Nadkarni had received his transfer order for the 60th time in his 25 year career. His superiors were running out of places to transfer him to. They had sent him to the most arid regions of Maharashtra where water visited taps as sporadically as sense visits an imbecile. They made him live in areas where electricity hadn’t been invented but all their efforts were in vain since in the end, the man remained as stoical as ever. When the politicians, whose campaigns were funded by the restauranters and merchants whose shops bore the brunt of Nadkarni’s honesty noticed that punishments didn’t affect him, they resorted to bribes. After all, it is said that everyone has their own price. Unfortunately for them, they never discovered what Nadkarni’s was. It was said that no deals could be made under Nadkarni’s table because he bred scorpions there. Needless to say, his honesty earned Nadkarni more enemies than friends. Due to the continual shifting, his children suffered; they had changed more than 15 schools and as a result, didn’t make many friends. The pressure of adapting to a new environment once in a few months also took a toll on his wife’s health, especially since she was a diabetic. His family often wondered how life would’ve been if Nadkarni had been venal. Overtly, they gave him great mental support, never complaining about how nomadic their existence had become or how they had to travel in a battered down ambasaddor while his peers rode in air-conditioned Japanese cars like princes but inwardly, they led shattered lives. Their only property was a two bedroom apartment in a seedy area of Pune in a building that wasn’t even occupied anymore. The apartment had been stripped completely-lights, fixtures, faucets and even screws, by its tenants over the years. If they could’ve robbed the walls, they would’ve taken them too.
Nadkarni and his family entered the outskirts of Pune early in the morning. As he had expected, nothing had changed. If anything, the encroachments had multiplied. In the narrow strip of suffocated land that was hardly wide enough for a single bus, the traffic ran two-ways. At the very edge of the road, just as the tar ended and the mud began, shops rose up. Private property invaded public areas like an ominous domestic quarrel pouring out into the neighborhood. The city was a bad joke on its population.
Realizing that his time was short, since big cities had richer places and people, Nadkarni began doing his job, which was to destroy all encroachments on government land. The first one was a high end disco in the commercial district of the city; it was a popular get-away for college students and young professionals and was owned by an MLA. Just as the wrecking crew was setting up, a notice arrived. Without reading it, Nadkarni knew it was from his superiors who always discover clauses and legal barriers at the last minute to prevent the demolition of the property. Sliding the unopened envelope inside his pocket, Nadkarni gave the order for the disco to be torn down as it was occupying land originally meant for a garden. An impeccably dressed man, who looked like the manager, ran towards him and implored him to stop.
“You cannot do this”, he blurted out, “do you know who owns this place?”
Unfazed, Nadkarni told him, “Yes, the Government. Now get out of my way and stop wasting my time”.
The manager frantically pulled out his cell phone and spoke to his master, sweating profusely as he did so.
“yes…yes sir…I’ll tell him…I know, I know…don’t worry Sir, I’ve the situation under control”
Then he spoke to Nadkarni.
“My boss tells me that we could arrange something, come to a mutual understanding, get what I mean?” He said, smiling shrewdly. “a small token of his respect for the government”
“How much is he offering?”, Nadkarni asked him and the manager seemed relieved. It was true, every man had his price.
“We can discuss that inside, over a glass of Scotch or if you’d prefer something else, we have that too. Our bar is well stocked you see, in order to handle contingencies like this”
“ah, nothing like a good drink eh? I see you know how to treat your guests”
“of course, of course. After all this is the hospitality business and we are always hospitable to our guests, even those who threaten to ruin us”, he unctuously said.
“Please lead the way, I’ll follow you” Nadkarni offered politely.
Inside, the disco had a gothic kind of decor with gargoyles springing from every corner and chains hanging from the cieling. The place was unoccupied since it was very early in the morning, an inauspicious time for bars in general as since time immemorial, night has always been the best drinking companion.
The manager took out two glasses from the freezer and began pouring a golden colored liquid into them followed by soda. Then using a pair of silver tongs, he took out some ice cubes from an ice bucket and dropped them inside the glasses. They sank to the bottom producing a steady stream of bubbles that looked like miniature pearls.
The manager lifted his glass and Nadkarni lifted his own. The glasses clinked and the manager said “cheers”. He quickly finished his drink in one gulp and saw that Nadkarni hadn’t touched his drink.
“What is the matter?” He asked him with an air of concern, “don’t you like Scotch?”
“I never drink on the job”, Nadkarni told him matter-of-factly.
The manager didn’t know what to say. It seemed to him that the fellow in front of him was deranged.
“All right then. Let’s get down to business”, he said seriously “name your price”
“You can’t afford it”, Nadkarni told him bluntly.
“You don’t know who my master is”, the manager told Nadkarni arrogantly. “He buys people like you wholesale”
“Then pay me the opportunity cost of not constructing the garden”
The manager didn’t understand.
“Are you joking?”
“Which is”, Nadkarni continued, “the price of the happiness of thousands of people”.
“Are you mad?” The manager shouted, getting up from his seat, “stop talking nonsense”.
“I cannot accept checks. Pay me in cash, right now”.
The manager again pulled out his cell phone and started speaking to his boss.
“Sir, this fellow is completely mad, he is talking all nonsense, some opportunity cost crap…yes..yes Sir, I’ll put him on”.
“hey, you”, he said addressing Nadkarni rudely, “My boss wants to speak with you”.
Nadkarni took the phone from him. The manager wore a sadistic expression on his face that seemed to say, “he is in for it now”.
“yes…yes…I understand…no…of course, I know who you are, thank you, you’re very kind”
He finished talking and handed the device back to the manager.
“So now do you get it? What did the Boss tell you?”
“That he will have me transferred if I touch his establishment”
“Aah, I told you not to bring him into this, we could’ve handled this between ourselves. Anyway, I’ve a lot of work now, its time you and your men cleared off”
“it is. Unfortunately, your master doesn’t know how many times I’ve been transferred”
“What did you say?” The manager asked him, in utter disbelief.
By then, Nadkarni was out in the sun and gave the final go-ahead. The Manager watched them trembling as a bulldozer razed the construction to the ground.
That incident earned him a lot of fame. A photograph of Nadkarni wearing a yellow work helmet appeared in the local newspaper a few weeks later under the letters, “Honest man or Honestly Mad?”. The article was as follows:
“Amit Nadkarni is an icon of integrity in today’s corruption ridden society. Where most people would have given up and succumbed to the pressure, he refuses to back-down. The past few weeks have been hectic for him as he moved from one street to another tearing down all encroachments upon public property. Since he arrived here, he was demolished six hotels (all of them three-star), four dance bars, one disco, four restaurants and twenty three paan stalls! Wherever he goes, he creates an aura of fear and respect around him. He bows to no one, maybe not even God. The world needs more heroes like him”.
The journalist who wrote the article was fired the next day. Someone else replaced him and another article about Nadkarni was written, this time, brutally criticizing him.
“Nadkarni is a menace to society. He thinks of himself as a modern-day Gandhi whose mission is to bring peace and integrity to a troubled world. He takes it upon himself to demolish whatever he sees fit to be demolished. Neither does he obey his superiors nor the will of the populace that has clearly expressed its concerns over the loss of such fine establishments that have been the pride of our city. It isn’t surprising that he has been transferred more than anyone else in this country, maybe this planet even. It is time the people stood up to bullies like him”.
A week later, an international channel broadcasted a program on Nadkarni, praising him in the same manner as the first article written by the journalist who was fired. The entire country suddenly knew about this hitherto unknown government servant who was literally turning the earth inside out to stand by his principles. Everyone said that he would receive a national award from the president of India. The local channels aired his activities all day long. Wherever Nadkarni and his crew went, journalists from TV channels followed behind them closely. But Nadkarni quietly went about doing his job, which was supervising the demolition of private buildings on government land. He neither accepted interviews nor gave speeches. If someone called him a hero, he would politely shake his hand and move on with his crew. During his tenure in the city, he destroyed many more illegal establishments ranging from cheap motels to elitist wedding halls, all of which were brilliant examples of constructive destruction.
Gradually, people started getting bored of watching the same thing over and over again. They wanted something else to focus their attention on, like a crispy sex scandal involving Bollywood actors or an international match between India and Pakistan and within months, Nadkarni was back to anonymity. His brief stint at being popular was over. That was when the bureaucrats decided to sink their claws into him. They claimed that the building in which his apartment was situated posed a safety hazard as it was more than 20 years old and constructed from inferior quality cement. The only piece of property he owned in the world had been given the death sentence. Unfortunately, they couldn’t compensate him for this apartment as the legality of the land on which it stood was questionable in the first place and they pointed to a law suit-“The state of … vs. ….” . Nadkarni read this and in the same non-nonchalant manner in which he had tucked the envelope he received outside the disco into his pocket, he slipped this envelope inside his pant. The next morning, he got news that he had been transferred. He got inside the battered ambassador with his family and as he was leaving the city, everything he had demolished seemed to have been re-built. His wife sobbed silently next to him in the car and the children remained silent.Nadkarni knew it was the opportunity cost of being honest.