New Delhi. The South Block. A typical working day in the central government offices. It was already evening. The clock had struck 5 pm, which meant the closing time for the offices. Mr. Harshvardhan Mishra, Deputy Secretary, Home Ministry glanced upon his wrist watch. A man in his early sixties, he was a man who avoided unnecessary jibber jabber and gossip which was prevalent in the sarkari office culture. He was a man who just meant business and nothing else. As head of his team, which comprised of many other junior officers, he assured that all his subordinates worked hard and diligently till the completion of the shift. This made have him hostile to the whims of the typical lazy officers and support staff, who wished that they could leave early and earn without much effort.
As he was about to leave, a junior officer, Mr Chaddha casually remarked, “Sir, if you won’t mind, this watch looks quite old. Please get it replaced.” To which Mr Mishra replied, “This watch may be old, but it shows accurate time and was gifted to me by my wife in our first anniversary.” Chaddha then asked, ” By the way Sir, when is your anniversary? I don’t quite remember it.” Mishra then replied, “Oh my! Look at me! I forgot that my anniversary is today and just look at my absent mindedness, I didn’t even buy anything for my wife nor did I give a treat to everyone! Such a fool I am!” Chaddha did not want to miss any chances of getting a lavish treat so he said, “So what Sir? Treat toh banta hai na sahab! Rest is your wish and discretion.” This was the habit of Chaddha’s that Mishra hated. Excessive extroversion. Opposite of what Mishra actually was. But he was surrounded. Surrounded by his own statement of treating everyone on his anniversary. Therefore, a chai-samosa party was given by Mishraji despite the fact that he hated parties. He was the typical sanskaari sarkari babuji, a man of meager interests and even lesser things to fancy for. You may either like him or not, but there he was, existing in his own world that he had created, wishing for nothing more.
Well, he then proceeded towards his home in Greater Kailash, a rented apartment which was so dear to him that even after repeated requests from his wife Sarla and his two children Anirban and Artika to apply for the Vasant Vihar bungalows, he was adamant on staying there. That 2 BHK flat had many memories, memories of his struggling days, of his first love, of his marriage and most importantly, of his mentor, Keshav Babu, a bachelor who helped poor yet bright young boys from neighbouring villages of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana to get themselves a living. As he sat in a DTC bus thinking of his good old days, a faint picture of Keshav Babu came to his mind. A government employee himself in the Public Works Department (PWD), he wore a white dhoti, kesariya (saffron) kurta, Himachali cap and pointed shoes when he was in his home. He had transformed his flat into a makeshift hostel cum mess where its residents cooked food and washed their clothes and utensils on their own. Keshav Babu helped the boys through his references and contacts to get them into government services as 4th grade peons and office boys. Those who were lucky enough would crack SSC and UPSC exams and get higher posts, those not so fortunate would get jobs as clerks and typists. Babuji was himself instrumental in preparing the boys for such exams. Harshavardhan came there when he was barely 16, and so had to wait till his graduation to even qualify for the Civil Services. Finally when he came of age, he worked hard and in his first attempt, cracked the exam. For him, Babuji was his idol, a fatherly figure, whose words meant everything to him. His words were Mishraji’s guiding force, which he often looked up to whenever he was in a dilemma.
As the bus passed through the old colonies, Mishraji glanced upon the demolishing of old buildings which were in a dilapidated state. All his memories were being broken into pieces, all thanks to the ‘development drives’ by the Development Authority. This made him sad. In this pall of sadness, he remembered the sad state of affairs in his family; how things had drastically changed, making him more isolated. Things seemed to be going against his favour, with modernity and fashion sinking deep into the minds of his wife and children, thus deteriorating the roots of his family’s original cultural identity. His wife Sarla preferred top and jeans over the traditional saree, plazos and harfan over the traditional salwar kurta. Artika was refusing to get married despite coming of the suitable marriageable age and Anirban was jobless, trying hard to qualify the Civil services exams without any success. All of them discarded family tie-ups and traditions, refused to go and look after Mishraji’s ailing parents and relatives and even strike a proper dialogue with their father, who was yearning for recognition. Every day the gap was widening, which worried him a lot.
His chain of thoughts was broken as the conductor shouted “GK” which woke him up with a start. Hurriedly he walked out and headed towards his home. As he reached nearby, he was startled by the elaborate and exquisite decorations- glittering lights, crowd of people outside and the aroma of the delicious food being cooked in his home. Realization then hit upon him, all of this was for his wedding anniversary. This was quite surprising and odd, given the fact that Mishraji got married without any pomp or show. He became both elated and excited and slowly entered his house.
As he made his way to the drawing room, he was greeted with guests, guests who seemed unknown yet friendly and cordial at the same time. All of them wished him “Happy Anniversary Mishraji!” with glittering smiles and even more glittering dresses. Amidst all this, he noticed his wife Sarla clad in sleeveless red saree with a deep backless cut. “This wasn’t expected from you, at least in this age Sarla”, he murmured to himself. His daughter Artika was dressed in a white gown which was backless while his son Anirban was in a tuxedo, gossiping with his friends. Sarla then came to him and said, “What is this ji? Look at the time by your watch. Its already 8. You should have taken a day’s off at least today. It’s your anniversary and here you are, working tirelessly without any reason.” Mishraji was shocked by this statement, but looking into the gravity of the situation he remarked, “Yes, I am indeed sorry for the delay but what I do is for you all, darling. Try to understand. Anyways, I have to go inside for a puja. Please excuse me.” The guests were startled by this sudden turn of events. But Mishraji then said, “No problem, its a part of my daily routine. Please enjoy yourselves.”
Mishraji then went for a quick bath and then to the puja room. He meditated deeply, but instead of seeing God, a faint picture of Keshav babu appeared before him. This did not surprise him, as it was him up to whom he looked upon in times of distress. Mishraji asked, “Why am I neglected? What wrong did I do? Am I being punished for sticking to my morals? Why me, babuji?” Babuji then replied, “Its all time’s tide. Time spares no one. The ones who are neglecting you will be neglected themselves in the future. Then their fashion and modernity won’t come to their rescue. Only firm character and simplicity in thought and practice prevails in the sands of time. Everything else just fades away. Just be who you are. Never, ever change.” Tears rolled down Mishraji’s eyes as he saw Keshav Babu faded away into the unknown. Reminisces of fond old memories made him sentimental. But he somehow composed himself and got up.
The clock showed quarter past nine. All his family members stood before him in the hall as he encountered them. Sarla asked, “What took you so long? Everyone in the party was looking for you. The guests left flabbergasted due to your behaviour. What is this arrogance for?” Mishraji was speechless. As he stood motionless without any reply, his son moved forward and gave him a letter. This was a letter for requesting the job for a peon in the same office in which Mishraji worked. All of this made Mishraji think, “When will these bad times go away? When shall I see the light of happiness? Will Babuji’s words hold true for me? Will things ever change?” And then, he retired to his room, engulfed with terrible sadness and depression of the grim future ahead.