Power and Glory

One was an influential person of the town. The other one was a modest, but respectable individual. The former held an important public office. The latter retired as a teacher.

The person holding public office was my father.

For some specific purpose they were at that time meeting regularly.

I watched their interaction with each other keenly. This was decades ago, when I was at school. At the time when it was happening, I did not understand its significance. It was puzzling.

Every time they needed to meet, my father would send word through a messenger to the retired teacher. He would ask if he could visit the teacher’s home. The teacher would respond through the same messenger that he was any way going to a place to attend to his personal work which was close to our house and he could himself drop in that evening to see my father.

This continued for about six months. Every time my father sent word to the teacher offering to go to his home, the teacher would respond exactly the same way and would come to our house. Not even once did the teacher ask my father to visit him. And not even once did my father send word asking the teacher to come and meet him.

My father would offer to go to the teacher. And the teacher would without fail turn up at our house. This happened with unfailing regularity.

Many years later, when I grew up and could talk to my father in a ‘man to man’ sort of a way, I asked him about this. Why was it that he always sent word to the teacher offering to go to him and why was it that the teacher never asked him to come to his place.

What my father told me gave me an idea of how they skillfully negotiated power equations. The powerful took care never to display arrogance. And the humble never wounded the sense of importance of the powerful.

My father said because he respected the teacher he would never frame a sentence that sounded like a summons. But the teacher would understand that my father wished to see him not as a supplicant but as someone responsible for delivering the greater good to the society. The teacher knew that it was proper for him to go to my father rather than expect my father to visit him.

I respected him by offering to go to him and he respected me by coming to me rather than expecting me to go to him, my father told me.

At that time I did not even guess that there was a subtle conformity to the unstated rules of engagement in the interaction. The coarse and uneven distribution of social power was not allowed to come into play in the engagement between those two individuals. The edges were never rough.

If either of them departed from this subtle way of conducting their relations even once, the fine balance would have broken down. My father summoning him would have hurt the self-respect of the teacher. That would have probably prompted him to feel that he was treated as one less. And on the other hand, if the teacher expected my father to go to him, it would have perhaps led to my father becoming conscious of his position and importance.

One departure would have brought crudity to the equation between power and respectability. They did not let that happen.

Both my father and the teacher belonged to the generation that fought for our freedom.

Today, I remember them and countless others who lived for what they valued. Never were they unprepared to die for what they valued.

They were men of power and glory.

3 Responses to “Power and Glory”

  1. August 16, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    The story of two great and sensitive personalities reaveals the higjh standards of politicians and values of teachers of those days. My father used to say that a teacher, a post master, a karanam and a minisif were used to command good in the society. Even a person holding a public office used to respect the above four..

  2. August 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    Food for thought….Public Service… Is it an oxymoron ?

  3. November 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    🙂

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