The former Chief Secretary, Iqbal Khandey’s death has come as a personal shock to everybody who knew him. In fact, it’s much more than that. His death leaves a big void that is not easy to fill for the man had too much in him or represented much more than that can possibly be spoken or written about.
He was a rare breed in this world who unusually meant what he said and said what he meant and he did so always. This may appear a little too difficult or weird to be understood for some of us who have stopped living by convictions and the values that we so publicly tend to profess. Our two- facedness and pretensions stand in stark contrast to what he was every step of the way in his life.
My association with him began when he helmed Agriculture Production Department. This was his first significant posting after his horrific time in the preceding days and weeks; facing police and courts and during which he had chosen to be a recluse. Those who knew him would often tell me that he was no longer the person he was prior to the above difficult phase in his life. I found his influence in the department calming and cerebral even as he led from the front. Although he was a quiet and withdrawn character then, the leitmotif in his character of owning what he did still existed and manifested itself almost impulsively when challenged. The audacious and honour-bound Khandey still resided in the new Khandey.
I distinctly remember his willingness to provide the intellectual guidance and his concern for his subordinates. We had asked for some additional funds from the Finance Department for buying agricultural inputs for the department. Funds being demanded were much more than that had been previously sought by us and as such were not a part of the approved budgetary allocations. As the budget had already been passed, finance department had some genuine concerns for making mid course allowance for such large financing needs. However, after a series of meetings, the Finance Department relented. Later, when a formal proposal was moved to finance department, they disagreed. To this on his insistence that we should again go back to Finance Department for the necessary funds, I wrote a hard hitting note on the file. Upon seeing my note, he called me and said that this note would not go from my side as I was the representative of the finance department and it might anger the latter and create a problem for me. He said he would sign that note instead and true to his words, he signed that note.
He had a terribly funnier side to him as well. Not many people may know that as he wasn’t a social bird at all. I recall one such incident when one senior woman officer was visiting him and I happened to be there. The visiting officer was wearing a black sari with a sleeveless blouse. When she left later, not resisting the temptation, I asked him about the officer and in the same breath went on to say that she was indeed good looking for her age. It was a remark made in sheer innocence. But it evoked an unusually immoderate laughter from him and he asked me if I really liked her. I don’t really recall how our conversation ended thereafter that day. Around six months later, the same officer happened to visit him again and incidentally I was also with him at the time discussing a file. After their exchange was over and as the officer got up to leave, he stopped her and asked if she knew me. Introducing me to her, he then reminded her about our exchange following her visit six months ago. The visiting officer felt pleasantly embarrassed and dashed off. His memory was legendary and boy, the man was a real charmer!
He never felt bad about life although he had a lurking feeling that he had been hard done in by a few people until the mother of tragedy in the shape of death of his son visited him. I still remember him collapsing on the dead body of his son upon his arrival from Chandigarh where he was fighting a legal battle for his honour. It made for a difficult viewing. Fewer tragedies can rival the one where a father loses a young son. For him, his son was the only ray of hope. He would often say that it was his son who kept him going through his ordeal. But on that fateful day his broken flesh and tattered spirit didn’t provide him the strength to even cry. The teary, bloodshot eyes spoke back to you when you looked at them that they wanted a quiet corner to mourn the deprivation. Later that evening, when the body of his son was lowered into the grave, I looked around and found him standing near a tree, some distance away from the burial place, one hand clutching the stem and other on his hip. It appeared he couldn’t bring himself to see his son being laid to rest. His world had collapsed around him. I had never seen him weaker, before or since.
As a professional, he was your typical gold standard. His mind was clear; and he knew where he was headed. This made his decision making simple and brisk. His approach was analytical; he would decompose the complex subjects into various parts and deal with them separately and proffer solutions. This meant that his meetings were short and sweet, but consequential. His subordinates had clear path markers to follow towards the destination.
Having served the Government in various capacities for more than thirty years, one may ask what he would be remembered for. His role in upholding the dignity of services has been remarkable and that will be his enduring legacy. All of us have failings and he may have had his. But he was a far better human being than most of us. Looking back at his life, it can be said that the rub of the green was not always in his favour. In fact, destiny did not always deal him the best cards. The best part was that he never sulked and even with a worst hand, he always came to the table and played the game. You were a terrific human being and a true leader of men, sir. RIP, sir!
( The writer is a former Asian Age correspondent)