Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 5, June 16-30, 2019
The Man from Madras Musings has often heard those employed in the private sector lamenting about the index-linked pensions that their counterparts in Government service get. The money they say keeps increasing with time, though here MMM does have a counter – it keeps dropping in value anyway. But that cuts no ice with the private sector people, once referred to as boxwallahs.
But MMM does look at both sides and he feels that it is no easy task being a retired Government servant. One of the key objections is the way you have to keep proving to the authorities that you are alive and therefore entitled to your pension. In the early days, this was a simple matter – you sent them a signed declaration by post and they transferred your money. In case you could not sign you affixed your thumb impression. But that latter alternative was misused and so the entire process of self-attestation was rendered null and void. The story is actually quite macabre and at the same time funny. Apparently some retired Government servant claimed his pension for years by sending a letter that bore his thumb impression and the Government duly paid up. It was only when someone in the department did some calculation and came up with the finding that the pensioner ought to be around 135 years old that they did some investigating. They called at the old man’s home to learn that he had long gone but his relatives had had the foresight to cut off his thumb before they cremated/buried him and preserved the said digit in alcohol. On the day of claiming pension they took it out, dried it, used it for what it was meant for and pickled it once again.
That led to the Government passing a new rule – all pensioners had to appear before a designated authority once a year to show that they were alive. Nobody protested, for after all their earnings depended on it. And that brings MMM to the crux of his story. A friend of his, a retired pensioner, travelled abroad for a few months in summer (a very wise decision in MMM’s view for there is no point in staying on in Chennai and baking on a daily basis). He consequently missed his appointment with the appropriate authority to whom he had to prove that he, the pensioner, was alive and well. He returned in September to find that his pension had stopped in June, the month he went abroad. And so he duly fixed an appointment with the appropriate authority, met the functionary and soon thereafter found his pension resumed, but from the month of September only.
What of July and August he wondered. He then decided to meet the appropriate authority once again. Having heard him out, the panjandrum pondered for a few minutes and came up with the appropriate answer – the pensioner had appeared in September and proved that he was alive that month and so had had his pension resumed thereafter. But there was no way of ascertaining if the pensioner was alive in July and August. Which is why the payment was not made. It was in vain that MMM’s friend argued that since he was alive in September he ought to have been alive in July and August as well. The appropriate authority reflected over it and said he saw the logic in the argument. But the Government cannot be moved unless there is something in writing. It was therefore decided that MMM’s friend, the pensioner, would give a declaration in writing that he, the pensioner, was alive and well during the period aforementioned, to whit – July and August. This to be done in triplicate, and attested by a gazetted officer.
The cell phone rang. The Man from Madras Musings found it was from a number he did not recognise and so let it ring. It is not that MMM does not answer calls from the unknown but it is a policy he follows when he is otherwise occupied. The caller was disconnected after the statutory number of rings and MMM thought that was that. But it was not to be. The caller rang back immediately and MMM ignored it yet again. When the caller called back a third time MMM decided he had better answer it.
Experience has shown MMM that there are only two kinds of callers who keep dialling incessantly – the first comprises those in an emergency and the second the kind that does not know phone etiquette. In this latter category MMM places some of the very elderly and also those working in the Government. As regards the old MMM has nothing to say and indeed, he does not wish to criticise either, but as regards the Government callers MMM has plenty to say, the first being they are the kinds who will never answer your call but will keep dialling you when they need to get (at/to) you.
Sure enough, it was a Government caller and all breathless. Between the gasps and pants MMM made out that the lady was all excited because a very senior bureaucrat wanted to get in touch with MMM. The caller sounded overjoyed at the very thought that she, the caller, had been selected by the officer to do this task, and she also managed to suggest that MMM was so lucky that he was being sought out by this member of the Indian Steel Frame. “So-and-So wants to talk to you urgently,” she gushed. “I will give you the personal number and you may please call immediately.”
Now MMM was not having any of that. “If So-and-So wants to speak to me then it is So-and-So who will have to call,” said MMM and also added, for he did not want to appear discourteous, that So-and-So could call anytime. The caller was rather taken aback but realising that nothing could be done, rang off.
Shortly thereafter the phone rang again, once more from an unknown number. MMM answered to find a new caller, the personal assistant to So-and-So. Madam was busy and so had asked PA to do the needful he said, managing to convey in tone that MMM was truly blessed. MMM asked as to what was it that was needed. “A very important personage from Gujarat is arriving tonight in the city,” hissed the PA, rather a tough task in a sentence with few sibilants. “He has to be taken on a heritage tour of the city first thing in the morning.”
Now this sounded interesting. Could it be one of the two personages that really matter these days MMM wondered. And then the voice went on –
“We have tried all the usual tourist guides in the city and they are all busy. Someone said you are a guide.” MMM hung up.