Thursday, December 03, 2009

For Necessary Action

The letter was really intriguing (i.e. interesting and confusing). The writer had found a solution to the problem of climate change. He stated that he had been researching in the dense forests and had studied the impact of climate change on changing color of the frogs. He had also analyzed its effect on the decibel level of their croaking.

After listening to the data for twelve years and feeling it on a handmade supercomputer made out of completely organic ingredients, he had derived a formula to reverse the climate change. The only thing he needed now to hand it over to the government was a small appreciation letter from the Prime Minister of India and twenty one lakh cash. Since he felt that foreign secret agents were behind his life, he had refused to divulge any further details.

So there I was, sitting as usual in the first hour my office and doing my most important job, seeing the ‘Daak file’. In simple terms a Daak file is a file that keeps the Daak or the ‘correspondence’. Every day I get scores of letters which I skim/read/try to read in the first hour of office. The above mentioned letter was present in the same Daak file and I had already given it two minutes, twelve times the usual 10 seconds allotted to a usual Daak.

I get anything between 50 to 500 letters a day and two minutes to a single letter was certainly extravagance. For a moment I felt that I held the future of humanity in my hand. Pictures of huge melting glaciers with white polar bears flashed in front of my eyes and I decided to act in a conclusive manner. I tried to think hard to decide the various alternatives.

I could have forwarded that letter directly to the PMO and asked them to act upon it. I could have written to the science and technology department. I could have additionally sought funds to further research upon the matter. I could also have called a meeting of all college professors to discuss the issue. In case I wanted to deal conservatively, I could have sought advice from my district magistrate.

I also thought about making a round paper ball from that paper and throwing it into the dustbin. Alternatively I could have tested my memory by trying to make an aeroplane from that sheet of paper. I could have additionally sent a doctor to examine the mental status of the writer.

The pressure became huge and I felt exactly as Arjun would have felt in the battlefield when he said “Mind is restless Krishna”.

And then I realized the solution was simple. What had I to worry when I had the most efficient phrase invented by the bureaucracy. In fact what Sachin is to cricket, this phrase is government; only more consistent and match winning.

I marked the letter to my deputy officer and wrote ‘for necessary action’.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Capturing Life

That was the first time I was wearing a suit. It was my class 12th farewell and the idea was to imitate the elderly; ladies in saris and gentlemen in suit. I carried a mustache at that time and hello……how thin I was. I was invariably smiling in all the pictures and looking at that I can tell that I was not very comfortable.

So in the fits of cleaning my house, I rediscovered a bag full of pictures; pictures that captured life, pictures that captured past. Each one of them extrapolated an event and started telling a story. The time frame was not continuous and stories started coming randomly; just with a turn of a page.

And suddenly I was a girl. I was three years old and my mother had made me wear a frock. My father was helping her and the camera captured all three of us. It was festive day as Bhagwat uncle had come to our home with his new camera. So all of us got clicked myriad times; in different poses and in different dress; and that day continues to live on as representative of that age.

I had always liked her. She looked gorgeous in her cream sari and was the first woman I had a crush upon. And there she was; looking gorgeous as ever; sitting at the center of fifty of us; Class of UKG Section B. For me she never grew old and that snap took her from this world and pasted her that picture forever; at least for me.

The picture was clicked for finding her a perfect groom. She was Bhatnagar uncle’s daughter and had entered marriageable age. She was wearing a sari and the photographer made her cheeks look extra pink. Her eyes were expressionless, and after six years when she committed suicide those eyes kept haunting me for days. We never knew why she did that but that marriageable girl with extra pink cheeks is still alive in that album.

I was sitting on a boat, and I tried to look smart. I was not smiling and neither was I serious; and I had tilted my head slightly tilted towards the left. It was our trip to Varanasi and at least a score of us had gone there. Whenever any relative came to visit us in our suburb, we dutifully took them to some of the places around and such excursions were my window to the world. I in fact jumped from that window and eventually saw the world, but the joy never matched the one of that boat ride.

And then there was a generation leap. I was not even born and my parents were getting married. My father wore bell bottom pants and my mother had a big stylish bun on her head. I wonder why people of that generation comment on our fashion sense. My father had mischievous eyes and I always found it hard to believe that even my parents could have been so young.

Sometimes I wonder if I could go back in time carrying those albums, and then tell everybody what future has in store for them. I could have told my gardener that a storm would destroy his flowers that season; I could have asked that girl to be positive towards life.

But then I realize that I am mortal and put these questions to rest.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Second One: A Lady

After that incident life continued as it was. The strange thing is I still do not know how I should have felt. I was not at all scared but something had changed. My mom always told me that human beings are survivors. Keep us in any conditions and we will come out stronger. I involved myself in the studies and started running with life.

It was the first day when we were taken to a morgue for dissecting a human body. It was cold inside and was the room was dimply lit. The wall contained small rectangular boxes with rounded handles, and each of them contained a frozen dead body.

The unnerving thing about a morgue is that you start become philosophical once you see dead; made of same flesh and bones as you are. The frozen bodies also have frozen expressions and it looks as if there was a sudden pause in life, similar to the ‘Statue’ game we played in childhood. Many of us vomit or faint there but at the end of the day you take a big knife and cut it straight across the chest.

In no place you can feel so closely what mortality of mankind means.

From first day in college, we had been hearing of stories that seniors lie there as dead and try to scare the juniors. I was ready for that but I did not anticipate what actually came for me.

All of us were being shown a dead body and we were going to start the dissection of it when I found somebody whispering my name. At the entrance of that room, there was a lady who was signaling me to come to her.

While walking towards her, I noticed that she was fat and was dressed in complete black. She was wearing a distinguishing large bindi on her forehead and had all sort of strange ornamentations, somewhat similar to those of hermits. Her appearance sent chills down my spine but it was too late to turn back.

Her voice was polite and without introducing herself she asked, “Vandana, how does one donate her body to the medical college?” I looked taken aback not only at her question but also as if asking her how she knew my name. She just smilingly gestured towards the batch that I was wearing.

I explained to her all the formalities and sent her to the relevant office. After a week we again had a session at the morgue. Last time we were told how dissection was to be done and all the external features that had to be marked before touching a dead body and today was going to be the day when we were to cut open a dead human body.

I was completely relaxed and got my instruments issued. Everything was normal and then I shrieked. On my table, staring right into my eyes with calm frozen expressions, as if trying to soothe me up, that same lady was lying……..dead. I felt as if I have forgotten how to breathe and I became dumb for a minute.

After that I shrieked and shrieked and my friends took me out of that room. Later on I found that that lady’s death was completely natural and her body had been shifted to the morgue just that morning.

I took a break and went home for some days. There while turning some family photographs, I found pictures of last days of Sharmila aunty. Under the influence of some hermit, she has started wearing black and when she was being taken for cremation she almost resembled the lady that had come to meet me in the morgue.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The First One : A Call

I had receiver in my hand and I was sweating. I still remember what Sharmila auntie said “Vandana please help Vinhanshu, he is in pain”.

When I recall it now, it looks so weird. Till date I have found no explanations, and I keep on wondering why it happened to me. In fact those two incidents shook my life.

Sharmila aunty was always known to us. In fact Ghosal’s were like family to us. Sharmila aunty was mom’s best friend, uncle was Papa’s eternal golf partner and I grew up playing with their son Vibhanshu.

Still I do not think I had any special bonding with Sharmila auntie. She was good to me and always brought candies; and that was it. She continued to bring them all along, from time I was a kid till the time I entered medical college.

And then one day out of nowhere, I received her call. With no niceties exchanged, she told me she had cancer, and one at a pretty advanced stage. Her voice was sad but composed. She said she had only one month to live and I was the first person she was telling that. I could hardly speak a word. In a jumbled voice I uttered something to console her.

I do not know why but I was gripped with a strange fear. I immediately called my mom and just kept on crying. After that I never called Sharmila auntie nor did meet her but my mom confirmed her medical condition. She died exactly after a month and I could not muster courage to go to her funeral.

That was one year back, and now at 2 am at night I had just talked to her again. I sat there holding the receiver, and I could not even dare to move. After sometime I checked the telephone line and it was dead.

It was impossible to sleep after that and I sat on that sofa for a time that looked immemorial. At 6 am in the morning, I rang at her home. Their servant picked up the phone and told that Vibhanshu had met with an accident at night and everybody was at the hospital. He was in pain, but was out of danger.

At afternoon, I went to meet him and wished him fast recovery. We talked about many things and he told me that was missing his mother a lot that day. Somehow I could not muster courage to tell him that it was she who had informed me of his condition.

I was left shaken by this experience but I did not know what more was in store for me.

PS: This story was based on a true incident as narrated to me by a close friend. Its second part will be coming soon.

Monday, April 06, 2009

With You, For You; Always

“This is too much. After sixty years of independence, this cannot go on.” Bilas said after endlessly waiting for the Taluka officer on third consecutive day.

Bilas was the first person who had passed higher secondary in his village. His father had the hobby of describing how he overcame all the obstacles to educate his son. And now he believed that his son would change their village.

So, he had taken Bilas to the Taluka office to apply for an agriculture loan. But it was their third consecutive day, and they still could not locate the Taluka Officer. The usual reply of the peon was, “Sir has gone for a field visit.” His father wanted to wait, as he knew that patience was the virtue needed to deal with government, but he could not tell this to his higher secondary pass son.

“We must do something. These officers take us for a ride only because we let them to. I will go to the highest level.” an angry Bilas said.

Then and there he wrote a request to the Chief Minister (CM) asking him to provide his father an immediate agriculture loan. Before posting that, his father showed it to the entire village and told them that since now they have an educated boy in their village; they can directly send all their requests to the CM.

The CM was an honest man. He wanted to help everybody, and told his secretaries to help everybody. After some days, Bilas’s letter reached the CM office and found fortune of being opened by a CM’s secretary.

And since the CM was pretty strict about helping the poor, his secretary drafted a letter to the District Magistrate of the Bilas’s district; strictly asking him to explain and send an action taken report. The DM was an honest man. He wanted to help everybody, and told his secretaries to help everybody.

So after some days, one of the secretaries of DM forwarded that letter to the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) very strictly asking him to immediately explain and send an action taken report. The SDM was an honest man. He wanted to help everybody, and told his secretaries to help everybody.

This time the letter was seen himself by the SDM. He drafted a letter to the Taluka Officer very, very strictly asking him to immediately, immediately explain and send an action taken report.

The Taluka officer felt grief and pain after receiving that letter. He wanted to cry feeling that a person of his Taluka had to go to CM to ask for the loan and already a year had passed in the process. He decided to take an action at that moment itself and send an action taken report to the CM via DM via SDM.

His action taken report read, ‘Since the loan application must be addressed to the Taluka officer, a letter has been sent to Sri Bilas asking him to immediately come to the Taluka Office and submit the loan application in prescribed format.’

PS: For any confusion that may arise later, I hereby confirm that this is a work of fiction :)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Some Frequently Answered Questions

What work do you do?

Right now as a part of my training, I have been posted as a Block Development Officer (BDO). And the truth is I never knew before that government worked so much.

In last two months, I have handled jobs like conducting camps for differently able people, arranging for the visit of central government team, meeting political party leaders, facing deputations (that’s a gathering of hundreds of people which comes to raise their grievance), conducting inquiries, pushing up for the NREGS works, handling the never ending election work and the list just goes on.

In short, the spectrum in which the government works is unbelievable and each day comes with a new experience.

Can Civil servants work honestly in this environment of corruption?

This question comes with a bias that majority of people in government are corrupt. I have limited experience but till now I have never found any reason to believe so.

Nobody can force anybody to be corrupt or vice versa. Just like any other big organization, I have found all the colors in my office. So giving a certificate to all government employees that they are corrupt may be fashionable, but not always correct.

Deviating from this question, I would like to give an example. I have a clerk who shall be retiring in six months. He was inducted as a clerk; he shall retire as a clerk. His salary always was and is, meager. He was never given any training; he was never given any reward. But still he is the most hardworking person of my block, backbone of one of the important departments and even in this age he works on Saturdays and Sundays without any extra remuneration.

The truth is I am still searching the source of motivation of such people. I do not understand what drives them, and I feel really bad if somebody flatly brands entire government as corrupt.

Do Politicians let you work?

This question comes with a preconceived notion that you want to work but politicians do not let you do so. The truth is in many cases may be far from it.

One must understand that politicians are representatives of people. Their understanding of ground reality is much better than that of a civil servant. They also know man management pretty well since they ‘deal’ with lots of people.

Good work in field is necessary for them for being re-elected too. So most of the time, they genuinely help civil servants to do good work. They have some limitations as they must have a ‘please all’ attitude but if a civil servant makes sense no politician can stop him from doing good work.

Why do you like civil services?

1. More often than not, I shall be the boss in my office. In other words, I get a good amount of freedom. A senior civil servant once told me that the reason why our service class parents term this as the best job is that here you get least interference of your superiors and maximum freedom to do your work. Most of the time, you are the one who is managing the show, be it big or small.

2. In course of my job I have seen almost entire India, visited the Parliament, met President and Prime minister, learned entirely new language and came to know of opportunities to work in hundreds of fields where government is present with its ever unfolding spectrum. Which other job can offer me this? I end this answer here as I have already dealt this subject before.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Idea that drives India

On 15th August 1947, a strange nation started its ‘tryst with destiny’.

There was hardly an iota of homogeneity in its nationals; they spoke myriad languages, had cultures poles apart, and consisted representation of all diverse religions. Not only that, it was left high and dry by its colonial masters.

So the entire world predicted doom, and doom’s day they said was not far away. They waited and predicted, and predicted and waited. But then nothing happened. Actually they missed that an idea was driving that nation; and that was its Democracy.

Thus this new blog is dedicated to the magic called democracy and the means to achieve it, free and fair elections. I know quite a few eyebrows must have been raised by now.

Before my readers put me down with zillion cross questions, I remind them of a quote of Churchill ‘Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried’. And trust me, I cannot agree more.

Democracy has power to smoothen all the folds of the society; it has power to merge different colors of society and mind it, none of them lose their identity. In years of human existence, democracy faced just one strong opponent, Communism, but that too got completely crushed by the fallacy of its own weight.

Now let me come to the phrase ‘free and fair elections’. Its normal to question ‘Are we anyways near that?’ and my answer to that shall be a loud Yes. As an insider to the government machinery, I can say with full confidence that I have never seen a process as efficient as conduct of elections.

The process starts years before any election is due. Voter lists are periodically revised and re-revised. Booth level agents go door to door to confirm who has moved in and who has moved out. All political parties are asked to give their views and objections to the entire process.

When election comes near, almost all other government work comes to a standstill. The letter with mark ‘Election Urgent’ acquires topmost priority.

After each election, the Election commission gets wiser and now they are monitoring at multiple levels. There are government observers, there are agents of all political parties and then there are also some random citizen checks.

So have we become perfect? My answer is no. There are still evils to be tackled; like those of criminalization of politics, politicization of religion, use of money and muscle power etc. But if you feel the sheer magnitude of election operations, you cannot resist but call it magic.

After all, isn’t this the magic that has, and god willing shall, keep India moving.