It was way back in the year 1978 that I had taken admission for my post-graduation in the JNU, New Delhi with the dual purpose to prepare for the Civil Services Examinations. However, I'd applied for the SSC Examination before the JNU admission and appeared at it while in the JNU without any preparation, just for the heck of it! I had no intention to join the service if selected for the obvious reasons - having higher aims but when the results came out and I was selected, I was in two minds whether to join the service or ignore it. Finally, on the advice of my well-wishers in the JNU that I could prepare for my Civil Services Examinations in Bombay (now Mumbai) also, I joined the then Bombay Customs Preventive Service as a Preventive Officer (PO) in the New Custom House in the beginning of the year 1980 and worked there till I retired as Assistant Commissioner of Customs (AC) in the year 2015 from the Preventive Commissionerate of Mumbai Customs after a glorious service of thirty-five years. I was from the second batch of the Subordinate Services Commission (SSC) and had been allotted Mumbai Customs as per my performance and preference. I can't call myself a super sleuth by any stretch of imagination although I've spent a major part of my service in the Rummaging and Intelligence (R&I) Wing of the Preventive Commissionerate and the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) of the Mumbai Airport Commissionerate - both in striking and non-striking units. However, certain indelible memories of the preventive service have remained stuck with me and would eventually find a place in my articles in some upcoming books/ebooks of anthology on similar topics. For your information, so far I've contributed in thirteen books of anthology, the recent one being a flip book released as late as a month ago! My experiences in the department have found mention in a few of them and here below I would try to recollect my initial days in the department especially the ordeals that I had to face as a newcomer and thus, fulfill my promise to the PCC (Principal Chief Commissioner's) office to contribute my article for a noble cause initiated by the Department of Pension and Pensioners' Welfare, and eventually, put into action by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes (CBIC), formerly known as the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) of which I have been an integral part for more than four decades albeit now only notionally after retirement!
At my age (I'm nearing sixty-eight), I'm not supposed to recollect everything so vividly but certain things leave a deep and lasting impression on you that would go only with your final departure from this mortal world; like the meagre facilities that we had in the early eighties when due to a shortage of staff, we had to work at the vehicular traffic gates of the docks from 9 am to 6 pm and again from 6 pm to MN (midnight) at the adjacent pedestrian gates. A tough work routine that we had to follow and endure. Just visualise the scenario! Get up early in the morning (4am) and be ready in half an hour, rush to the railway station in a bus or an auto to catch a local train, get down at the station nearest to your place of posting and rush towards it covering the whole stretch of the road on foot or in a bus or a taxi as the case may be, to reach in time - well before the pedestrian gates open! Once the pedestrian gate is closed at the stroke of midnight, you have to rush back to the station, catch one of the the last few trains and and come back to your rented accommodation or government quarters at around 1.30 am or even later than that in the night! By the time you go to bed, it's already 2 O'clock. Fortunately for you, if you have a night duty the next day, you can sleep to your heart's content but if you have a day duty, you have to curtail your sleeping hours and rush back to the PSO (Preventive Service Office) for escort duty or any other place of posting as per the daily postings released by the PSO every evening. You have to check on phone or in person about your next day's posting everyday. So, with no Sundays or holidays for you as such, your life is full of uncertainties and ambiguity while posted for floating duty that lasted in my case the initial three to four years of my service. My ambition to get a better job by appearing at the UPSC examinations evaporated in such circumstances as I could never get time to study to prepare for such difficult examinations. However, to be frank with you, despite many odds seemingly stacked against me, I had started loving my job especially my uniform with epaulets having the prestigious Ashoka symbol and golden stripes which gave me a good feeling and a special status in the society!
I still remember the night when I was returning from my work place at midnight after a fifteen hours' continuous hard duty and was feeling tired and exhausted so much so that I fell asleep in the train and came fully awake only when the train screeched to a halt at its final destination! There was no train available to come back to my usual station and I could see the ruffians loitering on the platforms. I had no option but to sit on a bench outside the Station Master's office with my office bag firmly in my grip and close to my chest, and spend the whole night at the station. I took the first train available in the morning to get back to my station. Luckily for me, I had a night duty next day! So, I slept the whole day after getting refreshed caring least for my lunch. Had it been a day duty, I had to endure further humiliation if I dared to bunk even on genuine grounds! Bunking from duty or informing the PSO telephonically about our inability to attend duty was perceived as a blasphemy and penal action initiated in the form of punishment postings, memos etc. that were naturally dreaded by all especially those comparatively new in the department and having no 'Mai-baap' in the form of a senior to protect their interests!
While working in the field as an intelligence officer, I had a horrible experience of both the vehicles and their drivers. Most of the drivers had come from the Rehabilitation department which had been closed permanently for some reason and their staff accommodated in other departments. The Customs had got a fare share of the drivers from that department. Ironically, they had experience in driving mostly bulldozers and imagine our fear and apprehension when while patrolling the bunder areas, they drove the customs vehicles on the sea wharf on a slippery road in a rainy season! We used to hold an umbrella over our heads while sitting in the vehicles as usually, the vehicles were in a pathetic condition with their overhead covers made of tarpaulin mostly torn with hardly any scope for escape from the rains for its occupants. We kept praying for the safety of our lives! There was always a possibility of the vehicles 'diving' into the sea water thanks to the inept and careless drivers, and ending all our worries and mental agony! However, some of the drivers were nice and we felt safe when they drove our office vehicles for patrolling or other duties.
Despite living in a city like Mumbai for more than four decades and working in a department like the Customs for thirty-five years, I've managed to remain a teetotaller and a non-smoker thanks to perhaps my upbringing and I can't bear the company of someone with these habits! Imagine my plight when somebody driving my official vehicle is half-drunk and stinking with gutkha chewing! I complained to the authorities concerned in the CHS (Customs House Superintendent) office many times but to no avail. Addiction to drinking is something that can't be dealt with easily and despite penal action and suspension, the practice went on unabated! It's not only the drivers but staff members in other cadres too who freely indulged themselves in such addictive enjoyments. I felt like "an odd man out" in the department and couldn't possibly integrate and jell with my colleagues the way I should have done otherwise.
As the days, months and years passed by, things started improving to our relief and now as I've heard and found there's a sea change in the scenario whether it be the issue of improvement in the facilities provided by the department, increase in the staff strength, availability of well maintained vehicles for official duty, nice behaviour of the staff members and higher authorities or congenial work environment. The problems of both vehicles and drivers have ended to some extent as now the department is hiring vehicles on a contract basis. With the advent and easy availability of modern gadgets like pagers and then, mobiles, tablets and laptops, life has become easier unlike in our earlier days when for even a phone call to enquire about the posting the next day to the PSO or White Gate, Main Gate or Red Gate where a copy of the daily posting was kept, we had to go out of the house for a PCO or a shop with a paid phone facility. Imagine our difficulties those days in carrying out our duty and compare them with today's facilities and you'll definitely realise the vast differences and visualise our pathetic conditions. At times, I had thought of leaving the department like a few others of my batch who quit but I resisted the temptation and waited patiently for the things to change for the better. My patience and perseverance paid off finally! Now I must say I don't regret having joined the department discarding other central government job offers that I received after my success in the UPSC conducted Assistants' Grade Examinations, and I'm happy I worked here successfully till my retirement with a continuous service of three and a half decades. It has given me everything one can aspire to have whether it be financial stability to some extent, social status, brilliant educational performance of my children or their placements in reputed organisations in good positions or their successful married lives. I owe it all to the department I worked for with integrity and devotion despite many odds that I faced in the beginning and I thank God for showing me the right path that enabled me to retire peacefully with not even a single blot on my unblemished career. I thank everyone who helped me realise my potential and do my work honestly, and now it's time to say three cheers for my department - the provider of my bread and butter even after retirement in the form of a handsome pension!