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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The 'Karyalaya'

A visit to an Indian Government Office - Day 1

Many Indians share a variety of views about the functioning of an Indian government office. Some people call it as sloppy place while others term it as a place where even obtaining a seal takes ages. Well recently I had my share of experiences at one such office.

My task - to obtain the signature of the Education Inspector of the Mumbai Suburban district. I planned a visit to the Inspector's office on a Friday. Anticipating some or the other form of delay, I reached at 9.30 am for a 10 o'clock appointment. By the time I reached the place the office hadn't opened yet. I decided to wait until it opened. The office was a small one floored building with decayed walls full of moss due to the damp weather. The building hadn't been painted in years.

At half past 10, a lady arrived on her moped and handed over the keys to the clerk. He opened the door and the three of us entered. The sight inside was astonishing. Along the walls, were hundreds and thousands of files and stacks of paper all stacked over one another almost six feet in height. Most of the racks were already full and it definitely meant that there just wasn't adequate place for the rest of the files. Most of them had sides eaten by rats and other insects. Cobwebs covered most of the wall surfaces. Dust was another thing found to be plentiful. I doubted if any of the employees knew where to look for a file in all this mess. The place was just poorly ventilated and had to be brightened by switching on the lights at ten in the morning. Most windows had broken panes or missing latches and were half covered by the stacks of files.

One thing that caught me by surprise was that every desk had a typewriter along with some sheets of paper. In the age of computers, I think the last few of the typewriters that exist in this world can be found in one such office. Instead of photocopy machines, they used carbon papers!! In one corner, I saw a large door with bright blue paint and I guessed it to be that of the inspector's office door.

I was told by the lady that the inspector would be busy with some work at the High Court and won't be available for the rest of the day. This however is the typical way in which a person at a government office responds to any clarification. I took the gamble and decided to wait. I hadn't seen this inspector before and therefore didn't have a clue who he was. After waiting for over one and a half hour, I was told that the inspector had already left. I had blown this good chance. The following Saturday was a holiday being the second Saturday of the month (Government offices in India remain closed on the second and fourth Saturday of every month) and I would get my urgent work done only the following Monday. Hope luck favors me on Monday!