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Tracking the holiday howler

A couple of months ago, it was reported that Shaheed Bhagat Singh had not been declared a martyr in official records. It seemed a routine faux pas originating from an overzealous officialdom. Adherence to official records or a clerical mistake at times overrules issues of common knowledge. Col Avnish Sharma (retd) writes.
By Col Avnish Sharma (retd) | Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON DEC 26, 2013 09:46 AM IST

A couple of months ago, it was reported that Shaheed Bhagat Singh had not been declared a martyr in official records. It seemed a routine faux pas originating from an overzealous officialdom. Adherence to official records or a clerical mistake at times overrules issues of common knowledge.


In such cases, bureaucrats let the head rule the heart. It reminds me of an interesting incident some years ago.

Through a routine post, the army unit I was serving received, from the headquarters, a list of holidays to be observed in the ensuing year. The unit head clerk religiously highlighted these days on the table calendar of our commanding officer and the adjutant, who happened to be yours truly.

Everything carried on as usual till my quest to finalise the unit training schedule brought me head on with the month of October on the calendar. The 3rd of the month had been highlighted as a gazetted holiday on account of Gandhi Jayanti. I called for the head clerk and asked him to amend the date on the calendar with a slight sarcasm in my voice. After all, who forgets Gandhiji's birth anniversary!

On checking, we found the same mistake in the commanding officer's calendar. A nonplussed head clerk dug out the concerned correspondence giving the list of holidays and dutifully put it up to me duly highlighted. He stood in front with a victorious smile as I double checked the list.

A junior clerk remarked, "Sir, like Id and other festivals, this year Bapuji's birthday may be on the 3rd and not 2nd." I decided against an intellectual debate on the issue.

Nevertheless, in an endeavour to impress the commanding officer with my eye for detail, I promptly brought the matter to his notice. In a characteristic soldierly stance, he asked me to seek an amendment from the headquarters and pending clarification not to effect any change in the calendar.

Dutifully, a letter was dashed off requesting for an amended list of holidays. The letter presumably set off a scurry at the headquarters, which in turn set the correspondence in motion with their higher headquarter till the matter reached the Army Headquarters in Delhi.

With no LANs or WANs, the movement of the mail was through the good old department of posts and telegraph. No one wanted to get in a telephonic duel with the superior HQ on such a sensitive issue. The clarification did filter down, but much after the due date.

The commanding officer, a brave man that he was, took a calculated risk and observed October 2 as Gandhi Jayanti but not before cautioning all officers against spreading the word around lest it gets construed as disobedience of orders. Meanwhile, a young clerk at one of the intervening headquarters was quietly issued a verbal reprimand for committing a typing error of a grave nature as this.

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