Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 21 , February 16-29, 2020
Teaching bureaucrats to dance
The Man from Madras Musings is aware that there are people in this world who go out of their way to court the society of bureaucrats. The sound logic is of course that you never know when such friendships can come in handy. MMM on the other hand is rather wary of seeking out the Babus. He prefers to go by the old North Indian dictum – never stand behind a horse or in front of a ruler, you never known what may happen. But in the course of this life MMM has met up with several bureaucrats and become friends with a few too. And he has found them all to be uniformly civil, which being civil servants, he is glad they are.
But there are some less appealing sides to dealing with them. And one of these is the fact that their time is rarely their own. Chances are that they will call you for a meeting and then when you hotfoot it to their office you find they are nowhere to be seen – a minister or some other higher up has called them away and there is no saying when they will return. You sip regulation tea, eat biscuits (these days munch dry fruits), look up at the ceiling and marvel at the mountains of files that appear to hold up the roofs of these offices. And then, just as you begin assuming you are part of the furniture, along comes bureaucrat, all apologies. It is in the light of this that MMM, especially when he has to meet Babus in the middle and lower orders, stipulates that they come to meet him at his office and not the other way, for then MMM can at least spend his time usefully even as he waits for his visitor to show up.
Thus it was that last week MMM found his cell phone ringing endlessly and almost instinctively knew that someone from Government circles was looking for him. They never cease calling till you answer while when you need them it is usually the reverse – they don’t answer till you cease calling them. Anyway there was middle order Babu wanting to have a meeting and so could MMM please call at his office. To this MMM replied courteously that MMM would much prefer the mountain calling on Mahomet and so it was arranged. Babu agreed to call on MMM at an agreed time on a particular date. The anointed hour found MMM all accoutered and waiting but of panjandrum there was not a sign. The clock ticked away and still no Babu. After bounding to and fro like a caged tiger for a while MMM decided to call the man on his cell phone. There was no answer. His secretary, on calling the landline said sir was not in his seat.
After quite a while during which MMM busied himself with other pursuits, there was a call from the Babu. He had been tied up with the Minister and was now on his way to meet MMM. He managed to throw in some breathlessness to indicate his efforts in that direction but that cut no ice with MMM. Rather in the manner of the bow-wielding god addressing his ten-headed foe, MMM asked the Babu to stop where he was and come the next day. There was some gasping and spluttering at the other end but MMM held firm.
This had its effect though. The caller arrived for the rescheduled appointment five minutes ahead of time.
The Government has got Gmail
The Man from Madras Musings’ meeting with the above-mentioned bureaucrat had another aspect of dealing with our Government that MMM has long found puzzling. Not one department, ministry or officer ever uses a Government email ID but invariably asks you to communicate with him/her via some private account. In fact MMM doubts if the Government even has an official email network. Sure enough the man whom MMM met up with handed him two email IDs and both of them were variants of SomeDepartmentOrTheOther@gmail.com. MMM wondered as to why this was so.
It was explained to him that the root cause of all this proliferation of private email accounts is the Government policy of transferring senior Babus at the drop of a hat. Here today gone tomorrow is how most of these departmental heads function though mind you, the rate of rotation is nothing as compared to the time when Mater Dei ruled over us all. Off with their heads was the motto then. Now officials last somewhat longer but still the transfer is always around the corner, at least for some of them. And when the transfer does happen, officials leave without a trace – they clear off taking away the passwords of the official email IDs and the ego of the successors is such that they cannot ask their predecessors for them. And this is where these private email service providers score – a forgot password request can unlock doors and so this is what everyone wants.
That having an email ID does not in any way mean these bureaucrats read what you send them became evident to MMM when he eventually did send an email to the two IDs given. That they did not bounce like rubber balls was relief enough and indication that the messages had been delivered. But after a couple of days stage wait and not having received a response MMM decided to make bold and call the Babu concerned. No email received was the curt response. How could that be asked MMM, for after all they had not bounced. To this rejoinder the bureaucrat had no answer and promised to check, no doubt by setting up a full-fledged interdepartmental enquiry.
After a couple of days there was a reply – he had not informed his secretary that there would be an email from my account and so no print out was taken for his perusal. That made matters as clear as a pikestaff – secretary babu takes print out of messages from accounts that main babu tells them messages will come from. These are then read and probably a mail will be dictated, which when secretary babu finds time, will be typed and sent to the recipients. All of this means a process of a week or more and as for those of whose email IDs secretary babu has no intimation, they will never ever get a reply, write they ever so wisely.
MMM is right now in more exalted company – his email was searched for and then located. A print out was taken and presented to main babu who has promised MMM a reply in due course. The matter as they say in Government circles, has been taken into file and that by itself is a major achievement.
The Man from Madras Musings was reminded of the Chief when he saw this. How he would have laughed! That way he was Chief and best. On a more prosaic level, it is ironic that for a language that has no equivalent of the letter f, we Tamil speakers manage to bring it in at all odd places – ‘f’latform, sti’f’end, etc.