Letters Of Discomfort

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I really am at my wits’ end these days trying to figure out all this media frenzy about escrow accounts, sovereign guarantees, IGAs and letters of comfort. One had heard of “comfort ladies” in South Korea and of “comforters” that put little babies to sleep, but our PM certainly resembles neither of them so how come he’s in the middle of all this nonsense? We’ll have to wait till Mr. N. Ram of the Hindu (both inappropriate names since he appears to have little sympathy for either the Ram or the Hindu Bhakts) publishes the French letter of comfort to find out what it actually contains, but I think I already have a pretty good idea. It probably goes something like this:

   ” Dear Prime Minister,
      this is to assure you (and Mr. Doval who I know is peeping from behind your back) that we shall be supplying 36 Rafales to you by 2022. They will be in “fly-away” condition, that is, if you don’t pay for them in advance they shall fly away from India and back to France. HAL will be our up-set partner, and the big A the off-set partner. Of course, this assurance is contingent upon Mr. Macron not replacing me in the next few months and my not getting caught out in some flagrant delicto, as I am wont to at times. But don’t worry even if things go wrong. We had a similar problem in 1894 in the Alfred Dreyfus case, also related to the defense of the realm, but resolved it with some old fashioned minority bashing at which, I learn, you are pretty good. You may also take comfort from the fact that the Congress lost power over the Bofors case but returned to rule five years later: these things have a five year cycle like El Nino. Till we meet again in 2024!
Comfortably yours,
XXXXXXX.”
Perfectly innocuous and comforting, I should think, and therefore I just can’t fathom why the Opposition is getting its danders up over the whole affair. This is a perfect comfort letter, providing cheer to all concerned except HAL which in any case should have realised that its hopes were nothing but a mirage. I speak of these matters with some authority, you know.
Many years ago Neerja’s folks issued an RFP (Request for Proposal) for her marriage. Out of 5 bidders I came in at LI (or H5, or High Five, depending on your perspective) even though my technical specs were found wanting. But I did offer her an India specific enhancement that the other four could not – life membership of India’s most exclusive club, IASOWA (IAS Officers’ Wives Association), the real kitchen cabinet that actually runs this country, notwithstanding what Mr. Doval or Amit Shah may think. It worked and an MOU was signed. I then sought a sovereign guarantee from my would-be mother in law (also known as MIL and not to be confused with the MIG whose fire power pales in comparison to her’s) that Neerja would not ditch me after a few years of marital bliss. She refused, on the grounds that it was not Neerja’s credentials that were suspect but mine. I had to lump it since time was running out for me, just as it is for the Indian Air Force. I also had to open an escrow account: my hardly earned pay went into it every month and it was Neerja who decided what to spend it on. Unlike the NDA Rafale deal, there was also a transfer of technology clause: I was to be taught how to cook and Neerja would be trained in how to take the dog for a walk. As it turned out, however, only the first part was actually implemented, but in the absence of an arbitration clause I had to lump this too. But everything else worked perfectly because I had plenty of letters of comfort  – 79 of them, which I have lovingly preserved. They are all from Neerja, from the days before we got married, when I was posted to desolate places like Jwalamukhi and Ranital where the only female one got close up to was the DoorDarshan newscaster at 9 PM everyday; even she looked good to us, sprawled on the floor in a broken down rest house. These letters of comfort kept me going till the IGA (Inter Gotra Agreement) was finally signed on the 23rd of January 1977, with the family pundit as witness (no, he didn’t give a dissenting note).
This contract had no need for an off-set clause either, because all its components were in place, except one – the honeymoon package. That was taken care of by a letter of discomfort from the Chief Secretary denying me any leave for the post nuptials in a flagrant violation of my fundamental rights. I had to lump that too, since slapping up Chief Secretaries still lay in the distant future.  So it was wedding in Lucknow, a  train to Delhi and a night bus to Mandi, with a subsequent controlled crash landing in Chamba. Since then we’ve been cruising on auto-pilot. There were no kickbacks either, just a pushback in the form of two sons. They are neither “chaiwallahs” nor “chors” nor Pappus, nor have they benefited from any dynastic privileges other than a propensity to start balding in the mid-thirties. They are doing fine, without support from any coalitions, reservations, electoral bonds, NPAs or hate speech. So here is the message, folks: this too shall pass, for there is life after comfort letters and sovereign guarantees, with or without the opinions of a CAG.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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