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Monday, June 26, 2006

nirvana in babudom


The Government office is an odd place to attain peace ,salvation and eternal contentment but I experienced this one afternoon ,this was how it happened
The clank of the rusted fan welcomed me as I pushed the half door open into the joint Directors room, my eyes adapted to the darkness when I searched for the occupant, who was to be found nowhere, the dank smell of old files filled the air and the room had an antique feel to it
A long neck with an angry face popped up from among the files like an ostrich disturbed from its pecking, glared at me, and gesturing me to sit and promptly sunk to its place among the files ,a good quarter of an hour later the head resurfaced from its subterranean depths .
I gathered my communication skills to explain my presence in the hallowed precincts of his office, I, had come for a certificate of recognition which the law of the land determined I had to produce, he gazed at the sheaf of papers I carried and gestured me to deposit it among the file hill in front of him, and asked me to come a week or better a month later for the needed document !
I gasped ,gulped, and grimaced and pleaded that I needed it immediately , so that I could depart with it in the evening train ,as all was at stake ,he permitted himself to guffaw at my silly request and told me that that kind of thing never happened in these kind of places I agreed with him but like Alfred the great or was it his spider persisted in my efforts to achieve my ends by all means
Using flattery as a guise I suggested that if something like this could be done by anybody it could be only him and this did the trick, he couldn’t but fall for this and he did grunting that he would make a try but wouldn’t promise anything, maybe I could take a walk and come back when the sun sets!!
Thiruvananthapuram is a city of the Government ,its presence was unavoidable ,it was palpable ,babus milled around in abundance like ants scurrying on mounds ,everyone was busy carrying files,small crowds stood in corners huddling together in conspiracy, the road in front of the secretariat was a veritable crowd of activists ,small thatched shelters protected their demonstrating heads from the fierce sun,while they howled and hooted their rising passions fuelled by their voluble leaders who barked into their microphones a continuous litany of cacophony.
Commerce continued in this confusion as groundnuts were sold in tons and tea in gallons, many were fasting in true Gandhian spirit to express their annoyance at government decisions ,but a sleight of hand hooded the onlookers from the gluttony of the fasting .
Everyone was in some way related to the sarcar, either demonstrating for their rights or working for the government ,or men like me who have come to the presence of power to get things done ,I had time to savor the city now till evening and there was a lot to choose from indeed, for an observer of the human species this was paradise
I loitered into a small tea shop under a shady tree,it was cool and nice and the hot tea was boiling in the kettle ,so was a dhoti clad red shirt who was delivering a sermon to his mesmerized audience,
“Strike we shall “ he boomed “till time stops ,nothing shall move or breathe or sway till we command ,the united power of the people will crush the imperialists and their attitude and squelch their capitalist life out of them”he then gulped his kattan chayya and lit his bidi puffing it with venom, “comrade when would this be ?” questioned one meekly “ today ,from this minute, this land will stop working ,even hearts will stop beating !the word of a comrade cannot be dismissed lightly,” and so saying he grandly declared the strike open to the applause of his audience ,the crowd quickly melted away realizing that the drama was finished ,the comrade grinned at the tea shop owner and bit into a vada grabbing another cuppa tea and walked away with a flourish ,after all comrades too required their nourishments for their exertions for the great revolutionary cause .Does he ask you to close shop I asked the owner who shook his head vigorously and said never
I walked in to British Council planning to browse through encyclopedias in air-conditioned comfort and if conditions favour get a quick nap but my plans were doomed from the start by the new rule of allowing only members inside and not timekillers like me ,a movie could be the answer but the huge crowds in front of the theatre exhibiting a plump mohanlal gyrating with his heroine spoiled my strategy.
I had nowhere to go ,so I rang up a distant cousin who had insisted that I should never go anywhere near Trivandrum without visitng him and savoring his hospitality, this was said after a sumptuous meal he had in my house at Cochin ,the cousin answered in monotones that he was a bit busy and held up and why not some other time ,he was an excellent communicator indeed
I plodded in the blazing sun and reached the secretariat, feigning an air of belonging to the if I knew the place all my life and was bored with everything ,this probably made me appear like any other employee because none of the uniformed policemen asking for entry passes or bothered to stop me ,either I looked important or I was too innocuous to be noticed like an invisible man ,whatever be the reason it helped me move without entry passes .
I got lost in the maze of corridors and even reached the coir laden verandah of the chief minister and his entourage, the place was a blur of white khadi as pompous politicians lined up to get things done for their followers ,there was a lot of backpatting and guffawing and I felt like a lost soul in the crowd so I quickly retraced my steps and managed to find a way to my mentor babu
He was more harried now wearing a perpetual scowl like an uniform ,he gave me a sad look and informed me I could sit in a chair and wait for some more time .
This was the mother of all understatements ,the sun set itself into the blue Arabian sea and I read the government gazette No 33 from front to back approximately eight times as there was no other reading material in front of me, I was hypnotized by the files and their tags ,the world was melting away and I was lost in a twilight of sleep and wakefulness ,peace and quietness descended on me as I relaxed in a cocoon of nothingness, all worries disappeared and I felt light and airy I literally flew out of the windows and I could see myself sitting in the chair ,was this place my Bothi tree what an unimaginative place to attain nirvana ,
I was jolted awake from my slumber by the raucous cackle of a crow in the window near me ,I again looked around but the only view available other than the files was the babu officer and his compatriots ,this included a matron ,his superior who had all the time in the world with nothing to do but cracking jokes ,I understood that she was about to retire and that evening s there was a send off party planned for her in a nearby hotel and our lady was totally exited about it, no other earthshaking news could nudge her ,
she prodded my babu to leave his things and come to the party as the car was waiting and he would miss it, but my man was a man who stood by his promises ,he sent her off with the others telling her he would join them later and finally got into the act of writing the vital certificate referring to different files ,he then rushed into the officers cabin and got his signature from a departing boss hurrying to the party ,all that needed now was the all important seal and he had it with him ,but it was dry like a bone and there was no stamp pad to be found ,
A mere stamp pad could become my Achilles heel ,after all this waiting it could be the obstacle for my success ,sad ,so I made an offer that I would rush out and buy one in a jiffy ,
He shook his head and ingeniously poured some ink on to the seal and stamped my papers ,he handed it to me with a flourish and almost a bow Never have I been so grateful to a babu and a clever one at that and to babudom where I almost attained nirvana !!OM SHANTHI

Dr N.Harimohan

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