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The officer’s synthetic leather shoes

The officer’s synthetic leather shoes

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo



Satish Kumar Sharma

FROM what one has gathered from his Glimpses of World History, Nehru was not an admirer of Napoleon. However, they shared at least one trait — they were reluctant to spend on themselves. Napoleon had instructed his staff not to discard any coat that could be repaired. The same was true of Nehru, who mostly wore khadi clothes.

When I entered the IPS in 1986, I suffered a straight 50 per cent cut in the salary from my previous job. During training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, and the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, the salary barely sufficed to meet the mess bill and other expenses. It was particularly hard for those probationers who were married and had a family to support back home. One realised that the only way to survive was to follow a simple lifestyle.

Luckily, one found colleagues who set an example of simple living for anyone who cared to emulate. In August 1994, I was posted as SP of Valsad district in Gujarat, where one Mr Meena, an IAS officer senior to me by two years, was the district collector. He was simple and so honest that he would not even accept a basket of mangoes as a gift.

Such officers often tend to be aloof and humourless but Meena was quite the opposite. In meetings and conversations, he lost no opportunity to crack a joke on himself or others. Every Sunday, he organised a pot-luck party on a beach, in a forest or a garden, where all district-level officers had to be there with families.

The rainy season was nearing its end when Meena suffered a minor mishap — his only pair of black leather shoes got torn beyond repair. So, he bought an almost identical new pair. When I complimented him for his choice, he said sheepishly: ‘Sharmaji, please look carefully! It’s not leather; they are made of synthetic material — good for the rainy season.’

One season followed another, but Meena continued to wear his synthetic leather shoes. Sometimes, I thought of gifting him a pair of leather shoes, but I knew he would not accept it.

In March 1995, campaigning was going on for the Assembly elections; then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao paid a visit to the district for a public meeting. As per protocol, Meena and I lined up to receive him at the helipad. Meena was dressed up appropriately in a black bandgala suit, but his shoes were the same leather-lookalike ones.

After the elections, we were both transferred to different places. A month later, Meena came to visit us with his family. As everyone took a seat in our drawing room, I noticed his brand-new pair of leather shoes. I exclaimed jokingly: ‘New shoes, Sir! Haven’t you become extravagant?’

Meena smiled sheepishly and said: ‘Mrs Meena made me discard the synthetic shoes. When I joined in the new district, she insisted that I buy a new pair. And I couldn’t say no.’


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