Moving a File – A Herculean Task – M.S Menon, New Delhi [Sankupurana – Memoirs of an Engineer]

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Next morning, I left the house right on time to reach the Law office by the time the office opened, so that I would be able to meet the ALO before he got busy with meetings. Luckily he was there going through the morning news paper. Wishing him ‘good morning’, I again introduced myself as the officer from WADA seeking the decision from him on the car accident case.

“I had gone through the case.” He told me. “We do not have any point to appeal against the MACT verdict. WADA has to pay the compensation to the victim’s family. I have already recorded my views on the file and returned to the Section for passing it on to you. You can accordingly take further action.”

I was happy because I did not have to go round offices in the Law office, in the advocates’ chambers and also in the Tribunal for fighting against a verdict, which would help a family in distress. I went to the Legal Section to collect the file.

“You are back so early?” The S.O. commented. “We had already sent the file to ALO. So please check up with him.”  “I had met him today morning and was told that he had sent back the file yesterday evening itself giving his decision on the subject.” I told him. “ He asked me to collect the file from here and hence I came here.”   “But I have not seen it,” The S.O. said and, turning to the peon standing nearby he asked him whether he had brought any file marked urgent from ALO’s office.

“I had brought a file from that office yesterday evening and had kept it here.” the peon said.

The S.O. searched for the file among the heap of files lying on his table, but could not locate it. He asked all his staff members in the Section to look for the file but the said file was nowhere to be seen. The Officer got up from his seat murmuring ‘what a nuisance’, and went to ALO’s room to check whether the file was still there. He returned empty handed, cursing the system.

“The file is nowhere to be seen,” he declared. “We will now have to send a circular to all Sections to locate the missing file. It may take a couple of days.”

“Suppose you are not able to locate it even then, what would you do?” I asked him panicked. “Because, without the file and A.L.O’s decision there on, I would not be able to act further.”

“Please do not worry about such issues.” The S.O. said. “We have our methods. We would reconstruct the file. We would write to you and other offices concerned to send us certified copies of the correspondence available on the subject to help us to build up the file. But it would take months”.

“Till then, what am I to do?” I asked him.” Sleep comfortably.” The Officer was casual in his reply.”We are used to many such instances and have ready -made solutions to take care of such situations”.

“We have to now work over time for this purpose. What a bother?” one of the dealing clerks gave vent to his ire.

I was in a dilemma. I had no clue as to how to deal with the Tribunal’s case without having any file on the subject.

”Eureka,” I heard the peon shouting. “I have got the file”. “From where?” ,all the staff shouted in a chorus .“From near the water cooler”, he said. “How did it reach there?” The S.O. was furious. “An urgent file from ALO should not have been dumped by you just like that so irresponsibly.” He accused the peon. “Now I remember”, the peon was defensive. “When I entered the hall with the file, you had asked me to get some water urgently as you were very thirsty. Hence instead of taking the file to you, I got a glass of water from the cooler, leaving the file there and rushed to you and you were thankful for my prompt action. Since we started talking about the bad weather then, I entirely forgot about the file. You also did not remind me about it, though you saw me carrying the file. Now you are blaming me for having given priority for getting water for you to quench your thirst. Strictly speaking, I should have only bothered about the official work of carrying the file instead of attending to your personal work.” The peon showed his annoyance.

“Oh! Do not make it an issue”, all other staff pleaded with the peon. “You are always very helpful in getting us tea and snacks whenever we wanted. So a small slip in official work should not be taken as a major fault. After all, everybody becomes forgetful, once a while, when he grows old.”

The peon looked happy hearing the staff defending him “O.K. I will go and get tea for all of you including our honoured guest.”“Get some snacks also”, with a sigh of relief one of the Assistants requested him.

The Officer read the directions written by his superior on the file, nodding occasionally at some specific remarks. “The boss has agreed with our opinion, that there is no case to go for appeal.” He said . “He has appreciated the way we analysed the issues involved to arrive at the conclusion. Now you can take the file and ask WADA to pay the amount immediately to the family of the deceased.”

Thanking him for the quick action taken to get the necessary directions from his office, I took the file and was about to leave the hall when one of the clerks rushed to me and almost grabbed the file.

“Sorry, you cannot just take away the file”, he told me. “I have to enter the despatch number in the concerned register and take your acknowledgment of having received the file. Just a moment please.”Taking the file with him as a precious item, he went to his desk and started looking for the despatch register. I thought that he might take some hours to locate it from among the heap of files lying on the table. I was worried that if the register was lost, it might necessitate an exercise to ‘reconstruct’ the register and if it be so I would have to wait a couple of days till they completed the formalities for reconstructing it, to take my acknowledgement and thereafter to release my file. Luckily, he could locate the register.

I reached my office in the afternoon and reported the developments to my Unit Head. “Congratulations”, he said.” Go immediately to HR Unit Chief and inform him the result.”

I found the Chief at his desk eagerly waiting for the file. Earlier, I had informed him from the Law office itself the decision given by the ALO and that I was waiting to collect the file from the Section.

“A job well done”, he appreciated me. “Your Chief had told me that he was deputing you specially because you were handling many such issues in the field and he had seen you as a ‘go-getter’ in the assignments given by him. Please keep it up.”The Chief stood up and shook hands with me as a gesture of his appreciation about my work.

I went to Kishanjee to brief him about the case of the missing file and the way the peon in the Law office behaved as if it was not his mistake but due to the personal work he was asked to do instead of attending to the official work. “Instead of fixing the peon for his negligence, all cajoled him, sympathising with his heavy duties and responsibilities. Unfortunately, none of them appeared ashamed about the indifference with which an important file was dealt with.” I gave vent to my feelings.

“In any office, the most important person is the ‘tea boy’, the peon or the messenger or the helper whosoever is assigned with the task of bringing tea and snacks from the canteen at regular intervals.” Kishanjee explained. If he stops working, the entire work in the Section grinds to a halt. Did you not read the story that appeared in one of the magazines recently about the tea boy who disappeared while carrying tea to the staff in an important office?”

“No,” I told him. “In Venkatapuram, such luxuries like magazines are not available.”

“The story is of two tigers that escaped from the Delhi zoo, but were caught and put back in the cage after a few weeks.”How come you returned to the zoo?” the first tiger asked his famished looking companion.

‘“It is a long story” the second tiger said.”I wandered into the Aravalli hills nearby after escaping from here. But since the flora and fauna have disappeared from these denuded hills, I could not get anything and had to remain hungry and thirsty for days together. Therefore I decided to return to this place where good food and water are available in plenty. But I find you well fed and looking quite healthy except for some bruises. Why did you prefer to come back?” He asked the first one.

‘“I never liked this place. But I was forced into a cage and brought here due to a grave mistake I made.” The first one replied. “Otherwise, I would have been still enjoying a comfortable life.”

‘“What happened?”

‘“After escaping from the zoo, I wandered into the concrete jungles around the Connaught Place where the offices are located.” The first one said with a sigh. “I hid under a staircase in the night and knew that no one would see me there. In the morning, I was happy to see hordes of well fed people coming in to work in the office there. I also noticed that there were late comers who preferred to avoid the crowds and walked alone to their offices. I decided to pick on such individuals, one every day, to ensure my daily needs. Initially I was cautious worrying that the absence of people, whom I ate, would be noticed by others in the offices and they would come searching for their colleagues, but nothing happened. I therefore became bolder and threw all caution to wind.

‘“Every day, I used to find a very fat chap carrying eatables and a big can coming to the office late, but  generally in the company of a crowd. I wanted to taste him but was not getting the opportunity. Then one day, I saw him with his eatables walking alone in the direction of the office. Seeing him alone, I pounced on him and dragged him to my hide-out. I was enjoying a leisurely meal when I heard people shouting for the ‘Tea Man’. Tracing the scattered eatables, they came to my place under the staircase and over powered me and pinned me down. In the meanwhile, others got the zoo officials and in a jiffy I was caged and here I am repenting my action. I should have known that the most sought after person in an office is the ‘tea man’ and his absence would cause furore.”

“This is the story which appeared in the magazine and the moral of the story is that work stops if the ‘tea man’ strikes work or remains absent”, Kishanjee concluded with a chuckle.” Now that you were a witness to an incident where the officials were apologetic to the ‘tea man’ of the Section, you have learnt another lesson which can be added to your experience while at WADA head quarters.”

As usual, Kishanjee’s comments were always coated with humour and interspersed with humorous anecdotes. I thanked him for having encouraged me to fully involve myself and take up the work.

My few days of interaction with Law officers certainly gave me some insight into the work culture of offices at headquarters which is entirely different from that of the field organisation. In the field, actions had to be result oriented, in the Hqs., it  should be to save the skin!

If the Law office had advised us to go in for appeal, both the Chiefs of HR and Planning Units would have been hauled up for delay in acting over the case. Hence they felt that I had helped them to come out of the Tribunal case without blemish, though I did not feel that I had contributed much in getting a favourable response from the Law office except following it up with the ALO and concerned Sections. However, they felt that my perseverance helped in getting them a legal opinion on the case which ruled out any scope for appeal, as otherwise they would have had to face the wrath of CEO for their delay and negligence.

I remembered the advice Partha, my friend at Tiruvuru  gave me when I showed him my transfer orders to the Hqs. “Remember, in service, we are not choosers.” Partha had told me then. “Hence whatever works are assigned to you, accept it, put your heart and soul in it and do it to the best of your ability. You would then have a satisfying experience. If you keep this philosophy, work becomes worship and you would not have time to grumble about incompetent subordinates, unhelpful colleagues and ignorant bosses and to think that work is not technically challenging. Then you will keep yourself happy being open to learning many things, taking life as it comes and enjoy the work. Otherwise, you would go on cribbing and end up as a miserable person. This is all the advice I have to give you while joining the mainstream of WADA headquarters.”

A chapter from [Sankupurana – Memoirs of an Engineer]

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