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Retired from service, not from life

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Dr Tariq Rustam

At that hour of seven in the morning in Model Town Park, as I finished my ten thousand steps, I sat on one of the benches along the walking track to take a pause. Just across the track there were two men sitting on a similar bench; both in their 60s, wearing properly ironed cotton shorts with their t-shirts carefully tucked in.

One of them had a beautifully carved walking stick in his hand while the other one had a rolled newspaper which he was using time to time to keep the flies away. I knew both of them, a retired police officer and a retired bureaucrat, and wanted to pass a nod of reverence but they were too busy in talking to allow me that opportunity.

That they were both retired government officers was showing not only from their demeanour but the more so from their unconcern to their surroundings and the passing of time as they were sitting there for at least two hours; before I arrived the park.

Just beside them was sitting a small bird, on the edge of the bench, very quiet and unmoving, as if carefully listening to the conversation going on between the two gentlemen.  After sometime, as they rose and walked away towards the gate the bird took a short flight to the shoulder of my bench and started hopping and chirping totally ignoring my presence there. A punch in the stomach! How can a little tiny creature disregard a serving grade 20 police officer so impudently? Insulted and incensed I cast an irate look at her. She stopped hopping and looked into my eyes, what? Trying to get over my embarrassment at her nerve, I grumbled using all the base of my voice to overawe her, “don’t you have the courtesy to ask my permission before sitting on this bench; and have you lost all the qualms to vex me with your uncouth pogoing and bristly squeaking.”

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She looked at me with a flicker of surprise and disgust in her eyes. She looked so massively annoyed over my remarks as if it was not the first time she had met this kind of behavior and her anger was pent up. “This garden belongs to all of us and I have as much right to sit on this bench as anyone else, grade 22 officers, business tycoons, ministers etc”, her squeal was louder and shriller than usual.

Seeing the situation getting out of hand, I whipped up my managerial skills, and tried to pacify her saying, “you have taken it wrong, I did not mean to insult you.” I know what you mean and what do you think of yourself, I know of your ilk to their soul? She cheeped with her tongue in beak. I kept my cool like an officer does while dealing with rabble rousers. Her peeping outburst continued!

“Always arrogant and angry; fuming and fretting at the weaker, at your helpless subordinates, for their petty faults and foibles; you don’t even behave well with the people who come to your offices, placing all their hopes in you. What stops you from being humane and humble, understanding and empathetic, compassionate and caring? The powers, privileges, honours, treats, eh? Or the coterie of sycophants who have taken upon them to babysit your ego day in and day out in return for small favours- the scrapings from the pot of your power.” You know, my dear sir, she spoke, consciously mellowing her tone this time, this is no virtue to exalt and to take pride in. Nobler the blood the less the pride, the wise men say. The pride that pleases itself with mean advantages brings disgrace like the pride of a beggar grown rich.  Don’t agree? Have it! Show class, display character and have it.

You remember two gentlemen sitting across the track half an hour ago? They were retired seniors, good men they were, I sit and play beside them daily, they never sneered at my sitting next to them on the bench as you did. You know what they were discussing? You! They were talking about you and not something good. What! What wrong I have done to them? I protested. Though I recognize them as my seniors and have a lot of respect for them, they don’t even know me, I have never served with them or done anything wrong to them. She squeaked gaily, amusing herself at my squirming.

Getting a little decent she spoke; no sir, no; not exactly about your person; they were talking about the attitude of the serving officers. What, for instance? I asked self-consciously. So many complaints; starting from avoiding their telephone calls to irreverent behaviour to even mocking them in their absence; the words have wings, you know, they travel fast, especially in a culture of intrigues and backbiting. Why so? You respect your seniors only when they are in power and can be of nuisance for you, eh? And what about the comraderie and esprit de corps about which you too often flap your lips in trainings, conferences and at your farewell dinners? One of them was specifically mentioning the name of an officers who never listened to his phone. Who? I asked curiously. She whispered his name in my ear. Stop it! You crazy bird. This is too much; your slandering knows no bounds, I agitated. Now hold on, I am going to call that officers to get the firsthand account of the situation. She flipped her wings and started hopping over the edge of the bench.

The officer responded and on my enquiry, let loose a barrage of criticism against that particular officer and stated that he himself had been very arrogant in his time and had no mercy for anyone. I snubbed him right away, taking advantage of my seniority and also my good relations with him. My dear; I don’t approve off your criticism of that officer as I also know him; and even if I do, there must be some solid reason for his particular behaviour at a particular time.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses and have to do certain things, take certain actions which are not liked by many but they may not be true representative of someone’s personality and character.  And suppose I agree to your assertions, are you any different from him? To me you are as alike as peas in a pod; if he was harsh and unforgiving, so are you! You cannot call the kettle black when you are a pot yourself. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Be a man, show some difference if you have!

Hanging up the phone, I turned to the bird and looked at her enquiringly; she had listened to everything on speaker phone. The officer you were talking to did not impress me at all, she declared. He appears to me just an ordinary, vengeful, run of the mill character, devoid of any depth of character, superior morals, magnanimity, and forgiveness. He looks poor intellectually too. He is incapable of making objective assessment of the mutual relationship between various ranks, between seniors and juniors.

The seniors are sometimes obliged to come down harsh on their juniors in certain situations to put them on their best. Everyone in service has to retire; and one retires from job, not from life. Tell him time flies like a concord and all that turns his head is not going to last forever; it is only a matter of few years, when he too will retire and all the struts will be gone; keep his shorts, t-shirt and walking stick ready. I will welcome him on one of these benches; and will not refuse to sing my sweet songs for him. You can also come; with a mischievous gleam in her eyes, she lobbed a bantering tweet into my ears and took a flight into the trees.

DIG Tariq Rustam

— The writer is a senior police officer. He can be reached at rustam.reflections@gmail.com