The age of rakishness

Maninder Singh  

In the story called The Model Millionaire, Oscar Wilde wrote that romance is the privilege of the rich and not the profession of the unemployed.

Mere employment ought not to provide any guarantee, though it has too often been the case, providing alibis to men in places high and middling. In this brave new world, behaviour, both bad and unlawful, masquerading as romance has finally begun to be nailed by the burgeoning #MeToo movement.

In the days when steam engines still chugged the inclines of the Himalayas, an assistant commissioner, a young and impressionable probationer with a bride in tow, reported to the redoubtable deputy commissioner for his year of district training.

That lascivious DC sent the unsuspecting officer for a distant tour of duty and, the deadly intent gathering a devil’s wind by the absence, attempted to strike up an acquaintance of some import with the new bride. In the annals of the time, it was reported as attempted molestation. The delinquent officer’s name was tarnished and he survived in the service because it was one person’s account against that of another. Even though it may well have been argued that the accusatory account was likely that of a raw and vulnerable victim, against the well heeled satyr of a district magistrate.

There was the well-known officer from the UT cadre, who, in the pursuit of the fair, managed to effect an unauthorised entry into the ladies’ hostel at the academy. Finding scant reciprocation for his courage, he changed tack and whipped out a pistol to compel obedience. The official chronicles record that the attempt, having failed to woo the subject of headlong admiration, was crowned by unceremonious rustication from the precincts of the institute.

A ramshackle secretary of the education department, of one of the north-western states, invariably proposed to the scores of young teachers who came seeking desired transfers. He did not suggest matrimony. His fatal words always suggested a holiday, where he could heal himself of his unwarranted and grievous desires.

When word spread, in the Neolithic pre-360 degree review days of wine and roses, he was ceremoniously transferred to the Freedom Fighters’ desk, where the hoary and dignified age of the stakeholders seemed to provide an insurance against unwanted wooing.

An officer going down an elevator in a high-rise government building, in the lone company of a woman, decided to strike up an acquaintance. Assuming that he had a minute to make a striking impact,  he attempted to hug her. The woman slapped him, knocking his glasses down, and lodged a complaint.

Even though he lost an increment and a promotion, the defence of the officer, punctuated with honesty, evoked merriment and incredulity.  He said his state of mind had been fragile, and he had been suddenly overcome by temporary insanity.

In the archives of the Ministry of Finance, amid the venerable architectural splendour of North Block, there is likely to be some passing mention of one mandarin whose name may well be a synonym for a philandering Casanova. During his time, if you were to serve, it would hardly ever do, if you were a mere mortal male officer. You needed to have some immortal magic about you, with the ability to “behold, upon the night’s starred face, huge cloudy symbols of a high romance”.

One of the most remarkable of public intransigencies, in the golden glare of the Chief Secretary’s residence in Chandigarh, was that long-ago forgettable episode involving the super-cop KPS Gill. What may have coursed through his whisky-sodden mind, in that moment of capitulation to the hoof-beats of trampling destiny.

Harking back to the wit and wisdom of Oscar Wilde, unless one is wealthy, there is no use in being a charming fellow. Being fascinating isn’t enough.

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