An outstanding policeman
Reviewed by Kanwalpreet

The British, the Bandits and the Bordermen: From the Diaries and Articles of K. F. Rustamji
Ed. P.V. Rajgopal.
Wisdom Tree.
Pages 388. Rs 495.

THERE are men who work quietly, discharging their duties to the best of their abilities, motivating many around themselves and leaving their impressions on people’s minds for a long time. P.V. Rajgopal’s book on K.F.Rustamji reflects these traits about the latter.

Rajgopal took up this Herculean task to browse through the many diaries (written on a regular basis from November 1938 to December 1970), notes and jottings of Rustamji to come up with this book. He not only brings forth the remarkable career of Rustamji but also takes the reader through the dynamic times of pre- and post-Independence India, strategically important years for the country, its people and the young officer, Rustamji, who set forth on a career.

The book is conversational in style, probably because Rustamji wrote what he felt. "I had no friends so I poured out all the joys and sorrows of my heart into my journal." Rajgopal tries to retain the flavour of Rustamji’s writings while going through 3,500 pages of his diaries and 7,000 pages of printed and typed material. Rustamji joined the Indian Police in 1938 under the British who were the colonial masters of the sub-continent.

Rustamji confesses that he learned a lot from British officers who trained their junior officers to think. The training imparted to young recruits was practical and harsh that introduced them to the ground realities of administration. An interesting example, the then IGP, Sir Charles C. Chitham, visited the Saugor district police for inspection and ordered the recruits to scamper up trees. The recruits did as told and the IGP left without further instructions. By the evening, when no instruction came from the IGP, Rustamji cycled to the guesthouse and asked for orders for the recruits who were still dangling up the trees. The IGP shouted, "Haven’t you got any initiative? Haven’t you chaps got a mind of your own? I was trying to test you—to see what you would do. Go. Use your brains."

Such and many other anecdotes make the work interesting. Rustamji has also recorded the killing of the notorious nose-chopping bandit, Gabbar Singh, who later became a household name when a character was named after him in the film Sholay.

Rajgopal has focused on poverty and problems of the simple rural people for they find a lot of space in Rustamji’s diaries. He has basically written about the village people in the pre-Independence times. The officers then were a messiah for the villagers, the only outside contact for the villagers. Rustamji learnt from the British to go to the villagers and communicate with them. The British spent times with the people who were put under their charge and formed a special bond with them, even though the former were aliens to the land. Rustamji continuing the practice spent the winter months touring the countryside, trying to familarise himself with the people and their problems. He was highly successful in his endeavours.

An aspect, which is not highlighted and is never mentioned by historians, "is the role of the Indian officers of the ICS and police who kept on arguing, insisting, explaining to the British government that the time had come for them to leave. Several officers had to pay the price for it". He also credits the wives of the British officers who set up a home away from home, indirectly helping the colonial power. Again, their role has gone unnoticed.

Being a part of the administration, he could observe the British as well as hear their viewpoint about different leaders. Rajgopal deduces, "Rustamji averred that the British intelligence must have had information that Jinnah was critically ill with cancer and would not live long. The British government was apprehensive that if Jinnah died, Pakistan would not come into being and its strategic interest in the sub-continent would suffer. Hence, in June 1947, the date was suddenly advanced to 15 August 1947 on a specious excuse. The change in the date led to the tragedy of Partition." His observations about various leaders are interesting. He notes their achievements and at times, their flaws.

Besides his duties and his official life, Rustamji introduces us to his Parsi household, a house full of fun with siblings focused on their respective goals yet enjoying life to the hilt. He talks fondly about his mother, a silent figure who was strict but more than made up with her love. What is amazing is Rustamji’s consistency in writing his diary and the skill with which P.V. Rajgopal has crafted an interesting book out of it.