Posted on | May 21, 2012 | 30 Comments
On the 19th of May at 5:10PM, Maloy Krishna Dhar, bestselling author, widely regarded strategic expert and commentator, highly decorated police and intelligence officer, and yes, my father, passed away after a month long battle that began with a stroke and was compounded by renal and multi-organ failure. I was with him through all those days and at the end. It is perhaps the way of the world that we spread our wings and go far from our roots, but the one comfort I have is that I was able to be with him, to talk to him, to remind him of all he has done for us, and to thank him for all he has taught me. Most of all, I was able to tell him what I had never told him- of just how remarkable his journey in life has been, and of just how proud I feel to be his son.
Many people take such occasions to mourn and cry. I feel the pain, having now lost both my parents, but Maloy Krishna Dhar is not a man to be mourned and cried over. His life is one to be celebrated and learned from. Dying is a biological inevitability, but what matters is what one does with the time one is allotted. On that count, my father led a life so full and so eventful that his life itself could make for a bestselling book like the ones he authored.
He began his life on July 13, 1939 in Mymensingh, now in Bangladesh, and had very happy memories of his childhood. Those were however soon clouded when his father passes away when he was but a child, and the Partition of the Indian subcontinent rent apart the world he knew. In his book Train to India, he recounts how he and his mother had come to India on a train amidst the communal carnage, him carrying a small pocketknife in his attempt to protect his mother from the marauding mobs. He saw the worst of man, saw people being killed in front of him at such a tender age, and arrived in India without much to his name. Many people in his position could have, and indeed did, settle for what they assumed to be their lot- harbouring hatred from the bloodshed they saw, and settling for whatever meager opportunities came their way. That was not the path Maloy chose. He escaped his harsh surroundings, not physically at first, but through his quest for knowledge, realizing that an education was the way he could create a better life for himself and his mother. His love for learning and letters was apparent in what he chose to learn- he studied Comparative Literature in College, and would later tell me that reading classics from other lands opened his mind and inspired him to raise his own game. He started his working life as a journalist, and could certainly have had a comfortable life compared to his childhood, but once again, Maloy made the leap that very few others in his position would have. He appeared for the elite Indian Civil Services Examination and was selected into the Indian Police Service in 1964.
His early years, spent in Naxal infested areas in East India (an issue we grapple with today, and on which he had very insightful views) brought out many aspects of his remarkable character. One, he was absolutely fearless. Many people try and judge what position or point of view will bring them advantage. Maloy had a simple inner compass of right and wrong, and would be guided by it, no matter the consequences. My late maternal grandfather, himself a senior Police officer, would tell me stories of how he saw the early career of his to be son-in-law with a mixture of dread and undisguised admiration. Maloy was the kind of man who once got into a jeep with a driver, and went after a man-eating tiger that had come loose in the plantations. He once cornered and shot a dreaded outlaw whom other officers would not touch because of his political connections. When asked by others whether he realized what he had done, he said, `I shot the bastard.’ That is the kind of man Maloy was. Second, for all his hard and uncompromising exterior, he was a man of deep perception. Despite his mandate being to stamp out Naxalites, he took the time to understand their root causes and understood and empathized with why many of them chose the route they did.
His next stage of his career took him into an arena where he was to excel for almost 30 years. He was appointed to the Intelligence Bureau, the Indian equivalent of the American FBI, though with some of the external mandates the CIA has. His early years there, with a newly married wife and young kids were in the troubled North-East of India, including Nagaland, where I was born. That region at that time was seeing a violent insurgency against Indian rule, and Maloy faced the challenge as he did every other challenge in his life- with no fear, and with the greatest of empathy. That combination made him life-long friends among those who could have been enemies. He did not talk much about his work, but growing up in Delhi, I would meet visitors from Nagaland and Manipur who would tell me that Maloy was the first and perhaps only government officer they trusted. He would always play it straight, never try and manipulate them and what endeared him to them was the fact that he was utterly without fear. I remember a story of how he once supposedly went into a village known to harbor insurgents, alone and with only his personal sidearm, and drank the local brew with the headman, trying to understand why they were supporting them, and how he could help act as a bridge to end the violence.
As I was growing up, my father’s work often played at the center stage of some of the turbulent times in India’s history, though often I was too young at that time to realize what was happening. He handled the terrorism desk for years, handling the Khalistan separatist movement, and later the Pakistan sponsored terror in Kashmir and beyond. Again, it is amazing the respect he garnered through his approach to work and life. As he lay critically ill, one of the calls I got was from a man who was once a Khalistani separatist and later joined the mainstream political process. He told me about how many people in Punjab would miss him terribly, because in the midst of a terrible crisis with excesses committed on both sides, he was a rare officer. A man who was willing to listen and empathize without shooting first, yet also a man without fear. One story of my father’s from this period, which he recounted later in one of his books, was of the terror siege at the Golden Temple that came to known as Operation Black Thunder. He pleaded to not deploy crushing force that would have led to high collateral damage but instead had trusted men on the inside whom he wanted to supply. As a senior IPS officer, he could have delegated the terribly dangerous task, but he dressed up as a fruit seller, with a basket of fruit on his head concealing weapons and walked into a complex with hundreds of heavily armed terrorists to get the weapons to his men.
The twilight of his career was mirrored by personal tragedy as my mother, Sunanda, was diagnosed with Cancer and passed away in 2001 after a five-year battle. Maloy stood by her, shared her pain and her triumphs. He had once told me that my mother had been his first and only love. He perhaps never really recovered from her loss and today; my one consolation is that the two of them are reunited. For a man whom many saw as a hard-nosed officer, he kept every single letter my mother wrote to him and left them for me in a large bundle, with instructions to burn with him at his cremation. He loved as he lived, fully and sparing nothing of himself.
In his final days in service, his inner compass and values were tested as perhaps never before. In investigating the espionage case affecting India’s Space Programme, he had leads pointing in uncomfortable directions for the powers that be. He was under huge pressure to ignore the evidence, and since I was grown up, he explained the situation to me along with my mother, and told me that `Son, I may suffer and you and your mother may also have some inconvenience, but I cannot do what is not right.’ He persisted, faced a lot of pressure and retired one step shy of the top job in the Intelligence Bureau, but never buckled under the pressure he faced or recanted the evidence he had. A lot of it he later wrote about in his books. Interestingly enough, nobody has come forth to challenge those facts.
With his career ending on a bitter-sweet note, and devastated by the death of my mother, Maloy could have settled for the retirement that most other senior officers do. Evenings at clubs, meet old friends, try and wrangle for some government junket. Instead he went back to his original love of literature and continued his fight for what he believed in by reinventing himself as a writer. His first novel, Bitter Harvest, chronicled the tough times he saw in Punjab during the insurgency and was highly praised for the sensitive portrayal of what common people went through, often tormented by policemen and terrorists alike. His biggest bestseller came in the from of Open Secrets- a first of its kind- a no-holds barred chronicle of his career as an Intelligence Officer, laying bare the political machinations that often prevent our forces from doing what is right. It sparked intense debate with its plea to free our intelligence services from their political masters and to truly empower them to serve and protect the people, not the politicians in power. It was as fearless a salvo, if not more, than the one he fired as a young officer to fell the politically connected outlaw. He laid out what he believed in, not hesitating to name names, and challenged those who disputed the facts to engage in debate. Suffice to say, nobody took him up on it. Open Secrets remained the #1 Non-Fiction bestseller in India for many months and still is regarded as a seminal work, the first of its kind in India. His later work covered other aspects of his work, some in fictional garb like Operation XXX, the story of a deep cover agent, We The People, a brutal expose of our electoral politics, and some that will act as a guidebook for future intelligence operatives such as his work on Intelligence Tradecraft.
He started his website, maloykrishnadhar.com, which I will maintain and continue, where he posted typically brutally incisive views on the state of our nation and politics. A man like him got respect from everyone, admiration from many, and brickbats from some who didn’t like his direct and uncompromising approach. He shrugged off all those brickbats and just kept doing and writing what he believed to be right and just. His expertise and views were widely sought after and we used to often joke about his celebrity status with new channels vying to interview him.
In his last years, his writing turned more introspective and he wrote Train to India, published by Penguin India, where he chronicled his early life and through the eyes of a young boy, the cataclysmic changes Bengal saw during and after Partition. He has an unfinished book on his computer, which I have promised that I will see through, an expose of the human trafficking that plagues the subcontinent, often with the active connivance of people in positions of power. Till he was conscious in hospital, his mind was sharp and active. He would ask me to send updates to his friends on Facebook, asking me if he could Facetime with Aadi (oh yes, that was another aspect of his reinvention- he was more tech savvy than most people a third his age) or Twitter. He was perhaps not the most demonstrative of men, but in his final days, as we often chatted, he told me that he was proud of the man I had become. Coming from my father, I needed no fancy prose or declarations of love- that was the ultimate accolade I could have ever hoped to earn- to be a fraction of the man he was.
73 years cannot be summed up in one note, and a man like my father cannot be reduced to one eulogy, but as a writer, perhaps this is the best tribute I can pay to him. When a man like him passes, I don’t want legions of crying and babbling people (no matter how good their intentions). In many ways, Maloy was a man born in the wrong century. His courage, his strict code of honour, his sense of what was right and wrong and acting on that irrespective of the cost or risk, would have made him right at home in the company of legendary warriors of yore like the Norsemen or Mongols. When one of their mighty warriors passed, people did not cry, but they celebrated their life, their battles won, and their legend lived on in song and in the heart of future generations. I was lucky to have been a part of his journey and his legend will live on in my heart and my words and in what I in turn pass on to my son.
Maloy Krishna Dhar wore many hats- journalist, policeman, spy, author, husband, father- but the simple summation of my father Maloy was that he was a real man- the sort we should all be lucky enough to have in our lives.
Goodbye, Baba. You are now with the love of your life, but your spirit and values continue to burn in me, and I will in my own way ensure that your legend lives on.
Mainak Dhar (Son)