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Monday, February 22, 2021


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

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.

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