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V. Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

It’s time to remember the late Majeedullah

Flowering trees remind me of Sayyed Majeedullah, who was Maharashtra police chief from 1965 to 1968

Late V.S. Khandekar, Jnanpith Award winner, speaking at inauguration of Sangli Police HQ in 1969. On his right is the columnist.

To me the beginning of May is the best season in Mumbai despite many reasons to complain: the city reminds us of post World War II Berlin with all its roads and sidewalks ripped open. Each utility department vies with the other in digging. Roads are concreted using ancient technology, resulting in weeks of traffic blocks, instead of modern and cheaper methods like pre-cast concrete pavement systems (PCPS) made offsite. Jobless migrants from other states carelessly dig up the sidewalks, leaving mud all around for weeks. When the rains come, roadsides turn into muddy pools. Ministers and municipal bureaucrats do not care since they travel in chauffer driven cars. The proverbial lack of coordination between the municipality and our traffic police makes driving a nightmare with sudden road closures and diversions.

These are partly recompensed for a retired person like me who does not have to commute too much. The whole city is covered with a canopy of flowers in May. Each tree shows off its majestic flowers: bougainvilleas and gulmohurs in different shades, laburnum and palas trees all over Marine Drive and franjipani on Madame Cama Road. Mornings are cool and pleasant with cuckoos heralding rains. There are two majestic banyan trees with prop roots in my neighbourhood, one in the adjacent Judges' Colony and the other by the side of the Trident Hotel, which was vandalised by terrorists. Their grandeur can be enjoyed only if you are not in a hurry, which is perhaps possible during morning walks. In fact, Mumbai has turned greener than 30 years ago. In the 1970s we used to see bald patches on the side of Malabar Hill facing the Marine Drive. Now it is lush green. Practically every road has a canopy of shady trees.

Flowering trees remind me of the late Sayyed Majeedullah, who was Maharashtra police chief between 1965 and 1968. The old Bombay senior police cadre was known to have stiff and unfriendly police bosses, who expected implicit and unquestioned obedience. Majeedullah was no exception. His juniors found him stiff and aloof. We had to measure our words while talking to him. The junior could not cross his legs while facing him. That was considered as indiscipline. Few knew that he was endowed with much finer qualities. He was an excellent painter who did not use his police subordinates to sell his paintings like one recent case when a police chief allegedly used police stations for selling his books. Another quality was his ability in planning pleasing urban housing layouts using traditional and modern designs with ample consideration for ecology and environment, which was seldom known in the 1960s.

In 1965, I was posted as Superintendent of Police, Sangli district where a new police headquarters, office buildings and 300 constables' houses were approved. Majeedullah rejected the state PWD's drab layout and building designs. He himself drew the road and building plans. He also asked me to plant tree saplings on all the inner roads. In fact he chose what tree should be on each avenue. That was the first time I had ever heard of acacia, laburnum, rain tree and several other names. Having planted nearly 700 saplings, the problem was how to protect them from the vagaries of nature and wandering goats. I thought of an innovative solution of entrusting one constable to look after two saplings by displaying their names around tree guards. This worked, each sapling was watered and looked after.

The police headquarters was inaugurated early in 1969 with the formal dedication of our cultural hall in the memory of the famous Marathi playwright Govind Ballal Deval (1855-1916), whose dilapidated farmhouse was acquired for building our premises. The chief guest was another Marathi literary giant from Sangli, Jnanpith Award winner Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar, author of Yayati, who passed away in 1976.

I was transferred away from Sangli in 1969 and could not go back there till 1998, well after my retirement, to see how my saplings had grown. That was the happiest moment in my life. Each sapling had grown into a majestic shady tree. I am sure each must be displaying different flowers in the season — what better tribute to the late Majeedullah's foresight and sense of natural beauty.

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