The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, May 18, 2003

Life Ties

Choosing contacts over friends
Taru Bahl

VIKRANT was a promising cadet at the National Defence Academy. No one was surprised when he was declared the topper of the batch. Be it in cross-country running, navigation, strategy, planning or educational pursuits, throughout his training he had been ahead of the person who came second to him. He too had begun to believe that he was indeed the best. A lot of friends and coursemates, with whom he had a warm and affectionate bonding, took pride in hanging around him. After passing out from the academy, each was assigned his designated posting. They kept in touch, shared notes and met whenever they were transiting through the places they were posted in. By the time the first promotion came most were on the verge of getting married.

A capable officer who could shoulder responsibility, Vikram was known to be slightly arrogant. His big opportunity came when he was sent on a two-year deputation to the United Nations. He and his wife made an excellent couple since they were well versed in diplomacy and social skills. They succeeded in expanding their circle of friends and acquaintances. After being exposed to the culture of a modern affluent economy, when they returned to India, they had problems adjusting to the same old routine, people and lifestyle.

Vikrant wanted to stay in Delhi since he felt the city was more cosmopolitan than the other service stations and cantonments. His children could go to a good school and wife could continue with her lucrative job with an MNC. Though they continued to stay in the officer's quarters in the residential complex meant for the Armed Forces, they were beginning to appear incongruous with their peers. They were more trendily dressed, both had acquired a slight American accent and without realising it were intimidating other families who found their presence awesome.


When Vikrant was made Staff Officer to the Chief, he took up the assignment because it allowed him to be in Delhi and ensure that his children's higher studies did not get disrupted. He was looking forward to expanding his circle of contacts in the civil and private sector, hoping that it would open the doors to an attractive job offer post-retirement. His three-year tenure with the Chief was a whirlwind affair with constant travelling in India and overseas, getting the red-carpet treatment which ever station they visited or inspections they carried out. They hobnobbed with the top industrialists, bureaucrats and media representatives. Long erratic working hours deprived him from spending quality time with his family, so much so when he saw his 6 feet 2 inch tall son and beautiful daughter, he wondered where he was when they were growing up.

Meeting the demands of his profession where even social commitments during the evenings were part of the job profile, he ended up distancing himself from his own coursemates and colleagues. His interaction was confined to senior officers and somewhere he too had begun to believe that he had outgrown his own contemporaries. He no longer fitted into their gatherings and was unable to identify with issues of their concern and way of looking at life.

At the same time, he did not completely belong to the jet-set crowd he was officially thrown alongwith. Vikrant was competent in his work and his job was coordinating physical arrangements, ensuring everything ran smoothly and providing complete back-up administrative support to the Chief. Since he was polished and suave, it was easy for him to strike a rapport with everybody. The only difference was in his perception. The new set of people comprising air marshals, judges, deputy commissioners, editors and managing directors were now a part of his social life but they could not be termed as his friends. His association with them was via the boss and though he did have the ability to strike a personal rapport, they still remained essentially out of his social net. Only, he did not realise it at the time.

His alienation from his colleagues was increasing. However, Vikrant and his family did not resent it for they were convinced that they had nothing in common with them. After retirement, thanks to his networking, he did manage to pick up a lucrative job with a private sector company. He moved into the flat he had bought on instalments in a cooperative housing society thinking he would upgrade and buy a bungalow but the lifestyle that the family had led, trying hard to fit into the top-notch crowd had depleted their savings. It was only when he shed the uniform did he realise just how much security and peace there was in the service. All of a sudden, his comfort zones were being invaded. Having to deal with civilians itself was so stressful. Whether it was the plumber, security guard, carpenter or local grocer, things refused to move unless you had a showdown with them.

Most of the big-wigs, whom he had thought of as friends, were now too busy to meet him. Even when they did grant him an audience, he came back feeling frustrated at the formality of the meeting. His old colleagues were active on the social circuit and met over golf, walks, joint holidays, card sessions or pot-luck dinners. Everyone had a group of three to four families, where investments in terms of energy and time had been made and were now reaping the rewards in their later years. In cases where the retired officer or his wife was ill or had passed away, close friends pitched in more than their own sons and daughters who were often in distant lands. Thus, they provided all the emotional, physical and financial security which one needs as one grows older.

Vikrant realised that he had been chasing a pipe-dream. In his quest for good living, he had only ended up forming shallow alliances. He neither belonged to his batch-mate buddies nor was he a part of the socialites he had spent so many years of his life with. Added to this, his relationship with the children was also not as intimate and spontaneous as it was in the initial years. Blinded by the temporary glitter of an alien lifestyle, he had shunned those of his own ilk. Now, when emotional reinforcements were so integral to his feeling of well-being, he found a vacuum within himself.

Resigned to a lonely old age without friends, he was taken by surprise when he found so many of his batchmates from the NDA coming to visit him when they heard of his heart attack. Each one had his own piece of advice. The wives, in their own sweet way, tried to pep him up with long stories which he had heard so many times.

For once, he was not irritated at their jokes or at the simplicity of their actions for he could see that love and a sense of belonging is more important than outer frills of sophistication and a cultivated style. They had shown social courtesy by calling on him when they heard of his attack, now the onus was on him and his wife to further the interaction, make up for lost time and erase any ill-will which had been created over the years.

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