Monday, August 5, 2013

Whose battle is it anyway?

...and may the worst man win?
A lot of people ask me: how the hell do you work with government? Why? Isn’t it really bugging to deal with one of the world’s slowest systems that works at a pace and in ways that are incomprehensible to most mortals?

Yes, it’s bugging. Yes, it’s slow. Yes, I often feel I am doing penance for much evil in a previous life every time I wait patiently for meetings in dusty extensions of air-conditioned offices, chatting with myriad co-passengers bravely navigating the world of the Indian sarkar. Yes, I feel like I could be doing something much better with my life every time an arrogant PA hangs up on me or makes me call after yet another ten minutes, without once telling me that – maybe, just maybe – sahib can’t really talk to me today. Yes, I want someone – anyone – to go to hell every time I have to pimp a just cause, by couching it in so much undeserved politeness I feel like chewing my own head off.

Yes, sometimes it’s that bad. Because, yes, it’s true that if waiting on the Government of India was a sport, we’d beat the pants off everyone else at the Olympics.

So why do I do it?

It’s because for every arrogant, self-entitled ‘babu’ I meet (unfortunately they’re all too real), there are ten who make me believe that maybe we’re not betting on the wrong horse here. Just like it’s true that the Government of India hires the best and the brightest, it also nurtures some of the most innovative and creative heads in the business, burnishing them into some of the most committed and determined individuals I have come across. Let’s face it: they have to be. Being a wimp is simply not an option when you’re working for the Indian sarkar.

We Indians love to complain about everything that’s wrong with the ‘system’, not once stopping to think that if the system works at all, it’s because someone, somewhere is doing their job. And they’re often doing it not in the absence of constraints, but despite them. What makes some succeed within the same ‘system’ we are so quick to write off is what stands them tall and apart from the others.

I see evidence of this every time I visit different states where there are stories of hope, scripted by determined administrators that find scant column space in mainstream media. I see it in the reverence reserved for senior bureaucrats who continue to inspire long after they hang up their boots, and hear it in the stubborn passion of their worthy successors.

Strangely, I also see more convincing evidence of this in every email that is politely answered, every decision that is quickly taken, every request that is politely declined and every over-sweet, chipped cup of tea I am offered with an apology for being made to wait despite an appointment. Most importantly, I see it every time I am treated with respect as a fellow professional who is perhaps as busy – if not more – than the person with a three-alphabet suffix in that high-backed chair with a white towel cover.

So when I first heard that the IAS officers of the country were getting seriously ready to take up the cudgels against injustice meted out to one of their own, I felt a strange sense of vindication for my, some would say, ‘unreasonable’ conviction over the years – that there is only so long that a government can treat the world’s largest democracy’s administrators so badly. This is one battle that has been brewing for years, it seems. Now as I see the debate deteriorate to the usual one-upmanship between career commentators over everything but the issue at hand, I’m dangerously close to questioning my pick.

In fact, as I sit chewing on my lip and letting my love for conspiracy capers run amok in my head, I wonder if there’s a plan that goes beyond a wild-card draw - where the end result will depend on which political party finally manages to pull that veritable ace from up their sleeve. Or – and this is a comforting thought – is someone secretly plotting the Indian Babu’s Great Comeback? For if I was to choose a moment, that would be, like, now.

Sometimes it seems the only one demanding any answers is Arnab Goswami with his dedicated Band of Brothers. Well, this time the nation can rest. It's time for someone else to speak up or hold their peace forever.

I know that things are sometimes not as simple as they seem. But, really, how much more complicated do you need to make them before it all starts to make sense? I hate to say this, and perhaps lose a few friends in the process, but if the country's cream can't do anything to prevent such strange high-handedness, perhaps they deserve to be insulted by bottom-of-the-barrel scum.

As for me, and not that it matters, but I'm keeping the faith...for now.

And yes, I'm back to re-claim my blog - even if you never missed me. 

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