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Most senior officers in the government service are full of themselves. They do not have the courtesy to offer seats to juniors, anguishes Hemashri, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
How do you feel when you enter an officer’s chamber and you are warmly asked, “Please have a seat!”
Have you ever come across a situation when you go to a place where someone is sitting and you are not offered a seat? How is the feeling?
For quite some time, I have been observing silently these apparently insignificant or small issues. Is it an indication of a small mind? I have experienced both the situations being offered a seat in a warm tone and not asked to sit.
It was a bright sunny day in the month of July 1997, I boarded Circuit House of an old town in Assam to join as an extra assistant commissioner. I was accompanied by my mother. Had a talk on the previous day with the officer-in-charge of the Circuit House over telephone requesting to provide a room. I was allotted Room No. 8. On arrival, I introduced myself and a caretaker opened the room for us. The moment we entered the room it felt like as if just a few minutes back a typical rape scene of a Hindi movie was shot in the room. The foam of the sofas was bulging out and everything was so horrifyingly disarranged. As I entered the washroom and saw the leaking pipe of the sanitary pan that welcomed me with a terrible odour. My mother exclaimed, “We used to live in the Dak Bungalows on several postings before getting a quarter and those were such good accommodations. I heard the Circuit Houses were still better. How come this one is so bad?” In the evening as we switched on the fans, the curtains of the windows started dancing with the wave of the fan. There were no half curtains and the gaping holes of the tattered curtains were a threat to the privacy of the room. So I pressed the bell to call the attendant and requested him” Can you please change the curtains? It is all visible from the corridor outside”. The caretaker left and came back within ten minutes. He told me, “We don’t have any other spare curtains for officers of EAC rank. We only have curtains for SDO and higher rank officers.” Oh my God! I could make out what this Extra Assistant Commissioner (EAC) designation actually meant on the very first day!
Another batch-mate of mine had also reached for joining as a probationer. So on the next day, both of us met in the Circuit House for our official joining. We both headed to report before the head at 10 AM in his official chamber. We entered his spacious, artistically done up official chamber. We introduced ourselves and handed over our documents. The Deputy Commissioner, an officer of Indian Administrative Service did not offer us seats. He acknowledged the lady probationers with a “Huuuu” and then indicated us to leave with an Okay nod. So both of us came out as insignificant non-entities. Not knowing what to do next, we decided to gather some preliminary information about this strange place. Next, we headed to meet a lady officer of the same rank as ours. The lady had a freckled face. We started our investigative process, “How do you feel working here? How is the boss? Do you have a quarter to stay?” She gave replies by nodding her head in negation and each time her facial expression was weirder. She did not take much time to furnish responses to our questions. Maybe it was another assignment for her to be finished off within the short time span. She did not ask our names nor where we were from. We were officers of the Premier State Civil Service and our selection was publicly announced in newspapers and followed by congratulatory calls from friends, family, and well-wishers. Parents had to give a treat to visitors. But when we faced the reality it left us dry and cold. We were not even qualified to be offered a seat. At that time, the suffix “Extra” in the designation and the tattered curtains made me wonder what this service is all about. It looked glamourous from far but was rotten inside! After the joining, when I returned to the Circuit House, my mother appeared very anxious. She told me that the Hon’ble Chief Minister had arrived at the Circuit House. There was knock in the door after every ten minutes by the Security Personnel of the visiting dignitary. Room number 8 was the restroom of the Security Personnel of the VIPs. I was sad to know that I was assigned the room kept for security guards. After some preliminary queries, I discovered there was another vacant room next to the room occupied by a lady officer but that was preserved for evening “adda” session of some people. When I requested to change the room, a bald, villain type assistant told me I will need an order from the Deputy Commissioner. Next day, I wrote an application seeking a change of room. As I had entered the room of the Deputy Commissioner to submit the prayer, I felt something very uneasy and when I turned back I saw the villain type man looking at me through the small gap of the door!
We came to know there was another lady officer who was on leave. A few comments about her made us curious who that lady was. After two to three days we came to know that the lady officer had joined. We both went searching for her Chamber. A beautiful lady in a bright cotton saree welcomed us. The first thing was that unlike our earlier interactions she asked us to sit and enquired about us. She asked someone to bring tea for us. After a pleasant conversation, we both came out of the Chamber happy and contented. Someone made us feel good by treating us well.
The Deputy Commissioner was an IAS officer so he had to be a replica of an erstwhile British Ruler albeit a Brown Sahib. He was rude and very often he used unparliamentary words. “Ullu ka Patha” (literally, son of an owl, an insult) was his favourite expletive. Once an officer after being humiliated by the Deputy Commissioner in a meeting sought his transfer. I also had to endure one such session but that is too long a story to narrate here. Everyone used to be very scared and over respectful to this imprudent man. There was this local MLA who used to call him by his first name and that was a treat to my ears. Thank God there is someone who can call this man by his name. The Deputy Commissioner later earned notoriety by being over affectionate to a powerful politician and was duly evacuated as per official decorum. I saw this man smile on two occasions and I was horrified to realise that the man looked like a monster when he smiled. I have seen only two men who look like a monster when they smiled. It is a strange coincidence that both belonged to the same prestigious service.
Twenty years down the line, I don’t know where that first boss of ours is now. He is still vivid in my memory as my first boss who made us feel insignificant and awkward by not offering a seat to two lady probationary officers. Everyone was so scared of him but I saw in him what very few could dare to see – his poor upbringing. On the very first day of my career, I learned that one simple courtesy that is to make a visitor feel humane by offering a seat. With the years my skin has now thickened. Often I try a tactic while going to the chamber of a senior officer, I don’t sit till he/she offers me a seat. If not indicated to sit and if for official compulsion I have to stay on, I simply pull the chair and sit to assert my right as a lady.
The town where I joined as a probationer became my town in-laws after three years. Met my would-be parents-in-law in that room of Circuit House. Years later, I drafted a proposal justifying that no official designation anywhere is named as “Extra”, other than the spot boys of the Hindi film industries. An order was issued renaming the designation as “Assistant Commissioner” and “Extra” became part of the history!
Also, as a public servant, I have stuck to my stand. No matter, who the person is, everyone has basic human dignity, which entitles them with the right to be seated.
Photos from the Internet
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