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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Do We Need The IAS and other all India Services ?


The British colonial administration in India bequeathed to its successors, along with their independence , a fully fitted out colonial state with an administrative machinery, the ‘steel frame’, which had curbed India’s striving for independence with iron hands. In an inexplicable state of mind for which later generations found a name , ‘Stockholm syndrome’, the founding fathers fell in love with this apparatus of control, domination and subjugation and retained it lock ,stock and barrel. The new term of endearment for the fabled service , created in the very image of the mythical ICS, was IAS . It was expected to perform the feat that it’s precursors, the ICS, had been done for their colonial masters : hold the new country , with its wide diversity, together. They were supposed to advise their political masters at the centre and in the states, and help them steer the ship of the state. Sardar Patel believed that “You will not have a united India if you do not have a good All-India Service which has independence to speak out its mind”. To ensure that they were not lightly trifled with, Article 311, a politically self-denying provision was introduced to inure them from arbitrary punishments . The then government of India shared the belief of their colonial predecessors that deliverance could only be had at the hands of the District Magistrate and Collector. PM, CM and DM were the three forms of loco parentis in which the mai baap sarkar of our democratic polity manifested itself.
The fears of the founding fathers about the threat to federalism seems to be coming true, but their faith in the service as the defenders of the idea has come undone. The unseemly incident in which the CM of West Bengal walked away with her Chief Secretary in tow , from a meeting convened by the Prime Minister to assess disaster caused by cyclone, has created some sort of an impasse. It was a situation no civil servant would like to be in : an IAS officer is bound in obedience to both the CM and the PM , but for a situation in which he has to choose to obey one and show wilful disrespect to the other, there are no precedents . Anyone else would have agonised but the CS, WB found it easy, because there is a general belief that all India Service officers in West Bengal ,and many other states, are long used to behaving like party apparatchiks. What followed was even worse: the decision of the central government to recall an officer who had been granted an extension , a few days back, was churlishness of unthinkable proportions. As Stalin famously said , they are both worse. Instead of steering the ship of state away from choppy waters of state- centre confrontation together they have charted a collision course.
The Indian Administrative Service, consciously modelled itself after its more illustrious predecessors, the ICS, whom Philip Woodruff described as, “a ruling class, a class apart. They were hard working in a debilitating climate, incorruptible in a society riddled with bribery, celibate until middle age in a subcontinent which married at puberty. Above all they were intellectuals.” Being an intellectual brought in its wake the responsibility to speak "truth to power", in the famous phrase of Julian Benda. It is a clear case where the IAS on both sides of the fence failed to speak truth to powers they were serving ,the independence to speak out their minds notwithstanding. The threat to federal structure, as always, seems to have been subordinated to personal career interests.(On this point those interested can see my The Rusted Steel Frame)
Ironically, at this very juncture the other article of the faith of our founding fathers , deliverance at the hands of the District Magistrate , has also been tested and found to be totally misplaced. After the Bengal Deewani the East India Company began to fancy itself as a state. To make its unconscionable plundering look like a respectable vocation , Warren Hastings was tasked to produce a piece of machinery that English officials could operate and English opinion tolerate. Collector , the emblematic figure of British imperialism, the king pin in Hastings’ plan for the better administration of Bengal, was the answer . This instrumentality of collector was such a roaring success in fulfilling the objectives of the company, while satisfying easily satisfiable British opinion , it was consistent with British “ideas of justice and the proper discipline, forms of deference, and demeanour that should mark the relations between rulers and ruled, “that it was replicated in Southwest Pacific as well (Bernard Cohen.) Collector was the man on the spot who knew “the natives,” who was to represent the forces of “law and order.” “Law and order” became the magic mantra and the Superintendent of Police became the magic wand – that he could wield. After the creation of the ICS the office of the District Magistrate was manned by the members of the service.
The successors to the British administration , Congress men in a hurry, quietly supplanted themselves in the place of the rulers. The office of the collector, created solely for legitimizing exploitative profits of the Company Bahadur ,remained the king pin of the administration which was now supposedly centred around people. It was thought that what was sauce for the colonial goose would be sauce even for colonial gander .
The DM , heads the disaster management authority created by the National Disaster Management Act of India, 2005, at the district level, while the national and state level authorities are headed by the PM, CM and DM respectively. The DM as the head of the authority at local level enjoys unlimited financial powers , and huge immunity. Of course he cannot command the elements, he cannot ask the storm to stop raging or sea waves from lashing the shore, everything else he can. On pain of punishment he can mobilize every resource and seek almost everyone’s cooperation. NDMA, SDMA, also have retired IAS officers, some representation form retired military officers and a retired IPS officer as well.
The management of Covid 19 by the DMA’s , the unplanned migration of workers and the management of the second wave, especially the supply of oxygen and other lifesaving materials , has led to untold misery , an unmitigated disaster. It tested the premise of IAS officers acting in their capacity as DM to deliver, and they failed miserably. As a counter factual it may be noted that a doctor acting in his capacity as district magistrate in a remote district of Maharashtra managed the crisis so well that it became a national success story . There were some others too, I name Rahul Kumar DM of Purnea , in Bihar about whom I heard good things , who acquitted themselves well, which point to the doability of the task . But impersonality and indifference, the defining characteristics of bureaucracy have overshadowed every requirement and trait, in their handling of this crisis . A District Magistrate quipped in face of the shattering image of a child riding a suit case which his mother was dragging on her long haul back home, that he also similarly rode his father’s suit case. An audio tape that went viral has a doctor on 24/7 duty in a Covid ward pleading with the health secretary, for some arrangements to be made for his accommodation so that he is not forced to go home and endanger , his wife , his children and his parents. The health secretary asked him to resign and threatened to send him to jail for arguing with him . But the image of rampaging Agartala DM , who bet up the bridegroom , humiliated the guests under the garb of enforcing Covid curfew , will for a long tie represent the public perception of a DM . The production of moral indifference in its handling of Covid was an absolute visual
I have been a member of the UPSC interview board for civil services for a couple of years . Year after year, the procession of candidates would begin by spelling out their vision of how they would serve the people when they became the collector . No one saw himself as an officer of any other service, no one envisaged any other role for an IAS officer other than that of a collector . I loved to rile them by putting across that they would be lucky if they got into the IAS , lucky if they became Collectors for more than a term of a year or two , they would have certainly thought about the remaining thirty odd years of their service . They obviously had not. The civil service examination which has been identified with the IAS, and the IAS with the office of the collector fuels - and provides the outlet for -the private little feudalistic fantasies of every eligible candidate alike , even highly qualified professionals earning phenomenal sums of money. Hasting’s gift to the nation has the potential of turning ,has in fact turned - many administrations on the model of East India Company. They are run on the lines of profit making corporations for their political masters and many of these officers have enriched themselves to become “the King of nabobs”.
PS The nearest example that I could find to such a situation as evidenced in West Bengal is the one narrated by Krishan in his book Sardar Patel .” “In a democratic set-up, cabinet sanction was essential for Police Action(against Hyderabad.) Patel faced a formidable task in overcoming Nehru’s reluctance. At one of the meetings of the defence committee, of which Nehru was the chairman, “there was so much bitterness that Sardar Patel walked out. Seeing his seat vacant,” V. P. Menon told a Rotary meeting in Bombay, “I too walked out five minutes later.” This seemed to have shaken Nehru out of his complacent mood, and mellowed his opposition. Later, at a meeting attended by the governor-general (Rajagopalachari), the prime minister, the home minister (Patel), and secretary to the states ministry (Menon), “it was decided to order troops into Hyderabad”. B. Krishna. “Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel”.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

MUSINGS

I am here at Delhi, the epicenter of biggest man-made calamity in the shape of covid crisis; right here, at the capital and power centre of a mighty nation of powerless citizens; witness to desperate calls people are making to any person who they think can be of   help. Cries of distress,  SOS on twitter, addressed to no one in particular. Every resource is scarce. Oxygen. Beds in hospital . Ventilators. Tocilizumab. Remdesivir. Not  in  any  particular order. It is pointless to forage the black market either, the only open channel of distribution which functions flawlessly  during times of crisis. But such is the nature of unpreparedness and scarcity  that   nothing can be had either  for love or for money. The  demand has swamped  even this source  of supply .  Appeals to our good sense, or neighborliness, our sense of community, our compassion  gradually deadens all these qualities, simply because of our inability to make even a bit of a difference. It fills us with an erumpent rage, a sense of powerlessness, a sordid  cynicism.

   These resources are in the domain of power hungry, control freaks, delusional leaders of governments. All governments, without exception , work through their  bureaucracy,   and how dead and deadening the exposure to bureaucracy can be  , is too well known. In Jose Saramago’s chillingly contemporary novel , Blindness, a doctor calls a minor bureaucrat in the ministry of health who ridicules and rebuffs him. “This is the stuff we are made of, half indifference, half malice,’’ he  muses to himself.

 

For the medical industry , whose   profitability is rooted in human misery, it is a vultures’ feast, you can hear the feathered creatures  singing  in all  their  glory.  After all  it is once in a lifetime opportunity. How can they let it go?  According to an informed estimate the two-serum manufacturer are looking at a combined profit of 1.10 lakh crores. After having appeased their respective   governments with crumbs, they can go  about the business of excoriating ordinary people. But I do not grudge them their profit considering that  one of the above gentlemen is paying an extortionate rent of 5 million rupees per week for a flat in London. Chartered private jets don’t come in cheap either.  In the meanwhile in the 2021 edition of quit India movement led by the super-rich, eight plane loads of them landed in their private jets at London to beat the ban against flights from India . Wonder why did  we ask  them to quit in the first place! The exodus, however, is not limited to London , our people have peppered the pleasure joints of Europe or wherever Covid no longer raises its ugly head. Dubai is also a favoured new destination for the Indian uber rich .

Private hospitals, I have heard, are charging one lac rupees per day for a room. Remdisivir was, reportedly selling, if at well it was available, for  four times the normal price.  In the final stages of consumerism everything has an exact commodific value. For those  who haven’t learnt their  lessons  while they were  alive, the Dom raja now asks his price for cremation. People who can afford are paying 20 -2 5 thousand for a priority berth . Up there, some of them  should  be able to  tell God, all is well with India and his grand mansion is likely to be commissioned on schedule  .

Written about a fortnight ago.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

कोरोना का कहर और गिद्धों का महाभोज


डेढ़ वर्ष से लगातार कोरोना जनित विपत्तियों का दंश झेलते झेलते मन बिलकुल रुग्ण सा हो गया है. मुझे अनिद्रा की बीमारी है। कोरोना के डर से कर्फ्यू, कर्फ्यू से स्तब्ध, भयभीत , शिशुवत निद्रा में सोया हुआ शहर, मेरे नींद से वंचित होने के अहसास को और गहरा देती है. लगता है कोरोना का डर कहीं बहुत गहरे पैठ गया है। लॉक डाउन कुत्तों के लिए तो नहीं था परन्तु उन्होंने भी इस पर स्वेच्छा से अमल करना शुरू कर दिया। कहीं दूर दूर तक किसी सम्भ्रान्त या आवारा कुत्ते के भौंकने की आवाज़ भी नहीं आती। इस अभिशप्त शहर में रात्रि के तीन बजे , कदाचित मैं अकेला ,निद्रा अनिद्रा के बीच की स्थिति में अपनी किताबें ,उलट पुलट रहा हूँ। कभी ट्विटर , तो कभी यूट्यूब खंगाल रहा हूँ, शायद विचलित, चिंतित ,चंचल, मन को कोई ठाँव मिले। पर जहाज से उड़े पंछी को कोई आश्रय नहीं मिलता। 'दिल्ली में कर्फ्यू है ' से अचानक याद आया गजानन माधव मुक्तिबोध ने गगन में कर्फ्यू में ही यह खोज की थी कि “चांद का है टेढ़ा मुँह!!भयानक स्याह सन तिरपन का चांद वह !!गगन में करफ़्यू है. " सोचा चलकर देखूं तो सही धरती पर गाहे बगाहे कर्फ्यू ने चाँद का मुँह कही सीधा तो नहीं कर दिया। चाँद भी कही छिपकर बैठा था , मास्क से छनकर मद्धिम सी रोशनी गवाह थी कि चाँद अभी डूबा नहीं है.
फिर सोचा इस कोरोना की चिंता में बौराए मन का होम्योपैथिक इलाज करता हूँ। महामारी में महामारी पर लिखी किताबें पढता हूँ। मेरे पास लम्बी फेहरिस्त हैं ऐसी किताबों की, लेकिन कागज़ पर नहीं। मेरी किताबों का ज़खीरा मेरे घर पटना में है , निपट अकेला उन से दूर मैं दिल्ली में , इसलिए डिजिटल अवतार में ही उनका मनन करता हूँ. किताब हो तो कागज़ पर वर्ना नहीं। पर ऐसे समय में डिजिटल अवतार में Decameron by Boccaccio, The Journal of Plague Years by Daniel Defoe , Love In Times Of Cholera Marquez, Pale Horse ,Pale Rider Katherine Anne Porter, Plague by Albert Camus and Blindness by Jose Saramago उपलब्ध हैं . इन सभी किताबों को मैंने पढ़ा हुआ था, कुछ को तो कई बार फिर भी उन को देखा और Blindness को पुनः आद्योपांत पढ़ डाला। इसकी चर्चा अंग्रेजी के पोस्ट में। पर मन ने तो जैसे ठान लिया था, नो सोऊंगा न सोने दूंगा.
ट्विटर की जिस गली से मैं निकला वहां पर भयंकर सांप्रदायिक तनाव का माहौल था. मोदी जी के उपासकों और उनकी आदतन भर्त्स्ना करने वालों -दोनों सम्प्रदायों - के बीच कोरोना महामारी को रोकने के लिए सरकारी उपायों पर गरमा गरम बहस छिड़ी थी. मुक्तिबोध फिर याद आये 'जोरदार जिरह कि कितना समय लगेगा/सुबह होगी कब और/मुश्किल होगी दूर कब.' कुछ देर ठहरकर मैंने बिलकुल निर्विकार भाव से जायज़ा लिया और आगे बढ़ लिया। अनाहूत राजकमल चौधरी की कुछ पंक्तिय याद आगयी। उनका इस सन्दर्भ में क्या औचित्य था मैं नहीं कह सकता , लेकिन बहस का बहाव कुछ इसी तरह का था। मुलाहिज़ा फरमाइए :
" तुम्हारी मृत्यु के अपराध में, क़ैद हूँ । क़ैदख़ाने में
दरवाज़ा नहीं है;
दरवाज़ा इस ग्लोब में कभी नहीं था ।
आओ, पहले हम बहस करें कि क्यों नहीं था दरवाज़ा
पहले हम तय करें कि यह क़ैदख़ाना किसने बनाया
फ़ैसला करें कि दरवाज़े क्या होते हैं
इतनी ईंटें कहाँ से आईं
लोहे की सलाख़ें कौन ले आया
दीवारें धीरे-धीरे ऊपर उठती गई किस तरह ?
आवश्यक है तर्क-वितर्क
फिर, यह कि वाक्य-व्यवस्था हो, विषय हो
सिद्धान्त बनें, अपवाद गढ़े जाएँ, व्याख्याएँ, भाष्य,
फिर, निर्णय हो
कि पहले क्यों नहीं थे दरवाज़े
और, अब क्यों नहीं हैं ?"
पूरा देश आजकल बहस कर रहा है. ट्विटर पर, फेसबुक पर , सड़क, चौराहों पर। बहस प्रजातंत्र की प्राण वायु है। मैंने नहीं कार्ल पापर ने ऐसा कहा था. क्रिटिकल डिबेट यानि सुविचरित बहस। इन बहसों में विचार का पुट कितना है मैं नहीं कह सकता पर उनकी प्रति बद्धता एवं उस पर सब कुछ उत्सर्ग कर देने की भावना बस देखते ही बनती है. ट्विटर पर यदि खडग का प्रयोग हो सकता तो ट्विटर के राण बाँकुरों के उष्ण रक्त से आज देश से विलुप्त होती हुई गंगा सिंचित हो जाती।ट्विटर और विशेष कर फेसबुक पर मैं कुछ कहने से बचता हूँ. वैसे मेरी कोई राजनैतिक प्रतिबद्धता नहीं है। व्यक्तियों की पूजा मैंने कभी नहीं की.नीचे भारत का संविधान और ऊपर मेरा भगवान। इसके अतरिक्त किसी प्राधिकार में मेरी आस्था नहीं है. किसी विवाद में पड़ने की मेरी प्रवृत्ति नहीं है लेकिन न जाने क्यों दुष्यंत कुमार की तरह मेरी भी
कुंठा
रेशम के कीड़ों सी
ताने-बाने बुनती
तड़प-तड़पकर
बाहर आने को सिर धुनती,
स्वर से
शब्दों से
भावों से 'निकलने को बिलबिलाने लगी।
राष्ट्रकवि दिनकर ने महाभारत युद्ध में संभावित रक्तपात के मद्देनज़र लिखा था , " सौभागय मनुज के फूटेंगे, बायस शृगाल सुख लूटेंगे। " कोरोना मानव मात्र लिए दुर्भाग्य का सन्देश है लेकिन हमलोग रोज़ चीन की उत्तरोत्तर समृद्धि के समाचार पढ़ते हैं। देश के नामचीन उद्योगपतियों, पूंजीपतियों की संपत्ति में खरबों रुपये का इज़ाफ़ा हो गया. इस अकाल बेला में जमाखोरी और रेमडीसीवीर जैसे प्राणरक्षक दवाओं तथा ऑक्सीजन सिलिंडरो की जमाखोरी का धंधा खूब तेज़ी से चल रहा है. पटना में एक पति -शोक से विक्षिप्त पत्नी ने कोरोना संक्रमण से मृत पति की चिता पर रखे जाने से पहले कम से कम उसको चेहरा दिखने की गुजारिश की। हरिश्चंद्र ने इसी कर्तव्व्य के निर्वहन के क्रम में अपनी पत्नी को भी कोई रियायत नहीं बक्शी थी लिहाज़ा डोम राजा एक अनजान औरत के साथ क्यों ऐसा करें.?१०००० रुपये में मुँह दिखाई हुई। लाश दूसरे की निकली, पति पी एम सी एच के बेड पर था. कोरोना जांच में तो जिस स्तर का फर्जीवाड़ा चल रहा है वह अकल्पनीय है। दिनकर जी से क्षमा याचना करते हुए यह निवेदन करना चाहूँगा कि मनुष्यों को अपने शर्मानक कृत्यों को मानवोचित न कह सकने की मजबूरी कुत्तों और स्यारों पर अपनी भड़ास निकलने को मज़बूर करता है. मनुष्यों के सौभाग्य जब फूटते हैं तो मनुष्य ही खुलकर लूट करते हैं. कुत्ते तो बेचारे लॉक डाउन में मनुष्यों को नैतिक समर्थन देते हुए भूँकना बंद कर देते हैं. उस भेड़िए की कहानी तो सबने सुनी होगी जिसमें वह पानी जूठा करने के आरोप में उसे मार कर खा जाता है. अमरीका सरे आम इराक में घातक अस्त्रों जखीरा रखने के आरोप में तहस नहस कर डालता है, लाखो लोगों को मौत के घात उतार डालता है, असंख्य निर्दोष लोगों को आतंकवादी करार कर अकथनीय यातनाये देता है, लेकिन आज तक उन अस्त्रों का कोई प्रमाण नहीं मिला। लेकिन अमरीका तो अमरीका ठहरा . इस भेड़िये को भेड़िया न कहने का साहस ,तरह तरह के कशीदे गढ़ने को मज़बूर करता है जिससे इसकी दरिंदगी पर पर्दा डाला जा सके. लेकिन फिर मैं अपनी ही रौ में बह गया ,दर्द देशवासी दे रहे हैं मैं गाली विदेशियों को दे गया .
ट्विटर पर एक अन्य ह्रदय विदारक क्लिप : रो रो कर महिला बयान कर रही है , छह घण्टे से एक बेड की इंतज़ार में एम्बुलेंस में पति को लेकर हूँ. अम्बुलेंस का ऑक्सीजन खतम हो गया और पति ने दम तोड़ दिया। कट टू " अस्पतालों के आगे एम्बुलेंस की लम्बी कतारें , हर एम्बुलेंस में एक रुग्ण व्यक्ति, उसके साथ अधीर , व्यग्र परिजन ,एक बेड खाली होने की प्रतीक्षा में। किसे परवाह बेड कैसे खाली हुआ , पहले दाखिल रोगी जिया या मर गया , जब अपने जान पर बनती है तो दूसरे के जीने मरने की चिंता कहाँ सताती है? अनायास तिरने लगती है मानस पटल पर, भूख और बीमारी से पीड़ित, सुदूर अफ्रीका में एक मरणासन्न शिशु के निष्प्राण हो जाने की प्रतीक्षा में बैठा हुआ एकाग्र चित्त गिद्ध । यह फोटो पुरस्कृत हुआ, कुछ समय के लिये आत्मरत, आत्मकेंद्रित संपन्न समाज के कुछ संवेदनशील तबकों को तनिक उद्वेलित भी कर गया। मामला कुछ दिनों बहुत चर्चा में रहा। परन्तु फ़ोटो लेने के लिए साक्षी भाव से सब कुछ देखने के अपने पैशाचिक कृत्य की ग्लानि फोटोग्राफर ने आत्महत्या कर ली. उसकी आत्मा जीवित थी ,जाग्रत थी अतएव उसने उस ने शरीर के परित्याग में मुक्ति का मार्ग ढूँढा।
हर धर्म में एक परादैहिक तत्त्व की अवधारणा है,आत्मा,रूह ,सोल ,स्पिरिट जो हमें पशुओं से अलग करता है। डार्विन के सिद्धांतों से बहुत पहले हमारे पूर्वजों को इस बात का पूरा इल्म था कि हमलोग पशु हैं, मनुष्यत्त्व (यदि मैं इस शब्द को तात्कालिक प्रयोजन के लिए गढ़ सकता )का आवरण बहुत ही झीना है जो विषम परिस्थितियों में तार तार हो जा सकता है। धर्म का यह एक परम दायित्त्व है कि मनुष्य के स्वाभाविक पशुवत व्यवहार पर नियंत्रण रखने के लिए उसे एक स्वतःपूरित एवं तर्क संगत मिथक की आवश्यकता होती है. यह आवशयकता ईश्वर के अविष्कार की जननी होती है. ईश्वरों का उत्पादन हर युग में मनुष्य कीआवश्यकता है. प्राकृतिक तत्त्वों को व्यक्तिनिष्ठ करके पूजने से लेकर सम्प्रति इहलौकिक सत्ता में काबिज व्यक्ति पर ईश्वरत्त्व सौंपने के प्रवृत्ति जारी है. बहरहाल निकले थे कहाँ जाने के लिए निकलें हैं कहाँ मालूम नहीं. इस स्ट्रीम ऑफ़ कांशसनेस में कहाँ से कहाँ बहक गया ? क्रमशः

Monday, February 22, 2021

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS VI

In wake of the PM's remarks on the the versatility of the members of IAS in the Indian Parliament , I am posting an article ,that I wrote about 25 years ago in the Times Of India. It is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. And perhaps shall remain so a hundred year later.
I have edited and made minor changes form the published version and instead of The Mighty Service , I have captioned it The Indian Almighty Service

THE INDIAN ALMIGHTY SERVICE
Mr. Fixer cautioned me before embarking on this mission to meet the members of the Service, that it would be only proper for me to apprise myself of the genesis and background of these Platonic guardians, lest I commit some blasphemous faux pas. It will be my endeavour to reproduce what he said as faithfully as my memory would allow me to. "The myth of the creation of the Almighty Service, this is how the group likes to describe itself, dates it to hoary antiquity - say about 150 years ago. An empire was seized by the urge to civilise the dark-skinned natives of Atlantis, offer them good governance. “If we can’t give them independence, let us at least give them good governance.” They happily termed this enterprise as the white man's burden and to this end, they especially raised a group of people who were imbued with a sense of destiny to advance the noble and self-effacing enterprise which some griping iconoclast has termed as ‘imperial’ and 'colonial'. But be that as it may, these people were great pioneers and in the manner of the Nordic heroes who raised dykes to save the Netherlands from being submerged into water, they built a strong wall-known as the ‘steel frame’ to protect the Empire and keep it going.
They are a cut above the rest of humanity; absolutely unapproachable and above board but Fixers( I have explained the difference between Fixers and frauds, a very important difference, in a previous episode. ) have easy access to them. So the Fixer took me to the man who presided over the local district administration. We entered an imposing bungalow where a gentleman was sitting under a garden umbrella in the neatly manicured lawn, doing his files. The Fixer greeted him but he took no notice and continued with his precious labour. Intermittently he motioned in the direction of the sun. He was getting irritated when a man came running and adjusted the angle-poise umbrella in such a way that he no longer got the sun in his eyes. He grunted in satisfaction and returned to his files. The peon explained to us that the Sahib was getting the sun in his eye so he was motioning to the sun to get a move on so that he could carry on his momentous task! I looked puzzled but the Fixer remarked by way of explanation that there was a time when the sun was also in bondage, like the rest of Atlantis, and was forced to shine on some part or the other of the Empire. Some of the defenders of the Empire had perhaps not taken note of the fact that after the liquidation of the Empire the sun was, like the rest of us, free to do as he pleased. ( The Service still clung to the belief that it was in the nature of things that the sun should go round the earth because it was their abode.)
Spurned by the Sahib we tried to seek an appointment with another one of his tribe. His house was a veritable museum with bric-a-brac strewn all over. On the wall, there were several citations in laminated frame comparing him to the preserver and benevolent god. Many photographs showed him inaugurating this or that. But, what intrigued me most was that several contraptions that looked like shock absorbers were fixed at regular intervals on the floor, on the driveway, and all over the place. A bow and a quiver of arrows were neatly hung on the wall. The Sahib was in the office but the peon obviously read our minds. He said, "I am sure you are keen to know about the bows and arrows and of course these shock absorbers. Our Sahib thinks that he has entered this service by defeating other pretenders just as the mythical Lord Rama won his consort in the competition. This bow and arrow is a reminder to the Pretenders belonging to the intermediate services. As for the shock absorbers, the Sahib had a drop too much in the club sometime back and he has persuaded himself ever since that this drunken swagger was the result of the earth shaking under his footsteps. Out of compassion for Mother Earth he has had these shock absorbers fitted."! was bowled over lock stock and barrel but the Fixer explained that these people had often notions which were inconsistent with the common man’s point of view but they have good reasons for such beliefs." The Sahib, alas! Had left for his office.
“It is better to catch them in their office,” the Fixer said, “because what is a Sahib without the seat from where he exercises his authority.” We decided to meet the Provider of shelter to the government servants in his office. There could be no more appropriate activity to begin my education as the issue of allotment of government quarters was very much in the news. There was a large queue of favour seekers in front of his office. Mr. Fixer urged the Provider to enlighten us on the procedure to allocate the limited number of houses to a host of supplicants, er applicants. He said without looking up from his files, “it is simple, you see these houses here." A large number of houses in miniature were stacked in neat rows. A group of posh bungalows was set apart and hidden from view.
He explained to us the objective criteria for allotment and confidently said that they followed it religiously.
(I) Member of the Service.
(ii) An adequate number is reserved for the members of the Service who came on premature transfer.
(iii) A certain number is reserved for the lackeys, hangers-on and others who surrendering all their duties seek refuge in the Service alone.
(iv) Seniority list which is prepared in accordance with rules.
While he was thus describing the procedure there was a commotion outside. An agent of the Court entered and rapped the functionary on the knuckles, picked up a house, and gave it in to the petitioner. He wrote on top of the list "Be you ever so high the law is above you.” The functionary looked embarrassed and shame-faced. There was a mighty clang and his huge ego fell in heaps on the floor. We made a hurried and undignified exit leaving the presiding deity to collect the pieces.
Atlantis being a democracy the people are the real masters, the governments are made and unmade by the people. The governments try to propitiate their masters in the manner of Gods of ancient times by sacrifices known as developmental programs. And as in the manner prescribed in their religious texts the Service has cast itself in the role of Agni, the mediator who appropriates and apportions the sacrificial offering. Naturally, they occupy the highest position in the hierarchy of public service and are universally courted. The newspapers however were full of heretic stories about the misappropriation of the sacrificial offerings of cows and buffaloes for the tribal gods er people.
The Developer was sitting on a high hobbyhorse and was persuaded to come down only in order to stamp the heresy, once and forever. This is what he said: "When you offer sacrifices to the gods when you pour clarified butter, coconut and various fruits, etc in the fire, when you make an offering of gold to the various deities do you seek an account from the priest. Has anyone seen God eating the prasad or wearing the gold ornaments? You leave that to the priest. Were they to furnish accounts of every single offering the whole ritualistic routine will come to a standstill. It is blasphemy to even raise such questions about development funds, whether buffaloes were bought or goats were sold leave alone investigate. " The case was argued so well that one couldn't refute it one way or the other. For good measure, he lamented the fact that the subordinates¬ were so inefficient and corrupt that nothing got done really. He came forward with a litany of complaints of malfeasance of the other servants of the government of Atlantis-the lowborn subordinate services even the intermediate services who kept staking insane claims of parity. “Look at the absurdity of their claims-the doctors want to run the health care system, the dim-witted generals would like to decide which gun is best suited for their artillery. We have lost the Empire once by making silly concessions. Never shall the mistake be repeated. It strikes at the heart of the system of governance by ignorance we have perfected over the years. We have allowed them to carry water and hew wood but now they want to be in the decision-making positions.” He mounted his hobbyhorse again not even indicating that the interview was over. We imperceptibly faded out.
The Service members gather at regular intervals and debate serious issues as a cure for their collective flatulence and dyspepsia and let out a lot of gas. They sometimes play a game called Ali Baba in which, through secret ballot, they reveal to themselves the well-known fact as to which three of them are the most corrupt. Sometimes they meet just to flex their muscles. One such meeting began with their ritual prayer in which all the other hostile forces were soundly abused and “we are the masters of the Universe", was chanted in Chorus. Speaker after speaker occupied the high moral ground and thundered revenge against an alleged assault on one of their members by an elected representative of the people. They even threatened to withdraw their benign protection for a day by going on mass casual leave. The whole world shook to its foundations. But the tension dissipated itself as quickly as it had built up. The lion tamer twisted the tail of one of the leading members of the pack and they all fell in line. They relented and stayed at work and had a good laugh at the cost of the frightened populace. The Fixer appeared to be totally exhausted. I immediately offered him a glass of water, switched on the fan, and told him that it was enough instruction for a-day. If I feel like I'll see him next week.

Monday, February 15, 2021

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS III His Encounter With Police


Police is a very powerful but unpredictable deity in the pantheon of such beings of the natives of Atlantis, who are too ready to worship anyone who even wields a semblance of authority. It is Janus faced - one of its faces has a fawning look of idiot amiability and abject servility while the other is cold, indifferent, even abusive, forbidding, angry. As the occasion and circumstances present, the viewer may view one or the other or both of them in quick succession.
The seat of this mighty deity was a large rambling place with debris of vehicles and other bric-a-brac strewn all over the compound. It was a perfect picture of disorder as indeed in this land of contradictions the agency responsible for maintaining order should appear to be. My escort tried to catch the attention of the man who was sitting on a chair. A thick ruler was placed on the table, in front of him, with which he kept tapping the table intermittently, with his left hand. His right hand was dedicated to the task of twirling his moustache. There were many people on the verandah outside; I particularly noticed a child who would intermittently howl and lisp as if he was also trying to catch the attention of the same worthy. My escort again ventured to engage the man seated on the chair and briefly caught his eye. He motioned him to wait, suggesting that there were others waiting in the queue. A lowly functionary informed us that the motley crowd was in fact the queue and since it would take some time for their turns to come they were sauntering around. They were all carrying a number which designated their place in the queue. The sharp piercing howl of the child provoked my curiosity no end and being by now slightly conversant with the local language I demanded to know who the child was and what on earth could he have come to complain about. A chirpy old man who appeared to be very knowledgeable upon matters related to Police and their activities looked at me with quizzing eyes and realizing that I was new to this land offered to explain to me. It seems that the child was standing at the head of the queue in place of his mother, who died some time ago. The mother of the child had been forcibly initiated into woman hood by his employer. When she arrived here to file a complaint , unfortunately for her, the Police was in a state of red alert and hence they were unable to attend to their duties. The woman died in childbirth and her child was thus the natural inheritor of her place at the head of the queue. Seeing me evince a lot of curiosity he was prepared to instruct me further but not before I had pandered to his vanity and offered fulsome praise to his land and its institutions. While we were thus engaged in conversation, a man stormed into the room and headed straight to the worthy personage who was still rhythmically tapping his table with the ruler, and enjoying the sound as if it was a percussion instrument. He looked up, only mildly interested, demanding to know the reason for such importunity. The intruder mentioned some occurrence upon which the Police straight-away dismissed him saying 'Oh, that does not fall within my jurisdiction' and returned to his musical occupation. But it appears that the intruder was a man of some substance for he would not immediately leave as others did at the mere hint of having been dismissed. Whereupon a map of some sort was fished out and spread upon the table. Still more haggling took place but to no avail and the intruder finally departed. My new found guide observed that the Police sets a very high store by the limits of their jurisdictions and they never-but never, even as peer at the territory of their neighbours. I wondered aloud that would it not be a comprehensive solution of the problems of Atlantis to post all such conscientious men to its international borders. These people seem to understand the meaning of sovereignty and non-interference and were they in charge all incidents of cross border firing, violation of international border would stop. Violent debates in the international forum will cease and the countries can take care of their more urgent problems.
Meanwhile, I found some people hopping up and down, up and down rather in the manner of spot running. My guide proudly commented that you are uncommonly lucky to witness the state of red alert. In such a situation they can take no other action but remain alert and hyperactive . It has been found that the vibrations caused by the rhythmic stamping of the foot soothed the frayed nerves of the people. My guide would have commented some more when from behind the half closed door was sighted a man sans his cap and his belt reclining on a chair. His legs were on the table and his chin was resting on his chest. He appeared to be in deep thought or was perhaps half asleep. Before I could query my guide, he read my thoughts and explained to me that the fellow had gone into the state of amber ambivalence which means he had retired into this state unofficially and challenged to prove, otherwise he will attain the state of red alertness. My guide took me to the back verandah where many people were reclining or half standing with their muskets in various degrees of inclination. I particularly noticed that moss, lichen and other vegetation were growing out of the various orifices of some of these men even as they appeared to be in a state of deep slumber. My guide promptly diagnosed this state as that of green inertia. Some of these poor souls could not handle the frequent call to red alert and their internal circuitry had got burnt and they had lapsed into this state. All these people with such symptoms are either swept under the carpet or relegated to the backyard.
My self- appointed guide was in an expansive mood. He began to dilate on the name and nature of Police. Presently he motioned to a man who was supported by a young boy. This man was number 2 in the queue. Some years ago he had come to report the abduction of his wife. By the time he could up move up the queue his abductors taking advantage of his absence and abducted his daughter as well. Now the son had come with a fresh complaint about his sisters abduction; since earlier complaint had been registered the authorities with great compassion had given him the number 2.5.
Meanwhile, the Police was ready to look into the case of the raped woman who had died in child birth and was now face to face with the deity. The Police took out fat, musty, old books on forensic science, jurisprudence, criminal procedure, penal codes and even poetry from the shelf, leafed through half a dozen registers, spoke to his superiors and berated his juniors, drank endless cups of tea and smoked cigarette, regaled himself by playing the table as a percussion instrument and finally ruled that there was no need to proceed in the matter. The woman was into dangerous and subversive reading and had willingly forsaken her virginity under the evil, occidental influence of the poem "To His Coy Mistress” which urged nubile young women to make a gift of their bodies to whoever coveted them because in the end all of them are dead. In her diary the Police actually found the lines in hr won hand and heavily underlined,
“Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave is a fine and a private place.
But none I think do there embrace."
The child could not hold it back any more and he started wailing at the top of his voice. But the plaintive cry of the child was drowned in a great din and commotion. An important looking personage, followed by half a dozen flunkies, was the cause of all this perturbation. There was a great deal of activity and many more people emerged from the various nooks and niches of the same building. The child was quickly bundled up with the file in a red cloth with the inscription CASE CLOSED and sent to the record room.
The man with the ruler as well as half a dozen others of his kind collapsed on the floor-or so I thought. Actually they had fallen on the feet of the mighty personage in order to lick his boots. A tall well-built man bet everyone to it and was able to licked the boots with great relish and licked it clean and shining. The VIP mildly reprimanded him for soiling his cherry blossomed boots and asked him to do his duty. Meanwhile, the man at no. 2, who as I noticed, had already gone white with fear. The half a dozen worthies promptly gave number 1 to the newly arrived VIP and added + 1 to every one standing in the queue. The VIP was now in front and lodged his complaint. The gist of his complaint was that the old man and his son were ungrateful blackmailers. The fact of the matter was that VIP had summoned the daughter in order to give her mother company who was feeling lonely. He wondered why instead of feeling grateful he was being reviled in public, and as he had learnt only now. Being a conscientious citizen he had come to report to the Police. He saw a sinister foreign hand behind all this activity. The complaint was investigated impromptu and the father and the son (no. 2 and 2.5 in the line) were arrested and confined to a cage like room as lock up. My guide gave a triumphant smile and dared me to find parallels to this efficiency and wisdom in my own country. He also added for good measure that this was the state of ultraviolet activity - a rare sight as it was beyond the pale of visible of their duties spectrum, and I was fortunate to have witnessed it, in presence of VIP sometime leads to such a state.
Meanwhile the knowledgeable person advised my escort that either he should he patient and await his turn, or approach someone who could command the obedience of Police. The Police are like a vault - unless you have the secret code, (and only the rich and powerful have it ) you can’t' open it. He gave me the necessary information and bade me goodbye. I said to myself that having come this far I might as well go through the whole. I prepared to seek an appointment with the holders of the secret code

GULLIVER IN PATALIPUTRA


My peripatetic travels have taken me to strange lands. In Lilliput, I encountered human creatures the size of thumbnails, whereas I had the discomfiture of being reduced to thumbnail size myself in the presence of the mighty Brobdingnagians. During my voyages, I have met craven politicians and mad scientists, barbaric homo sapiens as well as civilised horses. After having taken the measure of the endless variety that nature had to offer, I hung my haversack and donated my compass and telescope to the local museum. The exclusive account was given to my literary executor, a certain Mr. Jonathan Swift who, I am told, later went insane. This is perhaps just as well, because for anyone to handle such bizarre tales is job enough. But my travel agent was pestering me for the last few decades to visit Atlantis, which he described as the Pearl of the Orient and like nowhere else on this earth. The name was exotic but I refused to bite the bait until I received this cable: "Buffaloes and bulls cultivated on bonsai scale. Handy enough to ride pillion on tiny scooters but have gargantuan appetites. A sight fit for gods". It was difficult to resist this last temptation and I cabled my assent.
The world was really becoming a mean little place now with so many barriers and restrictions on the movement of human beings. For a certain fee, the tour operator offered to take care of all the currency, immigration, passport and other formalities. I packed my bag, picked up my Handycam video camera and boarded a Boeing Aircraft for my destination. After many hours and changing many an aircraft, finally, I was hovering over the airport of my destination - Atlantis. I was not much used to this mode of travel, so I enquired of my fellow passengers the reason for this. I couldn’t have spoken sooner, because the pilot was on the mike to announce that a couple of young blue bulls were gamboling on the runway. The authorities were trying to persuade them to change the locale of their amorous pursuits to their nearby home.
It made quite an impression on me. In these unregenerate days when the flora and fauna were threatened all over the globe, here at least in a corner of the planet, the convenience of the lesser members of the animal kingdom was being accorded priority over such human nostrums as punctuality etc. We landed a few hours behind schedule but still in time for the magnificent parade that these people hold annually to celebrate their Republic Day.
En route to the parade ground, I was very impressed by the love of nature and natural surroundings that these people had. Cows, goats, pigs all roamed around, sharing the same bit of macadamized stretch of path with cars, buses, trucks. The dwellings could serve equally well for men and pigs! It was indeed a bit of a welcome change from the other countries, where they practice complete segregation. Not only animals, birds were shown equal consideration. At numerous places, tall human statues were erected through public funds to serve as perch for them, and also for them to do their dirt upon. In an ingenious move to placate the churlish taxpayers - for Atlantis was a democracy - these statues were cleaned and decorated once a year and dignitaries performed some ritualistic mumbo jumbo to justify the expense incurred.
Finally we arrived at the parade ground where a separate enclosure was erected for the distinguished personages. A leisurely crowd of courtiers lounged about. These went about with familiar sounding names of officials in British Civil Service. Atlantis prides itself in unity in diversity and a fierce commitment to originality and independence of views. They are a people remarkably free from jingoism and false national pride. The more reactionary and conventional courtiers were present in the de rigour bandhgalas, but the more progressive ones sported tweeds and blazers and various jackets, very much akin to people in our lands. Being a sociable people, the courtiers displayed a natural tendency to garrulousness while the children - the more noisy adults in miniature - played a small game of hide and seek in the enclosure. In the meantime the National Flag was unfurled, and people got up and sat down at their pleasure, while the National Anthem played merrily. The general atmosphere of gaiety and even levity left me in no doubt that they are a highly evolved people politically and they treated such holy icons as national flag, national anthem etc. with just the right dose of cynicism. The next morning’s newspaper carried a story of the national flag slipping down the pole; at some other place it was unfurled upside down. I could now see the foolishness and the fanaticism of soldiers, sailors and citizens back home prepared to kill and be killed for a quilted piece of cloth called the Union Jack.
The parade was over, and the tableau relating to achievements of the state began to emerge from behind a curtained enclosure. The first one, that nearly took my breath away, was a school without teachers, followed by a school chock-full of teachers but with no students. Atlantis, being a very ancient land, had evolved the method of self instruction and, as the story goes, when denied access to a teacher they make do with his statue - as somebody called Eklavya seems to have done. Similarly, the teachers, who are in the lineage of the great sages, are all the time in pursuit of the realization of the ultimate knowledge. In this vibrant democracy, politics has been accorded - and rightly - the status of the ultimate pursuit. Needless to say, these teachers are elected. Hospitals without doctors, doctors without any formal medical training or degree - the presentation was getting to be a little jaded when suddenly, in the distance, a procession of scooters emerged.
The audience was electrified, and a deafening applause demonstrated how justly they were proud of their achievement. It was a sight which I witnessed with no mean surprise. Buffaloes and bulls the size of thumbnails were neatly stacked, one on top of another, and on one scooter at least I counted four score and six. It was confirmed by the excited crowd that each one of them ate animal feed equivalent to one hundred normal animals. I had no doubt in my mind that they are a people much advanced in eugenics and genetic engineering. They appeared to have crossed Brobdingnagian animals with the Lilliputian ones. Invention as they say is the mother of necessity. These animals were to be given away to the poor tribals who had very small huts. So the compassionate state bred these animals commensurate with the needs of these poor people. The copious dung of these animals was pure gold, and was collected as reward by all those associated with this noble project. The compassion and the efforts of the welfare state touched me deeply.
But the piece de resistance of the whole show was the award giving ceremony. In our country, thieves and scoundrels were publicly hanged. The intent behind such a public ceremony was that the general populace should take heed and desist from such deeds. But the barbaric practice did leave them brutalized to that extent. Readers will remember that these people are highly evolved politically, and are above jingoism and sectarian patriotic claptrap. Dr Johnson's dictum "patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel" was understood in the true sense of the terms. But rather than punishing, their scoundrels who resorted to patriotic acts like keeping the enemy at bay on international borders were called out publicly for such misdemeanours. The rationale was that these who got foolishly killed should be rewarded with petty sums to underline the comicality of their endeavour. I was reminded of the punishment meted out to dissenters in the Roman days, who were made to wear the mask of a clown to rob them of the dignity of their deeds and deaths. There could be no other reason for a compassionate state which honours criminals or their victims, or people killed in accidents and natural calamities so handsomely to be so stingy. But the deeds of these people were described in very fulsome terms. The French pride themselves on having the most polite manner of saying things - if they have to abuse you, then they will abuse you sil vous plait!
It was a grand spectacle which drove home the message pointedly and left the people elevated rather than brutalised. Britain and other advanced nations have much to learn from this country and the colour of the skin of these people may be darker but their hearts have hues of gold. The first leg of my journey had greatly instructed me in the ways of the modern world

REPRISE SERIES

The IAS is in the news. The Prime Minister himself eloquently told the parliament about what they can and they cannot do , so I thought it would be a good starting point , to share with the world Gulliver's impression of the Mighty Service.
By way of an introduction to the article "The Mighty Service "that I am going to post shortly ,Gulliver's Travels, a humorous series that I wrote about 25 years back , could not proceed beyond the sixth part.It was written with active encouragement from my dear friend
Uttam Sengupta
then RE Times Of India , and published in the year 1996-97(?) in the Times Of India and was published without attribution to the author for obvious reasons.
The inspiration for the series was a bizarre incident. An airplane couldn't land at Patna airport even after hovering over it for quite some time because a couple of frisky blue bulls had strayed on the runway, nobody knew from where. And of course writing in 1997 who could put away the thoughts about the infamous Animal Husbandry Scam that burst upon Bihar. In the same year on the Independence Day security personnel were honoured with cash awards like 2977.50 paise. (Rs.22.50 were deducted as charges for preparing the bank draft etc.!) Such financial prudence went hand in hand with the withdrawal of hundreds of crores of rupees from the treasuries without budget, without allotment, without proper authorization. Bills for transporting thousands of bulls and buffaloes on scooters were also paid for with the taxpayers money. On the other hand criminals killed in police encounters – fake or genuine -were rewarded with sums like Rs.2 lac and above should they belong to the politically favoured caste or those who owed allegiance to ruling political party. The first part of the serial tries to look at these events from the viewpoint of an alien that is one who carries no bias.
The Police serials( 2,and3) were similarly triggered off by topical events which have now faded away from public memory. Sl. 2 was occasioned by a spate of kidnappings and train dacoities. Since many of the dacoits owed allegiance to powerful politicians or caste groups police were understandably reluctant to act.
Sl 3 :Deepa Murmu, a young poetically inclined and politically ambitious girl was raped, first by a government functionary, and then allegedly by the minister himself to whom when she had gone seeking his help, in nailing down the accused. Forced to investigate the influential offender police investigation meandered through literary , and metaphysical alleys and byways, and finally get lost in the maze of court procedure . Senior officers wrote eloquent disquisitions on the etiology of the crime of rape and mapped the psychological profile of the rapist in great detail. Meanwhile the raped girl who had conceived, died during childbirth. SL. 3 pays homage to this attribute of Police. SI 4 is in breathless adoration of arms merchants, their resident agents and other lobbyists and liaison men. It also celebrates the vanishing trick of a certain highly connected Italian gentleman who figured in a defence deal but agencies dared not take his name. SI 5 and 6 are about the two warring tribes- the IPS and IAS. The 5th in the serial is in the context of 5th -pay commission recommendation and the sole concern of the IPS for parity with the IAS etc. The sixth part describes the deluded descendents of The Men Who Ruled India, about their fondness for mulcting of development funds, the brazen episode of out of turn allotment of government houses where in the Supreme Court and Patna High Court in their respective jurisdictions had to intervene. The whimsies and other peccadilloes of the Bada Sahibs (IAS) has been described from the perspective of the lesser folks.I do not remember why did I stop this serial. I guess I got bored with myself.
I had discovered the old drafts sometime back and I am trying to reconstruct the articles .Since the IAS is in the news, I thought it would be a good starting point , to share with the world Gulliver's impression of the Mighty Service, even though this is the last of the Gulliver’s series.
Mr . Gulliver first port of call is in Pataliputra . He meets a local who acts as his guide and takes him to places. This post is by way of introducing The Mighty Service which I shall post in a short while.