By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Taskmaster-General Tackles A Tricky Task

SHANKAR'S WEEKLY was a wonderful magazine which had humorously attracted the close attention of the most intelligent English-knowing people in India throughout the third quarter of the 20th century.  In a figurative sense, if not in a clinically accurate way, it could be called the Punch of India.  In its pages it was possible to discuss the most serious issues and concepts in a light-hearted way, and that's where I found a harmless way of expressing highly critical opinions about the bureaucratic set-up to which I myself belonged.

And it was in Shankar's Weekly that I created three central characters  --  the TMG, RMG and FMG  -- who embodied the whole mind-set and culture of Government officials, prevailing not only in India during and after the British regime, but universally, in any country on any continent in the world, at any point of time.

Let me present the TMG here  today.  Before I introduce the other two, perhaps you'd like to guess what exactly those initials stand for!

Shankar's Weekly18 Nov. 1973
Taskmaster's Task

THE Taskmaster-General sat behind his desk puffing at his pipe, with a large pile of papers before him.  He was going through the monthly arrear-reports from the Regional Taskmasters.

Facing the TMG across the table , and wearing a worried expression on their faces, were the Deputy Taskmaster-General (Co-ordination), the Assistant Taskmaster-General (Task Forces), and the Headquarters Taskmaster (Reports).

The TMG was a short and rather stocky man in his early fifties, with a shining bald head and a cherubic face.  He was usually a friendly, jovial person, but there were occasions when his smile could give way to a scowl.

 Right now the TMG's face was forbidding , and his subordinate officers sat in nervous silence as he shuffled through the reports.

The TMG  looked up at last, put his pipe down, and glared at his officers.

"As you are probably aware, gentlemen,"  he began, with biting sarcasm, "the Taskmaster-General is responsible for seeing that all tasks in the country get done, and get done in time.  But it seems to me that the toughest task he has got these days is to get things done in his own organization, leave alone getting them done quickly!"

The officers listened in silence.

"Now, the most disgraceful aspect of the situation"  the TMG continued,  "is that 12 out of the 50 Regional Taskmasters' arrear-reports are themselves in arrears!  Seven of the other 38 are provisional;  16 out of the remaining 31 are incomplete in one respect or another.  Fifteen reports are up-to-date and in the proper form, but six of them disclose serious arrears in external tasks, and eight reveal a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs.  Only in a single region it seems the Taskmaster's work is current....."

The TMG picked up his pipe and lit it with deliberate care.

".....Current, that's to say,"  he concluded with a devastating puff,  "if the blasted fellow is telling the truth!"

"Yes, Sir,"  said the Deputy TMG (C) meekly.

"And look at the flimsy alibis some of them give!"  the TMG exploded.  He picked up a report at random from the heap on the table, and started reading from it.

"Just listen to this drivel!  The allotted tasks during the period under report couldn't be got done, because the various departments, undertakings, factories, business concerns, contractors, shopkeepers and domestic establishments in this region continued to show a non-cooperative attitude.  Out of 15,427 directives issued by the undersigned during the month, only 1,246 were carried out.  Only interim replies were received in 2,106 cases.  No acknowledgements have been received in respect of the other 12,075 cases, in spite of demi-official reminders and personal contacts."

The TMG thumbed through the report, and resumed: 

"And listen to this, again!  Out of 16,425 specified tasks pending during the month, the RTM could get only 1,246 done.  He has given no valid explanation for not getting the other jobs done!

"And all this talk"  the TMG went on,  "about Taskmasters not being able to get adequate co-operation is beginning to get on my nerves!  The departments, undertakings, companies, factories, contractors, shopkeepers and what-else-have-you aren't expected to co-operate with the TMG!  They're supposed to be answerable to me, damn it, and it's up to the RTMs to get the answers!"

The TMG sat back on his chair, and sighed.  A look of resignation came over his face.  He was suddenly very calm and composed.

"The whole trouble, gentlemen,"  he said, almost genially,  "is that the Regional Taskmasters don't seem to have understood their own true role.    Most of them seem to think that all they've got to do is to issue directives and sit back twiddling their thumbs!

"I think, gentlemen."  the TMG concluded, getting up from his chair,  "it's high time we called a conference of all the RTMs and gave them a pep talk.  Please draw up the agenda papers immediately and show me!  And now, if you will kindly excuse me, I am going out for lunch."

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