Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Crème de la crème?

We, bureaucrats love to talk about ourselves, typically our work. That is why in this blog I try not to talk about my profession …generally. I even started another blog titled – Being Officially incorrect to pen my thoughts related to my profession. But soon I realized I don’t want to talk about it so much to carry on a blog for it . The blog therefore, become non functional. Today I am making an exception to the rule and going to write about Civil Services . The occasion is that today is 5th Civil Services Day – and I as a representative of my service was made to attend the official function at Vigyan Bhawan . I hated every bit of it- even the food.

I have noticed that despite all the tall talk very few people join civil services in India for noble / selfless reasons. And well, why should they? Getting into a job- a career service that too, is a race. Like any other profession youngsters want to join this one for very selfish reasons of power, money, status and like. There are many other reasons as well- some join it for certainty to get good dowry others because they have parents, uncles and aunts in this profession. There was a time and not very long back when in the Mussoorie academy speakers will again and again remind the young officer trainees that they are crème de la crème – but no more. The best and the brightest – at least the good guys and gals have stopped writing civil services – mostly. The new breed ( with some honorable exceptions ) is of ambitious, clever and ready to be corrupted youngsters who are very clear what they are looking for in public service. Best part is they start young. First there are races within the services- IAS the Brahmins and few other elite services make the monarchy. Rest everyone tries to forget for next 30 odd years that they too wrote and cleared the same exam. There is no equality in job profiles, perks, promotions and opportunities once you are out of the training academy’s common foundation course. Then there are very parochial notions about competency. To top it all the more time they spent more aloof they become from the reality…and talk more and more in terms of rules , orders and stuff like that .

Civil Servants mostly start suffering from some odd notions of superiority as soon as they enter . Mostly they think their job is too important and complicated and they are heaven born to be assigned this work. There are many schools of thoughts about what is officer like and what isn’t. Hierarchy is to be maintained. And yes, Peter Principle applies. Oh yes, people do rise in their level of incompetency. Very soon people stop talking and thinking straight. They talk in some vague manner in things which are otherwise very simple ….and feel important that way. Another remarkable feature is that bureaucrats always understand and appreciate what others of their flock are saying- specially if they are senior to them. Well, as they say: Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l'admire.(A fool can always find an even bigger fool to admire him.)
After spending a decade in this group I have no hesitation in accepting that if even half of this group were honest and conscientious – our country would be a much better place . The group characteristic is however of very insecure and incompetent people who somehow turned lucky in one entrance exam. Many tried quitting too- at least thought of it, but continued as the stakes were high. Few of these show sparks of brilliance in many fields including their assigned work, but the crab mentality ensure the group characteristics intact. In all after few years most turn into very ordinary individuals with some status and means but (mostly) no strength of character or beliefs . Usually a very uninspiring and dull crowd with average intelligence to understand the problems but no will to solve them .

Sitting at Vigyan Bhawan , I look around the mixed profile of people around me, in the first sight they are impressive – gentlemen in suits and ladies in sarees , but talk to them, work with them and they turn into mere mortals- with no sense of public service , very little honesty and yes, self perpetuating to the core . The smart ones make best self marketers and move from one green pasture to another , the dull ones just draw their salaries and sit quite . But then there is another side of the coin as well, most of these may not be heroes and martyrs but some choose to take the road not taken . Everybody knows who they are. They run into problems some times, get awards on some others- but they make good use of their position to highlight issues close to their heart. Many excel in fields other than public service- turn into writers and artists and turn a blind eye to the ugliness of their chose profession.
Then I thought about myself vis a vis this group. I do not relate to them. I feel out of place in most gatherings. I like my work(mostly) but feel frustrated on many occasions too . I bend many rules, break few and go by few others and so far faced no big problem . I asked myself why do I like to continue here? For many long moments there was a silence. Then I heard a faint voice – because it showed me the world around me like never before. Because my profession gave me access to places and information hidden from most others. Because on some occasions when I do something good for people who came to me for work matters- I felt great. And well- end of the month, I get a salary cheque for which I am grateful. The money is not much, but its not too bad either. For someone like me who has no false notions of importance, I feel grateful to be in a job where I can earn my living without compromising my views and actions. Today , I am left with no hopes that I will be next superhero and will change the world but I feel good to bring about small but meaningful changes in my worksphere around me.
I guess at the end of the day, though it did not turn out to be a utopia , it was not a bad bargain individually. As a group , bureaucracy disappointed me – like it did to many others but then, looking around I do not see any other profession who would have come out clean on my criteria. But yes, in the end, that is what it remains- just another career option. My colleagues tell me not to judge others so harshly- I mean they never intended to serve the country in the first place. So those of you who cannot make any sense out of my confused post, let me tell you--I am just being a good bureaucrat and honestly, we bureaucrats are the only people in the world who can say nothing and mean it .