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Thursday, July 29, 2021

When it comes to Karkare Uncle, the political is personal

When everybody else was more interested in sensational gossip, you could count on Karkare Uncle to keep things staid. It was that soothing presence which made him an indispensable member of our otherwise chaotic lives.

Written by Naman Pugalia | New Delhi |
Updated: April 20, 2019 10:00:56 pm
The last memory of Karkare Uncle I have is, unfortunately, one when he was tormented by a dilemma – to continue serving in the IPS or to take up a lucrative offer. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

This is not an obituary. It is a reminder of some of the virtues that Hemant Karkare personified. A lament, if you will, of all that is at dire risk of being overwritten. So here they are, a few hazy memories of a mentor I sorely miss.

My earliest memory of Karkare Uncle is a soft, inaudible voice I had to contend with on the phone as it enquired whether either of my parents were at home. The call had three parts to it: a greeting, the query and an introduction. No matter where he called from, Mumbai, Karachi or Vienna, the opening remarks never changed. When I entered my teenage years, questions about my activities (both academic and extra-curricular) were the fourth dimension to the call.

He was sterile in his conversation, not just on the phone but even in person; not only when he simply called to enquire about everybody’s wellbeing but also when he would join us for occasions. When everybody else was more interested in sensational gossip, you could count on Karkare Uncle to keep things staid. It was that soothing presence which made him an indispensable member of our otherwise chaotic lives.

While in middle school and tormented by that dilemma of having to choose between science and commerce, we happened to share the predicament with Karkare Uncle. Given as he was to subtlety, he was not going to offer a pointed parental response, even if he had the clarity we craved. He heard us out before suggesting that we grab a south Indian dinner at Sagar Ratna in New Delhi – one of his favourite things to do whenever he was in the capital.

A few months later, he came visiting with a gift. It was an electronic circuit board game which he helped me play with. Little did I realise that in this thoughtful gesture was his answer to my science/commerce quandary! I loved the circuitry. The impasse had evaporated. When the time came to pick between subjects, the decision had already been made.

A few years later, when the time came to think about pursuing a western higher education vis-à-vis an Indian one, among a handful of people who were sounded out was Karkare Uncle. The timing of this question too, true to middle class anxiety, was excessively premature. It was a few years before we should have gotten worked up, when the modalities were not even in the consideration set. In yet another Karkaresque move, a few weeks later, during our transit from the residence to, where else but, Sagar Ratna, he spoke to me about the need to enhance one’s vocabulary by making certain kinds of reading choices. While I registered the advice immediately, the significance of it only dawned on me many years later while preparing for the SAT – that steep logical reasoning based test Indian high school students are woefully underprepared for! If it wasn’t for his early intervention, my SAT score would have been worse.

The last memory of Karkare Uncle I have is, unfortunately, one when he was tormented by a dilemma – to continue serving in the IPS or to take up a lucrative offer from one of India’s leading conglomerates to head their security apparatus. He was in a place where I had always been with respect to him – that of having to make a decision. I was useless though, just around as a pained observer. He consulted my father on the matter and after days of conversing decided that for somebody with his temperament and dare-I-say, patriotism, he was better off continuing in the services. Returning to the private sector would betray why he had transitioned to the services in the first place. I often indulge in the now pointless prognosis of what could have been if he had chosen otherwise. He, however, was made of sterner stuff – once he made the call, he never looked back even when beleaguered by the infamous factionalism in Mumbai Police which officers like him were never participants in but invariably casualties of.

His last assignment – that of being the Chief of the Anti-Terrorism Squad – was always going to be tricky affair for a man who was more professor, less cop. It was the ultimate paradox – a benevolent being having to deal with odious misdeeds. When the time came to deal with the irony, he treaded the only path he knew – that of steadfastness and sincerity. With immense courage and professionalism he pored over the evidence and did his bit. Since he never discussed the particulars of his work outside the workplace, we don’t know what the nature of his agony was but having pieced together anecdotes from common friends he interacted with, we know this much – he was under severe pressure. From who and for what reason is something we may never know.

The news of his martyrdom came to me many miles away when I was following the 26/11 events live on a domestic flight in the US. Distance tends to accelerate the stages of grief one must go through. Once I recovered, I archived these memories of Karkare Uncle. I never planned on penning them down but what transpired over the past couple of days didn’t leave me with a choice. Even if there was a dilemma, he isn’t around to help me through it.

My hope with this note is that when some people speak about Karkare Uncle’s traits posthumously, others have this version to evaluate him against. More than ever before, I miss him now.

 

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