The Birthday Gift

It’s that time of the year again, when I take a step closer to the final resting place- no, not the bar in Gymkhana club, which nonetheless comes a close second in the definition of “heavenly abode”- but, you know, Valhalla. In other words, my 68th birthday calls. I don’t get many gifts of myrrh and incense these days, because, I suspect, most folks are not sure I’ll survive to give them the return gifts. My sister-in-law, Anjali, always gives me a either a Glenfiddich single malt or a Bill Bryson book, on alternate years, depending on her current assessment of what I need most that year: an upliftment of the spirits or of the sense of humour, respectively. My sons pool their resources to give me something that would keep me occupied for at least four hours everyday: last year it was a new Savings Account in State Bank of India, something I would strongly recommend for all retired persons with time on their hands: it takes roughly four hours of strenuous effort daily for about a month to change your address, and you will have had a second reincarnation before they change your mobile number. Don’t even think of withdrawing whatever little money Mr. Modi, Mr. Jaitley et al have left there. (Believe me, I’ve tried all three). This year my sons have already given me my first smart phone and boy! does it keep me occupied – I usually take a photo first thing every morning and spend the rest of the day trying to find it in the album or photo gallery or the cloud or wherever it disappears. My strike rate is like that of the Congress in the 2015 UP elections, but like Rahul Gandhi I’m not giving up. Neerja (the wife of 41 years) doesn’t have to give me anything: she’s already gifted me almost two thirds of her life and I’ve made a mess of most of it, so I can’t really ask for anything more, can I ?

That leaves only the government. The last gift it gave me was eight years ago when it allowed me to retire in peace, without either charge-sheeting me or withholding my pension. So now I’ve been thinking of asking the government for a gift this year, and, in keeping with the “zeitgeist” of the day, what I want it to do is to name Kanpur, the town from where I come (albeit reluctantly), after the Shuklas – rename it Shuklanagar or Shuklapur. After all, if the Marathas can have a Marathwada and Nirav Modi can have a Modinagar and the Agarwals can demand that Agra be named after them, and Mirzapur is likely to be rechristened Mishrapur, why can the Shuklas not have a city named after them ? Since the flavour of the day is the “gotra” I can proudly claim that the Shuklas have a strong case, descended as we are from one of the original seven rishis – Bharadwaj rishi. We were the ones who rowed Bhagwan Ram across the Saryu river in his exile, long before there was any Inland Waterway or flying boats to help with the crossing. And since nationalism is the other Chef’s Special these days, let me inform the unwary reader that the Shuklas are also firmly embedded in the fight for the freedom of Bharat. We roundly supported Mangal Pande, the leader of the First war of Independence in 1857; although I myself was too young to have taken part in that glorious carnage, members of my gotra died in the hundreds to create a country in which in later times the Vijay Malyas, the Reddy brothers and Baba Ram Rahims could flourish. And, to top it all, I’m married to a Pande! So how about it, Adithyanathji? If your only hesitation is that you only rename places which have an existing Muslim name, then perhaps a little digging might reveal that Kanpur may have been Khanpur in the hoary past and thus qualifies for your evangelical renaming crusade? It’s astounding what dedicated digging can turn up, you know.

But I also have a plan B, just in case Yogiji is too occupied with election rallies to pay heed. See, I wish nothing for myself, in the tradition set by our “Mukhya sevak”: if not my gotra, then how about my professional class, the IAS ? I feel a statue of a bureaucrat would make a good gif t- the Anonymous Bureaucrat (you never get to know which bureaucrat has bungled up on that last defence deal), on the lines of the Unknown Soldier. This would be the perfect way of remembering, in future years, a service that has served the nation well, and itself even better. And the statue would also be timely, because the IAS itself is highly endangered, like the wild asses of Kutch, and may not be around much longer. Given the huge numbers in which its members are joining political parties just before elections, it shall very soon be absorbed by the BJP, the Observer Research Foundation, or the Vivekananda Foundation, and cease to exist. So a statue, slightly bent at the waist, with the Conduct Rules in one hand and a red light in the other, would remind future generations of how higher species can evolve into lower ones, quite against the laws of Darwin and of nature. I am acutely aware, however, that there shall be very stiff competition in this department. I read on Whatsapp recently that a petition is doing the rounds demanding that a 100 meter statue of Sunny Leone should be erected (is that the right word?) near Bangalore. I’m told that the demand is based on the fact that she is responsible for India Rising (at least the male half) and for her contribution to the Happiness Index, especially after demonetisation when the only libido left standing (is that the right word?) was that of Mr. Jaitley. But there would be two major issues with building a statue for her, and they give me hope. One, it normally takes at least one battalion of armed police to protect her five feet seven inches frame from the attentions of her male admirers who suddenly discover that Braille is the only language in which they can converse with her. Can you then imagine what would happen if there were 100 meters of her, her magnified curves overhead stretching all the way up like a stairway to heaven? The govt. would have to withdraw at least two full army divisions from the western front to protect her statue, and who would then protect our Pakistan border from the IEDs of Mr. Navjot Singh Siddhu ? Secondly, the DGCA (Director General Civil Aviation) too would have a major problem on its hands. Every plane within a radius of 500 miles of her statue would be requesting their ATCs for a course diversion so that their testosterone driven pilots could have a glimpse of her before they crash into the Sentinel islands yelling “Hallelujah!” And don’t forget those hang gliders – they can land on anything.

So I still retain some hope that we may yet be immortalised with a statue on the Shimla ridge or Shuklanagar. Of course, the pigeons and their dive bombing tactics will pose a slight problem (be you ever so high the pigeons will always be above you, to misquote our very own Supreme Quote – sorry, Supreme Court), but at the end of the day I’m a realist and accept the fact that some days you will be the statue and some days you will be the pigeon. I’m sure Sardar Patel already realises this, notwithstanding Ms Spandana’s quip, and hopefully Mr. Modi also will – on 11th December ?

Happy birthday to me, folks, if I say so myself!

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

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1 Comment

  1. says: Kenny Chauhan

    Too good, a write up. It has fun, satire and truth in it. And above all, it has creativity at its best!
    Keep up the good work, Sir.

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