Brigadier Bidhan Chandra Deb, had retired from the Indian Army after forty years of distinguished service to the nation. He was a veteran, who witnessed both wars the country had fought: with China in 1962 and then with Pakistan in 1971.
At sixty six, he was fitter than a man half his age. Aware of his short height, he was ramrod straight and walked as if he was marching in slow motion. Looking at him the unmistakable signs of pride and arrogance was evident to the discerning eye. He had a head of salt and pepper hair, his huge moustache was dyed jet black. It gave his face a mocking appearance, which was more funny than serious. I met him when I gone to receive him at the airport, as a part of the entourage which was to welcome him to the city. He had been newly appointed the Chief Executive Officer of a proposed Multi-Speciality Hospital by our group of companies. On being introduced to the entourage members, he shook hands with a firm grip and scant interest, a demeanour suggesting little interest in civilians or in civilian life.
The car he was travelling in was lost in the maze of evening traffic and our car reached the Head Office well before his. Upon arrival, he jumped out and barked at us, “Don’t you know the rules of a convoy?” The senior accountant who was driving our vehicle stood transfixed at the words, which he found hard to follow, for the voice was high-pitched, dry and rasping. He was also a chain-smoker and often spoke with a cigarette between his lips which made his vocal onslaughts upon the civilians quite unintelligible. Much later we realized that he had an uncertain temper and often spoke in sarcastic taunts. He no longer wore a uniform but in his mind Brigadier B.C.Deb was yet serving the armed forces.
He was put in sole charge of the proposed super-speciality hospital, considering his immaculate curriculum. His appointment was followed by three others: one a pretty young lady as his personal secretary. A junior assistant, who was an MBA Graduate and a peon to run his errands. Within a fortnight all had resigned from services. According to grapevine; he was difficult task master and his discipline was army like: no excuses and no nonsense. Within the first three months, two of his next set of subordinates had also resigned. The third could not be traced. His iron fist in boxing gloves did not make sense to his subordinates, who deserted his barracks with an alacrity that was both alarming and worrying for the management.
When the Manager-Personnel was summoned to his room, he was asked by the Brigadier, “Why does it take so long to replace three people? Don’t you maintain a database of suitable candidates? Let us get on with some real action on the personnel front. I believe you deal with Personnel or is it just your personal matters?”
“But sir, suitable and efficient personnel are hard to find these days,” the head of personnel had murmured respectfully.
“If you can’t find them, then produce them!” barked the army man twirling his moustache with a mean dismissive look in his eyes.
The manager personnel had left the room flabbergasted wondering how to produce three men. He was nearing retirement and widowed. His wife who had recently passed away, was childless.
Once he had admonished a young receptionist who was newly appointed, “Can’t you wear decent clothes? This is a model medical centre not a centre for modelling. Besides that you are as flat as a sheet of sun mica. What do you have to flaunt? So stop making a spectacle of yourself and this reputed organisation.” She left the office crying and never re-joined. The peons shivered when called to his chamber. He found flaws with most of them. In six months, he had changed half-a-dozen drivers. According to him, they had little driving sense and poor discipline, more suited to drive bullock carts. He could not tolerate indiscipline and no one knew what he meant by it. He expected his drivers to be curt and open the door when he stepped out of the vehicle and close it when he sat down. They always had to be ready with an ashtray so he could tap ash and stub out his cigarette or else he would tap it into the driver’s pocket or worse throw the butt at their faces. Lighting his cigarette moment he put one to his lips was a must for all his drivers. If they did not, he would bark at them, “Bloody Fool do you need to be told when you have to answer the call of nature… you just rush.” They would wonder, if his lighting up meant a call of nature. Once he kicked the security guard at the gates for he had forgotten to salute him. The security agency sought an explanation, to which he had replied, “We need proper men – not baboons in uniform who do not respect their superiors. The security agency was unobtrusively changed thereafter.
Most were fed up with the Brigadier and needless to say the hospital team was not functioning well under his leadership. Few were bold enough to put in complaints to the top management. On being politely told about it, he had commented, “Foolish behaviour and indiscipline needs correction or it is better to eliminate it.” He was unaffected with the spate of resignations or the growing resentment against him, simply dismissing it as – ‘bad civilian rubbish’.
Finally, two unsavoury incidents did him in. Once he had locked up a supplier in his bathroom for supplying sub-standard materials. Upon enquiry by the management, he replied brazenly, “I had my licensed revolver but did not want to waste a bullet on that rotten scoundrel. He should be glad that I did not make him drink from the pot.” On the other occasion, a senior male nurse was assigned to carry the Brigadier’s briefcase to his vehicle, which accidentally slipped out of his hands and fell on to the staircase, prised open, and piles of documents and papers were strewed all over. Among them was a copy of Playboy Magazine which embarrassed many. The Brigadier was furious, and had thundered, “You bloody fool!…. You clumsy wimp! You have been assigned to carry something important and not your wife buttocks that you can afford to let slip?”
The management’s effort to improve his untoward behaviour met with little success. Various staff meetings broached the topic but the army man would brush it aside, “I abhor unnecessary and foolish talks. Let us give meetings a break for they are the only reason why mankind has not been able to achieve its true potential. Let us get on with some real action on the work front.”
Progress to the proposed Hospital was tardy and teamwork – tragic. Work front resembled a forsaken war zone and the action was missing…everything seemed frozen. Even the Brigadier’s thundering cannons refused to thaw the ice of inactivity.
Finally, the management hauled him up during one of the project meetings attended by a host of doctors and senior professionals. A few harsh comments for the Brigadier by the Managing Director who was a maverick from IIT, shook his ego. He walked out of the meeting but not before stating: “I may have retired from service but not from self-respect. Gentlemen, my resignation will reach your table within the next twenty four hours, I wish you luck with the venture but am afraid that I can no longer be a part of this flop show.”
I had happened to usher him out of the board room, when he had commented, “Young man, you know a man without self respect and dignity is like a soldier who has a gun but no bullets in a battlefield. He is simply useless. The best exit for a true soldier is to die on the last day of battle, by the last light and by the last bullet. Then he let out a laugh which sounded like a machine-gun fire and marched off in slow motion. That was the first and last time I heard him laugh. I never saw him again. Some months later I heard he had joined another hospital as its Chief Operating Officer. A year to that day, I happened to meet one of his old drivers and was told that the Brigadier was diagnosed with cancer of the lungs. He fought back to health, soldier that he was and doggedly lived for a couple of years but finally succumbed to the disease. They say – a cigarette has smoke at one end and a fool at the other. No one dare said that Brigadier Bidhan Chandra Deb, was a fool. Just that he was befooled by pieces of paper and tobacco. What bullets could not do – they did! Retired him – not just from service ……but life!
Also check out “I, Me, Myself” by Shamila Janakiraman