Friday, August 15, 2008

The Bureaucracy of Today's Engagement Board


Sometimes when life comes to a standstill and everything around you moves at an extraordinarily slow pace, you begin to lose your bearings. Everything around you becomes this crazy mess of slow-loving ideas and slower-moving people. Every task that you undertake becomes cumbersome. Every conversation you attempt proves tiresome. Everything you read becomes a matter of commentary and stark academia. Not the unusual quirky thing you occasionally come across. Not the exciting things you discover in the things that you enjoy reading about. People configure themselves into zones and groups and try almost desperately to stave off the heat. Then, almost immediately, it begins to rain and you are left stranded in between two stations. It is the worst time to try and write, mainly because everything you write smacks of resentment.

But it the best time to come up with and present the harsh facts of your daily existence.

There is something incredibly wrong with the way people react to official matters. It isn't something that can be pinned down to any one incident. Nor can any one person be held responsible for it. It cannot even be described properly enough. All that strikes you about the situation is that most of those who have been placed in these official positions are not prepared to listen to you. You might have some application form you want filled up, you might have some notice you require to put up on the main notice board, you might even have some pink slips to fill in. Anything from the most mundane to the most urgent gets sidetracked by the taciturn, discourteous persons on the other side of the fence. Of course, there are cases where they do in fact listen to you, albeit impatiently, and feebly hear what you have to ask of them, in the most obstreperous of rooms and offices. But these are the concessions they make, as against the innumerable other times they simply stare at you blankly, turn around to the person sitting at the next desk, and mumble something like, "What is the banda saying?"

A slew of such incidents catch the unfortunate observer's attention. And unfortunately for him, nothing can be done about it. Bad manners and dismissive behaviour are, for all practical purposes, the automated responses they are programmed to. Can I have a pink slip? Go away. Can I use this A4 sheet of paper that has not even been stashed into your printer, so you might not possibly need it immediately? Go away. Can I collect some of the mark-sheets of Third Year English? Go away. May I submit my ECA forms? Go away. May I know when that lovely, interminable thing we call lunch presumably end? Go away. Can I have the keys to the Engagement Board? Go away.

It feels like Hell. Except, of course, for the air-conditioning.

Now, the other day I had to put up a notice for a society. The staff-advisor was missing, and as I had been asked to do in such cases, I thought I could walk over to some other teacher and request their signature. The teacher was more than happy to oblige and just let things move on at their relevant pace. He signed it quite happily, even though he did ask for the announcement to be re-worded and written on a different sheet of paper. Which is acceptable. The next time such a situation arose, I did not hesitate to attempt the same thing again. I walked over to another teacher and, like the last time, informed him that the notice required attention, the staff advisor was away elsewhere, and asked if he could sign instead. No, he said. Fair enough. So I further went on to supplicate in the most egregious way I could (I admit, my fault) and also casually mentioned that he could in fact do something like it. It would not be a revolutionary accomplishment (unspoken thought). He turned around, looked at me most suspiciously, and through clenched teeth he said, "You are not allowed to tell me what I can and cannot do!" Clearly, the question of the legality of my statement is not something I would like to contend here. I'd prefer the esteemed High Court to decide on such matters. But the response itself was so grating, and more than that, so unnecessary, that it took me completely by surprise. In the aftermath of my shock, I simply whimpered away from him like a chidden stray and dashed out of the staff room to avoid any further embarrassment.

The one thing I will never come to accept, and refuse to understand, is the high-handedness of bureaucracy. It is the most useless form of human interaction. The most depressing behaviour visible to the human eye.

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