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Spice of life: Babus and baboons, and their love of files

Not too long ago, my workplace was in this magnificent red sandstone building flanking Rashtrapati Bhawan. This building, along with its twin across the road, is seen as the nerve-centre of India.

punjab Updated: Aug 22, 2016 11:30 IST
Babus,Rashtrapati Bhawan,Babudom
“This building, along with its twin across the road, is seen as the nerve-centre of India.”(HT File )

Not too long ago,my workplace was in this magnificent red sandstone building flanking Rashtrapati Bhawan. This building, along with its twin across the road, is seen as the nerve-centre of India.

Walking down the corridors of power one morning, I saw an unusual commotion. Some monkeys had decamped with a couple of official files. I wondered — why on earth would some macaquesget interested in files of the Government of India? Then I heard the words of a wizenedBabu: “Don’t mistake them for ordinary beings. These are former bureaucrats,reborn. Even in thismonkey avatar, they can’t stay too far from files!”

Now for the uninitiated,here issome insightinto the importance of files. Ifthereare nopapers concerning you, in some file, tucked away somewhere, in some government department, yousimplydon’t exist! And because you doactuallyexist, your file,like countless other files, is created, managed and manipulated by the people of my ilk.

I began discovering my might some 20 years ago, sitting wide-eyed as a trainee in a police station. Themunshidropped this pearl of wisdom gleefully: “Look carefully at this pen, Sirji! What I scribble on a piece of paper today would be argued over endlessly by the wisest lawyers for decades. The mightiest judges would scratch their heads trying to make sense.”

We in the government create issues out ofa paper under consideration (PUC). Innocuous green note-sheets are our battlefield. Our arsenal consists of a variety ofinexpensive plasticpens. Armed with a few drops of ink,we make or mar anyone and anything. Thicker the file, greater the opportunity toexhibitour skills.

We aspire to get mightier with time, hence climbing the career hill continuously is very important. For whichthere is acardinal principle — Thou shallstrive to stay in the good books of thy boss. Because your boss controls thesteps toyourcareer progression — theannual confidential report (ACR). Therefore buttering up the boss is an absolute necessity.

Some years ago, I landed under a particularly obnoxiousfellow. He would threatenallhis juniorswith regular alacrity: “One ‘good’in your ACR and your career would be burnt forever.” Now,in ourcut-throat bureaucratic world,a ‘good’ACRis terrible news. You are condemned unless you are‘outstanding’ or at-least rated outstanding.

Nothingseemed to work on this fellow. And then,to my horror, he wrote “just good” as my final assessment. My nascent dreams ofbattlingonjuicy files perchedhigh atopRaisina Hill were shot down cruelly and buried deep. Justthen a resourceful colleague with access to forbidden files appeared on the scene,like a knight inthe shining file cover. He managed to pull out my sulliedACR and inserted ‘&’ in my briefepitaph to make it readan impressive‘just & good’!

I survived to tell you this story,saved bya simple ‘&’. Thereafter,I have surfedthe career waves quiteenviably. But you will never catch me too far away fromthose lovelyfiles — this lifetime or the one after.

The writer is a Shimla-based IPS officer

zahurzaidi@gmail.com

First Published: Aug 22, 2016 11:18 IST