An anecdote of by gone days

Biswanath Bhattacharya

August 5, 2022, 10:12:13   

An anecdote of by gone days

The year was 1992, when I was a Block Development Officer It was the first week of a winter month—the weather was inclement, and the night was chilly. 

It must have been about thirty minutes past eight when Abu, the night guard, knocked on my doors to inform me that he had a queasy stomach, and besides, was running a very high temperature. He asked for my permission to go home.

As it turned out, it was one of the coincidences of life that the other night guard was also on leave. I made a quick calculation of how much money could be in the double lock. Those were the days when online meant some drawal from the bank, and end-of-day cash was kept in the double lock. I estimated that the cash would not be in excess of Rs 4000. All staff and other payments for the day had already been made.

Abu was in obvious distress, and I told him to go get himself treated immediately. I called the Medical Officer in charge of the local hospital and requested him to give close attention to Abu.
I then retired for the night.

In those days, unless I had reason to get out earlier, I used to stay in bed till about 8:00 am. Early the next morning, the upset cashier roused me out of my sleep with the information that the double lock had been stolen away. 

Standard operating procedure dictated that in the event of a theft from the double lock, the Drawing Disbursing Officer (DDO), the cashier and the night guard are instantly suspended from service. I told the cashier how much cash could possibly have been stolen from the double lock. He said that the amount would never exceed Rs 200. He was crying.

I immediately lodged an FIR with the local police. The OIC PS insisted that I should name the night guard in the FIR. I did not comply.

Then I called my DM and Collector, a formidable man. I brought him up to date on all developments  with also the information that I gave the night guard permission to take leave. He asked me to name the night guard in the FIR. I declined politely because the night guard had taken leave with my permission. The DM and Collector wanted to know if my permission to the night guard was in writing, and I replied that the permission was oral, not written, but oral permission from a senior official was also binding. I told him that if I now named the night guard in the FIR, I would never hear the end of it from my bloody conscience. It would haunt me as long as I lived!

Other than telling me that I was taking a calculated risk, the DM & Collector did not respond.
After about an hour, the DM & Collector called me to inform me that he had apprised the Chief Secretary of the night’s events. He let me know that the Chief Secretary had lauded my courage of conviction.

Nobody was suspended. Indeed, no action was taken against any of the people involved. It was unimaginable and unprecedented -the double lock had been broken into and the night guard had not been suspended.

On occasion, some of my friends in those days suggested that perhaps I had uttered a distorted truth, a half-truth. Ironically, nothing can be further from the truth. The matter was serious: how much had been stolen was less important than the fact that a theft had actually taken place, but it was not an occasion for me to take partial or full liberties with the truth. On the rare occasion, I have uttered a white lie or a lie in jest, but the double lock theft was not an occasion for anything but the naked truth.

Indeed, my conscience has stayed clear, and I don’t think I have ever lost a single night’s sleep because I skirted around the truth on that occasion when the double lock was broken into! 

It is a different matter altogether that I have heard a very senior officer lying through his teeth.
A very senior officer told in a meeting presided over by the Chief Minister that he submitted a Cabinet Memo on a very sensitive issue in then time. But in reality, he didn’t. After the meeting was over, he called me in his chamber and asked me to prepare the Cabinet memo within 45 minutes on that concerned matter. He was almost breathing over my neck. He had lied to the Chief Minister like a flatfish on his face!

Oh well! They say it takes all types to make the world. Whether that is true or not, the world does have all types!

Om Asatoma Sadgamaya.
Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya.
Mrityorma Amritamgamaya.
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih!
Hey Lord, Take me from untruth to truth.
Take me from darkness to light.
Take me from death to immortality.