The Masks

Telugu: RS Krishna Moorthy


[In a corrupt society, no institution stands by its values it so glaringly professes on its websites and no individual lives by the values he announces to live by. When personal interests take precedence over collective interests, every decision, every law, and every measure initiated by society shall be evaluated in terms of our own gain or loss. A society no longer remains a society when its members break the basic fabric of compliance for personal gain. A society can stand any loss but not the loss of faith of its subjects about its administration of justice.  

Mr. RS Krishna Moorthy (1939-2001) held key positions in the two government undertakings Bhilai Steel Plant and Ferro Scrap Nigam limited, and other private sector organizations for over forty years and his keen auditor’s eye observed many frailties of people at helm of affairs from close quarters. ]


Raghupathi woke up with a start. The room was pitch dark. Raghupathi never slept with light on. He groped for the bedside switch and switched it on. The room was suddenly lit up, driving out  his fears more than the darkness. Nonetheless, he noticed his hands trembling. He was sweating profusely.

“Oh! God!… these cursed nightmares! They are haunting me… how can I get rid of them?” he thought, putting out the light.

No matter whether he closed his eyes, or kept them wide open in the pervading darkness, the masks appeared instantly. They were in large numbers. Each of them indulged in unsolicited counselling, taunting, cajoling, and chiding. He detested their manner, their approach, and their counsel. In fact, he disliked everything they did. He knew that they were all intelligent and sensitive but was not so sure if they were sensible. They harangued about worldly wisdom, but none of them displayed any strength of character. They were all self-centered about their responsibilities and duty towards their family and its future. They lifted him in their hands escorting him to uncharted shores… happier and well-to-do, luxurious and with vibrant life he had only heard of before. The masks attired differently… one like the Chairman of his company, a few others like Directors and the senior executives, and some others like the Inquiry Authority and Presenting (or prosecuting) Officer. One mask carried a rope with a noose, smiling wildly at him. Rest of the masks encircled him… throwing accusing fingers and calling for his blood. Yet others tried to pull the chair beneath to grab and occupy it. Some masks looked alien, but some were familiar, and some of them even more familiar. Yet, he could not identify a single one among them which was pulling down his house and driving his wife and children out of it. His old mother was crying pitifully for help as his children and neighbors stood helpless. All his importune cries fell on deaf ears unfortunately.

A mask approached him with a large size saw with sharp polished teeth and warned repeatedly: “Fall in line… else, … fall in line… else, …”

He was adamant and shouted at it, “No! A definite and emphatic no! I cannot betray trust and my allegiance to my institution. I cannot give up moral and ethical values for ephemeral material gains.”

“So be it! We shall see. We are going to crush you. We will tear you to pieces…”

The mask with the saw approached him with menacing looks. Four other masks advanced along with it and held his legs and body tight. He was sawed and blood streamed out like molten lava …

The masks lay suspended in the air and were all threatening him again and again in chorus.

“Fall in line… fall in line… or else you will be crushed. You will ruin your own family and children… Fall in line… fall in line.”

“No!” he shouted at the highest pitch of his voice when he suddenly woke up. His wife too got up with marks of fright clearly visible on her face.

“What? What happened? Why are you shivering? You haven’t slept cool for a fortnight now. Nor have you eaten food properly. What bad luck had befallen us? Calm yourself.”


They broke his sleep two weeks ago suddenly. That was the day when he was shown the door and thrown into the doghouse… Le coup de (pied de) l’ane. His colleagues’ response appeared rather strange to Raghupathi. None of them appeared his original self but wore masks just echoing their master’s voice. They echoed the language of sympathy and compassion, but their natural faces reflected the exact opposite of it. They rejoiced at his plight, felt happy for his dismissal as ‘good riddance,’ and might have even celebrated the occasion.

It had its seeds sown three months before.

“There is nothing wrong or unethical about it. Everyone indulges in it; it’s just a reward for just service. Aren’t we here to render service for which we are paid?” some visitors tried to persuade him.

“You don’t have to worry. There is not even the slightest risk in it. We have tied up everyone in the hierarchy. The whole thing is very safe,” they assured Raghupathi informing him that everyone from bottom upwards were involved in it.

“This is no evil. In fact, these words… good and bad, virtue and vice, morals and ethics, honesty and dishonesty, and allegiance and betrayal… are all relative. They take different connotations depending upon the circumstances, context, and the person. What is evil for one might turn out to be a virtue with another. Don’t be under the wrong impression that what you think good shall ultimately prevail. No. Truth and good never prevailed to mitigate wrong or evil. It happens only in fiction … not in real life. Yes, it never happened before, nor will it happen anytime in the future. Think pragmatic and act pragmatic.”

“I have my own principles and ethics; I work according to them. I don’t blame either you or anyone for its consequences. I have my avowed allegiance to my corporation and cannot do something that adversely affects its interests,” he replied firmly.

“Corporation? And allegiance? A corporate body, as you might be aware, is but a legal fiction. A fiction created by the intelligent to have their way… to bake the cake and eat it too. It has no eyes, no ears, and no brain. Those that conduct its affairs constitute its eyes, ears, brain, and everything. Their decisions are the corporate’s decisions; their directives are the directives of the corporate entity, with a minor difference, though. The corporate losses are not their losses but their gains… shared with others of course! Why subject yourself to this dilemma when those at the helm of the affairs direct you to do the way they want you?”


His pertinacious refusal, his belief in values, and his faith in the right prevailing over evil, in fact, his basic philosophy in life had been put to the severe test. He firmly stood his ground without the slightest quiver.

Charges were framed against him … for an imaginary neglect of duty, for some dishonesty that he had never committed, and for betraying the trust imposed in him and for acting in a manner unbecoming of an officer of his status.

The Inquiring Authority conducted his inquiry and gave a report without looking at the facts or following the principles of natural justice which his company so proudly advocates. The company had dismissed him from service. He had great faith in the judiciary that it would stand by its motto: ‘to ensure that no single innocent person is convicted even if a hundred culprits were let off.’  But alas! Justice lay buried under the debris of volumes of documentary evidence fabricated, the depositions of witnesses echoing their master’s voice, misinterpretations and convolution of facts and arguments of the respondents, counsels, and, to cap them all, the compromise of his own counsel, renowned for securing justice for everyone who sought for it.


Murthy Nauduri

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