Saturday, 8 March 2014

How to get things done in India

Coming home always brings with it new revelations. Living in Germany I had foolishly begun to expect that things function everywhere as they should as a matter of course -- coming home to Guwahati and having to go to renew my driving license in the DTO office recently cleared my head of many of those illusions.  Last year I had a similar experience trying to get the necessary permission to use the State Archives at Dispur. About what exactly happened on those occasions, some other time, right now I just want to list, for your convenience, some ways (read, tricks) to get things done here.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that there are no rules in our country -- there are rules, there are rules for pretty much everything, but the fact is, that those rules can be bent and twisted and got around  etc etc. depending on who you are and what the problem is. So much is common knoweldge, but what is more disturbing is that, that is the only way in which things can be got done in this country. In other words, if you are one of those types who have taken the trouble to read up on all the government regulations, make a case which is crystal clear, make an application and hope that the law will take its own course and you will win, then you can wait till doomsday for it to happen. Because the law in this country, like machine parts, seem to need oiling, whenever it is required to function. Files don't move from one table to the next in government offices unless propelled by dealings that take place discreetly under the tables. Whether some clerk or peon will 'put up' your case and recommend action depends on how happy you have made them in the run up to that point. More about that later.

But let me get back to my main story and  list below are a few tips that might be of help to you someday.

1. The gender card: This works, obviously, only if you are a woman.  Like the ladies Q at many counters, and the ladies seats on the city's buses, there are a few places where you can demand priority, if you happen to be a woman -- but those places are few and the advantage one has is very restricted in scope, it might save you a little time in that you can jump a long queue, that is all.  Why this system is still in place, and still works, don't ask me? Perhaps it makes men feel better to be kind to their women and feel that they are weaker and still need to be protected. Because, as far as I understand the logic behind the rule, more appropriate categories would have been handicapped people, old people, regardless of sex, and pregnant women and young mothers (and fathers) with children. But then... let it be.

2.   The VIP card: If you happen to be a VIP, then please don't read further because the problems of the average man do not obviously apply to you. Most things that you need to get done will get done without your having to lift a finger. Of course probably things like getting driving licenses don't apply to you  since, if you are one of those VVVVVIPs  you probably are above the law, and in any case, you have drivers to drive you around. And hence you will not understand what I am talking about.

Even if you are NOT a real VIP but can pass off as one, it might also help -- many of my friends have pulled it off by simply looking posh by wearing dark glasses, branded cool  clothes, being brash, pretending to be in a terrible hurry and unable to speak any other language but English.

But if you  know a real one, better still have a VIP amongst your relations and close family, then your life can be made much easier by dropping your relatives name at appropriate places or better still, by getting him or her to make a few phone calls. This is usually a reliable method of getting things done, quickly, and regardless of whether the rules are being strictly followed or not. Many people are known to use this card if they inadvertently find themselves in police custody etc. But of course, as we already know from several high profile cases, it might sometimes even not work, thanks to some brave judges. But for small petty problems, this is usually a sure-shot and pretty painless method.

Just to give you an illustration, let me use the driving license story again: I had gone to the DTO office that day, determined not to use my mother's name, come what may, in order to get that license renewed. What do those people do who do not have well-known moms, I told myself. But after having waited for 4 hours and getting almost there and then being told that I should go back and come back the next day because my address proof was not acceptible, forced me to wilt -- I admit I too am guilty of having used the VIP card despite my best intentions. So I announced loudly who my mother was and after that, something happened, my entire surrounding seemed to get electrified and believe it or not, from that moment on it took me exactly 15 minutes to get my new license, also a cup of tea, and to get on my way home!

3. The foreign-returned card: This is the card I most hate to use -- I hate the idea that my worth as an Asamiya has somehow gone up simply because I have a German husband. But given the fascination and near obsession lots of Indians have with all things phoren, this fact is very hard to hide or avoid, although it drives me nuts. But there you are, when nothing else works and it is a question of not knowing how much longer one would have to wait; and also that just mentioning the fact will miraculously make everything fall in place, one gives in... I have come back on such occasions absolutely glowing with anger at myself -- having to mention my mother's name is bad enough (but at least she is also Asamiya) but having to mention my German husband to get something done in my own hometown is a scandal.  I will never understand why this works, and what it means, but there you are... Perhaps it has to do with our own sense of self-worth -- with how little we value ourselves and our ability to judge people -- and how much more we value the opinion of a foreigner, no matter who...

The master card:
In case you are eligible for none of the above cards, then there is one master card that I have already mentioned, that is sure to work in most places most of the time, and that is money power -- throw the right amount of money at the right places and you might be able to even make rivers change course and such like...What with the coming of  the Aam Admi party, a few honest judges and crusaders like Akhil Gogoi, things might change yet, but not as long as we have chief ministers who seem to find nothing wrong with the fact that corruption has seeped down to the grass root level.

Being an absolute novice in this department, and never having given more than the usual sah-pani khuwa tip of 50 Rs. or so to library peons or so for making photocopies in the office photocopier out of turn etc, I might not be able to tell you more about this. And my inability and latent distaste for 'ghosh diya and ghosh khu-u-wa' is one of the main reasons why I think I might not be able to survive in India for any period of time longer than the occasional visit. All the more, since I refuse to use the gender card and hate to use the VIP card and the Phoren-connected card.

In Germany, I am an outsider, I have no VIPs as relatives, I do not speak German fluently nor do I understand the complicated rules that are in place there, still the fact that the rules that are written down are followed, that they apply to everyone, and that under normal circumstances the law will follow its own course, is reassuring. It is hard to imagine that such a situation might prevail some day in India too -- for even if the average man on the street might want it, what about the VIPs who can't cope with the idea of losing their privilege, what about all the corrupt law breakers who won't be able to keep up the pretence... it is a sickening thought...that those who have the power to change things will not change anything because it will be to their disadvantage to do so, hence the circus will carry on...and the rest of us will have to continue to struggle to survive and in order to get things done, as best we can...


1 comment:

  1. I agree absolutely with what you have written , But I want to add that we are all prone to breaking the Q if it gets uncomfortable for us. This is imbedded in our national character . Work gets done fast if its done through personal references and.If no such reference is there, work gets done through" speed money."for pushing the file ahead The ugly truth is that we are also a nation of finger pointers.We keep harping about others, forgetting that at times.we ourselves are guilty of breaking the Q.Self righteous indignation is a national pastime. Do we really pinch ourselves to check when was the last time we have got around the Q.? And I tell you with all honesty would be very recent..