By Nachiket Kelkar
He lifted his cup of evening tea at the little beachside café, fingers trembling. He sipped slowly and silently, wondering whether this would be the day that he would officially get his research permits to work along the island’s coastline. Nilesh was tense. His appointment had already been cancelled thrice at the last minute. His politeness was at its tether; his insides burned by the indirect insults. The Administrator had brushed him off each time saying he was very busy, and that there were more important things for him to attend to before he could look at Nilesh’s wildlife research proposal. This had been going on for six days.
Today, this Wednesday, it could just happen: Nilesh got a phone call from the Administrator’s office, telling him to be present half an hour before the appointment at 17:30 hrs at the Secretariat Office. He lip-synched every word as he had heard it on the phone; it was all so brutally familiar. In the morning he found himself reading the horoscope section of the newspaper, something he had never believed in reading before. Nilesh checked himself in the mirror. What if the Administrator turned his request down just because he looked unimpressive, frail, and wasted, with curly hair that was difficult to tame? To top it all, he was a Maharashtrian in South India. He had been made extremely conscious of his heavily accented English and unnecessarily lengthy pronunciation by his peers. The Administrator would definitely sneer at his English.
Nilesh chided himself to think positive. What if he was wrong? What if the Administrator was actually scientifically inclined? Ultimately, not his looks, not language skills, but only his scientific ideas should matter. He would make the Administrator believe through his presentation how important this work was. Maybe after a tiring day the Administrator might just grant him his research permits. After all, he had followed the rulebook to the last word, and applied for permits 50 days in advance. By the time he left his lodge for the Secretariat Office, Nilesh had checked his pen drive 12 times and given himself 4 mock trials, making sure to conceal his teeth cavities as he spoke.
Mr. Rajveer Singh’s major meetings had ended at 15:30 itself. He couldn’t help but feel very proud and self-assured. In the large mirror that hung in his office room he checked himself again, and adjusted the gold cufflink of his coat sleeve. He was, after all, the Administrator of this little Union Territory on the Indian coast, a post much envied by his bureaucrat colleagues in Delhi. He had all the power and the authority to change things out here. His was the last word.
Mr. Singh gave his well-combed hair a neat pat and twisted the fringe into a meticulous curl. Then he gave himself a wide smile. But the smile faded into a grimace as his eyes fell on the white patch on his forehead. It was the first telltale sign of the leukoderma that was creeping onto him, silently every day. Like a dirty odour, or a serpent slithering into the room through a broken windowpane, an omen of worse things to come. He couldn’t do anything to stop it. Soon that white scar of vitiligo would consume his whole face; a face that not long ago looked every bit as handsome and manly as his warrior forefathers’. Mr. Singh quickly turned his gaze towards the showcase, which held many mementoes, trophies and medals he had won. He would always carry them wherever he was posted.
Mr. Singh lapsed into a trance of self-admiration as he recollected all the events that had shaped his exemplary life. His days in Mussoorie for the preparatory course of the Indian Administrative Service flew back to him. Whenever he felt low, as he did today on seeing the white scar creep down his forehead, he felt rejuvenated by reminding himself of the glory of his golden IAS training days. At the convocation ceremony, the President had mentioned him by name, holding him up as the perfect example of a bureaucrat that the future batches should emulate. Mr. Singh looked at the globe on the table and the silver staff next to his chair. His heart swelled with pride to see the hourglass the whole Secretariat had gifted him on his birthday, and the iridescent, psychedelic paperweight shimmering on the table. He looked at the luminous chandelier overhead, and at the Indian tricolor standing regally on his table next to a chess trophy. Mr. Singh remembered how he had squarely beaten the Additional District Magistrate at chess a fortnight ago. He had certainly shown the stupid fellow his place.
He remembered he had an important document to sign that would allow the construction of a large helipad right next to the last remnant mangroves of the coastline. He pulled out his brand new Mont Blanc pen and, with a flourish, added his stylish signature on the bottom of the document. After all, there were mangroves only 20 kilometers away, just outside the borders of his territory. It didn’t matter if some were lost to make way for ecotourism, he thought with a casual shrug.
The PA knocked on his door.
“There is an appointment scheduled at 17:30 hours today, Sir.”
“Yes, I know. It is that airheaded researcher from Bangalore. There are still eight minutes to go, but send him in only at five-forty five. I will have finished work by then.”
“Very well, Sir.”
(Part 2 to follow)
About the Author:
Nachiket Kelkar is a Ph.D. student at ATREE and is keenly interested in studying freshwater and marine ecosystems. For the inspiration to this piece he is thankful to friends at the Oceans & Coasts Program, Nature Conservation Foundation. The story is based on a true incident.