"Ah, mon cher, we are odd, wretched creatures, and if we merely look back over our lives, there's no lack of occasions to amaze and horrify ourselves."

- Albert Camus as Jean-Baptiste Clamence, 'The Fall'

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Life in the Government - Part 1 - English, August / Bagdi*, July

Working within the structure of Indian government exposes one to a variety of experiences.
Since the 1st of May this year, I have:

-been treated with respect
-been treated with contempt
-been treated with utter contempt
-been helped
-been asked to call later
-been asked to come back another day
  ... and the such.

When people meet you here and you tell them you're working with the government, their first reaction is to pull back a little. Why this is, I have yet to figure out. Then they'll ask you what your position is. Then, what do you get? I try to avoid revealing my specific pay by telling them that I'm in the pay-grade of a Class-I Officer and my position's that of a Lecturer in my Institute. But no, how much? Sometimes I tell the truth, sometimes I don't. Depending on how I'm feeling at the moment.

Often, I remember the book 'English, August' by Upamanyu Chatterjee. In the book (Spoiler Alert), Agastya Sen, a newly recruited IAS Officer is posted to a sleepy town in Northern India, called 'Madna'. With a predilection for marijuana, he is thrilled to see the plant growing wild in the environs of the town. This is his first experience, navigating the corridors and halls (with paan-stained walls) of 'Sarkar' or 'Power' that is the Government or the District Administration.

Agastya (or August, as called by his friends from his school) meets the Deputy Commissioner / Collector / District Magistrate and experiences what it means to be an 'Officer', a babu-in-the-making. He gets accommodation in the Circuit House and encounters the staff there, eventually coming to terms with their attitude. If my memory serves me well, I think he is eventually made a Block Development Officer (BDO) and eventually works his way up to the position of District Collector.

Why am I writing about English, August? Because - and I say this without intending to sound presumptuous - I find parallels between the character's experiences (metropolitan city to small town, learning to speak Governmentese, etc.) and mine, over here.

Oh, I should mention, I'm working as a Research Officer with the Haryana Institute of Public Administration and I've been posted in a district named Sirsa, on the borders of Rajasthan and Punjab. It's a pleasant 40 degrees plus right now, and since my arrival here more than a month ago, I have ingested at least a few kilograms of sand. Yummy.

But it's almost 5 PM and the office I'm in will be closed for the day at 4:59 PM (I'm starting to believe, all those who work here have an internal clock. They just seem to know when closing time's near and the anticipation in the air is so thick, you could slice it with a knife). I'd better start winding up, lest I invite the wrath of the room's custodian for making him stay a few minutes longer.

More later.

* Bagdi is a dialect of the Hindi language, belonging to the Rajasthani tonal cluster  

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