|Workers at the site of the road construction at Tousem subdivision
Armstrong Pame is a strange man. He graduated from St Stephen’s College in Delhi. Then worked hard to become the first IAS officer from the Zeme community. Now he is in a remote subdivision in Nagaland.
Most others of his professional clan have already set a hawk’s eye on the bigger and better. The power blocks of New Delhi, the cuts, the foreign tours, the high teas and the fellowships to countries of the first world.
And most of all the respect received for enjoying these privileges.
His contemporaries from his college and many such institutions across the country are also racing to make the most of their lives. Consuming more power and wealth every single day.
It is not strange that in these circumstances no one would have blamed Pame if he did not have service to society in his mind. In fact, Pame was already a hero as it is customary in democratic India to celebrate the success of the representative of a community.
Trivial issues like contribution to the same community— which may serve as an embarrassment — are rarely brought up.
So Pame could have comfortably made rounds of the power corridors making the right connections now. But he chose to disconnect.
The Tamenglong-Haflong road project, which, if successful, will not help him in any way in his career. In fact, as things stand, there are chances he will get into trouble as the higher-ups in the administration are not particularly pleased when their inadequacies are exposed.
The only purpose the project will serve is to save lives of people in Tousem subdivision. These are people who have earlier died unable to get medical help. The road will help children, who earlier could not travel to educational institutions, finally get education.
Why is he doing this, I wonder. What is he doing with the funds? Why is he living with these villagers? Doesn't he seek a happening life?
After all, in this country we don’t even do what we are paid to do. Bureaucrats are so busy pleasing politicians that they do not even point out massive flaws in ambitious projects.
It is perhaps only in this country that a high-ranking civil servant unabashedly cleans shoes of a chief minister.
Then where does one get the courage to take up a project like this on one's own? It suspiciously resembles an emotion obsolete in a world of consumers. Empathy.
But don’t we now pretend to be empathetic only if it pays in the long run? Sympathy is fine as long as it is social currency but empathy, as we see it, inevitably has a motive. Is he settling scores with some other bureaucrat?
But Armstrong is true to his strangeness. He was careful that publicity of the project does not smear any of his colleagues or anyone in the government machinery.
He just wanted the road from Tamenglong to Haflong to be ready before Christmas. So whenever a journalist contacted him they had to assure that only the project would be written about.
I fear for such strangeness because it makes too many others uncomfortable.
There was Sanjoy Ghosh who came to Assam, felt empathy for the people of Majuli.
Yet his project for their betterment could never be completed because he disturbed the order of the way things were being done.
Satyendra Dubey in Bihar and Kallol Sur in Bengal were also very strange.
They decided that what they have unearthed about the way the government functioned needed to be told to the people. Knowing fairly well that what they were doing could not be profitable for them.
We still read these stories. For we all yearn for a few more extraordinary young men and women.
But are we ashamed to ask for more? Do we somewhere agree that what killed Sur or Dubey or Ghosh was not their strangeness but our cynicism?