A bureaucrat everybody loved to meet

  • Col DS Cheema (retd), Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Oct 11, 2014 09:26 IST

This story dates back to the mid-60s when interacting with senior bureaucrats in flesh and blood was not as difficult as it is today. In 1962, the army's corps of electrical and mechanical engineering (EME) had set up its recruitment training centre at Bhopal. The only military unit, No.3 EME Centre, as it was called, was commanded by a colonel who also doubled as the station commander. The chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh was a frequent visitor to the badminton court of Sultania Infantry (SI) lines officers mess. None of the officers of my seniority had any idea about the special status of such a senior officer and no one ever bothered to know anything about the aura, protocol and authority associated with the most important IAS officer of the state. Most of us, except the commandant and some senior officers, became friendly with the gentleman, sometimes even under the prying and non-approving eyes of our seniors.

I recall a small, dark and bespectacled man sporting a white T-shirt and shorts braking his private jeep with a screech in the porch of the mess. He loved to drive the open-hooded jeep at break-neck speed. In the evening, he looked forward to an exciting game of badminton with officers one-third his age to prove a point about his fitness. He was nimble-footed on the court and his loud 'hoos' and 'haas' of a good shot or a bad miss were the butt of jokes.

The commandant and some others cheered him during the game. They dutifully applauded his good shots and heaved a sigh when he missed one. Whenever he lost, he went out of the way to prove that he was a good loser when everyone knew that it was not the case. Game over, all discussion focused on his fitness, brilliant anticipation and foot work.

The astute bureaucrat would come alive only after sunset. After a gruelling game, everyone deserved a good drink. We would move to the mess, as we were expected to, and one of the youngsters would order the chief guest's trademark drink, "double large rum on the rocks". While some teetotalers were mere onlookers; others like me were enthusiastic participants in every discussion and argument. The attention and patience with which he listened to us made us feel good and we went out of the way to reciprocate the gesture when he narrated long, and often boring, details of his hunting expeditions. He would tell us how he had gunned down wild boars and tigers. Anyone with average intelligence would have doubted the authenticity of the claims but no one made any unpleasant enquiries.

On a pleasant winter Sunday, he decided to give a few of us a ride in his jeep. Sitting cramped in the rear seat, I felt like a VIP as by now I had started understanding the importance of being driven around by an IAS officer. After a few minutes, we landed in front of what appeared to be a huge government bungalow. A sloppy salute by the lone sentry, who barely managed to hold the rifle right, made me feel still more important. Inside, every nook and cranny of the house was witness to the austere lifestyle of this gentleman. My respect for him increased manifold. I knew nothing of his professional competence but he was a man everybody loved to meet. I wonder if there are such bureaucrats around anymore.

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