Dr. Suchita Malik Author of Indian Memsahib

An Alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi

Excerpts from the Novels

“Scent of the Soil – A Civil Servant Returns to His Roots” [Fourth novel by Suchita Malik; Published by Rupa & Co. Released in Delhi on 25th February 2017, followed by its launch at Chandigarh on 25th March 2017]

Scent of the Soil The Civil Service once again, much like the first two novels, sets the backdrop of this novel. But then, it provides only a platform for the protagonist to view his life in its entirety with its compulsions and limitations apart from its privileges and rewards. The mammoth canvass of bureaucracy helps in bringing to the forefront the paradox and the ambivalence of his professional life and Shubhojit is driven to take stock and view in hindsight what he has gained and lost in the personal context too. The author has structured sub-plot within the main plot which takes the novel to a sociological plane. And he takes a call, much to the consternation of all... to listen to his inner voice, follow his instincts and make an experiment to find out the truth of life... of responding to the Scent of the Soil and the call of the wild.

The awardees stood straight, blase, overcome! Their indomitable will, too, showed signs of slackening. The cracks in the steel frame of bureaucracy were in danger of being seen on the faces of some of the chosen ones.

Shubhojit wanted to run away, run away from it all and go back. ‘But go back where?’ he wondered. Go back to the old times, to the carefree days of his youth when nothing had been certain or secure and yet he had breathed an air of freedom; where the simplicity of living had afforded a pleasure unknown to the elite or the wealthy and famous.

‘Adi, that is, in fact, the travesty of our job and the tragedy of our lives. Romance, love, intimate moments with the family, aspirations, longings, convictions and even idealism get sacrificed at the altar of the bureaucratic pedestal that only looks at you, smiles, mocks and remains indifferent.’

Foot-tapping music was put on and beautiful young ladies in colorful, contemporary clothes circled round Shubhojit and asked him to dance with them. The male members looked on, clapping and laughing!

‘At the age of fifty-six, I feel I am carrying the burden of bureaucracy like an albatross round my neck.’ Shubhojit’s unexpectedly bitter remarks fell like a thunderbolt on his colleagues, and dashed their high spirit.

‘At times, we reel under the pressure and that too from all sides so that one wants and needs a quick getaway, even if temporary. Everything and everybody gets on your nerves and you just want to throw it all up and give in to temptation.’

Yashodhra had become increasingly aware that his long tenure in the civil service had hardened certain traits in his character, of which she had become weary: his self-complacency; his sense of righteousness; his conviction of always being in the right; adhering to avoidable, mechanical details; stereotyped and clichéd responses; a stubborn disregard for changing norms and life.

In hindsight, Shubhojit saw that he had erred, and erred grossly. If only he could go back in time…only once…if he could recapture those precious moments, he would not let them slip out of his fingers.

‘What a fool I have been!’ thought Shubhojit with a tinge of regret. If only he had been as considerate to her as she had been to the family all her life! ‘Marriages can sometimes fall apart on account of small issues and bruised egos!’ pondered Shubhojit. ‘If only one could realize it while there was still time…’

His whole life lay open like a road map before him. He thought of the moments of challenges and excitement; of the satisfaction of having achieved difficult and almost impossible targets; of having rubbed shoulders with the most powerful people and the innovative intellectuals; of giving sleepless night to the craftiest minds, bullies or habitual offenders and then, his own emergence as an indefatigable and towering personality among them all. Shubhojit laughed aloud.

‘Yes, for me, the scent of the soil is still too strong and irresistible!’ said Shubhojit in a somber mood.

The world, as he had seen it, was a terrible assortment of temptations, ambitions, excitement, allurements, passion and vanity. Man spent his life pursuing or grappling with them till nothing was left of his own self and he became a conglomeration of uncertainties, discontent and frustration. Entire mankind was engaged in these pursuits and suffered from the same malaise but still had to go its own way.

Memories of past experiences were coming back to him in flashes: unsavoury encounters with the administrative machinery; the prerogatives of political ascendancy; vendettas or judicial backlashes as a result of ego clashes.

The tragic marital experience had shown him that what a woman wanted the most, out of all things in the world, was to be loved. A well-loved woman rarely betrays her man. But, if she feels neglected or left out in the cold, she might go to any lengths to sever her ties with the man, even if it were the husband.

Shubhojit remembered the time when he had first come to the secretariat. A young man then, he was full of energy, enthusiasm and enterprise. The gigantic building had overawed him; fascinated him with its capacity to house various organs of the administration, and with its works culture. It was, certainly, no ordinary building; it could put to shame the most outrageous of men; it could tame the wildest of them all; it could reward the most daring of men; it could harbour the most innovative of minds with its flexibility of interpretations; in short, it could do wonders! It was a great leveller---- of human minds, instincts and intellect.

The corridors personified an entire system; a system that encapsulated in itself a whole lot of complexities and controversies, with a hint of complacency of sorts. A system that was capable of maintaining the status quo as well as generating an atmosphere conducive to change. Its complexity could not be breached; its controversies were beyond control, and its complacency beyond repair. The system was the creator as well as the destroyer, and its two aspects were complementary to each other. These corridors of power had fulfilled the secret wishes of ambitious men, and titillated public imagination with their unlimited powers.

The system does not know the word saturation point. We are looked upon as robots, devoid of all feelings, expected to deliver results or reach targets at the drop of a hat, and without any goof-ups. There is never any room for ifs and buts or even alternatives. It might leave you totally drained of energy--- physical, mental and emotional --- but the system has never made it its business.’

His career graph had been like a tapestry; a weaving of knots and colors into a plausible pattern and an attempt to make it an integral part of a bigger pattern or system. He remembered his struggle with the system; its votaries; the parasites who constantly clawed their way towards its core, leaving it hollow and crippled; its so-called benefactors who used it to advance their own interests. His professional life had been a constant struggle against odds; against differing ideologies; against sagging value systems and falling standards of norms, chivalry and etiquette.

Had his idealism driven him to this saturation point, he wondered. Was he completely burnt out? He wanted to take a break and seriously explore the true significance of words like courage, glory, honour, commitment. idealism etc. Would it be possible for him to disengage himself from the doings of humanity?
He wanted to give up the instinct to excel; he no longer wanted to be judged by others and be judgmental himself. He wanted to redefine the word ambition and to widen the definition of success. He did not want to carry the burden or baggage of official pressures or societal norms and compulsions, or follow a stereotyped routine of any kind. He just wanted to be himself, if that was possible.

The journey of life is a progression form innocence to corruption, form primal instincts to sophisticated artifice, form instinctual wisdom to acquired education based on concocted theories, lop-sided interpretation and formulated philosophies.’
There comes a point in the life of a man when he wants to shed everything: inhibitions, pressures, false emotions, modern gadgets, printed word, expression of innermost feelings etc, till he is left in his true naked form, mentally and emotionally, so that he can take a step towards spiritualism and ultimate communion with God.’

‘No, Sir!’ said Shubhojit. ‘I wouldn’t be very far from people. In fact, mine would be a retreat only form this artificial life that blunts all sensibilities --- physical, emotional and spiritual. I want to live near my village, where I can belong to the soil; where I can enjoy the fresh mornings; where I can watch the rising sun; where I can listen to the twittering sounds of early birds; where I can see the dew-fresh beauty of the morning flowers; where I can plant a few saplings and watch them grow; where I can have a kitchen garden and tend to my own fruit trees; where I can keep a cow and a buffalo and milk them in the morning; where I can keep pace with my dogs when I go for a walk in the nearby bani woods; where anybody and everybody can walk into my small hut at any hour of the day and enjoy a simple, frugal meal; where formality would not be an issue and pretence not a weapon; where to exist would be to live and to live would be to enjoy, and enjoyment would lead to a communion with the creator and His creation.’

The ancestral haveli stood right in front of them: a towering symbol of their family and of an era gone by. It again reminded Shubhojit of the eternal flux called time; time that waits for none; time, the mighty puppeteer that keeps human beings on their toes. Shubhojit remembered the saying of the sages and scriptures that it was the sanctity of a place that beckoned an individual to find his moorings. The destinies of houses, places and individuals were somehow linked in a way that was incomprehensible to the human eye.

‘if only mankind would stop thinking business,’ thought Shubhojit, ‘at least for some time, and think of reconnecting with the natural environment, the world would become a much better place for simple living. If only the world would halt its one-upmanship and stem the tide of jealousy, hatred, dislike, pride, prejudice and greed! If only…’ Shubhojit heaved a deep sigh.

Shubhojit loved the pastoral setting of his small place. His senses were already in and exhilarated state. He was able to see things that he had so far missed seeing; his sense of smell was perhaps sharper than before; his taste buds had become more discerning; he could hear the natural sounds all around him; and he was learning to enjoy them; he could feel empathy for his fellow beings and perceive what might not be otherwise apparent. In short, he had evolved as a born romantic who could think form the heart and feel with the mind.