Opthals, doctors, lawyers,tinkers, tailors can carry on until they can’t cure their own cataracts, torts and writs lose their bites and pots and pans become ifs and ands. For the likes of me, all bureau-cats are grey in the light. We pass the imagined rigours of a Union Public Service Commission exam, we sign slavery to the President of India on day one and we know that day the date we are put to pasture. It was 58 in my time, it is 60 years now and after the rigours of trying to walk the straight and narrow between colours strictly black and white, it is in retirement that the blues hit you. Strong men in the IAS who have guided the destinies of our nation, have been known to shriek and pull out what little hair they have left, the day they rise from the final chair.
Used to being served tea in silver service during interval at the cinema from owners fearing cancelling of their licences, the thought of actually waiting in a queue to get a ticket can cause instant paralysis. As it did a venerable dodo I replaced in Maharashtra Tourism, who had a stroke the day after his farewell speech. No more red lights on the car, the possibility of taking a bus or two, or even revving up a comatose Maruti 800, does not do much for the blood sugar. Having to confront a wife full time because you have not piled in with the likes in the Adarsh scenario, makes possible an early retreat into religious texts or going the NGO route to keep the spirit of public service going… and get away from domestic friction that constant reading of all the newspapers in town cannot still subdue. Many of us old lags who have done our time, meet on the first Monday of every month at the YB Chavan auditorium. We constantly discuss the Central Government Health scheme and its callousness in letting us die early and penniless.
Lately we are exercised about Adarsh and whether we can teach the present callow lot about higher moral values So Prevalent In Our Time. Of course we made the odd STD call in the glories of the coming tech age for strictly private purposes at taxpayer cost. Or fiddled the car register when the Mem wanted to visit her mother. Overall, all of us can still look each other in the eye. We have not hit the headlines, in our parliamentary system, the elected rather than the selected have to take the credit and the blame. Most of us have not been kidnapped, like our colleague in Orissa recently was, but we have had our share of tribal neuroses, earthquakes and floods…and at all times dealing with the whims of political masters without our spines exceeding the permissible curvature.
One favourite story we don’t tell when the samosas and hot tea comes in on the Monday early evening at 5.30 pm, is about our buddy who retired as Home Secretary to the Government of India and went off to grow roses in snooty Ooty. His neighbours were surprised to see that the boy who delivered the morning newspaper, would knock on the door and go in for a few moments instead of leaving the day’s news outside. He was asked after a long time why he did this. He said his instructions were clear. He was asked to knock and enter and then announce, ‘Sir, the Prime Minister wants to see you at once’. To which the answer would come every morning, muffled from under the thick quilt, ‘Tell the Prime Minister to F—Off’. The boy would then gently close the door and go.
Some of us in our salad years have plans to still leave the world a better place before we push up the daisies. A distinguished Professor of Sociology from St. Xavier’s College at a recent public discussion berated me for now trying to get religion out of politics. What did you do when you were in Service? she asked. ‘Madam’, I replied, ‘You have taught Sociology for 35 years and still there aresociological problems’. We will all go screaming into the good night, we may be blue now away from the power and the glory, but it is nice to rage against the dying of the light. Maybe about some of us it will be said, he had the gift of laughter and the sense that the world was mad.