In an earlier post, ' Reaching the age of sanyaas ', I had mentioned about my best friend, Kailash Sethi, who died some years ago in his home in Allahabad.
Kailash and I were friends since our youth He later joined the Indian Revenue Service of the Government of India, in the department of Customs and Central Excise and retired as a member of the Central Board of Customs and Central Excise.
Kailash was a legend in his department, an outstanding officer, renowned for his high level of integrity and dynamism, and a hero to his subordinate officers.
After my post mentioning him I received a message on facebook which I am copying ( without revealing the sender's name ) :
" Feb 27th, 7:12am
Re : Kailash Sethi
Uncle Sir, my father was his ( Sethi Uncle's ) junior in the Department. He would often tell me anecdotes about Sethi Uncle and there were many. He was one of the most honest officers of the Central Government. Dishonest officers feared him like crazy just like the honest ones loved him.
As the story goes, when he was Commissioner, all the junior officers would park their vehicles (which may have been procured through dubious means) at least a km away so as to escape his wrath. He once visited our place. At that time, even though he wasn't in the best of health, I remember he was still passionate about football and asked me to get my football boots and checked them thoroughly before letting me know that they were good. My mom would tell me about the his 4-5 pet dogs. Even after his retirement, my father made a trip or two to Allahabad just to see "Sethi sahab". Aunty even sent dad Sethi Uncle's photograph after his death. "
In his youth, Kailash's ambition was to join the Indian Air Force and become a fighter pilot flying jets. So he joined the National Defence Academy ( N.D.A. ) Kharakvasla as a cadet. Unfortunately he suffered an injury due to which he was discharged in his 3rd term in N.D.A. He came back to his home in Allahabad and was very depressed. I used to often go to meet him at that time to console him. He often told me that whenever he sees an aeroplane in the sky he gets dejected, wishing that he had been flying one of these aircrafts.
Kailash's father, Mr.A.N. Sethi, was from that part of Punjab which is now in Pakistan. During British days he had been a contractor to the British army, and made a lot of money in his business, enough to enable him to retire early. He bought a huge house at 1 Sapru Road ( Club Road, in British Times ) Allahabad before Partition, and settled down there with his family. Kailash was the youngest of his 3 sons.
Mr. A.N. Sethi was so regular in his habits that one could set his watch according to when he went for his morning walk, when he had lunch and dinner, when he sat down in the evening for his two pegs of whiskey with fried fish. I was a regular visitor to the house ( just as Kailash was a regular visitor to my house on Tashkent Marg ).
Later, Kailash joined the Allahabad University, and, as I have mentioned in my earlier post, we played a lot of football, hockey and tennis together. Kailash topped in the Ll.B. examination of 1968 from Allahabad University ( I had topped in 1967 ).
Later, Kailash sat for the competitive examinations and was selected for the Indian Revenue Service..
I had joined a Solicitors' firm ( Fowler&Co.) in Calcutta in 1969, and Kailash was posted as an Asst. Collector in Calcutta. While I stayed with a relative, he stayed in the Y.M.C.A. on Chowringhee Road. My office was at 12 Govt. Place East, near Dalhousie Square. After my office hours were over, I would often walk down to the Y.M.C.A. to meet Kailash and some other friends from Allahabad who were staying there. On weekends we would sometimes go by train to the Dunlop Co. Estate at Shahganj, where we had friends with whom we spent time, swimming, playing tennis, etc
I later came back to Allahabad to practise in the High Court, and Kailash, being a government servant, was posted to various places, but we met off and on.
Kailash was a hero to his junior officers, and a terror to crooked businessmen and crooked officials. In a department which normally does not enjoy a high reputation for integrity, he was a shining beacon of uprightness to his juniors. Wherever he was posted, the revenue collections went up.
The problem with him, and I told this to him repeatedly, was that he often took cudgels with powerful people. I would often tell him that the present system in India is so corrupt that it is beyond redemption, and so he should not think he can single handedly abolish corruption, and would only get into trouble if he tries to do so. But he would not listen. He even secretly got the telephones of some powerful people tapped ( to get evidence of their corrupt dealings ). These people got to know about it, and then they really went after him. They got him posted to some remote, insignificant places, and got enquiries instituted against him.
The result was that Kailash became totally demoralized and depressed. He contracted some rare ailment, and later became bed ridden.
After retirement he went back to his home in Allahabad, with which he was emotionally attached. Whenever I went to Allahabad I always went to meet him. Although he was my age he could hardly get up from bed. He would tell me " Mantu ( my nickname ), i don't want to live any more "
He died a few years back. And a part of me died with him.