Sudhansu Mohanty, (un)civil servant and occasional writer and (fifth!) columnist, passed away in his sleep yesterday after a brief illness. He was 54. He is survived by his estranged wife Shukla; his son Prayag who cleverly stayed away from him and today works in Mumbai; daughter Priyanka who (still in college) quietly suffered him (and because of being in college!), and his loving adorable dog Sheru (whose loyalty because it is canine is unmatched, guided by past memories of being a once-upon-a-time stray before adopting the Mohantys as his family). All of them suffered him – and in total silence.
Born in Cuttack, Mohanty was home-bred and home-spun – he graduated from Ravenshaw College. He obtained his Master’s from the Utkal University at Bhubaneswar. A bottom-of-the-pyramid student, he was accidentally (unconfirmed report says through nepotism) offered jobs successively at the Post-Graduate Department of Utkal University and then at Ravenshaw College, and thereby came to teach History at both his alma mater (Heavens!).
Later the same nepotism (allegedly) helped him clear the Civil Services Exams. Nepotism kept its tryst with him during his every elevation. The fact that he never missed a promotion is a testimony that Indian bureaucracy’s inefficiency is intact. At the time of his death he was the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts, Bangalore. Critics who rile against bureaucracy often fail to appreciate the boons of its inefficiency – and that an efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to human life, liberty, security, property, and prosperity.
Mohanty preached what he never practised. In a way, he was incapable of any practice. He was unwaveringly consistent – in keeping with his outlook and taste buds; never a namak haram he was true to the salt he ate, often with assorted evening namkeen and bhelpuri every day.
Nor was he capable of any work. He knew nothing of the department or Ministries he served. But blessed like a cat with nine lives he managed to survive though only till yesterday. Frankly, he was unconscionably late in dying, suffering as he was from a rare malignancy – carcinoid cancer – for more than two years; but the scourge, like him, was a slow coach and took its own sweet time, till one day the sovereign disease realized it was getting inordinately delayed for no earthly reason and the slow burn need be stoked, for it was time he died, and was bounded out. That’s how eventually – though reluctantly – he died in his sleep yesterday. Not to miss the point that Mohanty was keen to extend his life on earth through subtle contrivances like periodic medical check ups, intake of copious medicines/injections, consultation with eminent doctors, both at Narayana Hrudayalaya, Bangalore and at AIIMS, New Delhi. All bad things have to come to an end one day and so it was yesterday with Mohanty!
On official front, Mohanty will be remembered – apart from his classical inefficiency – for corruption, dishonesty and nepotism. Not a day went without a whiff of scam. But, to give the devil his due, he weathered every such storm manfully. The offices suffered, not he. He went about his life nonchalantly, his head up, nose in mid-air sniffing no scandals and putrescence. The fact that his olfactory didn’t work due to chronic deviated nasal septum, helped.
Mohanty will be also remembered for his pretentious and hubristic piffles that came out in his media writings. It is a tribute to his ingenuity he beguiled the Editors – The Statesman, The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindustan Times, The Pioneer, New Indian Express, The Telegraph, Financial Express, Asian Age, New Quest, The Illustrated Weekly of India, Mainstream – to publish his pieces that were impeccably unreadable, bereft of substance and couched in Origlish (Paradoxically Oriya, his mother tongue, the fraud knew little!).
Not only that. He wrote a series of babu-tales contained in three forgettable books: Babudom: Catacombs of Indian Bureaucracy (Rupa; 2004); Babulog: Vignettes of Indian Bureaucrats (Rupa; 2005); and Babuspeak and Other Stories (Rupa; 2007). The books though reprinted did not set the North-South-East-West Blocks (now the Ulan Bator Road!) on fire; even government departments – apt to assiduously patronizing books written by their own tribesmen and buying thousands of copies to help themselves expend the unrealistic budgetary outlays and also make the author/publisher happier and richer – gave such acclaimed win-wins a go by and refused to touch them with a barge pole.
Upon discovery of cancer, Mohanty was busy working on a book he called Anatomy Of A Tumour: A Patient’s Potted Dialogue With The Scourge. He tried to capture his experience of this rare scourge, as also his life after beaching himself in the profane world of ‘cancer’. The myriad experiences – of shock, of bafflement, of worry, of suffering and recovery from surgeries, of inconveniences and uncertainties, of positivism and philosophic worldview – are said to be captured in Mohanty’s account of the rogue tumour. The dialogue with the scourge is not continuous, but fitful, desultory – hence potted – and limited only to the ones he experienced, and the ones he understood amid the avalanche of medical terms and practices. Though he wished it was published during his lifetime, alas that wasn’t to be.
He had no friends. His childhood friends had deserted him like rats – not because they saw water in the ship but because they realized that the ship was not a ship in the first place! He never made friends in his later life. His relatives too despised him – particularly his in-laws. He was their son-out-law! Nitpicky, unspeakably adamant and petty, his worldview was governed by the halo of his own infallibility. Yet to be fair to him, unlike others in times of liberality, he sowed no such wild oats. But this was not due to lack of knack and/or effort. He had a roving eye but sadly drew a blank because ladies stayed off him – his woebegone and withering looks, and his sinful nature not helping his cause.
Perhaps he had a presentiment of his death: Just two days before his demise he had entered the blogosphere – maybe thinking it was his way to memorialize himself and leave his precious footprints on the virtual sands of cyberspace. A man so despicable you rarely ever find in reel life – let alone the real – and the spatial. But that was Sudhansu Mohanty – one of a kind, sui generis, if only for all the wrong reasons. Let his soul rest in peace. RIP, Old Boy!