By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New Year Blues : Human Side Of The Routine-bound Burocraftsmen

As we are settling down in the 14th year of the 21st century,  let me share with you a New Year story I wrote in New Delhi's evening paper exactly 40 years ago.  I would paint a far brighter picture of the economic and social environments in India today if I re-told the story now;  but the significant thing about this old cameo is that the predicament of the twin characters may still sound remarkably true today in many other countries in the world.  
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Glossary & annotations
(in same sequence as in title & text)

Burocraftsmen  --  I am glad to say I still haven't lost my lifelong passion (and, may I add, rather special skill) for coining colorfully imaginary expressions and names by bending, twisting and welding  together real-life words and names.  For some recently minted samples, please see Buronautics : Worker Found Guilty Of Act Of Work!;  and OPCW Wins Nobel Prize For Peace : OCPW Bags Nobel Prize For Burocrafts!  And now, Burocraftsmen is a natural sequel which I can't resist!
File Bhavan  --  Headquarters Building of the Filemaster-General  (see FMG below).  In the blog Expanding Business Of Exporting And Importing Brains, I had  explained the related expressions as follows:  'Bhavan' is a Hindi expression which broadly denotes 'institution'.  Various Departmental Headquarters in New Delhi are located in spacious buildings bearing native names like Krishi Bhavan (Agriculture, 'krishi' meaning crops),  Udyog Bhavan (Industry and Commerce),  etc.  For no reason known to me, there's also the hybrid Rail Bhavan, housing the Railway Headquarters, which made my imaginary File Bhavan sound very real!

Ali Babu  --   As explained in an earlier context, 'Babu' is a Hindi word which roughly means 'clerk' in official circles in India, and Ali Babu has a hilarious root in the classic Arabian Nights tale Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves.

FMG  --  One of three vital imaginary characters I've mentioned earlier :  Filemaster-General And Ali Babu Go Away On Furlough!  ;  Rulemaster-General Vs. Bulky Rules CommissionThe Taskmaster-General Tackles A Tricky Task;  and How The President Of The Philippines Got Rid Of All Government Officials!

"Your good self"  --  Conservative persons with low ranks  in independent India  still  have a way of addressing their official or social superiors respectfully in the third person, as their ancestors used to do in the British regime.  'Your good self' is a commonly used expression in the North. 

Moti Bagh  --  An important residential area in New Delhi, primarily providing Government-owned housing for serving officials.  This is where I lived during most of the 1970s and '80s.

11 o'clock queue  --   As a rule, the working hours of all Central Government offices in India are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with some exceptions here and there.
A suitable bridegroom  --   In India, traditionally marriages are 'arranged' by parents.  This is still the predominant practice, , though the scenario is changing progressively.   
Compensatory off  --   In Government of  India offices, although there are provisions for paying overtime wages for working on Sundays and public holidays, it is more common to permit officials to be absent correspondingly on some working day(s) of their choice, as 'compensatory off'.

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Evening News, New Delhi
25 January 1974


Ali Babu and the New Year Day

Everybody's face in File Bhavan was beaming with broad smiles.  People were going round and round in groups all day long, wishing one another a happy New Year.

Judging from the good cheer which was overflowing, it was difficult to believe that everybody in the office had any worry  --  or any work, for that matter.

When Ali Babu came into the Filemaster-General's room at 3 p.m. to get the latter's signature on some routine paper, the officer asked him to sit down.

"Tell me something,"  the FMG said.  "All you fellows look as if you are really happy!  Is it because you have no work to do today?" 

"No, Sir!"  Ali Babu said.  "Most of us don't have much work even on other days."

"You have solved the transport problem, by any chance?"

"No, Sir.  The queues are getting longer and longer at the bus-stops.  I saw your good self in the 11 o'clock queue at Moti Bagh yesterday morning."

"Oh, you did?  Is that why you are all so happy?  That the boss can no longer drive to the office every day, and he's also late sometimes?"

"No, Sir.  We have always been late, and it has never made any difference to us whether the boss comes on time or not!"

"Then why are you so happy today?  Do you think the prices will come down?"

"They say coal prices are going to double from today, and I don't have a gas-cooker, Sir."

"Has your son found a job yet, Ali?"

"No, Sir.   He is still looking for one."

"You have found a suitable bridegroom for your daughter?"

"No, Sir.  She has lost her typing  job also."

"Have I sanctioned any overtime to you by mistake?"

"No, Sir. I worked the whole of last Sunday, but you have sanctioned only a day's compensatory off."

"Tell me then, my good man,"  the Filemaster-General asked.  "How is it that you are looking so happy today?"

"Well. Sir,"  confessed Ali Babu.  "I am happy because it is New Year Day.  With due respect to your good self, Sir, don't we say Good Morning to everybody every wretched morning of the year? 

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