CEREBRAL FANTASY: ‘WHO I AM’ / ‘WHO I WAS’

Satish Pandya*

Call it fantasy or fallacy, or the ‘I was’ syndrome. The problem is: government servants famously known as babus refuse to accept that government gets so tired of using, overusing and misusing them by the time they reach the golden age of 60, that it retires them quietly.

No doubt, there are some exceptionally competent and outstanding officials as well as outstanding sycophants who get an extension of one or two years after retirement, as baksheesh from their ‘benevolent’ political masters. But their number is miniscule. And, the irony is that even they retire like any other babu.

Shiv Shankar Prasad Singh (SSPS) also retired like any other babu. And, since then he has been lamenting, “When ‘I was’, I called the shots; but now, shots call me: no Yes Sir; no, No Sir because now, ‘I am’ nobody. When ‘I was’, I was reverently addressed as SSP Sahib. But after retirement, I was downgraded from SSP Sahib to SP Sahib, and then, slowly…no sahib; just SP (Shankar Prasad)”.

“But, why don’t you show your ‘I was’ Visiting Card (VC)”, quipped his erstwhile colleague, and enquired, “Don’t you have one”?

“Not one; but one too many”, SSP responds instantly, “I still remember the day when I became a Class I babu, and got my first VC printed. It looked exactly like the VC invented by ancient Chinese, in 15th century CE.

In that era, VCs were used with élan by the high and mighty to tell how awesome they were. And, whenever they visited someone equally awesome and dignified, a messenger delivered their VC in advance to announce their impending arrival. They never carried their VCs themselves, as is the practice now”.   

In spite of its significance, it took 200 years for VC to cross the Chinese border. But, it gained currency only when it caught the imagination of Europeans in 17th century CE. And then, it didn’t take long for VC to become the staple of companies and professionals worldwide.

Still, it took another 300 years to enter India. By the dawn of 20th century, VC became the talisman of Indian big babus aka brown sahibs, including SSP Sahib.    

SSP proudly recalls that his first VC contained his name and designation along with the name of the organisation and office telephone number (he was not entitled for residence phone, then). And he presented it with aplomb to whomsoever he met, with both hands. 

However, like VC, he couldn’t present the Medals and Commendation Letters awarded to him for executing various challenging assignments. For example, the Certificate of Merit for getting a motorable road constructed in a hilly terrain in record time, and a Silver Medal for designing a bridge for connecting two mountain cliffs separated by a deep gorge.

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For meticulous execution of yet another hilly project under hazardous circumstances, he was declared ‘Engineer of the Year’, a coveted honour, indeed, for any technocrat.

Despite all these achievements, SSP Sahib became just SP after retirement. The honorable suffix ‘Sahib’ deserted him without any qualm. This, he couldn’t digest, and rightly so.    

But look at the favorable turn of events. Within two years of retirement, SP became a Consultant here, and an Advisor there. And the suffix ‘Sahib’ got tagged to his name once again. Ah, his cherished wish of being addressed as ‘Sahib’ soon got fulfilled! And, what a wish!

This was not the end. SSP Sahib was awarded honoris causa D.Lit degree by a renowned British University for his brilliant academic record. Now everyone started calling him as Dr. SSP Singh. With Dr. as prefix to his name, he yelled “hell with Sahib”. Thereafter, he never lamented for his amazing desire of being addressed as ‘Sahib’.            

This is how his VC went on swelling. And the data became so voluminous that it couldn’t be printed on the standard 3.5 x 2 inches visiting card. So he selected a hard paper which is used for placards hung on shops to display products.

His new VC was now printed on an A4 size 150 gsm Placard. It displayed his photograph along with his name and various degrees from different colleges and universities, as well as photo copies of all Testimonials, Medals, and Citations.

And, believe you must: his Visiting Card (VC) ceased to be his VC. It became his Curriculum Vitae (CV). The alphabets just changed places. But, he couldn’t care less.    

N.B. As if this was not sufficient, he got all his attainments framed individually in elegant silver frames and placed them on the mantelpiece, with focus on posterity, for anyone and everyone to see and admire them.

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*Satish Pandya is a veteran writer and has written hundreds of scripts for the Television during his active writing days. He has also published an anthology of short stories ‘Enlightened Souls’, an assortment of soul-searching stories of passion and compassion.

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