Fiction Park

The Officer

  • Despite his awkward, comical persona, his sullen eyes and fair countenance added gravity to his appearance, while his hooked nose, pear-shaped jawline, slicked back hair and the dark blue suit made him look the image of a consummate professional. He was n
- SAURAV BIKRAM THAPA
The tale of a village boy who found undue affluence and social standing by climbing the ladder of bureaucracy is so common that it repeats thousands of times every generation, and every generation they grow more spirited, dogged, and entrenched than before

Jul 1, 2018-Goloman stood five feet tall and his head was shaped like a potato. For ten years, he had served as a secretary to the Department of Rights and Duties; the appointment for which was acquired by his late father who upon his retirement from public affairs had invested skillfully towards establishing important personal connections with important kangresis. His father like many of his contemporaries had stolen from state coffers and commissioned privileges for the procurement of goods and services to supplement the annual income of twelve rupees. Each morning at ten, Goloman would resume his office work on a small desk, scarred and spotted with ink.  His desk would typically be crammed full of dossiers on lokta, which gave the impression that he was a man of utmost importance, and was someone who deserved respect.

Despite his awkward, comical persona, his sullen eyes and fair countenance added gravity  to his appearance, while his hooked nose, pear-shaped jawline, slicked back hair and the dark blue suit made him look the image of a consummate professional. He was not. For his part, Goloman drank ten cups of tea—five cups of black tea without sugar, two cups of green tea with sugar, another two cups of green tea with salt and a cup of lemon tea with honey, as he stacked dry nasal mucus under his desk all day. He was fully aware that career advancement didn’t depend on his excellent work but rather on the excellent impressions he made upon his ever changing superior officers in the department; in thirty years in service, such was his wont.

Earlier in his life and career he had stumbled upon an unfortunate incident which changed his approach to the business of public service. His father, after having procured for him the position of clerk, noted that his village priest who had substantial land holdings desired a gazetted officer for his son-in-law. It was general knowledge that the old village priest had in possession two hundred ropanis of arable land, fifteen kilos of gold, two sets of diamond jewelry obtained from the pious sixth wife of Shree Tin Maharaj, twenty Kamaiyas, seventy cows and twenty buffaloes. The only son of the old priest, who was twelve years younger than him, grew up to be an angry, ill-natured and promiscuous tyrant and got himself killed by the Kamaiyas. The Kamaiyas, who were tired of getting flogged and more tired of watching their wives being forced to bed him, decided to stage the murder as an accident at one of their numerous festivals, inviting the profligate for worship and offerings. An old Tharu was appointed as the executioner. Some Kamaiya girls, charming and scheming, got the young landlord drunk with rice wine and lured him to the killing field. They tethered the goat to an iron post and placed a tika on his forehead. He was oblivious till the end. An old Tharu said a prayer, raised his kharpan and swung, striking him on his throat and killing him instantly.

 It was impossible for the police to prosecute anyone for they found no evidence of foul play. Years later, the old village priest would puncture his balls in his futile efforts to beget a son. Instead, the tragedy of fathering fourteen girls fell upon him. Among the fourteen daughters, twelve died either in child birth or were taken by consumption or malaria before they even reached puberty. The two surviving daughters grew up aloof, pampered and beautiful. On her fifteenth birthday, the elder daughter shocked and defied her father by eloping with a Dalit, giving him no choice but to renounce her. Goloman’s father now plotted to secure for his son, the sole remaining heir. Goloman was now not only forced to court and impress the young girl but also had to travel to India to procure fake certificates in order to obtain merit for appearing in the government examination for becoming an officer.

With father’s acquaintances in public service and political connections, he managed to rank himself in first position, everything seemed to be going perfectly but for a rival, an old school fellow who placed second, was stunned, skeptical and jealous at the result, demanded a review; penning a lengthy letter to the commission for civil examinations. The rival, detailing in an emotional plea, his own diligent nature and bewilderment at his knowledge on Goloman’s mediocrity (of which he had proof), even questioned his academic credentials. Upon review from the commission, it was found that Goloman had in fact failed and it was to the utmost importance that the incident be referred to the Ministry immediately.

Goloman was summoned by the ministry and again his father began pulling strings. The minister, amid intense pressure from the chairman of the commission on one end and his own party members on the other reasoned that it would be embarrassing for a commission to have been found deceived and corrupted; and more so, for the chairman to reside under any public scrutiny, he shrewdly noted that if the news got out, it would be a career suicide. The minister also deliberated on ethical considerations (as all politicians are skilled in the language of morality) and said that it would be a grave injustice for the other examinees and for the future of the bureaucracy. So, upon conferring with the minister, the irate chairperson reduced Goloman’s marks and commissioned an apology for the typographical mistake, republishing the results and sending him to the back of the graduating batch, due to which the system of meritocracy never favoured him in his career; although he rose decently to the rank of secretary on seniority based promotions and was now nearing retirement.

Unfortunately, the girl he was courting, following the footsteps of her sister, seduced and pregnant, had eloped with a Tamang bus driver. The village priest, enraged with his fate, took to excessive drinking and later on, growing utterly delirious with life, ended up emancipating the Kamaiyas and donated all his remaining property to the village society of Krishna Consciousness.

This early impression of deception and acquittal not only scarred Goloman but also inculcated a valuable lesson that he upheld throughout his career because from then on he devoted himself to becoming a master of chakadi pratha—a way of life so lucrative for a bureaucrat of his middling stature that Goloman managed to build three different houses and sent both his sons to American universities who upon return to Nepal grew frustrated amid job market uncertainties and low wages that didn’t substantiate their expensive degrees and eventually returned to America for work.

“How can you not register my case?” the young man frowned, flailing his arms. He couldn’t believe what he had heard.

“Look sir, if you want to complain, you can use the legal means necessary,” Goloman replied curtly.

“Legal means? Isn’t that why I am here in your office, sir?” the young man entreated, softening his voice.

“Look sir, I have been robbed of my rights. It is a disgrace.”

Goloman sat on a wooden chair with worn out leather upholstery—the kind we often see in government offices. He leaned on the desk with his chin on a loose fist. He tried to assume an attentive smile. The office was a small, dull looking nook on the second floor with whitewashed walls stained by years of neglect. He shared the office with two other staffs with identical desks, chairs and filing pattern.

“Look sir, we here at this department register cases only pertaining to human rights violations,” Goloman began but was suddenly interrupted.

“Isn’t that why I am here?” the young man repeated, warily. “The aforementioned violation of rights is a domestic affair. The department doesn’t look into such cases sir. You can consult a lawyer and take the case to court which I, very well, with my experience in this service can guarantee will clearly not be on your favour,” Goloman assured. Goloman rated his power of judgment highly.  Bureaucrats often have exaggerated opinions on their power of judgment, a weakness which is often disguised as experience.

“I don’t understand at all. If you cannot protect my rights, how can I expect anything from the state?” he enquired, distressed.

“Yes sir, as I was saying, the department is to protect the rights of citizen not domestic quarrels like yours. I sincerely apologise that we here cannot act or even register your case. I understand that you wanted to graduate this year but your parents threw you in a rehab in the midst of your examination; for you have a habit of drinking excessively. It is very bad for you. You should be graduating this year. I apologise. It’s bad. It’s bad,” Goloman shrewdly concluded.

“I only drank that night to doze off,” said the young man, refusing to concede his ungainly habit and in denial, he soon stormed out of the room.

Goloman considered himself a moral authority and decided himsel to deliberate and conclude any case. After office hours, he usually ended the day discussing newspaper articles and neighbourhood rumours that ‘affected the moral and political development of the nation’, sucking on cheap cigarette butts with other such old men at tea shops.

Sometimes, the neighbourhood youth who stopped for cigarettes and tea, pitted Goloman deftly against a sharp tongued communist, an old retired clerk who habitually opposed Goloman’s views and would have a laugh at his expense. Goloman, perceiving that the crowd appreciated his logic, grew more enthusiastic and searched for witticisms within his soul— but his soul was artless, ignorant, and innocent. “You don’t understand, sunnus, sunnus,” he would holler amid the clamour of laughter, mirth and political appropriateness adding to the innocuous neighborhood debacle.

After an occasional nightcap, Goloman would convene with the ghosts of middle age anxiety. He would dream of his unlikely promotions, the grandeur of America, and of lecterns on wheels followed by an assortment of anguished faces. Most times he dreamt of his dead wife and his father. Sometimes his father reproached him, other times, he merely stood there, radiating that wonderful feeling of paternal approval. He loved and revered his father, for what he was today was because of his father’s shrewdness, verve and audacity. The tale of a village boy who found undue affluence and social standing by climbing the ladder of bureaucracy is so common that it repeats thousands of times every generation, and every generation they grow more spirited, dogged, and entrenched than before.

Published: 01-07-2018 08:12

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