You have been extraordinarily lucky if you have never fallen victim to some of the ignoble taunts of our honourable babus and babunis who are the custodians of our administration. It is unethical to paint all of them with the same brush and I refrain from doing so. We have been blessed with some gems among the bureaucrats. They are not only efficient and committed to their jobs, in their generous kindness, they go out of their way to ensure that your work sees the other end of the seemingly endlessly long bureaucratic tunnel. Others are different, but they will say that they have their reasons for being different. I have had some of the most delightful and cheering experiences in government offices and then I have had the most humiliating experiences at the hands of those who are gainfully employed to serve us in government offices.
I’ve grown old enough to stop wondering about why there is a sense of fear or even intimidation among many people when it comes to going to government offices. Some may not feel intimidated, but, all the same, I don’t know of anyone who looks forward to doing office work. Some people even hire ‘professional’ errand-boys/girls to “chase down their file” (whatever that means) from desk to desk in the government office. It is not easy to get any work done in offices without “connections” in the right places. There are a few thick-skinned, ever cheerful and highly social individuals who frequent government offices with an unfading smile on their faces and have a great track record of ‘chasing files’ through to the end.
Here is a list of four avoidable things “some” of the babus and babunis are irredeemably habituated to doing.
Procrastination – It is not hard to imagine a simple, timid person entering a government office, looking expectantly from desk to desk, clueless about who to approach and how to go about their business. And then, finally, some kind-hearted person at the desk says, “Who are you looking for?” (Not necessarily, Can I help you?). He goes to the desk and pleads for help. After looking at the papers momentarily, the answer comes, “Oh this is going to be a long process. So and so is absent today. Another ‘so and so’ is on long leave. I am busy with so many assignments. Do one thing, come tomorrow.”
A large chunk of many a life has been consumed by the Bermuda triangle of this elusive tomorrow. Maybe the babus and babunis are helpless themselves as the very system itself is so inept. However, if only office workers could resolutely make a New Year’s resolution this time to do their bit to avoid banishing their responsibilities into the trash bin of tomorrow, our bureaucratic pace and culture would have improved a bit. There have been experiences of some helpful ones somehow doing their bit without waiting for another day, and things did proceed faster. And I am not talking about some ‘mysterious files’ which run the entire course overnight, bypassing many a desk.
Loss of file: If you are an unlucky person destined to a delayed process, rest assured – your file will drop out of sight. We have often heard that some files are hidden deliberately for reasons best known to those who do it. There are a few office workers who are so good at the art of hiding files that they would put the magician graduates of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to shame. Some files go untraceable because of the callousness and carelessness of those who handle them. Given the winding process that files go through and the stacks of documents that must be collected, attested or obtained from various authorities, a file ‘going missing’ is a disaster. But how coldly we are told – “Your file is missing.” And when in utter discouragement the question is asked, “Now what should I do?” the answer comes without apology or shame, “Well, you will have to re-submit all your papers again and we will put it up”.
Side Talk: Some babus/babunis have the habit of chatting too much with their colleagues seated next to them. They open the file and keep talking about what they cooked in the morning, why their children did not want to go to school, what their spouse said, etc. The poor fellow submitting the file is subjected to the entire details of their unnecessary conversation. Some of them are so shameless that they actually stop working and divert their whole attention to their side talk. One time, I had to sit and listen to a thorough retelling and critiquing of the “Mr Bajaj show”(or whatever that Hindi soap was titled) in a government office. But the same person, blessed with such talkativeness, becomes completely uncommunicative when outsiders ask him/her some questions related to their file. The brevity of their answers suggests that each word proceeding out of their mouth costs an unaffordable price.
The assertion of self-importance: For some babus and babunis, blatant rudeness or complete lack of politeness is the way of asserting how important they are. They act as if our entire destiny is precariously hanging from their chair. They are so shamelessly and barbarously rude. Some have the unfriendly or even uncivilized habit of staring at you and asking a question or issuing instructions in a hectoring tone. I knew of some bureaucrats who enjoyed people being intimidated by them – how savage is that!
The next time you approach a bureaucrat in his office and find him/her to be rude, unhelpful or even intimidating, tell him that s/he is born a hundred years too late. For a second, imagine with me a government office where you are naturally greeted with a welcoming smile, given a place to sit, given the honour as an equal citizen and helped unreservedly – not because you have connections with influential people but because you deserve it simply because you are a citizen.
“For some babus and babunis, blatant rudeness or complete lack of politeness is the way of asserting how important they are. They act as if our entire destiny is precariously hanging from their chair. They are so shamelessly and barbarously rude. Some have the unfriendly or even uncivilized habit of staring at you and asking a question or issuing instructions in a hectoring tone. I knew of some bureaucrats who enjoyed people being intimidated by them – how savage is that!
By Jiwan Rai, the author can be contacted at [email protected]
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