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Etiquette for babus

india Updated: Sep 05, 2009 23:25 IST

In a bizarre move, the Rajasthan government has directed all government employees to... stand up when a lawmaker comes to visit them. (ANI, Jaipur, September 2)

The first rumblings of revolt are being heard in Rajasthan. The babus there are apparently rude and don’t bother to reply to letters. What’s new about that? What’s special is this time they’ve gone too far and started being rude to MLAs and MPs.

Since the dawn of civilisation, babus have always kowtowed to politicians. So who are these revolutionary babus who dare defy their masters?

Do they not fear banishment to the Department of Camel Husbandry in the sandy wastes of Jaisalmer?

Are these Red Guards disguised as government officials? Or has Rajasthan been able to breed a new, heroic race of Superbabus?

Inquiries reveal a dangerous anarchist tendency. A clerk in the Food & Civil Supplies department has started typing, ‘Babus of the World Unite’, at the bottom of every circular. A note in the margin of a file in the Weights & Measures department reads ominously, ‘Politicians are paper tigers’. An assistant secretary in the Tribal Welfare department says he has no time for being polite.

“We need a social revolution in this country,” said the heretical babu, quoting Mao: “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.”

These are worrying signs. We need to draw up a whole new code of conduct for bureaucrats. Here are some suggestions:

Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when talking to an MLA. For example, when your local MLA gives you a 10 per cent cut for awarding that road building contract to his crony, remember to say, “Thank you”. When an MP transfers you because your lucrative post in the Public Works Department has been auctioned off to the highest bidder, say, “You’re welcome,” and smile, while you wait for an opportunity to stab him in the back.

A perfect smile is one that reveals six to eight white teeth, a skill honed by hours in front of a mirror while carefully clasping a chopstick between the canines. Remember to say, “Excuse me” when you do stab him in the back.

When escorting an MP/MLA to and from social events, you should offer him your arm. Shake hands with, rather than air-kiss, an MLA. If an unaccompanied MP/MLA is sitting next to you, it is important that you help him be seated by pulling his chair out for him and gently pushing it back into place, with the MP/MLA seated of course. Always hold open doors for them. Cultivate a proper posture when an MP/MLA is present — practise by balancing books on your head while squeezing a sheet of paper between the knees.

And finally, as Erasmus, humanist and author of the first book of manners in 1526 said, “Do not blow your nose with same hand that you use to pass the meat.”

The sooner these rules are enforced, the better. Today it might be the babus who’re disrespecting politicians, tomorrow it might be the common people. If this revolt is not nipped in the bud, the masses might one fine day wake up and smash those flashing red lights on top of their cars, evict them from their palatial bungalows and object to them being called VIPs.

Worse, they might even want their leaders to start being a bit more like Mahatma Gandhi.

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint