Monday, January 25, 2010

Sarkar Raj: Exploiting (certain) Karmchaaris (and getting your work done)

For all the progress that has come to India, nothing seems to have changed sarkaari karmchaaris in Vadodara. To be fair, I do see new fangled equipment, updated furniture and on rare occasions an air conditioner. But the people seem stuck in a land before time.

Over the years, I've tried getting my work done using various chaalu techniques from these denizens of the government world. To borrow a mahapurush's phrase: some work on some people, some work sometimes on certain types of people. However, I've stumbled on one technique that has a very high rate of success which I'll share with my fellow - frustrated for sure - people.

As fair warning I'll note that if I were to share this with the Drift Memsaab, I would be sure to get much grumbling and a comment about how I was yet another man exploiting the goodness of women. This would entirely be true. But, work has to get done.

Recently as part of hosting a Reception we needed to use some extra electricity. So we applied for a permit and had to put down a Rs. 4,700 deposit. This, after service fees (and a bunch of other stuff I didn't understand) got whittled down to Rs 3,000. After the function, like a bulldog I went down to the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) office to get my money back.

(All names changed, all conversations translated from Gujarati)

The office looked like any other. A bunch of people were poring over some paper on their desks. A few of these papers were the Times of India. Everyone's tables were arranged in a maze to maximize utilization of space. A couple of offices to the side bearing titles on nameplates such as "Jr. Engineer" and "Dpy Engineer" lay empty. A large poster on the wall said "A place for everything and everything in its place" This sent a cold chill through my spine. Clearly the customers were supposed to know their place.

I approached the first person I saw since I had no idea what to do - a familiar feeling of incompetence I encounter in myself whenever I'm dealing with the Sarkar.

"Hello. I need to file to get my deposit back" I said.

The man looked up and said "You need to talk to Rathodsaheb for that"

"Where can I find Rathodsaheb?"

"He's not in right now"

"When will he be back?" I asked

The man fixed a "kaha kaha se aa jaate hai" gaze on me and said slowly "I have no idea"

At this point another (youngish and apparently untrained in the ways of sarkari blocking) person seated nearby jabbed a finger at some counters and told me "Try Pramilaben"

Pramilaben was a stick like woman wearing a lightly colored pastel saree and a loosely braided choti.

Here is where my technique kicked in. Whenever I see a female sarkari karmchaari, I make eye contact warmly. Then I flash my widest smile and say "Hello MADAM! How are you?" When I explain what I need I make sure I mention that my Dad is very sick and couldn't come himself.

Now a lot of sarkari people in Vadodara wear a somewhat pissed expression on their face. This is like an armor which enables them to dismiss people. (After all you can't run roughshod over someone while smiling at them, can you?) After application of my technique if the expression softens, I know I'm making headway. And Pramilaben's expression softened visibly. She even stood up, extended her arm and took the receipt from me!

She tiptoed over a filing cabinet and said "Jayantbhai, where is the form for getting deposits back?"

A voice came from behind the cabinet. "Ask Rathodbhai, its his domain. I can't tell you"

Undeterred Pramilaben ran the extra mile for me. She walked to the end of the room, pulled open a filing cabinet and came back with a form! Then she launched into an explanation that required so much specialization that only the missing Rathodbhai could have handled it.

"Fill up the bottom portion of the form" she said "Come with the original receipt. Be sure to make a copy for yourself"

I couldn't believe my luck! I had finished my work in just one visit! I grabbed the forms, nearly prostrated myself in front of Pramilaben and hightailed it out of there. This is proof that my technique works.

Remember, trying this technique on men is futile. But may God strike me down for saying this: when used on women karmchaaris the right way, you can get someone to run a (relative) marathon for you.

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