Beant Singh, the driver, belonged to the ICCS (Indian Chauffeur and Chaprasi Services), 1989 Punjab cadre. In his long and distinguished career driving Government of India officials around pillars and posts, he had learned that the only people who mattered in New Delhi were the Prime Minister and his top-three coterie, and anyone with the Gandhi surname. (Also, any politician from Uttar Pradesh, because those bastard could kill you even if all you did was protest at their spitting paan inside the car). RR meant dogshit to Beant Singh. Useless. Impotent. After all, anyone with the tag of ‘Governor’ was purposefully designed by the Indian Constitution to have even less power than a Maruti-800 trudging up to Mussoorie.
Beant Singh nonchalantly swung open the left rear door of RR’s white Ambassador with a big red bindi on its forehead, and said, “Sir, Modiji ke raj mey attendance ka half day hi to katega. Anyway, like you said, it’s your last day at work.” He slapped the door shut as soon as RR’s navy blue, pinstriped, impeccably tailored tush hit the white towelled cush of the car.
The drive from the official home of the RBI Governor near Khan Market to the office digs at Parliament Street took the usual twenty minutes. At the RBI entrance gate, and then inside the office building, the customary salaams were dispensed by uniformed staffers with oversized bellies. Not in his three year tenure as Governor had RR learned how to properly respond to these salutes, so he had settled on some quaint mix of Queen Elizabeth’s royal wave and Govinda’s wrist movements when he danced.
“Sir, the PM had called sharp at 9 am. But since you hadn’t reached office, I took a message,” announced Pratibha Kumari, RR’s PA (1999 Tripura cadre, IRS), once her boss had taken seat in his rather plush office. RR was concerned immediately. “What did he say?”
“Goodbye,” said Pratibha, referring to her notes, her forehead furrowed with concentration.
RR waited for more, but when the lady said nothing else, he asked, “That’s it? That’s the entire message?”
The PA lady nodded, and RR shook his head. “Still nothing about who I should handover to! Wait karte karte ab toh notice period ka last day aa gaya…”
“Perhaps you should call the PM, Sir? I mean, speak with him directly to know his Mann ki Baat…?” Pratibha Kumari offered. “At your advice, I sat through the PM’s entire radio address last Saturday with my dictation notes copy ready, but he only talked about the new signature all-in-one ‘Lala Lajpat Rai Gram Shaheed Samvedansheel Kisaan Awaas Pragati Paryavaran Vikaas Khushhaali Yojna’. Oh, and India’s growing relations with Zimbabwe. But he spoke nothing about RBI,” she said morosely.
Pratibha Kumari’s advice made sense. After all, there were policy documents to be handed over, files to be secured, names to be couriered to Switzerland, interest and growth rates to be adjusted and re-adjusted…so much still to be done on the last day! But WHO to work with was the sixty four crore question.
“Yes, Pratibhaji,” RR said. “PMO ka number lagaiye.”
“Oh, sorry, Sir, the PM is not at the PMO. He was calling from Air India One. From somewhere above Romania and Estonia.”
‘Aargh…!’ mumbled RR under his breath. “Aur Jaitleyji?” he asked. “Woh bhi saath hain?”
Another dead end. RR gave up. It was his last day at the office. ‘Theek hai, then,’ he thought. ‘Why should I care? I will just complete all other formalities and be done with it. And if I still have time in the afternoon, I’ll look for some last minute deals on Amazon. Will buy stuff here than in the US…sasta padega.’
“Sir, the IT department needs to complete your Full and Final,” Pratibha Kumari reminded him. “Should I send the fellow in?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Thank you.”
The IT department was really one lanky guy with a boy moustache. He was a Grade 4 2013-batch from Government of Uttarakhand on deputation to RBI for eighteen months. The chap’s name was Shabbir Kumar.
“Sir, aapne personal backup ley liya hai?” he asked politely. RR, who was leaning over the laptop while Shabbir Kumar fiddled with the keyboard, nodded.
“What will you do with my laptop now?” RR asked.
“Hum haaddiss reformat kar denge,” the chap answered.
“What is ‘haaddiss’?
“Haaddiss, maane, jismey aapka sara data storez hota hai,” the boy explained patiently.
“Oh, Hard Drive! But what do you mean ‘reformat kar denge?” RR said, a bit bewildered. “Hamare country ka saara economic data hai iss laptop mey!” he added, his voice rising to a squeak.
“Toh reformat kab karen, Sir?” Shabbir Kumar asked. “Afternoon mey? Sir, woh compulsory policy hai F&F ki.”
“KABHI NAHI! This laptop will NEVER be reformatted!” RR shook his head in horror, and immediately summoned Pratibha Kumari back to the room. The lady assessed the situation and then turned to RR and said, “Sir, have you not taken back up on the pen drive I gave you? Are the files too large?”
Heavens, thought RR.
“Why don’t we finish the rest of the formalities in the meantime?” RR offered by way of moving things along. “Let’s delay reformatting the country’s economic future for the time being. What else do you need from me?”
“Sir, your laptop bag, mouse, cables and 3G dongle given by RBI.”
Clueless, RR looked at Pratibha Kumari. “What is he talking about? I have none of those things!” he lamented.
“But, Sir, this laptop bag…?” Pratibha Kumari said pointing to the soft leather, super expensive Bottega Veneta laptop bag RR had purchased when he still consulting as a financial adviser to the IMF in Europe.
“Does this even LOOK like a bag that Government of India might supply anyone?” RR answered, his eyes squinting with displeasure.
Tired now, RR hustled Shabbir Kumar out of his office. None of the items in the poor boy’s checklist had a tick mark against it. “Full and Final karne mey dikkat ho jayegi, Sir,” were the boy’s final words of warning as he left the room.
With the IT question still unresolved, Pratibha Kumari felt it best to close the formalities with the finance department instead. This was proving to be a stressful day for her. After all, these Full and Final formalities were not the only thing she had to look into. There was also the farewell to organize! A samosa, gulab jamun and soft drinks ‘get together’ had been organized in the cafeteria on the fifth floor. The one that RR had never visited in his entire three year tenure…
Akshay Patwardhan (Office of GBO, RBI Officer 1997 Batch, Mumbai) from the Finance department stopped by at noon. “Sir, aapne apne Provident Fund ke baare mey kya socha hai?” he asked.
“What about it?”
“Matlab, aap apne new employer ke yahan transfer karenge? Ya withdrawal?”
“I am moving to Chicago. Transferring PF will not be an option,” RR explained.
“But, Sir, transfer is a simpler option than withdrawal,” Patwardhan continued. “Withdraw karenge toh bada time lag jata hai. Paperwork soh alag.”
“So what are you recommending? I take up another job in India instead of moving to Chicago so that it is easier for me to transfer my PF from RBI?”
“Dekh leejiye, Sir, agar adjust kar paayen toh…”
It was time to throw the Finance fool out of the office too. RR summoned Pratibha Kumari to the office again to do the needful.
The day was fast hurtling towards a close and nothing had been accomplished yet. If he couldn’t close all formalities and walk out of the RBI office today, the headlines in tomorrow’s newspapers were going to be relentless.
‘DELAYING TACTICS!’ SCREAMS SUBRAMANIUM SWAMY : The Times of India, was just one example. Arnab Goswami demanding answers on behalf of the nation, was another.
RR shuddered. It was approaching 4 pm. Time for the official farewell in the cafeteria that he had never visited. Bloody hell, he hadn’t even prepared a farewell speech! No handover. No Full and Final Settlement. And now, no Farewell Speech either!
“I will have to simply sneak out of here,” he mumbled to himself. “Without ANYONE finding out. It’s the only way!”
Reluctantly, RR fished out the mobile phone from his pocket. Then, looking around him furtively as if he was about to commit a major fraud, he scrolled the Contact List to the name he was looking for. When it came up, he pressed the green key. The number rang for around ten seconds before it was picked up at the other end.
“Oh, hello, hello, Mr. Mallya, sorry to bother you in London like this, Sir, but I need a BIG favour from you.”