This article is dedicated to an honest civil servant who is to retire soon. And to another who already has.
The curtains come down slowly. The day arrives when he no longer opens his cupboard and looks for a clean, ironed suit to wear. The day arrives when there is no car waiting outside his home, to carry him to work. There is no one around him either, to address him as, ‘sahib,’ and look after his daily chores. There is no beeline outside his home of people with their matters, great and small, seeking his audience, and intervention. His phone has gone silent. Landline too. He stares at it, ‘Can this really be true? No phone calls all morning?’
Three decades spent in the service of the government. Punctually waking up, getting ready, and heading for work, on time, each time. In the capacity of a small-time trainee, learning the ropes, and also in the capacity of a very important bureaucrat, heading an important office, answering only to the Minister himself. Decades spent on the move, away from home, most of the time, heading south for winter, north for summer, east for postings, and west for inspections. Decades gone by, that witnessed violence, death, and the upheaval of a society, the end of an established social order, and the slow beginnings of another. To which he could do little to change.
Decades were also spent warding off the common ‘corruptor,’ the common man himself. He spent his years fending off temptation, temptations of all kinds, monetary, political, recreational, and personal. He would catch himself, each time an illegal offer became too tempting to resist and pull himself back, to hold his own, and refuse. He would see this, time and again. The corruptor would come different garbs in his career. It used to be the pheran, it became the suave safari suit, then a two-piece suit, a uniform, sometimes green, sometimes not. The offers, to promote a junior, to pass an illegal bill, to award a non-existing contract, to shield a criminal, to pacify a family to whom wrong was done, to pass off an innocent as someone else. He refused them all. And as a result, his reputation for being the ‘odd one’ grew, to the extent that he found himself in the firing line too often. He would barely find his feet in one Department, when another transfer would be announced. He would barely have settled in a field job, that another place would be his new home. Such things were commonplace. Yet, he bore them with dignity, and pride, and with an unflinching belief in his own integrity.
His family would remain modest in its means. His son and daughter would not rise to lofty, worldly heights, nor would they find themselves at the bottom of the abyss of wrongdoing. They remained with their feet firmly on the ground, working hard for whatever laurels life and a decent education would give them. They achieved what they did, on their own. He had little money to spare to send them off to far-off places for education. The children grew, got married, and now live decent, respectable lives, adored by those close to them, and respected by those who work with them.
His house is a statement in itself. No flashes of disproportionate ‘sources of income.’ The flooring is barely covered, the walls barely painted, the windows barely curtained, the bathrooms, simple to the point of incredulity. His abode, post-retirement, is not much different from the one pre-employment. Unlike others around him who surrounded themselves with the fruits of dishonesty, engaged in celebrations of depravity, and colluded with enemies of humanity to secure favour and promotion.
So then, what did The Honest Bureaucrat earn?
An abode of peace. Children who are the light of his eyes, the comfort of his life. A family grateful to him. A nation grateful to him. He lives in the memory of many, the poor old man whose case he solved, the widow who was given her due, the young man employed because he deserved it, and the many who got their due because he refused to surrender his honesty and integrity in the face of adversity. He went to dinner each day with stories he could share with his children. He went to sleep each night with a clear conscience and peace of mind. He woke up each morning with a heart that was pure and unadulterated by the illegal riches the world offered.
Most of all, he earns himself rizq-e-halaal. A livelihood that is in accordance with the principles of Allah and His religion. And, with it, Allah’s Pleasure.