The facets of human life
Kanchan Mehta

Defining Moments: A Memoir
by Rajendra Shekhar. Rupa & Co.
Pages 263. Rs 395.

A memoir occupies a legitimate place in the spectrum of autobiography. It customarily highlights personalities and actions other than the writer’s own. Likewise, Defining Moments by Rajindra Shekhar, a former DGP of Rajasthan and former director of CBI, focuses on people and episodes/events the author has known or witnessed. And "human interest" is the proclaimed common interest that runs throughout the book.

Life in its myriad shapes forms the core in this autobiographical work. For Shekhar, "life is a matter moments." Nowhere the role of defining moments, moments which transform the life patterns, is so interestingly captured than in this immensely entertaining book.

The writer has adopted comic mode of narration. He pokes fun at himself and those around him. Hence, the characters, episodes and utterances excite mirth in the reader. The first chapter portrays Mansukha "a whimsical sadist" who taught the author when he was young. His main motivation behind teaching was to give his pupils a regular thrashing. The various ploys essayed by the young Shekhar to get rid of the cruel tutor are indeed amusing.

Eventually, Shekhar, the son of the conscientious "Hazoor secretary" to the Maharaja of Bharatpur (Rajashan) entered Mayo, the public school at Ajmer, "the Eton of East." Notwithstanding the inadequate funds, Shekhar’s parents got him educated at an elite institution where initially he felt like a "deprived kid" among the scions of landed gentry.

However, he was quite impressed by Renni Tubb’s egalitarianism. The writer fondly recalls that quite unlike Mansukha, she disciplined the student with a human face. After lashing, she would give balm to the sufferer, out of concern. It is ironically comic that her sensitivity did not hamper her from lashing the student with her hairbrush. The author shows how the Mayo milieu inculcates punctuality, discipline, resilience and a spirit of competition in the students.

From Mayo, "the protagonist" of the first segment depicting the author’s early life, he progressed to St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. He recalls Mohan, an expert in giving funny but apt nicknames to others. A group of comely girls, for whom the water cooler was a "fountain of rejuvenation," was called "The Water Squad." The writer’s funny description of his pursuit of his college mate Sheila and the travails he undergone to win her heart and her parents over adds colour to the book.

The use of comedy is applied to the portraits of the author’s kin. He uses a memorable phrase "petite ball of fire" for his childish, impulsive, indiscreet, and sentimental, uneducated mother who sensed Eton as "piles of bricks." His indolent chacha Mohini Parsad is the butt of ridicule in the chapter Setback of the Laidback. The chapters concerning his professional life open window to the police, "A Volitile Organisation." It makes the readers look at the police from a fresh perspective A humane picture is drawn of the uniformed police officers who are generally taken to be rigid and unsympathetic.

Surinder Lal, the SP of Tonk district in 1951-52, an epitome of competence and humanitarism, was Shekhars’ role model. Shekher got his first posting as the Circle Officer, Beewar, a sub-division of Ajmer district. But he had a "short shaky start." He was transferred barely after three weeks. The sudden and shoddy transfer was disappointing. He was disillusioned with the system. He held the post of a police officer for 35 years. A self-effacing man, he acknowledges the active role played by his subordinates in the handling of tense situations, in his charge. He shies away from self-praise, snobbery and affectation.

The last segment of the book pictures the author enjoying his post-retired life in the company of his grandchildren. He expresses the pleasures and pains of a retiree’s life. A retiree is no longer a slave to time, but the greatest woe of his life is the absence of avid listeners. Hence he has only "plants, part-time servants" and "dogs" for his companionship.

Readers may turn to this book for two kinds of pleasures—the pleasure of style and the pleasure of the author’s approach to life. The style is clean, clear, objective, full of wit, irony and humour. True to his conviction, the author has lived every moment of his life fully and in perfect harmony with the environment.