An officer’s social tussle

Published on October 24, 2014

By Lunminthang Haokip

Hard-Earned Status: Making it to officialdom from the hill areas of Manipur state (in India) was never without a determined and sustained struggle. For one, schooling facilities in the backblocks were, and are, not on par with those of the small and bigger towns. Add to that, the wanting economics of a hill village, the lesser quality of teaching, the mediocre IQ-level of fellow students from whom nothing much could be learned and the lack of scientific-infra and historical monuments their counterparts in cities have easy access to for practical knowledge, and the forlorn conclusion is that no spectacular performance is to be expected from far-flung school products. Yet, an unseen mysterious force had been playing fair to later see many rural boys scaling high in studies to make a firm foothold in this slippery world of placement opportunities.

Hope Springs Eternal: Post-matriculation, backblock parents, poor or not so poor, make it a point, by selling off with tears dripping down their chins, or mortgaging whatever little property they possess with a heavy heart, to send the brightest among their children to better higher secondary schools and colleges outside or within the state. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, the adage says. How true? Every father desires, to one day see, the child he pins his hopes upon become an officer, if not a gentleman, to make his small dreams come true. Having a set elastic target for gen-next, and dreaming his aspirations will be fulfilled, no one can stop the father from enjoying any damn work; be it the hardest manual toil in the mud or the meanest ones elsewhere. He’s willing to slog, trudge, wade, crawl and cringe to earn enough to get his son or daughter’s studies going. It’s another story that, at the end of the day, only a few of the hope-bearers make it big in life while the rest find contentment in ending up as PhDs (Passed Higher Secondary with Difficulty).

Native Advantage: The upper-crust urbane boys in campus, who were born with silver and doubtful golden spoons in their mouths, excepting a well-chastened few, care two hoots about classes. They have a self-ruining penchant to focus more on ‘glasses’ and lasses who are willing to play ball. The self-styled studs in students’ clothing considers ‘making street-Romeo-passes’ inside and outside college premises their favourite pass-time. No wonder, most of the ‘classy’-lot struggle to get past pass-courses. But in contrast, the awkward and gawky-looking country lad with no more than a couple pair of dresses to wear and no pocket-money to create a racket in college canteen, in the shade of moments, keep mugging his lessons for lack of anything else to do. He goes green with envy when his purse-proud classmates are dropped and picked up by swanky motor cars. The envy drives him to hit his books with a vengeance; and motivated on “Milkha Singh”-mode, flies up the competitive exam-ladder to find his due slot in A-class job.

A Change of Scene: Congratulations come in hordes. Fence-sitters jump on the rising sun’s bandwagon. Detractors creep in, in single spies; but who cares? “Grapes are sour” syndrome is at play. Bitterness over one’s success is poured out mainly by former village neighbours who strangely feel ‘decimated’ and ‘belittled’ by the sudden status-hike of someone, who till yesterday, was their equal. Human nature being what it is, some over-jealous spin-doctors even spin fabricated yarns as to how the ‘envied’ officer-designate played dirty to land himself in the post he actually earned by the sweat of his brow. One such fellow even remarked, “Oh, my neighbour’s son may have been selected for the big post; but he may not be given appointment. Some hitches are still there.” Jealousy, thy name is one’s neighbour.

Sailing on Cloud Nine: Meanwhile, in the tepid urban party circles, calculations of pushy moms clash with one another’s. The rising son is much in demand in the ‘marriage-up-market’. All of a sudden, all eyes are focused on him. Ostentatious and pretentious dinner-invitations are received. “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” it’s said, and done. Sooner or later, as only one ‘candidate’ can hold sway and win, many proposals go the lunar-eclipse way. More potential powerful enemies await the rising sun in the sunny days to come. Some pampered lower bureaucrats who think they are sailing on cloud nine, and feel like ‘the prince of Wales’ for a brief period, are later emotionally hassled for ‘no explained reason’ to become more like ‘prince of wails’. Guys who attain set goals post-couple-hood, luckily, are saved from this untenable ordeal.

On the Job: KTP (keen-type-probationers) kick-start their journey into ‘unknown’ officialdom with a bloated mental balloon of enthusiasm. It doesn’t take much time for the thorns of human ‘isms’, to in every alternate turn, prick and puncture the ‘oddball’s misplaced bloated ‘balloon of enthusiasm’. At last, one has to adjust oneself to the system of life, but not before recollecting with awe and admiration what the late Sunil Dutt, Member of Parliament, said in total dismay after the Bombay riots, “I do not blame the system I belong to, but I blame myself who belongs to the system.” Having said so, the hero of “Bombay to Amritsar Padyatra” submitted his resignation from the post he held. Celebrities could afford to exhibit clap-trap bravado but our new recruits cannot. The nitty-gritties of life’s compulsions are to be considered. He has to stick on to his job, come what may, through thick and thin, thistle and insult, on behalf of family’s bread and jam, if not butter.

Conflict of Status and Expectations: In a democratic set-up for which our nation earned laurels worldwide, while enjoying the perks attached to one’s status, the white-collar job holders can’t really have a say in crucial decision process. Common sense is very uncommon to the common men. They have the misguided self-indulgent habit to conjure up that officers can directly dole out to them whatever they require and want, little realizing that poor file-pushers themselves need to get everything okayed by the big ‘boss’ at whose jokes, it’s even considered suicidal not to laugh. Yet, because bureaucrats are more available and accessible to the public, they can’t run away from weird demands for financial assistance for all types of unplanned social events conducted with reckless extravagance by every community worth its leader with the pre-supposed half-belief that the establishment will somehow bear a chunk of the spiraling expenses. This impossible and incorrigible high expectation makes many office-heads to lie against will, go politely teflon-coated, be arrogantly evasive and secretly apprehensive to sit on their chairs throughout the day or week.

Family Burdens to Carry: The risen son may sweet-talk his way out of unwanted social responsibilities, one way or the other, but he can’t play games of hide and seek with the endless needs of his immediate family. Reality is witness in the hills of Manipur that, excepting a few blessed ones, most of the poor and middle-class homes rely solely on a single working ‘puttar’ for supply of bread, butter and every matter. The needs burgeon as one season gives way to another compelling reason. A sick father or mother requires a hefty sum for treatment. A younger brother has to go for further study outside the state sometime before another sister is to be sent off for holy marriage. For every family event, the sole bread-earner has to bear the brunt of the burden; not that he wants to, but as he is bound to. In the mental domestic bargaining, if actual sacrifice falls short of imagined expectation, the unfortunate lady of the house is squarely blamed for no fault of hers.

Conflict of Perceptions: Babudom’s woes are not limited to his family circles. They are fate and hard-toil-upgraded ordinary human beings. Hopes fixed on them to fulfill are extra-ordinary. Having gained status and position, there is a mistaken belief that they have the capacity to solve every conceived problem in his extended circle. A small help given out of affection in the babu’s salad days is remembered with the memory of an elephant and the calculation of a fox. The cross-current wired and winged thoughts and perceptions of one’s in-laws, married siblings and their partners, uncles, nephews and nieces further give a tsunami-shake to the peace-of-mind of the officer of the extended family. But his ego does not permit him to let down his near and dear ones. The conflict of status and others’ ideas, in an unguarded moment, erupts abruptly in the form of sudden outburst of temper at work-places or social dealings. Little wonder, some of their ilk are dubbed ‘temperamental babus’; 70 percent temper and 30 percent mental, that is.

Struggles of Home-grown Babus: The wisdom of DoPT, New Delhi, sees to it that state service bureaucrats too fill up their due share in India’s premier civil service. The euphoria of being inducted into Indian Administrative Service (IAS) for such home-grown officers does not last much longer than the week of their long-awaited promotion. Barring a few exceptionally brilliant among them, the average promotee finds it tough to catch up with the administrative and ‘paperless’ Information Technology (IT) standards maintained by LBSNAA, Mussoorie. No doubt, separate training course modules are designed for the otherwise experienced officer-trainees (OTs), yet, the disadvantages of arriving late in the top service premises unfold in the fore in handling IT. These days when almost everything is done online, from filing Performance Appraisal Report (PAR), to management of one’s GPF; from digital signature to tackling NIC ID, the inducted babus, devoid of younger-day hands-on training, come out frustratingly clumsy. Slated to have been graded ‘B+’ in LBSNAA-conducted 113 ITP at Mussoorie in 2013, like some school students who burry grammar under fluency, I tired my brain in using my God-gifted flair to piece words together in writing two appreciated articles about the said course, to finally get an ‘A’ grade with some difficulty.

Disturbing Retirement Blues: ‘Happy birthday’ wishes make me unhappy in one way. One year had been added to lessen my service tenure. I believe my in-service colleagues will feel ditto, unless they have a thriving waiting business they can’t wait to get control over. Some retired friends lamented as to how they felt left out of work and made desperate rounds in their former places of work only to be silently reminded, through looks and gestures that they are irrelevant in the present scheme of things. It haunts me too, no end. So, to prove that I am an exception to the rule, and not to be regarded a has-been post-superannuation, I take pains to reinvent myself. Still, the nagging thought troubles, “I got promoted a few years back and my retirement is not very far off; what will I do thereafter? My children are not yet well-placed! I see no slot for myself to re-tyre in the re-engagement scenario. I don’t have a business to bank on and not many good friends who can bail me out of future possible hardship.”

Conclusion: Whatever the future has in store, how tense the present may be; what will happen will happen. Having had a long stint in gospel ministry, as a part-time preacher, is an insurance of sorts. Comforting consolation comes when my inner man whispers to my outer man: “Don’t worry, God picked you up from nowhere to be His mouthpiece, if you know how to choose the precious from the vile.”

The writer is deputy commissioner of Churachandpur district of Manipur, India.

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