“After all the hard work that civil servants do in the line of duty, which often comes at the cost of their personal lives, the fraternity is called as babus. Isn’t it demeaning? Despite years of service, the public perception lingers on,” rues a retired officer in a hall full of civil servants.
But then, is there a silver lining? A ray of hope that this perception will someday change? The audience appears optimistic. They have gathered for the launch of a novel that attempts to portray the human side of a civil servant’s life.
Suchita Malik is out with her fourth novel, ‘Scent of the Soil’. It was released in Chandigarh on Saturday at the Haryana Niwas.
Like her previous novels, ‘Scent of the Soil’ also attempts to portray the different shades that colour, and discolour, the life of a civil servant in India. Malik is wife of senior IAS officer YS Malik, who is currently chairman, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
Malik says the idea for the novel germinated from her experience of hearing countless tales by civil servants about the towns and villages they served in.
“These were often recounted with an air of joyful nostalgia,” she says.
The novel is based in Haryana. Shubhojit Singh, the protagonist, is a promising hardworking civil servant. Though he is a highly decorated officer, but in personal life, he is a loner.
His dedication to work often positions him at the crossroads of professional and personal life. The latter is often compromised at the altars of the former, to an extent that his family relations break down at various levels. But he continues. A massive heart attack changes the course of his life. Armed with retrospection, he takes a voluntary retirement at a time when he is at the peak of his career, and decides to take refuge in his village — his roots.
Explaining the plot, Malik says, “Shubhojit is a representative figure of all civil servants who join with great optimism and many dreams. But over the time, things change. The professional front overshadows the personal. Life starts oscillating between hope and despair.”
She adds, “This novel is my attempt to raise questions and dilemmas that confront our past, present and future. While writing the book, I often wondered why we take refuge in nostalgia for happiness? Are we not happy in the present? Has the enthusiasm in us reached saturation? Can going back to the roots and maintaining balance between traditions and modernity be an answer?” she asks.
Apart from the dilemmas that a civil servant faces daily, Malik says she has also tried to weave in natural elements of life in rural Haryana so that the young generation also connects themselves with their traditions.
Grappling with the dichotomies between personal and professional growth and the dynamics of achievement and renouncement, will the book lighten the load of perception that the retired officer raised?
It is for time to answer that.