Arun Shourie writes in his book on governance, of how a tiny statured individual joins a government job but cannot sit comfortably. His chair is too high and his feet do not touch the ground, you see! He asks around for a foot stool and is told that he would have to write out a note with a requisition. On doing so he is bombarded with a series of queries by the Finance Cell asking him in writing just how he was managing till now, what are the precedents and whether a budget provision had been made for the purpose!
On sending a detailed reply with complete justification he hopes that he would finally be presented with the prized object, but he has no idea of what lies in store. He has to send an endless series of responses over the next few weeks, and predictably, the foot stool remains a utopian mirage. Eventually he realises that the file in question has become so thick that it would fit the bill very well, and he duly plonks it onto the floor in front of his chair!
Yes, Governments are serious organisations, with public welfare usually being their stated objective, but they are also great entertainers, especially for the observant amused onlooker.
I have had occasion to delve deep into governance mechanisms and have discovered a whole bunch of quaint oddities that need to be shared in these columns with the discerning reader and perhaps in a book some day!
Firstly, the ubiquitous file, which is spelt with the same letters as ‘life’, and ends up being exactly that for all sarkari types. Files provide humour unparalleled at times. Spelling howlers and grammatical mistakes are the norm rather than the exception. Thus the word ‘snacks’ often becomes ‘snakes’ on a file of the Hospitality Department, and the word ‘institution’ often becomes ‘intuition’ on any file.
Secondly, the frequency of meetings is so high, that one becomes aware of certain patterns about them. Thus, some meetings are just for the sake of formality, and everyone goes through the motions. Others are high voltage affairs with a pre-planned assault on a particular officer being the main objective. Yet another type is the largely attended day-long marathon, with lunch provided for to satiate appetites, and everyone nodding off in turns, when they are not in the firing line.
Thirdly, the large numbers of holidays, including anniversaries of personalities one has scarcely heard of, are a source of mirth to friends and family. Since the corporate world scarcely believes in shutting shop except when absolutely necessary, a lady with a career in the private sector whose husband works for the government is sure to crib about the ease of doing ‘business’ on the other side!
Random incidents from years bygone come to mind and inspire a chuckle even today. Once I was driving a gypsy as a young SDM with the DSP seated beside me and a posse of constables at the back. We were on a tense mission and the road was dark. Spotting an unusual switch I pressed it on reflex, wondering what it was for. The very loud sound of ‘Tu cheez badi hai mast mast’ emanated suddenly from a speaker, and loud guffaws followed, thereby easing the atmosphere a great deal, and reminding us of Raveena Tandon instead of the criminals we were looking for!
On another occasion we were waiting for a Minister at Pinjore Gardens with bouquets in hand, when we were told that the said Minister would not be coming. A cop ran up just then to inform us that the Governor had decided to stop over on the way back from Shimla. And without any further ado, His Excellency’s cavalcade zoomed in towards us. As he alighted from his car, the Governor spotted the flowers in our hands, at the ready, and showered praise on us for being so swift in welcoming him. We handed them to him silently, of course, not wanting to burst his bubble!
Yes, there are several glum faced people in government and they always appear so. If only they knew how effortlessly entertaining they are!