IDIOSYNCRACIES OF THE ADMINSTRATOR
The Collector of **** was an exceptional officer. He had vision, drive, and unusually high IQ for a bureaucrat. Moreover, he was extremely hard working and absolutely upright. Such a rare combination of qualities left a positive impact wherever he was posted, as officialdom in our country have huge power, a legacy of our colonial past, and the rare Babu who chooses to exercise this for the job that he is supposed to do, that is delivering good governance, really makes a difference.
But the gentleman in question had one eccentricity. On the occasional Sunday when he was free from the onerous duties of governing ****, he liked to go trekking in the wilder parts of his domain, instead of relaxing with a beer and enjoying a well deserved siesta. This in itself would merely be smirked at, but he invited his team to join him, on a purely voluntary basis of course. But the bosses invite becomes a command in the realms of babudom. So, cursing their luck, the sundry representatives of the state in ****wake up at five am and donning hiking shoes, gather at some godforsaken place, preparing to visit parts of the territory they are supposed to govern, that they had hoped never to have to actually see.
Is this what I slogged for two years for? They grumble. All the Rao’s coaching, the years in JNU, is for the privilege of travelling in luxury cars with a flashing red light on top, not marching through jungles like coolies! Such places should be seen on ordinance maps, not actually through your eyes! If I wanted to do this, I would have joined the army! But nevertheless, they gamely trudge on, and smile and scrape and compliment the boss on such a great idea for the weekend.
But the marginalized villagers in the remote parts of this area bless the eccentricity of the big boss. And herein lays a story.
On one such trek, the boss man noticed an old tribal lady digging the mud in a ditch and pushing a utensil in the hole. Intrigued, he wanted to know the motive behind this curious action. It was explained to him that water from the wet mud at the bottom of the ditch will seep into her utensil, and she will carry this dirty water back to her home, this being the only source of water for the scattered tiny hamlets in the area. These scattered forest dwellers were off the map, thus falling in the gaps of the benevolence of the welfare state. Nor were their numbers sufficient to be a vote block. Thus they were forgotten people.
Appalled that within a few hours trek from a highway, such basic lack of amenities should exist, the big boss decreed – There shall be water in this village before the week is out, and wells shall be dug at other key places. And this shall happen before **** days have passed. Lo and behold, HIS will was done, and the villagers had clean water at their doorstep for the first time in their lives. There were hand pumps sprouting in this wilderness. Other clusters of people also received similar benefits. And it all happened not because of a concerned government took care of its marginalized citizens, but because this eccentric administrator had gone where no bureaucrat had gone before.
As I explained to my idealistic daughter and her young activist friends, no amount of agitation, street theater, or NGOs can accomplish what one Civil Servant who is Civil and believes in Service can. So the time and energy spent in deciding how to change the world, like we did in our misspent youth, would be better used mugging up thick tomes and Manorama Yearbooks, or whatever it is you do to enter the rarified realms of the administrators.
Our hero has since set up a school in that forgotten corner, dug ponds for irrigation, created kutcha roads, in fact, generally meddled around doing someone some good each time he trekked on some new route. It has become a sort of new addiction for him, this generally been going around being a benevolent despot, till such time as he moves on to handle foreign exchange fluctuations next, or may be animal welfare. A versatile lot, our babus, aren’t they?
In the meanwhile, here’s hoping that the water continues to reach our forgotten people, even when there aren’t any eccentric administrators to go trekking in that terrain.