Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVI No. 23, March 16-31, 2017
Have you ever noticed that our Government is stuck in the 17th Century or thereabouts when it comes to its communication style? Or, rather, ishtyle, as it is pronounced by brethren from up North? This aspect was brought home rather forcefully to The Man from Madras Musings recently when he was at his desk with nary a thought in his head, other than this column, of course.
The phone rang and on MMM answering it he heard an obsequious voice asking if this was Saar speaking. Experience has taught MMM that such beginnings usually mean a Governmental voice is speaking at the other end, at the peremptory ordering of a higher-up, usually a Saar from the I Am Superior cadre. MMM replied that indeed it was and enquired as to what he owed the pleasure of this call. Whereupon the voice said that it had been instructed by its Saar to call Saar and that its Saar would be happy to know if Saar was free on some forthcoming date as Saar wanted Saar to come to Saar’s office and address some other Saars on heritage. To this MMM wanted to know the name of the Saar who had expressed this desire for MMM’s company. In his experience, not many Saars in service have any affection for MMM, they having labelled him long ago as Mischievous Meddlesome Man. But the moment they lay down office and untangle themselves from the red tape that makes them stiff and standoffish, they develop a great love for MMM and grapple him to their hearts with hoops of steel. They then tend to buttonhole MMM at all available occasions to tell him unprintable stories about ministers and colleagues and how they did all they could to save heritage but “you know how vested interested were against it”.
But to get back to today’s story. On being asked to name the Saar, the voice sucked in its breath in a shocked manner. It was like asking a traditional housewife to name her husband. After some silence it repeated its query – Saar would like to know if Saar was free on a particular date for a presentation concerning heritage. If so, Saar would receive a letter of invitation. If not, could Saar recommend some other Saar. To this MMM asked if the Chief had been invited. The voice took on a reverential tone at this. MMM was quite sure that the speaker at the other end was standing up. Of course, said the voice. Saar had been invited and what they needed was a second Saar, which is why the phone call. At this MMM caved in and said ‘yes’. The voice then rung off, no doubt in order to go and confabulate with its Saar.
The letter duly arrived a day later. In this time and age an email would have done the job, but not so in Government. They had spent Rs 20 on sending the letter by speed post. It was in a cover that was so thoroughly pasted all over that it took quite a while for MMM to cut it open without damaging the paper inside. The envelope had all the forbidding stamps and seals that make Government correspondence so disliked. It had the appearance of a summons or, at the very least, a tax demand.
The letter inside was no better. It had several reference numbers filled with hyphens, obliques, dots and dashes – something like gobbledegook no 111/balderdash 323/245237b. And it began with the words “I am to inform you…’ The tone improved considerably as the letter proceeded and the last words indicated that civilisation was here at last – a reply had been requested by email! The mail ID was of course as confusing as the letter reference. The missive ended with the terse legend- Forwarded/By Order. MMM wondered if a simple invite for a presentation needed to be worded like a sentence of transportation for life.
MMM scrolled down to see the name of the Saar who had signed it. Something struck him as not quite right as he read it. He then went and looked into that day’s newspaper. On reading it, MMM realised that the Saar who wrote the letter had been transferred from this department the previous day. We understand MMM decided to accept the invite, he hope, it will provide him some long-awaited amusement.
Have you visited the ancient temple to the Lord of the elephant hill in neigh-bour-ing silk town? The Man from Madras Musings had -visited it as a child and now was doing so after a long while. He vaguely remembered that this beautiful shrine had a couple of stone carvings of lizards on a ceiling somewhere. What he did not know was that in the four decades since MMM last visited the temple, the lizards had displaced the Lord as the principal attraction. Touching them, it was once believed, absolved you of all sins. Now, apparently, the story is that by touching them you make a killing in real estate. And so the throng at the lizards’ sanctum far outnumbers those wanting to see the Lord.
Where are the lizards was the question that was asked in just about any national language as the faithful charged past MMM. He had not really planned to see the two reptiles, but with a crowd that resembled the migration of the wildebeest MMM really did not have a choice. He was pushed into a long cage through which the queue was being channelled towards the lizards. This being the season when the black-dhotied and bare-bodied pilgrims are to be seen everywhere, MMM had the pleasure of being rubbed against by plenty of hairy chests, sweaty underarms and outsize paunches in the push into the long vestibule. Thereafter MMM kind of gave up and was borne along by the crowd, rather like the strange device Excelsior. The women, who were in a similar steel cage on the other side, did not have it any easier he noticed. It was all rather extraordinary, like a passage to a gas chamber during the Holocaust.
The chamber of the lizards arrived after what appeared to be an eternity. The authorities had thoughtfully provided a set of steps for the faithful to climb up and touch the reptiles, one encased in gold and the other in silver. MMM found himself hoisted up the steps by those that came behind him. Once at the wobbly top, MMM tottered for a moment, his hand raised up to touch the lizards. It was then that the man behind decided to lunge thereby bending MMM’s knee as well. However, the crowd ahead of MMM was so dense that there was no stampede ending with MMM’s quick departure to the Land of the Lord. The man behind was apologetic. He was trying, he said by way of explanation, to reach for his cell-phone which was in his pocket, for a selfie with the lizards and had bent inadvertently. He had he said, promised his mother that he would send her a photo of the lizards so that she could e-touch them. Coming down, MMM looked up at the two lizards. Something told him that they were chuckling.