Friday, 24 June 2016

My Royal Connection--a Birthday Bonanza

My Royal Connection--a birthday bonanza

The other day while surfing the net to read the newspapers published abroad as part of my routine cerebral exercise, I came across the news item on the colourful celebrations of the 90th. birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. The queen, surrounded by her family members, made public appearance on the balcony of the Buckingham Palace to enjoy the spectacle of air show by the RAF and marching army band.I was a little surprised as I had perused a news item in the web version of the same newspaper on the Queen celebrating her 90th birthday in a rather muted manner a couple of months back.
After a little searching in the net, it was revealed to me that the British monarchs had been observing two birthdays since the days of King George II of the 18th century--one being celebrated on the biological, that is, actual day of birth and the second being observed officially on a Saturday in the month of June. In case of Queen Elizabeth II, her actual birthday was 21st. February, and Her Majesty's birthday was officially celebrated with a lot of fanfare on the 11th. of June. Probably the origin of such off-beat custom lies on the prospect of a availing of a fair weather in that time of the year to facilitate holding of an outdoor event immersed in grandeur befitting the honour of the British monarch. What is more, such "official" birthday of the British monarch is celebrated on different days in some Commonwealth countries too as per their respective custom and/or choice.
Now let me share with my readers( should there be any!) that I too have two birthdays to my credit to observe. The day of birth given in my school leaving certificate and in the official records at my place of work is the of June, though my biological birthday falls on a day in fourth week of June. There is a story behind such a somewhat tricky situation.
Before proceeding further on the issue of my dual birthdays, I may aver that I have never been particularly interested in remembering my biological birthday in any conspicuous manner in my younger days. It is only later in life that people close to me started reminding me of my birthday in their own ways.I found no reason to dislike that too and started the practice of reciprocating such birthday best wishes in their respective birthdays too.Regarding my "official" date of birth, it started flashing in my mind more and more as my day of retirement from service on superannuation approached.
Now the story on how my date of birth got messed up. Getting admission in a Middle School(ClassV-ClassVII) in my place of birth, an industrial township owned by a British firm, was as easy as purchasing a cinema ticket.It was the only Bengali-medium school in that area being run under the patronage of the Company for the children of its employees. It so happened that on the appointed day, as I went over to my father's office I found him too busy to spare an hour or so needed to take me to the school located nearby. So he wrote out an application seeking my admission in the said school and requested one of his juniors to take me to my new school. The Primary School (run by the Company covering Class I-Class IV) I read in did not bother to record the dates of birth of the students at the time of admission.Education in that school was completely free and admission to Class-I was astonishingly casual. Parents of the present day toddlers would not be able to imagine such a scenario at that level prevailing there in the early Fifties in a nondescript industrial township. The school-leaving document of the Primary school in all probability might not have any recorded date of birth. Hence my father might have given the necessary information on my date of birth to the young man in his early twenties. He had joined the office as an apprentice a few months back-a fresher from a college . Walking down the road to my new school, my young escort soon became my teacher and started testing my knowledge of English and Maths.I had to fend myself against his volley of questions that reduced my joy and excitement in stepping into a new larger environment. Finally he appeared to have arrived at a decision that I was not unworthy of getting admission to Class V. But possibly in the ongoing scholastic exchanges of protracted nature, he forgot my date of birth as told by my father a little earlier. So when the Headmaster asked him about my d.o.b for noting it in school register (registration certificate of birth was not there in that part of country then), he appeared to have remotely remembered the month but not the actual day. A smart guy like him could not defer the admission process on that issue, and get back to the office to ask my father once again. So he chose the best possible option left to his wit. He got the first day of June recorded as my birthday in the school register. And a new date has been part and parcel of my life ever since that moment through the slip of one's memory. In any case in the hind sight I feel that no serious damage was caused in my professional life for this. Only I retired from service one month too early due to such shifting of my d.o.b. backward.
I am happy that at least I have a special feature in my otherwise pedestrian life that could have a remote resemblance to a custom of the British royal family. And unlike a handful of notable personalities that had to fight it out in the court of law for a legal scrutiny to dispose of the contradictory clams on their dates of birth, the existing situation did/does not create any problem/discomfort for me.This is one is of the oddities I have learnt to live with, and now enjoy the fun of having this too.
On the other hand there are instances how stressful it could be to settle facts on one's date of birth involving one's professional life.The long-drawn legal battle fought by Justice J.P.Mittre of Calcutta High Court in the sixties to re-fix his d.o.b. that would have extended his date of retirement, comes to my mind in this connection.It grabbed the front pages of the daily newspapers for months together.But the more recent episode of similar nature involving the serving Chief of Army Staff, Genl. V.K. Singh, assumed political dimension too as the General contested the order of the Government in the matter of his date of birth and contested such executive action in the court of law. People smelt intra-service professional discord in the matter too.

At the end of the day, the truth emerges that in the present day complex working environment, having double birthdays may not be a royal treat.


Monday, 25 January 2016

Beyond Rohithgate

Beyond Rohithgate


These days the media--print as well as electronic- come up with stories on daily basis that sadden my mind, often make me extremely despondent.
Some, mostly belonging to vested interest groups, would often say the media thrive on them(for commercial reasons).I think such description does not stick to them under the prevailing environment of our country which is indeed standing on a crossroad.
The moot point is how much of 'history' is allowed to carry on board on our long-pending flight to inclusive growth and prosperity in social, economic and political terms.
The tragic suicide of Rohith, a research scholar at the Central University in Hyderabad is not just a case of unfortunate demise of a budding scholarly pursuit. It begs many questions from us. We must face them with an open and unimpassioned mind. It has become expedient to highlight this point,as it appears that some people are ONLY concerned with the 'dalit' identity of Rohith.
In fact it is not easy to decipher his mind, which otherwise appeared to be very composed, rational and down-to-earth in nature. Such impression is what is likely to be derived from the 'suicide note' purported to have be left by Rohith (though still under forensic examination). Only his close friends and teachers at the University may have answers to some intriguing issues.
Why did he take a protest march as a member of the Ambedkar Students Association against the HANGING of Yakub Memon? Did he believe that Memon was innocent? Or he was against HANGING per se as a form of punishment? Or did he think that that the minority identity of Yakub Memon had something to do with the harshest punishment received by him, even if he was vicariously guilty.Only his fellow protesters could provide some hints. But then it is an irony of fate that he preferred to end his life by hanging.
What happened prior to that that led the University authorities to suspend Rohith and four others, is a matter of an impartial and open enquiry.But the question remains whether the authorities could not become a little more sensitive towards their alleged delinquency. Was the disciplinary action taken against them was too harsh in form and character? Did the 'dalit' identity of the alleged delinquent students come to play in handing out their suspension order. Same questions may be asked about the pro-active role played by Union Ministers on a case of a minor disturbance in the University campus. It doesn't appear to have caused out of pure academic interests on their part.Now it's evident that that was not a clever political maneuver on their part either.
Before anything else,I feel like expressing my deep sorrow and concern vis-a-vis the reported suicide of Rohith.
The suicide note(as reproduced in the "Hindu") makes it amply clear that he was blessed with a sensitive heart and responsible personality. The note did not betray any bitterness towards anybody.He did not accuse anybody for for decision to end his life prematurely. Even in such stressful moments,he remembered to ask his friends to repay the money he had borrowed, out of his stipends fallen due from the University/Govt.He also remembered to take of care of his needy family too to the best of his ability. Of course he did strike off an entire para therein for reasons only known to him. In the background of display of such positive features of mind and personality, it is difficult to perceive how much did he bleed and if any healing touch could have changed the fatal choice of his wounded heart.
After all he was an active member of Ambedkar Students Association. Dr.Ambedkar,a 'dalit' himself suffered monstrous humiliation in his childhood in school and elsewhere but struggled to win a place in the heart of the nation as one of the leading luminaries who breathed life into our democratic institution.
It is high time for us to realise that Dr.Ambedkar should not just be worshipped as a name, he should be followed as a beacon light for all victims of discrimination on the basis of caste and creed.
Last but not the least, if you want to shine as a nation, shun politics in academic affairs. Let the teacher-pupil relations be re-written in words that have been an essential part of our 'history' of even our recent past.
Unfortunately for us, such unwelcome trends are not just confined to one Central Univerity alone, they are raising their ugly heads in educational entities in various hues and colours elsewhere too with the active and/or tacit approval of the political parties in power.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Media Madness or Mission Impossible

Media  Madness on Mission  Impossible

Too many things are happening around us to grab our eyeballs to dozens of TV news channels working overtime, it appears. Breakneck speed with which these channels are vying one another to bombard the viewers with "BREAKING NEWS" has nearly achieved  a supersonic scale. The prime reason for this is obviously the increased number of competitors. This story is common to all TV channels having all-India reach (English and Hindi) as well as  the ones  catering to needs of the news-hungry Bengali "bhadrolok", generally in search of material for a round of animated gossip in the next morning's 'adda' at the local teashop and/or office.


Of course, many would tend to ascribe the rise of the Bengali news channel to the huge number of "politically conscious" population of the State. But going deeper into the impact of the presentations of the contentious topics –mostly related to the State politics, with occasional sprinkling of industry and economic matters having political overtone,  it does not hold to be true, at least for the best part  of it. Very rarely social issues including education system of the State become the central issue of the husting--that too, only when it relates to politics. There is too much of shouting than substance. The handful of panelists in chat shows appear to be hopping from one studio to another throughout the day. For this they cannot but repeat themselves on the same topic in different channels failing to provide any fresh dimension to the topics under discussions. The TV anchors perform their role dutifully to enhance the rating of their programmes by playing it safe most of the time in respect of subjects that, in their opinion, might alienate a section of the TV viewers. Investigative journalism is largely conspicuous by its absence. Neither is their apparent support to individuals sufferings under the callous and/or oppressive hands of the State or non-State actors is sustainable or honest. Public memory is proverbially short. The electronic media fares no better than 'public' in this regard. A daily newspaper deals with the events of the day; the electronic media deal with minutes and hours. The transient nature of their viewership hardly allow these channels to take up any controversial topic for discussion and/or presentation at length. Besides, the 'commercial breaks'  are inevitable, but those take away much of the punch  from the core issues under deliberation. We may ague to cancel out this aspect of a TV chat-show or news reporting considering the fact that such diversions are common to all of them. But the limitations appear to be lying elsewhere, especially in case of local media houses. First, they lack either the wherewithal or the requisite reach to smell a news worthy of people's interest. For example, recently  a political bigwig has been in jail custody  for allegedly being connected with a big white-colour crime involving thousands of crores of rupees. The related story is being flashed  by all local channels on daily basis in all available presentation format. As the matter is sub judice , no final word can be said about the culpability of any one , including the political heavyweights. In fact the story has lost its appeal to TV viewers due to its overexposure.
An anti-establishment stance alone does not make a channel “bold and independent”; though a handful of them claim to change “the perception and thinking” of the viewers day in and day out. They have to be alert observers and must have the tenacity to follow up a story that caused ripples in the public mind. The local Bengali news channels have very little to claim any honour on this count.
Remember the lady who was brutalized by a gang of pub-going young men about 3 years ago in the Park Street in a moving private SUV. There was huge uproar in the local TV channels that had its echoes throughout the length and the breadth of the country. There were innumerable chat shows and expert's opinion sessions to cater to the majority public opinion. Further unacceptable comments doled out by the politicians on that shameful incident were given more than adequate TV coverage. Delay in starting investigation was alleged by many and a few others tried to find fault with the conduct of the victim lady. The victim raised another round of deliberation dust as she, unlike many other rape victims, thought it prudent not to hide her identity. Two of the accused had absconded by the time serious investigations started. The case is still open in the court of law. Sympathy flowed abundantly for some time. Then it went into oblivion. She occupied airtime briefly once thereafter when she was stopped from entering an restaurant for her alleged misdemeanor earlier.
And the curtain dropped on the story with the sad demise of the lady at a government hospital after a brief spell of illness. Prior to that the unfortunate victim had suffered financial hardships, social ignominy, the usual tribulations associated with judicial procedure involving the trial in a rape case. To add to her owe, the main accused could not be apprehended and the trial had remained probably inconclusive to this day ("probably", because nothing is heard of the case either in print media or its electronic brethren).At one point of time, for the TV people it was not just another crime committed by a few wayward  young men, it raised serious political and social issues. Now it is nothing !
In a way that is a reflection of the existent mindset of a large chunk of the target group of the media business. Just think of the media coverage of the rather funny ending of the reported disappearance of a news reporter of a popular daily of North Bengal on the 2nd. of August' 15. The disappearance was linked to the publication of his investigative report on an alleged illegal act of extortion of money by some bullies in a local college. There were a lot of speculations as to how he could have been abducted to take revenge for such damaging revelation in the newspaper. There were sessions of animated and often acrimonious discussions on the issue of his disappearance branding such incidence as a grave threat to the freedom of press. The government promptly ordered C.I.D. enquiry. After a couple of days, the said reporter surfaced only to tell the police that he had gone away on his own owing to a family discord. Press freedom factor evaporated, and the media tasted how an incident misled one and all in search of something sensational to grab the viewers' attention.
At the end of the day, the Bengali electronic  news media remain a source of entertainment in different format for the audience that might not get the requisite kick out of the daily dose of mega serials, songs and  dance programmes. Frankly speaking they have not faltered on any mission objective, as it is not possible for any commercial entity to touch a topic that could shake the existing fabric of the society. For them it is case of “mission impossible”.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Salutations sans Shoes

                                                 Salutation sans Shoes 

Believe it or not , it happened in less than 40 years ago at my first place of posting as the BDO in the eastern part of the State. Before proceeding further, locational details of the office building in a few more words are necessary for proper appreciation of the situation.The office happened to be one of the earliest ones established under the ambitious rural development project called "Community Development" in the early fifties. It was a U-shaped pucca building with asbestos roofing and a wire fencing around it, probably to add respectability to the otherwise humble edifice ; as there was no human habitation within a radius of atleast one kilometre (except a dozen or so of staff quarters a little away from the office building on its rear corner) to keep off grazing animals. It was a conspicuous structure standing on a vast dry patch of land.It must have been a landmark in its own right as there was no such thing as BDO Office in the neighbouring police stations in its initial years.When I assumed office I found hardly anything that could be termed as fencing ; but the structure of the gate with iron trappings, albeit in rundown condition was what remained intact.

Over the years, human habitation had cropped up but that too a little away along the state highway.Even in the late seventies, the office continued to look lonely except for first 4/5 hours of the office hours on working days.Another noteworthy fact was my daily routine to visit the local police station in the company of the Cashier after he had assessed the requirement of cash to be disbursed that day to the waiting Gram Panchayat Pradhans, Paymasters of relief schemes and others for payment of miscellaneous bills. In those days, the B.D.O was not authorised to open any bank account for transaction of such financial business. An embedded cash chest used to be maintained in the local police station to keep the bulk of the cash under double-lock system. Another smaller cash chest was there in the office to keep the "petty cash" and "residual cash"at the end of the day (if not a big amount) therein.

One day while going out on the daily schedule of visiting the local police station on the office jeep I noticed a pair of slippers just outside the office gate. It looked well past of its prime; but not one that was totally worn out and appeared not to have been discarded for good. It appeared to be a little odd to see that. Neither the driver of the jeep nor the Orderly Peon ( a post since abolished) who accompanied me could provide me with any clue on that. On my way back to office after about an hour, the same pair of slippers was lying by the side of the gate as it was.I returned to my cabin and asked the orderly peon to enquire and let me know why a pair of of slippers was abandoned just outside the office gate. I was somewhat taken aback when I was told by the Orderly Peon that the pair belonged to one of the visitors waiting to see me . Then I gathered further from him that the said visitor did not want to present himself before me (the B.D.O) wearing shoes; as he thought that that might amount to showing disrespect to a government officer. Initially I was surprised to think how such line of thinking (or call it a local custom) could linger well into the late seventies, no matter if it happened in one of the so-called socio-economically backward districts.
I sent words to that visitor waiting to see me that I would meet him immediately only if he took back his pair of shoes left orphaned outside the office gate and wear it. I had to make it clear to him that I did not mind at all in receiving barefoot visitors, but the raison d'etre of his conduct on the day was not welcome.

Well, after a couple of minutes, the person was ushered into my chamber with shoes on. We exchanged namaskar and talked business preceded by some informal queries about his parents and children to put him at ease before requesting him to discard such archaic practice of showing unwarranted reverence to any public servant irrespective of his/her official position. It appeared that he felt assured enough to give his conduct of the day a serious re-look.

This is a real life story that I remember not to pat my own back for doing any great job.I recall it because what happened on that day appeared to be somewhat extraordinary in the relevant period of time.But at the same time it prompts me to explore the larger question of the usual conduct of the government servants vis-a-vis the aam admi (members of the public).

I may recall what happened to a Collector who preferred to greet the Prime Minister with sunglasses on at the airport a couple of months back. He was rightly reminded of the dress code for the officers in force in such occasions by the concerned administrative department. That is what the government machinary usually take notice of so promptly.

On the other hand rather casual approach toward communicating with the members of the public in official capacity by the officers, especially posted at grass-root level, would often leave much to be desired probably sidestepping the fact that they exist primarily to serve them. It is practically difficult to prescribe a set of norms of conduct for the officers to follow in day-to-day official transactions. In my service life, I have come across official advice on how to attend to the people's representative whenever they visit the BDO office. But I am not sure if there exists any unambiguous advice to the government servants( irrespective of his/her status) on how to communicate in writing with others. 
In this respect, I may recall the relevant provisions set out in the manual (probably the Practice and Procedure Manual) in force during much-malinged British Raj.Therein we find classification of official mode of written communications. It prescribed 'memorandum'( addressed in third person)for all communications of routine nature between officers. The 'demi-official' format was earmarked for exceedingly urgent and more-than-regular matters needing personal attention of the addressee officer. And the 'letter' form( with the formal address as 'Sir'/'Madam') was prescribed for any communication to 'the members of the judiciary' and 'members of the public' by any officer. That shows to a large extent that the colonial rulers, atleast officially, wanted its officers to treat their subjects with due deference. It may be argued that it was nothing but tokenism on the part of the otherwise oppressive foreign rulers.

Even if one endorses such a view on the conduct of the foreign rulers, it may be considered to be a healthy practice to be imbibed in heart in free India, on as one of compulsions under a labyrinth of government circulars and rules. Some officers may be following the desired practice on his/her own, but the seeds of natural respect to the aam admi in official transactions should be sown at their grooming stage. After all it is the members of the public, the public servants do exist for.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Art of Leaving


As I proceed with my thoughts, it will be clear that this has nothing to do with the discourses delivered by the well-known public figure who has been credited with the noble job of teaching on how to live in this stressful world of today. It's a different question that such inputs would not normally reach the audience for free.
But here I will try to touch upon only one aspect of the emotional, physical and practical basis of day-to-day human action/inaction in a given situation-- the art of "leaving".
To make the discussion point a little more clear and being a football lover, I am easily drawn toward a fact that happens in a football ground. It is a treat for the eyes to see a player keeping the ball to himself for a long time despite stiff opposition from the opponents who may sometimes take resort to rough tackles too. But we adore the player who has such wonderful skill , at the same time knows exactly when to leave the ball for a better prospect for his team. The same is true of the hard-hitting batsman in cricket too. One is great only when he shows the right temperament and judgement that allows an incoming ball to speed past him untouched to the gloves of the wicketkeeper.
The practice of the art of leaving in the world around us may be explored from different vantage points:-
1) Booming Bandwagon

Thanks to our multi-party democracy ! Whenever someone does not feel comfortable with his/her existing political existence or vice-versa; there is no dearth of another political entity to move over to for better political prospect. In India there are many breakaway political parties. Very few of these have differences on economic and political principles among themselves. Most of these have their origin rooted in clash of personalities in the mother party on the question of leadership. Hence in the world of politics of state power, we have become accustomed to see floor-crossing by the political activists day in and day out. It only becomes news, when known faces in the highly-contested political arena move over to the rival camp. The stock explanation for his/her mind change is his/her "pious" desire to 'serve' the people in a better and more effective way. It does not matter what he/she has spoken in public against his/her latest choice few days back. This practice has become so common in politics that the members of the public do not consider it to be a big issue in election time and do not question their political integrity either. Many of them who make the "right' choice at the "right" moment do not find it difficult to register success in electoral hustings. However it does not require the knowledge of rocket science to realise the real reason for leaving a party that he/she has been aligned with for years. One may fail in such venture too sometimes, if one has not been able to imbibe the "ART OF LEAVING" successfully.

2)" Leave-it-First" vs. " Give-it-Up

The present government at the Centre would not do away with the policy of providing State subsidy for essential consumer goods altogether, we are told very often. But they would rather prefer a subsidy regime that aims at providing the same to the target groups only. The government subsidy in LPG distribution is a case in point. Release of subsidy through bank account of the customer was the first step towards this direction. Now the Central Govt. has started a campaign to exhort the affluent section of the LPG consumers to give up the subsidy part of its price voluntarily for the sake of those who really deserve it. In fact lakhs of consumers are reported to have surrendered their privilege of enjoying the benefit of getting subsidized LPG cylinders already.
But this call by the Prime Minister to the nation appears incongruous, if not ludicrous, in the background of a RTI revelation that the Govt. had spent Rs.60.7 crore to subsidise the food items available in the Parliament canteens in last five years. The appeal to leave the subsidy coverage gradually by the affluent section of the society would certainly lose its momentum by such revelations of embarrassing kind. The leaders must learn to LEAVE the world of privileged class first and only then it will lend credibility to what they preach to their fellow countrymen.

3) To Leave or to Live

It is not very unusual to witness  a person or two getting beaten up mercilessly in the open by a stronger group--sometimes to death in city roads as well as in rural areas, in the presence of a crowd. The people around are either too afraid or unconcerned to come to the rescue of the victim(s). Some mobile-savvy person may even grab the occasion to capture the scene in his camera to share the same with his friends and family members as a better option before them. Many would say that if they did intervene with a proactive mind, later they might find themselves entangled in unwarranted police cases running for years. This may not be entirely untrue, going by our existing system of policing and administration of justice.
But things are different for the political bigwigs and other celebrities They have little or no fear of such harassment during the investigation process. Even if it occurs, he/she would have thousands of people to raise their voice against such unwarranted situation. How many of such VIPs are known to have taken proactive steps in combating such cases of violent action in public places happening in their presence?
On the other hand many of them are accused of deserting the trouble spots hurriedly leaving the victims to fend for themselves. Two such cases widely reported in the national media as also in social network may be recalled in this connection. The first one involves one of the most popular actors of Bollywood involved in an alleged hit-and-run case that left one dead and four injured. The matter is sub judice and it can not be said whether the actor was directly involved in causing the death and injury to the victims. The court verdict may be awaited on that account. But perhaps it has not been denied by the actor in the ongoing court proceedings that he left the place of occurrence unhurt immediately after the mishap. Did he care to look back what had happened to the victims sleeping on the footpath in late night ? Incidentally these days he is reported to be actively engaged in humanitarian work like supporting the charitable trust called "Being Human Foundation".
In another case a couple of weeks back the car, the famous actor of yester years (a people's representative to boot) was travelling in collided with another on the highway causing death to a four-year old child and serious injuries to her parents. The actor herself got injured too. She left in another SUV that came to her assistance, with her driver and another companion leaving the other crumpled car with its severely-injured passengers including a four-year old child. The child was left on the roadside far too long without any medical help and could not survive the injuries. Neither the " good Samaritan" who took the actor to a hospital nor the actor herself who was conscious and was on her feet cared to look toward the fate of the occupants of the other car a little distance away. Lack of space in the" rescue" car was assigned to be the reason for not accommodating the severely-injured child in it while taking the actor to a city hospital. But the driver of the actor's car was seen walking into the police station without any visible signs of serious injuries next day. Many would say if the child could reach the same hospital promptly along with the injured actor, she might have defeated death. True, nobody could say anything for sure on that. But there are many who would accuse the actor of gross callousness for leaving the injured baby on the road and taking only men in her group to receive best possible medical assistance. Incidentally she is an activist associated with PETA(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) ! What about human beings ?
It appears that there are people who are deft enough to raise the act of '' leaving'' to the level of an art, no matter if such actions are questioned on ethical grounds and tarnish their image in public eyes very often.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Short Circuit

       The life of a West Bengal Civil Service(Exe.) Probationer at the district headquarters as part of induction-level training was usually arduous, but very interesting at the same time. Unlike All-India Service Probationers, their counterparts in the State Civil Service, had a mixed taste of acceptance by the officers and subordinate staff posted at the district. The upper-class probationers were often treated with a conscious display of measured deference by one and all, especially in remote districts, except of course,by their seniors in All India Service like the District Magistrate and the ADM(s).The reason for this attitude might partly be attributed to the fact that the subordinate officers and assistants at the D.M office did not find too many All-India officers around. On the other hand,the WBCS(Exe.)  officers in the district were sighted and interacted with very often.The State Service probationers started taking their lessons on down-to-earth approach towards his co-workers in a large office from the day one. As far as the senior members of their Service were concerned, all the birds of the same feather might not necessarily be warm in their dealings with their young colleagues. Some might be too inflated with a perceived sense of self- esteem to accept the new entrants as their equals. But certainly there were many seniors who always extended a helping hand to put the new-comers at ease in office as also in a conducive social environment. In fact those were the persons who left such a deep imprints in the somewhat insecure minds of  the probationers that they could vividly recall all such touching moments throughout rest of their service life.
          Now getting into the ruminating mode, I can recall how excited we (being accompanied by another Probationer) were to submit our joining reports as advised by the Senior Deputy Collector who looked after the training programme of the Probationers. We were attached to all the sections as per the training schedule to learn how government machinery at that level worked. By virtue of being the immediate supervisory officer, the Sr.D.C was regarded by the Probationers to be their local guardian. It was rewarding for them to keep him in good humour, particularly for those who might be in the habit of overstaying at their respective home towns on weekends/holidays for a day or two as per 'verbal arrangement'. The training diary maintained by us used to be submitted to the District Magistrate through the Sr.D.C. On a couple of occasions, the D.M. summoned us to his office chamber to enquire about the progress on our training inputs. We thanked our star profusely after each such round of knee-jerk interactions. Fortunately for us, the D.M. we were blessed with was very well-disposed towards us and had a lot of confidence in our abilities. There was shortage of Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collectors at the office, as the district, as per the prevailing perception, was not a preferred destination for senior officers. Even then, it was not common to invest the probationers with special powers of the Executive Magistrates under Cr.P.C and Certificate Officers under Public Demand Recovery Act. We were allotted separate cubicles which was not a common phenomenon at that time.
          But such "exalted" position enjoyed by us, did not deter our superiors to allot odd jobs to us, sometimes resulting in bruised ego of an "A" group officer. It appeared to us that all odd jobs around the office that required an authentic and reliable performance awaited to greet us too very often. On one occasion we were given the onerous task of physically verifying the content of kit bags meant for Presiding Officers on election duty numbering hundreds. It was an exercise to ensure that all the printed instruction sheets issued by the authorities from time to time had been rightly stuffed therein without fail. But later in our career we felt that such treatment did us good in many ways. Sometimes I confronted people and situation in such process that gave me the opportunity of enjoying hilarious moments.
           One day in the office I was called into the office chamber of the Additional D.M to be told by him that the Circuit House required a thorough facelift as part of the preparations to receive the constitutional head of the State. There was not much time left for the impending visit of the V.V.I.P. It was of an utmost importance to finish the work on "war footing"(my perception , not the actual words of the concerned officer). In order to keep a pair of vigilant eyes on the progress of the renovation work, I would be stationed at the Circuit House for the entire working hours until completion of all aspects of the assigned renovation work. The Public Works Department(PWD), I was told, had already taken up their part of the renovation work of the old Circuit House building in right earnest. A fresh coat of colour on the exterior and the interior of the building had indeed brought out a gleaming look. The garden in front of the building looked neat, with the wild bushes having been cleared and flower tubs having been placed to beautify the frontage by the PWD. Everything was completed with a break-neck speed by them so that the DM office could start the interior decoration part of the total renovation work without any loss of time.
          On my arrival at the Circuit House the following day, I found two tailors with their sewing machines getting ready to handle the huge bulk of  the inputs--yards of silken/satine furnishings to cover and adorn the sofa sets, chairs, and tables. Besides, the building that appeared to have been built in pre-independence period had doors and windows double the size ( both in height and width) of their modern version normally found in apartment blocs.The old curtains, probably put up years ago, needed  replacement before the arrival of the most honoured guest. Each of those curtains would have two separate parts stitched separately. All the four suites wore different wall colours too.To make the matter a little more complicated, the size of all the doors and the windows was not uniform. Hence an extra amount of care was required to ensure that there was no mismatch in size or colour of the stitched pieces  of the curtain halves vis-a-vis the designated places for their use. I had to remain vigilant regarding  those aspects all the time as the tailors appeared to run their sewing machines too hard for me to be confident about their quality of work. On the other hand I could not ask them to slow down a bit, as the D-day was approaching  very fast (at least that was what I was feeling then all the time). At last by the third day of tireless work by them,  and quite a few rounds of fixing and re-fixing, the upholsteries and the curtains could be replaced with the new ones. I was congratulating myself for achieving so much in such a short time.
          But my story on the visit of the V.V.I.P and his overnight stay at the Circuit House did not end with that. On the second day of my deployment there, while pacing around the place I noticed that the signage, by the side of the main entrance on the road, was in a bad shape. The painted surface of the signage bore the marks of natural decay and  the written letters thereon had got blurred. At least it was not commensurate with the new-look building radiating in the lap of lush greenery. I asked the Nazir Babu (the head assistant in the house-keeping section of the district office) to immediately get a painter to give a fresh coat of colour to the signage and write the words "Circuit House" afresh. On my third day, as I busied myself with the tailors in the 'curtain-and cover' front, with occasional anxious glances towards the main gate in search of a painter who should have started his painting job, a young man with brushes and colour container entered the scene late afternoon, much to my relief. But such composure of mind  gave way to anger while returning home at the end my day's work I found that the display structure was painted deep yellow alright, but it was left totally blank. However, Nazir Babu, who was on the same spot, assured me that the painter would certainly complete his assigned job, well before the arrival of our honoured guest around 10-am the following day. He had left the board that way, as after putting second coat of yellow as base colour, time was needed to dry up so that he could inscribe the word in black on it the following morning. I could not but accept the explanation.
           Next day I took up my position in the newly-opened control room set up at on the rear side of the verandah of the Circuit House around 7-00am along with a couple of officers. I started goading Nazir Babu to get the painter immediately to finish the job. Fortunately for me, the DM and the ADM were not likely to visit the premises as they would first go to helipad at the nearby school ground. Even then I was restless, as I looked at the blank signage. At last I felt relieved as I saw from the control room that the painter had begun his work. After an hour and so, the the roaring of the hovering VVIP helicopter indicated that the houred guest could arrive at the Circuit House any time after his landing at the helipad and inspection of the guard of honour etc. The men in uniform got alerted by their superiors. All of them took up their respective positions. I walked over to the main entrance to make a last minute check that everything was alright.
             I was visibly upset when I found that the painter was standing with a somewhat confused expression before the half-finished writing on the board. So far he had written  --"CIR     HOUSE". I could not solve the puzzle and lost my cool.
      I said,"Are you playing? Don't you see the VVIP could arrive any moment? Why don't you complete your writing instead of staring at the vacant highway?"
       In a trembling voice he replied," Sir, what is the correct spelling  of "Circuit"?". "After giving double coat of yellow to the whole stuff, the old words are no longer visible and I feel confused how to spell the word. So I have already painted the letters that would certainly figure on the signage and waiting to get the reliable tip on the missing letters. Is it "Circit", Sir? But I vaguely remember that the writing had 12 characters in total.I wanted to go inside to ask you about it. But the police did not allow me to enter into the compound anymore" 
      I told him," You are wrong. It is "CIRCUIT" and you finish writing  before my eyes." He did it, and I hurried back to the Control Room to join my colleagues.
          The visit of the VVIP  passed off without any more hitch. After a couple of days, the painter came to my office chamber to obtain "Work done" endorsement on the bill to claim his fees. Obviously, I did it. But I had the irrepressible curiosity to know how he would have managed the situation, if I had not come out of the compound to see if writing on the signage was complete. His candid answer was " I had devised a way out, in case no reliable help to resolve my doubt on the correct spelling of "circuit" was forthcoming. I would have put a full stop after "CIR" to shorten the word." To my second query on what about the gaping blank space left between "CIR." and "HOUSE" in that case; showing sparks of his management skill, he replied "I would have painted "Ashok Chakra"* or an arrow sign indicating the direction of the main gate within a circle to fill in the gap."
           I thanked my stars many times that the compulsive ingenuity  of the painter did not get a chance to find its expression on the signage at the end. 
     * The wheel of much-adored Emperor Ashok, the Great, a part of India's national  emblem.


Monday, 1 July 2013

The Best Foot Forward

For a change, I keep off the theme of my days as a small-time bureaucrat in particular,and  my observations on functioning of the big wheel called bureaucracy in general. I propose to talk about the game of football, the one having the highest following on this planet.

I must confess here I was not a footballer of any consequence. I did play football like any other boy in my childhood and pursued my passion all through my school-days. My dream to excel in the game was limitless. However it was not backed either by a natural skill or stamina or perseverance. So it met with its natural death, as I got entangled in my scholastic persuasions in college and later in university education.

But my love for the game never got diminished, even though I was physically away from the playing field as also living away from the football-crazy city of Calcutta. Before the advent of live coverage of sporting events in the electronic media, we had only shabbily-printed sports tabloids in Bengali and running commentaries broadcast by the quench our thirst for more and more football. To be honest, the flavour of international football was beyond our reach, at least for the vast majority of the people. Owing to withdrawal of many teams, the 1956 Olympics saw only 11 teams to compete. However that could no way undermine the achievements of the Indian team as they reached the semi-final stage for the first time and Neville D’Souza became the first Asian to score a hat-trick in the Olympics. Back home we enjoyed the moments of glory, but the football heroes remained largely unsung, partly due to the limited reach and circulation of the of the print media and partly for the non-existence of favourable political and economic environment  of the country.

The rapid expansion of T.V. network in the country aided by entry of the big shots in commercial telecast arena became a game-changer in the world of games and sports in India. Cricket, considered earlier to be a game reserved for enjoyment by the rich and the educated middle-class (mostly city-based) was the first choice for the T.V. business strategists. It did not take much time for the print media to follow their footsteps.  Besides, the leisurely pace of that game in tandem with brief intervals available between actions offered great scope to the T.V. advertisers resulting in generation of huge revenue for the TV channel owners. The number of cricket-playing countries is very small in number compared to the number of affiliated nations within FIFA, the apex international governing body for football. Additionally, for not being a body-contact game, it suited the generally light-built Indians.

It was comparatively easier for us to be the “world-beaters” in cricket in no time. To many us, the cricket has become a “religion”. By contrast, our interest in domestic football has suffered a downward trend, as the standard of international football often seen live on T.V. would create fan base of many European and Latin American footballers and clubs. It indirectly contributed to the withering of public interest in domestic football. Consequently it is taking its toll in the form of shrinking commercial sponsorship of large business houses for it. We lament that the country that won Asiad Gold Medals twice could not qualify to play in the Olympics since 1960.The downward slide in FIFA world ranking has been continuing for last two decades. The surge in popularity of cricket in India is largely indebted to the success of the national team in international events.Similarly the natural affinity of the Indians at large towards football will register a glorious come-back only if our national football team could show its mettle in international meets. We do not lack talent. In these days of scientific advancement in all fields, including bio-metrics and sports medicine, it should not be impossible to overcome the  limitations arising out of general physical constitution of the average  Indian. It appears all the more real in the background of availability of the largest pool of young men, India having the highest percentage of teenagers in its total population of over 120 crore. It is certainly not too much to aspire for in decades to come that Indian team will qualify to play in the Olympics as well as in the World Cup .

Diverting a little from the discussions on India-specific issues, I may share with my readers  an issue  regarding the evaluation process of the players by the FIFA. In my opinion it involves  the soul and fibre of the game.

A football team is made up of eleven players with opponents having the same number of players. Scoring a goal is the ultimate aim of each team. At the same time, stopping the opponents from netting a goal is equally important, as the margin between goals scored and conceded will decide the ultimate winners. But just ask an average football fan to name the greatest footballer of the decade or of all-time. The choice will revolve around 2/3 players with different nationalities. One thing is common for them . All of them played or play in forward position, i.e., they excelled/ excel  beyond comparison in scoring goals. After all the goal-scoring ability can be quantified. Further, it is often found in traditional form of match-reporting how many goals a goal-keeper has saved. The players manning the defence line are not forgotten altogether. But they hardly ever find themselves in the ultimate choice of the general fans for the all-time greats, with a very few glorious exceptions. Let us see now whether the records corroborate such a view.

Lionel Messi, a striker, appears to have a monopoly over the FIFA Ballon d'Or(the best player of the Year) for the last three years since 2010. Going further back, between 1990 and 2009,  spanning a period of 19 years, only two players (Lothar Mathaus and Fabio Cannavera ) ,who played as a defenders, could bag the the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1991 and 2006 respectively. The rest of the 17 remaining recipients of the same honour were/are either strikers or  attacking midfielders with commendable goal-scoring records.

This is probably not all that fair. Football is a team game. The credit for success  of the team should be evenly distributed among all the departments of a team. Besides, the game becomes all the more interesting  when equal stress is given to all the departments. The FIFA may look into this aspect of this evaluation process, and innovate ways and means to put the balance of recognition of individual skill of the players on an even keel. Otherwise the player fighting in the defence line will be relegated to the status of mere support tools for the "forwards"(presently called as "Striker" including "attacking midfielders").