His face gleamed with a thin sheen of sweat. Behind him was a wall, green-painted, with a crack running diagonally up to one corner. I remember that wall, that room. Or its twin. The camera did not move from the BDO’s face, but I know that just outside the camera frame there is a warped wooden window with bars across it, and somewhere above that window there lurks a fat gecko. A foot from the ceiling is a concrete shelf piled with old registers, receipt-books, booklets on seed-kits and polio eradication, a small trunk once used for cash, two mysterious polythene bags slick with some kind of grease, and a set of tubes and iron thingies that were apparently part of a tube-well assembly.
I know those rooms. I used to hate them. The smell of damp would mingle with the smell of sweat and the smell of hopelessness as I fought to stay awake through one futile meeting after another. That was when I started smoking, each carefully-spaced cigarette a milestone, something to alleviate the stupefying monotony of the working day. The setting sun would bring fat Murmu with his jeep, a promise of deliverance that speeded up my ‘disposal of files’. Sometimes the lights would go off as evening fell. Then ego would battle with irritation – should I clear the whole damn bunch while mosquitoes pinged in my ears and sweat trickled uneasily inside my shirt? Or should I ride off in the jeep with one foot out on the running-board to catch the breeze, leaving the files to moulder till the next day?
For the first few kilometres of the homeward journey we would rush down the tunnel of the jeep’s headlights. Far out beyond the silent dark of the fields there would be scattered lights, marking houses and huts where unknown families blew conch-shells for the evening prayer or gathered round a flickering television. But the road itself would be dark until we reached the highway. Once across the highway, the station road was crowded and lit almost to the point of brightness. At the station I would lounge in the jump-seat or potter around buying fruit, perhaps smoke my last cigarette of the day while I waited for the Better Half to appear, one of the hundred-odd dark shapes streaming off the 7:10 from the city.
Years later, there would be other rooms, other drives, other days meandering into tired sticky evenings that itched under the skin. There would be others in the BDO's chair, some young and earnest, some old and secure in the knowledge of their own limited options. I like to think that the memories of my three months as BDO shaped my interactions with them. I hope the pity did not show.