ALI BABU and the Filemaster-General were two characters who figured occasionally in my Shankar's Weekly articles in the early 1970s, and also in my column Delhiberations in the Hindustan Times Evening News in the 1970/80s. I had meant them to embody the crusty layers of the bureaucracy at the lower levels and the topmost level respectively. But actually I found it difficult to project them in a negative light, because I belonged to the civil service myself, and systematically making fun of them carried the twin risks of violating the official conduct rules and also appearing to adopt an arrogant attitude towards my colleagues, for many of whom I had great respect.
In the event, I thought I would wait till the end of my service period before developing this potentially explosive idea properly. But when I actually retired from civil service, I began writing a serious column in THE HINDU about Govt. audit reports, and couldn't get a focus on the funny side of the filemasters' work. Meanwhile, in the infrequent articles in which they did figure, Ali Babu and the FMG had actually emerged as harmless and rather charming characters. And here's one of those cameos, which I hope can still raise a good laugh after all these years!
By the way, 'Babu' is a Hindi word which roughly means 'clerk' in official circles. Ali Babu, obviously, has a hilarious root in the classic Arabian Nights tale Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves. Actually I coined this expression because I thought Ali Babu And The Forty Winks would be a fine title for a humorous sketch about the office zombie. But of course -- you guessed it! -- I never did come round to writing that story!
(In same order as in text)
British Raj -- British Regime ('Raj' in Hindi means 'Rule' in the sense of 'regime'). 'British Raj' is a popular expression in India, where we have a highly evolved culture of both written and spoken Indlish, which has survived across seven decades of postcolonial history.
Furlough -- Oxford Dictionary: leave of absence, especially from military duty (origin Dutch verlof). Roget's Thesaurus : Vacation -- a regularly scheduled period spent away from work or duty, often in recreation: teachers enjoying their long summer vacation.
Central Government -- Govt. of India, which is the Federal Govt., conversationally called 'Central Govt.'
LTC -- Leave Travel Concession, which meant partial refund of the cost of travelling to and from the employee's home town, which had to be declared on joining the service, and couldn't be changed till retirement. Employees in offices located in their own home towns got no benefit out of this rule, of course.
15-5-84, etc. -- In India, it's a traditional and universal practice to write down dates as Day-Month-Year, which seems (to us) to be more logical than any other way it's done anywhere else in the world.
Evening News, New Delhi
15 June 1984
In the leisurely old days of the British Raj, senior civil servants were periodically entitled to long spells of what was known as 'furlough', for visiting their overseas homes or just relaxing elsewhere.
Even the seniormost civil servants in India today naturally do not have such a luxurious perquisite, but all Central Government employees do enjoy the privilege of a Leave Travel Concession (LTC) once two years for visiting their home towns with their families.
In most places this may mot have a substantial impact on the work in Government offices. But since the Capital is a cross-section of India and employees hailing from all over the country are working here, during the school summer vacation the LTC does lead to a summer exodus from New Delhi.
The following papers in the Filemaster-General's office will illustrate the point. Perhaps they constitute an extreme case, but they will give you a broad idea of the problem.
From ALI BABU
Upper Division Clerk
To the Assistant Filemaster-General (Admn)
I enclose an application for 15 days' earned leave from 4-6-84 to 23-6-84, with permission tyo prefix 3-6-84 and 24-6-84 (Sundays), in order to enable me to visit my home town with my family, availing of leave travel concession.
Most of my colleagues in the Section have already proceeded on LTC, including the Section Officer. I, therefore, submit this application directly to you, for your kind and favourable consideration.
To the Deputy Filemaster-General (Admn)
I enclose a copy of my application dated 15-5-84 for home leave, addressed to the Asst. FMG (Admn).
I now understand that the AFMG is also on home leave, so I venture to put up this application directly to you, and shall be extremely grateful if you are kind enough to sanction the aforementioned leave.
To the Filemaster-General
I enclose copies of my letters dated 15-5-84 and 25-5-84 addressed to the AFMG and DFMG (Admn) respectively, regarding my home leave, for your kind consideration.
As the DFMG is also on leave, I take the liberty of putting up these papers directly to your good self.
Under the circumstances, Sir, I humbly request you to kindly sanction the leave I have applied for.
Thanking you, and hoping to be excused for the inconvenience caused,
To the Filemaster-General
In continuation of my letter dated 31-5-84 addressed to you (copy enclosed for ready reference), I came to know that your good self are also on home leave at present.
Under the circumstances, Sir, I am proceeding on home leave as stated in my original application dated 15-5-84, in anticipation of your kind ex-post-facto sanction, for which I shall be extremely grateful.
Thanking you, Sir, in anticipation of your favourable orders,