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Bamboo trees and officers

Bamboo trees and officers

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo

Arun Chandra Verma

HUZOOR, gustakhi maaf ho toh ek baat arz karain?’ Thus started a conversation that has stayed with me for over 40 years. It was a hot summer afternoon in 1981. The occasion was a felicitation function organised on completion of my three-month practical training at the Sakra police station in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. Also, it was a farewell for Sub-Inspector Jwala Prasad Singh, who was retiring the same day. Those attending the function included some block-level government officials, the local mukhias, the block pramukh, and an assortment of curious onlookers, mainly children from the neighbourhood.

It was while we were seated on the makeshift manch, marigold garlands around our necks, that Jwala Prasad, better known as ‘Jwala Babu’, began the conversation. Now, Jwala Babu was no run-of-the-mill police official. A distinguished-looking person with his snow-white hair and an imposing personality, always neatly dressed right down to his polished shoes, he was an embodiment of the old school — whom we euphemistically called the angrez type. His language was not typically local, as it was laced with deliciously chaste Urdu, and he had a respectfully endearing way of addressing everyone — particularly me — he treated as his shishya (pupil).

I asked Jwala Babu what it was that he wanted to say. After shifting nervously in his seat, he began, ‘Huzoor, aap IPS aur IAS officer log baans jaisey hotey hain (Sir, IPS/IAS officers are like a bamboo tree).’ Then came a long, pregnant pause. Curiosity got the better of me, and I asked him to explain what he meant. Jwala Babu then cupped his hands about six inches apart, and took them upwards till he was holding them together, and then started swaying them from left to right and back. The explanation of his action stumped me. ‘Huzoor, baans ka ped neechey sey bahut mota aur mazboot hota hai, lekin oopar jaatey-jaatey bahut kamzor ho jaata hai, aur jidhar ki hawa chali, woh usi oar jhuk jaata hai (Sir, the bamboo tree is very strong and firm at the bottom, but keeps getting weaker and weaker as it goes up, till it starts swaying whichever way the wind is blowing).’

Being a newcomer in service, I could not fathom the import of his assertion. Later, during my first posting as SDPO in Jehanabad, I arrested an MLA of the ruling party because his bodyguards were carrying unlicensed guns. The arrest led to political turmoil in Bihar.

Almost 20 years later, while posted as the Zonal IG of Patna, I was returning from office when right in front of the Kotwali police station, the motorcade of a prominent politician — known for his strong-arm tactics and a criminal background — zipped past my car, with barrels of his bodyguards’ rifles (certainly not licensed) jutting out of the dark-tinted windows of his escort cars. I am ashamed to admit that I looked the other way!

That’s when the import and meaning of what Jwala Babu had said that hot June afternoon hit me with full force!

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