In the wake of myriad scams, probes, malfeasances, and involvement of exalted worthies in the sleazy world where Mammon is the veritable God, much light has been thrown on the bumbledom that babudom is. What though is often missed is the existence of a clutch of honest mandarins who – a microscopic minority – are as inured to the allurements blandished about much as the scandalous ilk are in love with.
Theirs is a lonely world, a world made lonelier by the quotidian struggle they have to carry out to prove their points of view, the inevitable clash with the majority syndrome they love to loathe, and their endeavour to stay sane that’s indeed surreal. In moments of introspective unwinding they tend to question their raison d’etre: “Why am I different from most others?” The question gnaws and assails them, intrudes their sub-conscious and sneaks up in the most private recesses of mind and time: sleep and consciousness.
A few generations past, the sight of the dishonest and corrupt, branded and leading a shadowy life, was not infrequent. Society’s accusing finger pointed inexorably at the corrupt, and the obloquy was enough chastisement, not to forget that he was considered a pariah by his colleagues in his workplace. Not that they were times of sparkling honesty. But it was when the honest lived with head held high and was respected in the society, and the corrupt literally scampered for cover.
Alas, the world has changed – drastically. From days when most were honest we have hurtled to a time when honest bureaucrats are a rare species leading inconsequential lives – alienated, morose, and at peace with none. They are sore that their uprightness invites derision from all except their own vanishing tribe, who in any case are so few in number. The society takes no note of them for they are utter failures in the mobile life’s upward ascent; the people have no concern, for their backs need no scratching, and consequently, no mutuality; and friends and relatives – a little more tolerant and patient, if for no other reason than of blood and sentiment – consider them no-gooders. They are looked upon as no-one’s men who lead lonesome lives at life’s edge.
The honest consciously stays off the cutthroat, acquisitive, possessive world. His salary he deems as just reward; his internal moral compass abhors harboring thoughts of filthy lucre. This abhorrence is so firmly embedded in his psyche that his entire outlook is hooked to this abstraction. Consequently, anything he performs in life is coloured by this trickle-down catechism.
This spells his disaster, so to speak. He has few, if any, friends and supporters in office. This is not surprising; few fancy a man who refuses to play to the gallery, calls a spade a spade, and has no axe to grind and serves the same sauce to the goose and the gander.
To say this is not mere speaking in Mammon’s argot. It is far more sweeping and embraces the society’s way. While sleaze enriches and brings honour and respectability to the wiseass, it goes far beyond: it sets the pattern of life, acts as a catalyst for social change and, over time, promotes normative thinking. This is what has come about. Yesterday’s villains are hailed today’s successes – if not heroes; and yesterday’s heroes dubbed life’s failures and society’s anachronisms.
The failed god’s world is one of frustration, isolation and alienation. For him the climb up the bureaucratic escalator is not as routine as for the fortunate majority. The ACR (or APAR today), that annual totem of one’s merit, written after placing his achievements under the microscope, could at best be lack-lustre, if not outrageous, and this can take no one nowhere: not a good posting, not a deputation, not a foreign assignment, not a foreign training. He is stuck in his routine, pen-pushing, as he watches his colleagues – the highly-networked ones – move about places. Promotions, if he achieves without hiccups, he only can thank his stars. For it is a marvel if he comes out of the bureaucratic juggernaut unscathed and with his scruples intact.
Socially, he is a recluse, who shuns talking shop and sharing the bureaucratic tidbits with colleagues whose passion for the job knows no official bound. He’s little nothing to share, he is at a loss to keep his end up with gossipy, syrupy low-downs that every august denizen relishes, the sort that provide the grist for the prying mill. He has no love for the cavalier way a file was held up by his all-knowing colleague to extract the flesh due, nor can he put newer, brighter ideas into the latter’s febrile mind. In his naive, nascent mandarin years he would have argued his heart out, passionately, but as he grows in years and matures, he prefers taciturnity to gauntlet-picking. The febrile lot finds little solace leveling with him. He can’t provide the answers, often couldn’t care to, for he is averse to such ingenuities and would love to extirpate it in the bud if he could; is lackadaisically slow to warm to their passions, their life’s passions that is; demented to life’s saucy offerings, and clearly lacking the guts that such ingenuities so sedulously demand. Yet, when roused from his self-imposed reticence, he could demolish their worldviews and extant societal norms and goings-on, even storm out in the most tremendous huff. Quick to realize, the majority isolate and ostracize him. Our honest mandarin’s cup of alienation is complete.
The facade of equanimity so deftly cultivated from his training days is no insurance against a feeling of lost he experiences. All around him he sees every value he cherished since childhood crumbling, if not already crumbled. Personal enrichment at the cost of fairness, doubletalk to provide a veneer of logic, net-working to self-aggrandize, gnaws his heart. If he lets the bully out, he’s sunk. His eyes now large pools of suffering, he consciously slithers into his shell.
As a social animal he finds it an anathema. And a torture. How much and for how long can he be bound up in his own world and hermetically seal himself from the society? He knows he is an oddball in the majority’s eye, but his mind refuses to join the mainstream, for they are only a few, just a few, of his ilk left, and they too like him, lead quiet, unobtrusive lives, beyond the mainstream’s pale: an endangered species. He suffers alone and with him, his family. No amount of abstractions he tries to imbue his family with can hold the majority society at bay. The high visibility of his next-door neighbour’s living does not help matters. He tends to question his modus vivendi, at times – in moments of unmitigated blues – even his principles’ rationale.
The heebie-jeebies pass and he pulls over, turbo-charged – unrepentant, determined, unyielding – to battle a new day, refusing to cop out, going hard for the sake of his principles, his raison d’etre in this ghoulish world that he refuses to monkey for himself. Bonjour!