Priyabrata Patnaik: Astute Bureaucrat, Officer & Hero

The truth is that he bridged the gap between statutory labyrinths and common, human needs. People flocked to him because he could do the impossible – any work, anywhere. This attempt to make everyone’s problem, his problem, made his world much larger and expansive than the rest.

While the rest cocooned themselves in the aloofness of ‘babudom’, he ventured out and touched everyone. He wandered looking restlessly for reciprocation of the same outreach, if not more. Hardly any officer, without being in mainstream politics, would be so dearly remembered across the cross-section – students, start-up promoters, musicians, actors, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, habitual favour seekers, fair-weather friends, adoring seniors, industrialists, well-heeled charmed circles, sportspersons, needy artists and all. That is why Priyabrata Patnaik was Tullu Bhai and not Tullu Babu.

I knew him since the 80’s, closely interacting and observing the flame that had the brightness, the impulsiveness and the passion to sweep everything that came its way and many times even beyond.

The flamboyance quite obviously defied the self-righteous majority but eventually engulfed them. Many would remember not crediting Patnaik in public but canoodling to him in private. Many cases flash before me, when I am writing this.

He was the hero, many wanted to be but could never be. Many
in service wish they were as popular as Patnaik or influential as him, but they could never reach there because they failed to be as selfless as he was.

Selfless in his abhorrence to stay away and stay preserved in the perks and power of an invincible job. Because he was much more than his title. Others struggled to decipher him, when he knew himself like no one ever did. Hence the legendary resolute and the anecdotes of his glorious tenures in different districts and departments.

Patnaik was not meant to be bracketed. That is why, being one of the brightest ever in Odisha cadre, he was loved as Tullu Bhai and much less as Tullu Babu. Out-of-the-box thinking, unorthodox belief, intuitive, he had the gumption to stand up for the public, even while serving in the bureaucracy. Not many would ever experience such fan following and not many would ever fathom such schism-less magnanimity. A true-blooded civil servant and a super-sensitive human being, the blend of guts and intellect made him an idol for many, even in his own batch.

It was not surprising to find him sometimes surrounded by time servers and sponges, living off their proximity to him. Patnaik belonged to everyone, every age group and type. He was in this world to make lives and times easier with his generous, public-spirited help. But we could have given him time to breathe and be his own. He was supposed to take in much more oxygen, much more romance, and emit much more of his limitless energy.

He is a tribute to our better nature. He was a hero who was an officer. He is a flame unextinguished.

It was one February evening when we last discussed Rumi. Waiting to hear from you in the evening, କେବେ ଆସିଲ?

Does the evening really end?

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