The following morning the train arrived at New Delhi. We checked at the station, in case any vehicle had been sent to pick us up. Vehicles we found, but none were for us.
I'm sure there was to be a vehicle for us,' I insisted when Major Tandon asked me to take a cab. `Let us wait for sometime; we'll then proceed as you are suggesting.'
While we were waiting, a person in uniform approached, saluted and asked if we were to go to the Area Hqs.
`No, we've to go to the AHQs. A vehicle was supposed to come. But we find no vehicle,' replied Major Tandon politely and asked, `why are you asking? Do you want to go to Area Hqs?'
`No, sir. I'm a driver. I've been sent to receive two officers coming from Nagpur by this train. I'm looking for them.'
We looked at each other's face and smiled.
Turning to the driver, Major Tandon said, `We are the officers. But we've to go to the AHQs; not the Area Hqs.
`Well, sir, you're the ones I've been directed by the GSO 2 to take to the Area Mess. Your accommodation arrangements have been made there.... Kindly wait. I'll being the jeep.' Saying this, the driver left.
We felt relieved, but for different reasons. Major Tandon was gay. He told me that had we not waited as suggested by me, we would have had to unnecessarily spend on the taxi fare.
The jeep arrived. We stowed our sparse luggage, an attache case each, in the jeep and seated ourselves. When the jeep set off Major Tandon said that he could have stayed withi his parents who lived at Malcha, a place near the AHQs. But, because of the CO's instructions for both of us to stay together, he could not do so. He said that he would make efforts to seek permission for staying under his own arrangements.
It was obvious that Major Tandon was completely ignorant of any suspicions held by me, based on his deductions. I was more caught up with my eerie feelings which had overcome me. I thought and, while doing so, an involuntary surge of feelings, as if caused by severe humiliation, gripped me. But rationalising the situation I checked them, pushing myself back to normal by sheer will - managing to joke and laugh, though the idea of my name being linked with interrogation kept nagging me.
`Please take us to the office,' Major Tandon said to the driver on reaching the Area Hqs.
Leaving our baggage in the jeep we went to the office.
I'm Major Tandon. Could you please show me to GSO 2's office?', he asked an officer passing by.
I'm Captain Shergil, the GSO 3,'the officer said, extending his hand for a shake. Pointing to one side he said, `that one is the desired office,'and left explaing,' excuse me, sir, I'm in a hurry.'
I suggest you wait here. I'll go and find out about the next course.' Saying that Major Tandon left.
I waited in the verahdah thinking, Ì look like a fool standing in the way while the orderlies and the babus are frequently passing to and fro.' I moved aside - waited some time for Major Tandon to come out. Taking out a cigarette, I started smoking. I finished the cigarette but found no trace of major Tandon.
`What the hell, let me also go in'. Muttering this, I moved in that direction.
I had presumed, from my experiences, having served in Intelligence that they would take me straight. I fact while waiting I waited for the confirmation of my doubts. At the door, I hesitated for a second and walked in.
`Morning, sir. I'm Captain Rathaur,' I introduced myself to the GSO 2, shook hands and sat down in the chair offered to me. Major Tandon was frantically with the dial of the telephone, unable to get the wanted number. Exasperated, he put the handset on the cradle and looking at me saying, Àray! Here no one knows anything about us, though arrangements have been made for accommodating us in the Area Mess.' He look at GSO 2 and said, `kind courtesy the GSO 2.'
`Did you talk to anyone in the MI Dte?' I asked.
`Yes I did. But the officer to whom I talked doesn't know anything though he asked me to try and find out on Monday - as today is a half day in the AHQs.'
`Yes it is useless to rock your head and waste time. It is a mad outfit in the AHQs. Today being Saturday, there is practically no work done. Even if you try you wouldn't reach anywhere,'said the GSO 2.
`Who were you trying to ring up when I came in?', I enquired.
I was trying to contact Brigadier Pasricha - thinking he might be of some help.... I wanted to know if I could stay with my parents.' Saying this, Major Tandon once more tried to connect his number but failed.
We briefly discussed about the next programme and left the office. in the Mess we were astounted to find that the Mess Havildar showed his ignorance about our stay. He refused to allot any room unless instructed by the Mess Secretary. Major Tandon ordered the Mess Havildar to go and find out quickly, and turning to me, remarked, `This is the neight of profanity!'
While waiting for the Mess Havildar to check and allot the accommodation, we went to the ante room-cum-bar.
`Good morning, sir.' Two young Captains taking beer at the bar got up and wished us when we entered. One of the two asked, `Would you like some beer?' It was meant only for courtesy. The officer continued, `but here, you'll get introduced to an unheard system of buying coupons for stores or wine, you may wish to obtain from this Mess'and added with a bitter smile, `for it is not a Mess, nor a Bar but all in one, called Area Officers Mess.'
`No, thanks. How come you are....'
`We are on temporary duty and have been here for the last nine days.' One of the two officers interrupted Major Tandon and said, ìt is a different matter that we don't know anything about our duty. Till yesterday, we made frantic efforts to contact people in the Area Hqs, without results. It is all quiet on the Central Front.' They all smiled and the officer further explained, `Sir, this is Delhi, the capital of India, but things here move at their own pace; have you also come on temporary duty?.... If so, then take it as a permanent one - doing nothing - a duty without duties - you are a free bird go around and see Delhi and its historical places. Where would you get such an opportunity? Free of cost! All on the exchequer! No one bothers about others'time', and concluded sarcastically, `there is a fuckin'complete rot in this Hqs... but never mind, Sir, after all this is the Army!'
It appeared the officers were very annoyed. They had found Major Tandon to give vent to their pent up feelings.
Major Tandon and I looked at each other with amusement, when we heard the remarks passed by the two young officers, who were obviously upset.
I recalled the GSO2 blaming the functioning of AHQs. Here these officers were blaming the Area Hqs, and the GSO2 belonged to this HQ.
`Could things be in such a mess?' I quietly speculated. Work is sought to be done with precision, efficiency and quick speed at a Hqs from where control is exercised over the entire army and similarly at a Hqs which is next to the AHQs. No, that can't be true. There was something else to that. The comments passed should be the result of some personality conflict, I thought, while I heard Major Tandon commenting, `Yes, I tend to agree with you gentlemen. Bigger the Hqs, the more staleness you find. I also encountered, just on my arrival two such situations. One pertains to AHQs. There, no one seems interested in even picking up the telephone. Second, which seems rather interesting, we were directed to this Mess with an assurance that everything was arranged. But, to my surprise, I found that the Mess Havildar does not know anything and he is not prepared to believe that we are officers!' He shook his hands in disgust and added, Ì pray I don't have to wait like you're doing. Otherwise, my course would suffer lack of preparations.' Major Tandon told the officers about the duties for which he and I had come.
When the initial outburst of temper subsided, we fell into normal conversation.
Finding no interest in the normal army-style talks, I busied myself viewing the large and impressive paintings hung on the ante-room walls. Portraits of generals and soldiers of the past in their contemporary and glamorous uniforms. Hunting and battle scenes and one odd painting depicting a bridge session - all legacies of the Britishers. I was completely lost in the paintings that generated a rush of incoherent feelings.
The Less Havildar returned. He was unable to locate the secretary without whose sanction, he was unwilling to hand over the accommodation. Major Tandon was furious, but he thought it useless to waste evergy by explaining to the Havildar. So he took leave of those officers whom we never met later, and, along with me, went to the Mess office. The office appeared to be that of the secretary, from the name plate hung outside. A retired Lieut Colonel, on introduction, revealed he was the club secretary. The Mess and the Club, though functioning independently, were dependent on each other.
The secretary showed his helplessness in helping us in regard to accommodation and, when Tandon asked if he could make a call to the GSO 2, declared, `This is the only telephone; it can't be used by everybody. It's under my charge and I have got to account for each call. If I allow you to make a call, who'll pay for it?... Sorry I can't do that,'and then he got busy in his work. The work was calling various people on the phone... Residential numbers - talking to the ladies, telling them about the picture which was being screened that day!
One wonders who is going to pay for such unwanted and objectionable calls', Major Tandon remarked aloud.
In every Army Officers' Mess a telephone is installed for the convenience of its members, even if they are temporary, and from there an officer can make a local call. But here was a Mess where a secretary could make unwanted calls without inhibition but two officers who had come from out-station, were declined permission. However, Major Tandon who had sufficiently controlled himself, let the retired colonel have it, who after Tandon's outburst meekly conceded and went evern further to ring up the GSO 2 himself. Thereafter, things moved rather quickly!
A set of two rooms was allotted to us. It was in a most dilapidated condition, it looked as if no one had lived there. Piles of dust, broken cots, no furniture - bathroom in an unimaginable dirty condition - humming with mosquitoes which appeared to have bred unchecked. The mosquitoes were irritated with a sudden intrusion into their well established domain - the bathroom.
`Thank God', I said, seeing the fan working, At least something that we've found, is functional.'
With a little more firing by Major Tandon, the Mess Staff sprang into action! First the sweeper was traced and he came after an hour of intensive search. But there was no water in the taps. So what could the poor fellow do? Hense someone else was located who knew where the point for releasing the water was. This took another half hour. Thus, by the two of us, the set was brought near to a livable condition. By then it was lunch time. We found there was no lunch for us.
`No one told me about additional food,' informed the Mess Havildar.
I think Rathaur, if I stay with this lot for another day, I would go mad.' Saying this Major Tandon turned to the Mess Havildar and said,' When an officer comes to stay in a Mess, doesn't that mean he would dine, unless he informs otherwise? We've been here since ten-thiry and you've been with us. If you were doubtful as to whether we feel hungry, you should have clarified. Or do you people here consider the outsider some sort of junk...?'
`Leave it sir,' I interrupted, `We didn't even have breakfast and I can feel rates dancing inside my stomach.' I asked the Mess Havildar to prepare an omelette and send a couple of bread pieces for us, and suggested to Major Tandon, `Meanwhile we will quickly take a bath, change into civvies and have lunch outside.'
It surprised us when the Mess Havildar informed, `Sorry Sir, there are no eggs in the Mess, but I can send the bread.'
`Leave that also. You may need it for someone more needy!', I said in disgust.
`Malcha.' Major Tandon told the driver of the three-wheeler, who was looking back at us inquiringly.
After getting ready, we had taken a local bus upto Dhaula Kuan and waited for another bus which would have taken us to our destination. When the bus came, it was overloaded and we could not get on. Instead of waiting for the next bus, we took a three wheeler.
Getting the direction, the driver started off.
`So Rathaur do you still hold on to your suspicion regarding the duty?', asked Major Tandon
`Well, sir, I'm rather confused....'
Major Tandon looked at me and said that he also tended to share the suspision, but not then, if it was interrogation, they would not have been so casual. `We both or you alone would've been taken for questioning soon after our arrival', Major Tandon explained in detail about the casual reception.
`Where exactly do you want to go?,' slowing down, the driver asked. That put a sudden break to Major Tandon's speech.
`Have we come?' He asked himself - looked out and after confirmation said, `Yes, we have.' He directed the scooter to his house.
In the house there was none except Major Tandon's father. The others were away visiting friends or relations. Hungry as we were, we raided the kitchen and helped each other in preparing an omelette and slicing the bread awkwardly. Neither knew the art of cooking, but were able to make "bhujia" or some sort of vegetable, which was neither an omelette nor a bhujia. Meanwhile, Major Tandon explained about our sudden visit to his surprised father. After the meal we relaxed for some time and went out to Connaught Place. We took our dinner at a restaurant and left for the Mess.
The next day we did a little shopping. I bought a pair of shoes and tooth brush which was necessary because my orderly had failed to pack one in my travelling toilet kit and I failed to notice it.
Despite the heat it was a wonderful day. We wanted to see a move but were unable to procure tickets, due to a system of advance booking. There was however, no dearth of tickets at exorbitant prices in the black market. Both of us were opposed to buying anything in black market,a system so deeply ingrained in the lift of an Indian.
`Nothing remains unaffected from this social disease. It's become part and parcel of our lives, surreptitiously eroding the moral values established by our predecessors and it is leading us nowhere', Major Tandon commented and looked at me to see the effect of his short speech.
`Sir, then what do you suggest as a cure?'
`Well it percolates from top to the bottom. By top here, I mean our politicians, the base of our society, who apparently have established a level of organised corruption, large scale financial fiddling, moral depravity and gangsterism,' looking at me, he sighed and added, `nothing can protect the crops which are threatened by its fence.'
`Till this point I'm with you, but there has to be some alternative to solve this problem.'
`Well, sometimes a problem is allowed to advance to the point of no return, and that's my answer.'
`Sir, I agree that this problem has badly infected our lives, but to call it point of no return, is a rather weak statement. There has never been a problem which ever reached a point of no return. There are always ways out that will bring us to the starting point, though it may take long to traverse such a route.'
`That's a route, not a solution - not even an alternative....'
`Yes, the route is the alternative. I put it this way.... Come to think why this disease spreads. The time this word corruption came in existence was probably when God created the world. That is the story of Adam and eve - and Satan, who coaxed Eve to eat the Apple. This was the start of corruption. It was started by Satan, the rival of God. It always flourished thereafter, though in a checked form. It has reached its astronomical dimensions in the present period of human civilisation. The quck spread of this disease can safely be attributed to an individualised personality and the lack of self restraint laid down in the books of all religions. Instead, curelties are committed in the name of religion. A person of moral character, whose neighbour, relation or associate is corrupt, slowly but surely comes under the bad influence of the latter. Initially, he criticizes the corrupt person but over a time he himself becomes one. He thinks, if others can indulge in corruption with pride, why can't he? He finds no satisfactory answer to this and, without hesitation, takes a plunge into the morass of this flourishing social evil; adding yet more to its number. This is what then, I think has caused the spread - to take a menacing form.'
`But this is the cause not a solution,... and, by the way, may be one of the many causes like socio-economic, ethical, ethnic and educational background of a person.'
`No sir, it is not. I think the cause I suggested is the main cause. The others are only secondary. However, while those are clearly apparent the main cause remains hidden.'
`Then what about...'
`The alternatives. Well it is simple. Don't bother what others do. See only about yourself. Decide firmly to follow a straight path, unmindful of others. Don't question why they are treading wrong path - instead question why should I do immoral things but, mind you, such a person will encounter many obstacles. Once you are determined, you have eradicated half the corruption. If everyone starts thinking this way, we have found a way out.'
`But who'll think that way?' Asked major Tandon.
`Sir, you've asked the same question - the cause of the spread. I say, why not start from you?', I looked quizzically at Major Tandon, who smiled in resignation.
We were so engrossed in our discussion that neither of us noticed when we got on to the bus, when that bus reached the stop where was should've alighted. It was only when we were interrupted by the bus conductor who was asking us to show our tickets which we had failed to buy. Tandon asked for two tickets. At that the conductor rebuked us, saying, `God knows what sypes of people we've got to encounter. Now these gentlemen never bothered to buy tickets when I was shouting all the time; and when I ask them to show the tickets, one of them turns up and says `give us tickets to a place which the bus had already passed!'
At that, almost all passengers either smiled or laughed - some even murmured a few comments. Both of us felt humiliated, but the fault was ours. We apologised and the conductor looked bloated over his victory. At the next stop, we got down, took a returning bus and reached the Area Mess.
`While trying to purge society, we were almost dubbed as corrupt,' Major Tandon said jokingly and added, `sometimes one pays much more than one can imagine for one's little mistake. In any case, it is always wise to admit one's mistakes and amend for the future. Lesson learnt: never take up discussions at wrong place;' Thus, both of us laughed away the sting of humiliation we had to suffer because of carelessness.
Preface | Temporary Duty | The Move Order | The Train Journey | The Reception | The Army HQ | Close Arrest | The Interrogation | Background | The Intelligence | The Security | The Devil | The Confession | The Foundation Stone | The Great Detectives | The Corroborations | An Approver | Confrontaions | Hibernations | Leading to the Trails | Fairy Tales | Into the Fire | Army Procedure | As a Winess | Meeting with Family | Habeas Corpus | Death of Democracy | The Trial | Prosecution Case | The Defence | The Press | Rebuttal | Aftermath | Mystery | Postscript | Annexure I | Home |