of revenge in 1857 and paid the price for it. So the belief in the supremacy and majesty of law was imbibed with my mother’s milk.This belief, what Kafka’s Zurau Aphorisms defines as “a belief like a guillotine, as heavy, as light” began to gutter as I grew in service .
My forty years in the IPS was a painful journey from innocence to experience. Layer after layer of the myth of law being the weapon as well as the armour of the policeman has frayed, has become a patchwork of rags, until the grand deception clothed in its phoney majesty of Latinate expressions like Fiat Justitia Rauta Calum (Let justice be done though heavens fall) has come off revealing it in its in complete nakedness and those who put faith in law it at the mercy of powerful offenders .
I could make a game of my suffering, I could flaunt the elegant scars from my wounds like badges of honour. But I was troubled by thoughts which gnawed at my deeply held beliefs. One single pain would be multiplied in many hearts of all those close to me, my wife, my children. The cross that should have been mine and mine alone became a family burden. Those were the occasions that all this seemed like a moral self-appeasement , an illicit indulgence. But if you have good samskara the self-doubt is transient.
I have been meditating intently on the last few years of my career, on the desirability of sharing my experience of how a police officer committed to acting in accordance with law becomes a quixotic figure, an object of mild derision as well: whether there is any value in memorialising the sharp decline from rule of law to rule of men. Evolution , it is said is a barbed arrow in time. A biped cannot regress to be a quadruped, vertebrates- those who develop spines over a period of time cannot descend the evolutionary ladder to become invertebrates. For ten years I have waited, equivocated, felt alternately enthused and deterred looking at my own story through critical, even hostile eyes but I have not been able to gather enough courage to present my case to an audience mesmerised by the exploits of Singhams. It is not worth it. As the Bhojpuri saying goes, “ का पर करूँ मैं सिंगार पिया मोर आंधर.” Who should I bedeck myself for, my lover is blind.