An Upright Officer

Aryan Gandral
The Rig Veda says ” Dharma (duty) is what holds life on earth together”. It is the cumulative performance of duties of all in the society which ensures its smooth functioning. Often it is not just “one person one duty”, but also “one person” delivering at various fronts.
This piece is dedicated to many of our country’s TAX men and women, one of them my father, Rakesh Kumar, IRS, who has retired after serving 36 years in the Income Tax department. He joined the department as an inspector, rising up the ranks, to finally reach the prestigious post of the Commissioner of Income tax (Indian Revenue Service). We often read about official stories of the public servants, how they bring about social change and also how in certain cases, they bring a bad name to their department but little is said in regards to the constant conflict of duties they face be it ethical vs moral, public vs private and official vs personal. The fact that only few of them juggle all these duties and there is never a negation of duty is what sets them apart.
My personal experience while growing up in such a household has been enriching, full of learnings and insights so as to what encompasses a devotion to public service, a sense of commitment and above all indominable courage in the face of adversities.
The personal battle started when things fell apart in the joint family, with him moving out with his wife and two young daughters. Finding solace in temporary rented places, he built the family a ‘home’. Constant transfers in the polarising decade of 1990 meant postings in Kashmir and Punjab, many declined but he rose to the occasion, showing courage and a sense of duty. He recalls that he did in fact feel a sense of insecurity for his family but here comes the role of his support system, his wife. She sacrificed her higher education for the family to be held together, stood beside him in the worst of times and still does not have an iota of regret for how these 36 years have been. You see, how it is not always a ‘one man show’.
Things started to change with the dawn of the new millennium, he got promoted to a higher rank and things on the domestic front also stabilized. So, I saw a far brighter picture than my sisters but still it’s a story worth sharing. While growing up the 12-year-old kid hardly understood what a ” march rush”, the closing of the financial year meant for the tax officials. All he was scared about were his final exams, for which he had not studied probably because he was busy playing with his friends throughout the preparatory leave. His only concern now, “Where should he go?” He goes to his father, the ‘officer’ sitting with heaps of files at 3 am. The officer had planned that he would work till 5 am and then sleep for 2 hours before heading off to the office but the father had to be there for his son too. So did the father sacrifice or the officer? Neither, instead a man sacrificed his sleep, and this continued for 10 days straight till both the tasks reached their desired conclusions.
Another incident worth sharing is rather recent, 2020 September, he was posted at Srinagar as a ‘Range Head’ (equivalent to the commanding officer in the armed forces). The residential-cum- office building was a newly built wooden structure. On an unfortunate night, a massive fire broke out in the adjacent building having the capacity to engulf the income tax complex as well. He duly informed the fire department but the time was short and immediate action was required. The leader took up the challenge with utmost composure with the active help of the few officers and staff members present, using water pipes they manually held the ground till the fire brigade arrived. Still, he does not take any credit for the swift action plan he put in place, showing exemplary courage and commitment under such pressing circumstances but credits the save to all those who ably supported the task. A “true leader” who empowers his team to reach the desired goal.
Growing up specially during the high school and college years in Delhi, with him, while the other half of the family was in Jammu, the son had to look nowhere for a role model, he had in his father a friend, philosopher and guide. A sportsman par excellence, an intellectual well versed and a personality with his feet firmly on the ground. Above all, a man of highest character, following the revered doctrine of ‘ Nishkama karma’.
While he has retired from the department, the values and experience learnt in the journey would continue to hold relevance in his life and certainly his yearning for public service will guide his future endeavours. As far as the department is concerned, the colleagues describe it as a ‘legacy’, a void which is not easy to fill. Above all, he is an inspiration not just to me but to many who have come across him.
In the official farewell event organised by his department there was a flow of emotions, I saw his colleagues sharing their experience of working with him. Some highlighted his work ethics, some his leadership skills and deep subject knowledge, some his optimism and cheerful nature but there was one thing common in the words of everyone who spoke – a sense of respect, for an officer who worked with a sense of selflessness and public spiritedness. In his own farewell speech, he highlighted instances where he felt proud of being part of the department and also those where he felt that he as well the department could have done better. This shows his quest for perfectionism in achieving the highest ethos of public service.
The Prime Minister from the Red Fort this year highlighted the five promises of the Indian nation, one of them is the performance of the duties for India to be a developed country by 2047. The efforts and sacrifices of such officers would be of paramount importance.
Today when he retires, if one asks him what he would want to do now after serving the country for more than 3 decades, his answer – just enjoy a good game of lawn tennis once in a while. Simplicity and finding joy in the little things are his mantra.
(The author is pursing MA Political science from Delhi University)