As soon as you start talking about absurdity, you are reminded of the German writer Franz Kafka. Even though he lived in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, many of his novels are famous and relevant even now such as Der Process that was translated into The Trial (I still have a personal copy). He didn’t complete any of his novels and burnt 90 percent of his drafts. Even at that, Franz Kafka was so important that there is a word called Kafkaesque which is translated into: characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.
Now why did I labour to give you a run-down on Franz Kafka? Whenever you think of absurd, bizarre or even surrealistic scenarios, you automatically think of Kafka. I thought about him for greater part of my career in the Indian Navy. I thought about him whilst writing my first blog on retirement about my time in the Navy: ‘I Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Did I?‘ I thought about him when a C-in-C issued me a Letter of Severe Displeasure for having brought out that a fire-fighting system wasn’t ever working since its so-called commissioning by the MES (and then had his minions struggling to prove that it became non-functional only during my tenure, by my oversight). I thought about him when I saw the 1983 Kundan Shah movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro wherein the complainants against corruption in Indian politics eventually found themselves behind bars. And I thought about him during and after the incident I am about to describe.
After many many months of waiting we had finally got a house in New Delhi. When we were posted at Naval Headquarters, two years was as fast as any Shatabdi (Centenary) Express could get (no one had heard of Dorontos and Bullet Trains). Our house was in SP Marg Defence Officers Residential Area. SP Marg is, of course, named after the Iron Man of India: Vallabhbhai Patel or simply Sardar Patel. We, in our area, were there to live SP’s legacy.
At the first meeting of the members of our Residential Area or Park, various office bearers were chosen: the Chairman, the Secretary, the Treasurer and inevitably a Security Chief. RR was to be our Security Chief. He looked tough and exuded confidence. Within no time he issued detailed instructions about how Security was to be maintained in the Park. He followed it up with series of shibboleths about how ‘Security was Everybody’s Concern’ and how it was incumbent upon people like us engaged in national security to have our house in order. Those were the days when terror and jihad had been contained in J&K only and SP Marg Defence Officers Residential Area was as far from terror as India was from winning a Gold at Olympics. However, within no time all of us agreed that security had been tightened in our area. The most vociferous were the ladies who carried grocery and vegetables and fruits bags through the gate and were asked to show security passes with their third hands. They were the terror.
Every committee meeting of our area commenced with congratulating RR for having plugged all security loopholes and leaving no stone unturned in raising the level of security awareness amongst the denizens. Naturally, RR basked in this adulation and had put on a few inches of height.
One Sunday forenoon (Sundays were the days of the committee meeting), the Chairman once again welcomed everyone and started adding another few hundred words about the commitment and dedication of RR. We noticed that instead of being joyous about it, RR had an air of extreme sadness about his praise and every word made him wince. The Chairman noticed it too and asked RR to explain.
It appeared from his painfully recited account that just a few days before the meeting there was a huge theft at his house and everything precious had been taken.
Chairman: But how did the thieves enter? Your house is on the third floor.
RR: Through the door.
Chairman: But, wasn’t the door locked?
RR: Yes, Sir, it was. The thieves removed the door from its hinges, removed the lock and then carted everything such as TV and VCR on the door itself.
Chairman: And where were you at that time?
RR: We had gone to the market to buy locks for the cupboards that used to be earlier unlocked but with the new security instructions…..
The Chairman didn’t ask but I knew the next obvious question would have been: But, didn’t they know that you are the Security Chief?
By now you are scratching your head and unable to make out the preamble about Franz Kafka, isn’t it? I don’t blame you. FK was yet to make his appearance. FK appeared when RR went to the MES office to have them put up a door, in place of the missing door, so that the family could sleep secure at night.
The MES man told them that it couldn’t be done since their records showed there was already a door there.
RR (Enraged): But, goddammit, there isn’t one now.
MES Man (Calmly): Sorry, Sir, our records show each house has been provided with a door.
RR (Cooling down, realising the impending night was only a few hours away): Listen, we have to sleep at night and we need a front door badly. Can’t you do something about it?
MES Man (Always so helpful): Yes, Sir, first you pay the barrack damages for the existing door and then it can be replaced provided a spare one is available.
I remember how Franz Kafka’s Das Schloss (The Castle) ended (or was supposed to end since I have already told you he didn’t complete any of his novels). A character called ‘K’ was often the hero of his novels and stories. As the story of The Castle unfolded, K arrived in a village and went through reams of bureaucratic red-tapism to ask for full rights to stay in the village from authorities that controlled the village from a castle. After series of struggles, in the end, the Castle authorities notified him on his death-bed that his legal claim to live in the village wasn’t a valid one (as per their records), but he was being temporarily allowed to reside there considering the special circumstances.
P.S. (Please also read: ‘Three Things I’d Like To Change If I Were To Join The Armed Forces Again – Part I‘, which is about ‘Bureaucratic Red-Tapism’ in the armed forces).
P.P.S. Even though the incident about RR is a real one, please don’t start seeing parallels between this and security breaches elsewhere, say, in Kargil or Pathankot and the follow-up actions taken by us to plug the loopholes.
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