Sunday, February 20, 2011

Government offices for Dummies

Over the last several months I have had the unique experience of visiting all kinds of government offices in India. I thought I pen my experience here to get rid of some fallacies and scare you of some more.

To start with, Indian government offices at the grass-roots level are not as corrupt as they are portrayed to be. For all my work so far, I have never come across a corrupt official whom I had to pay (or I may be too dumb to notice that he is expecting to be paid!). But, so saying, every task in our Government offices is extremely bureaucratic and the simplest of simple things will require you to be prepared to wait for at least 2-3 hours and visit the same office half a dozen times and meet a dozen other people. Some problems are mainly because we are a country of a billion people, and whatever you want to do, there are a million other people doing it at the same time and place along with you. Also, I wouldn’t call some processes efficient enough (and I am sure if we hire a good usability consultant she sure can optimize a 100 odd processes).

Initially I found all this unnerving, but if you look at it from the “experience” point of view then you end up enjoying the ordeal. I have learnt to be patient, very very patient. I have also learnt to be humble. Extremely humble and respect everyone in the office and make sure that I do not make any of the government official feel bad or argue with them. I also realized that in every such office there is this neglected person (like a watchman, a clerk or a cleaner) who can help you with your work even if you just approach them with respect and ask for help.

And never do the mistake of wearing a “western outfit”. Wear pure khadi clothes especially a kurta and have a unshaven look. Carry yourself with dignity. In India, it is very difficult to differentiate between an ordinary guy wearing traditional Indian clothes and the local politician or goon. So if you dress like one, people naturally give you respect (Yeah, I have shamelessly taken advantage of that fact several times!).

Once you reach the office, you shall be approached by a lot of people. They are generally touts or agents. They will scare you that the officials at that office are extremely corrupt, and only the agents can get your work done. Pay no heed to them. These are the guys who have vested interest in naming the government employees as corrupt. Approach the neglected person that I introduced in the earlier paragraph and find out where you have to go to do your stuff.

The only irritating part of everything is “we the people”. We do not form one single line at any counter. We form what I like to call “concentric semicircles”. So if there is a window you have to go to, and if there is a person standing there, then we don’t stand behind him. We stand next to him. We do that till there is a small semicircle formed around the window. Thereafter when more people come to the counter and they realize they can no longer squeeze into the first semicircle, then we start forming concentric semicircles behind. And now you ask who decides the priority of who comes next in these semicircles? Well, we Indians have a rule – the loudest and most scary looking guy gets to do his job first. Other weaklings and meek-lings wait (Now I hope you realize why I warned you about the outfit!).

That's all I have to say about it. Go to a government office – just to get a kick out of the whole experience. Trust me, you wont repent!

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha .. well documented Girish. I have had my fair share of visits to government offices and can safely say that my 'experience' has been the same. I, too, have come out of them learning to be more patient and humble!

    The frustrating thing though is the callousness of the officials. You can see that a lot of things can be improved by mere common sense but unfortunately they are blind to all of it!