Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 12, October 1-15, 2019



ASI’s standard operating procedures

The Man from Madras Musings has come to realise that one of the ways to remain in love with this city of ours is to travel as much as possible to other parts of the country every once in a while and return. Then, after having been bumped around on poor roads, alternately roasted and drenched in the heat and rain, and finally, having suffered practically non-existent public transport, you come to realise that Chennai that was Madras is heaven after all. To quote from a Mughal Emperor, if there be a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.

And everywhere that MMM went, he found that the Archaeological Survey of India has been earlier. This organisation is capable of really good work, but suffers from everything beginning with lack of funding, bureaucracy and a general lassitude. Consequently, its track record is patchy at best, ranging from excellent in a few places to abysmal in most. But no matter how good or bad it is, you cannot fault it on its standard operating procedures that are so inviolate that it is a wonder that this organisation has not yet obtained an ISO certification, something that some of the most inefficient of entities are in possession of.

The obligatory blue board declaring a monument to be protected is one such. MMM is not certain as to what the ASI hopes to achieve by erecting these in front of all the monuments that nominally at least come under its protection. Does it assume that those who come to these places and scratch their initials, phone numbers and messages to loved ones on the immortal plaster or stone, actually pause to read as to which Act of the Government they are likely to be prosecuted under? And even if they did, these boards are often so rusted that they cannot be read. MMM has even seen one planted upside down.

The behaviour of the staff, if they happen to be on the premises at these sites, is a second standard. No matter which part of India you happen to be travelling in, chances are you will come across a bad-tempered person at the ticket counter, who asks you to tender exact fare, for the ASI does not carry loose change, ever. It is also only with reluctance that tickets will be sold, for by asking for them, you the tourist are preventing the ASI staff from continuing with their reverie. There is very little you can do at ASI monuments, apart from gawking at what is around and wondering as to what it is all about. Very few have any information. But when it comes to what you cannot do, the rulebook is clear and has copious amounts of information. Moreover, the staff themselves are absolute authorities on don’ts – no photography, no videography, no sketching, no singing and no many other things.
The condition of toilets in most ASI-controlled monuments leaves much to be desired. In fact most of these places have no toilets at all, barring the ones for the exclusive use of the ASI officials themselves. These no doubt, are spic and span but MMM has no clue as to where they are.

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Book sales,
the ASI way

In keeping with the nature of its activities, the books that the ASI brings out are all of a sound vintage, having been written at least four or five decades ago. To give the ASI credit, it keeps many of these volumes in print but does very little by way of updating information in them. Thus when The Man from Madras Musings recently picked up a volume, he was quite surprised to find that it stated that the nearest place of stay for a well-known monument was a Government dak bungalow. A quick look at the credits page revealed that the volume was written in the 1950s and has been reprinted several times with the same information! No mention was made of an industrial township that had sprung up in the vicinity in the intervening decades, with plenty of hotels in operation. In any case, who would want to stay in a dak bungalow in the 21st Century?

As to how MMM bought the book in question is quite a story by itself. He and his good lady were visiting a monument and by the ticket counter was a publications counter where a man of sage-like aspect was meditating. He could well afford to do so, for the last customer had evidently come there quite a few years earlier. But on display were some very interesting publications. MMM expressed his desire to purchase a couple and it was with great reluctance that the salesperson, if he could be termed that, got up, stretched himself, and fetched the books. These were the only copies left he said with some lugubrious pride. He also added most helpfully that some of the pages were damaged. MMM said he did not mind and so could he know the price. The man busied himself with paper and pencil and after some considerable addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, not to forget the application of square roots and some algebraic equation, came up with a ridiculously low figure. The prices, like the content of the books, had not been updated in decades. MMM asked if he was quite sure and to this the man, assuming that MMM was finding the price to be high, said that no bargaining was allowed and so if MMM did not want the books he, the salesperson, would be quite happy to put them away. MMM hastened to assure him that this was not the case and it was just that he found the prices to be too low.

It was at this moment that MMM’s good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, observed that given the amount of time that had been wasted at the counter there was very little left to see the monument and considering the weight of the books asked if it would not be better to buy them on the way back. This was agreed to and MMM and good lady wandered off to admire the monument. When they returned it was to find that the sage had vanished and there was a new hermit in his place. This one had clearly not quite conquered anger and brusquely informed MMM that the volumes he desired were not in stock. What about the ones that MMM had seen in the morning, asked MMM. To this the man replied that he, MMM was clearly mistaken, for there were no such books in stock as far as he, the salesperson could remember, in his thirty years of service. MMM was about to turn away when his good lady fixed the counterperson with a beady eye and drew his attention to the two books in a shelf by the side. She had, she later informed MMM, had seen the earlier incumbent of the high office of book sales, placing them in that cupboard.
And so, MMM did come away with the books, but not before a long-winded billing process involving all the mathematics mentioned above, to which some integral and differential calculus was added. MMM was also asked to sign a register and furnish several personal details. But he did get the books.

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