FRILLS, THRILLS AND SHRILLS OF DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION:
By: Lunminthang Haokip
The Aura Attached to District Administrator: Considered a prize and crucial cutting-edge administrative posting, several rounds of confabulation, usually at the highest levels, take place to avoid ‘wrong decision’ at one’s own expense, before a DC is posted. Once the consensus order comes out, the onus of taking stock of everything that happens, may happen and may not happen in the administrative sphere of a district, squarely lies in the ‘imagined wisdom’ of the otherwise just ‘another top-cadre officer’ who, like Socrates, knows the ‘other’s point of view’, but cannot freely express his own view, and who is restrained by many pricking factors that could turn out to be his premature nemesis, as an ‘unenviable crisis manager.’
The Frills That Spill Over: Welcomed fervently with capital ‘C’ by a pre-conceived ‘potion-ed notion’ generally, and with greater expectation by the less-favoured’ lot who, for reasons best known to them, suffer controversial equations with the powers-that-be, the new dist-level top-seat occupant’s future lies uneasy. Yet, the officer-incumbent, feigning obliviousness, laps up every invitation that befits his hard-earned status of being perched in the helm of affairs within the confines of his jurisdiction. At times, he struggles to hide his clumsiness in getting normally adjusted and habituated to the sudden status-hike and unsought respect that he receives in abundance in the ‘honey-moony’ period of initial interactions with his ‘apparently’ happy, but ‘secretly unpredictable’ subject. Later, conflict of endless pressure of demands and limited means to please all do not augur well, and create fissures in the coloured perceptions of the administered.
Tough to Co-ordinate Subordinates: An administrator’s level of performance depends heavily upon his subordinates’ savvy support. White- collar supposed-to-be 10 to 5 jobbers in Eigam may be classified in four categories. The first lot are the few sincere functionaries who know their duty well and will to perform. The second group are equipped with the know-how but lack the will to work hard. The third type of incumbents lack knowledge but, given proper grooming, are willing to put in their best. They are the most qualified candidates for capacity building trainings. The headache of the boss is the fourth category who do not know, and are not inclined to learn. They are the ones who gossip away precious office hours in the canteen corner, and whose cup-of-tea do not taste sweet unless they talk bad of someone. They do nothing in the morning, and take a good rest in the afternoon, for doing nothing much in the morning; and demand, as a birth-right, their fave dish from their wives by the evening.
Exceptional Smart Operators: While some staff are overloaded with back-breaking urgent matters to be delivered one after the other, a few nattily dressed among their colleagues couldn’t care less. Typical of their ilk, such side-trade runners, having given their prime-time to more lucrative non-official ventures, visit their places of work often in School-Inspector mode. If the concerned boss raises a finger to take them to task, the well-connected teflon-coated class, politely throw in broad hints that they have big shots in the charmed circle to see to it that they are not harmed. Coming face-to-face with one such, seething silently at the under-current audacity, but putting up a smiling countenance, the ‘poor boss’, having read between the crafty words, has no choice but to entrust the delinquent frequent absentee to run around and pursue certain official matters he has no time to pursue.
The Thrill of Being Heard Attentively: Excepting the diffident few who’d rather clean up a stinking toilet than speak from the podium to a large gathering, there is no DLO who misses an opportunity to speak his mind on issues after his heart. Given undue attention by mushrooming ambitious KTVLPBs (keen-type village-level power-brokers), the district admin is in a privileged position to pick up invitations of his preferred choice. The event managers are hell-bent on roping in a dignitary to cobble up a semblance of ‘dignity’ to a meeting they arrange ostensibly for the welfare of their locality, but in reality, to gain person-to-person proximity to the ‘man of the moment’. The invited dignitary, soft-pedaling the pregnant imaginative reason for the profuse attention showered on him, play safe nonchalantly by falling in love with the mike in delivering speeches that would earn him brownie points elsewhere in his scheme of things.
The Echoing Shrills: While some favour-seekers are more knowledgeable in a particular subject than the man to whom favour is being sought, there are no dearth of ignorant ‘blind-hitters’ who are regularly irregular in knocking office doors to heavily tax the already tapered patience of the livid bureaucrat. Every alternate visitor would absent-mindedly enquire sans scruples, “What is the status of mine, Sir”, thinking the ‘beleaguered Sir’ would have the memory of an elephant to recollect minute details of an application submitted to him in a noisy function three months back. When the man in the revolving chair, holding his peace with difficulty, makes a bid to resolve the issue and ask, “What do you mean by ‘mine’ brother”, pat comes the answer before the boss can take a belated sip from his, by now, cold cup of tea, “I mean mine, that which I told you three months back.” Unless one is born with the patience Job of the Bible was endowed with, nothing can hold back one from flying off the handle to tackle such an untenable situation. Shrills are bound to echo from wall to wall.
Complaints At Odd Hours: Agreed that in a democratic set-up, one can get up, in any get-up, to put up a grievance. But there are office hours in all working days when one may do so. Sapped of his fast-exhausting energy, and his mood driven almost to switch on to ‘Devdas mode’ by the sad tales and public discontentment he has been compelled by propriety to timidly lend an ear to, the whole day; by night time, the tired administrator desires to retire or unwind. Being human, domestic problems crop up all of a sudden. Add to that, calls from one’s children to settle sibling rivalry, or from one’s spouse ventilating grouses on her hubby’s owlish indifference to a serious request made much earlier; or a complaint on power-cut that denies them glimpses of a key soccer match, or a request for help at midnight to rescue a vehicle that had turned turtle. Hassled even at home, the man at the receiving end who is unfortunately perceived to be capable of fixing everything, and expected to be more tolerant than ‘tolerance’ itself, is more often than not, reduced to being a mere bundle of nerves.
Warnings Veiled in Sweet-Talking: To deftly or openly brag about one’s closeness to people in high places, some of who are powerful, some fearful, is an old habit the upwardly-mobile Eimi ‘able-doers’ simply refuse to undo. Giving due respect to the chief administrative functionary of a district, calculating undue office-file-pursuers subtly narrate anecdotes involving himself as the ‘main actor’, in such a way that the ‘Babu’ sitting opposite to him may know his ‘con-connections’ and push files faster. There and then, one’s LBSNAA training modules surface in one’s mind. It’s not for nothing that IAS Probationers are being taught practical horse-riding. If the rider pulls the reigns too hard, the horse would jump; and if let too loose, it would wander left and right. The best way to control the sturdy ‘stallion’ is to keep on heel-tapping its body from the saddle and pull the reign as and when the animal deviates from its track.
Conclusion: All said and done, coming close to retirement from ‘Babudom’, I am still ‘ekdum khush’ that My God made me choose the hectic profession I am in that paves the way to meet and interact with a galaxy of variety of multi-dimensional characters. District Administration, to put succinctly, provides frills, thrills and shrills that together leave a lasting impact on the man in the odd hot-seat. The shrills that one cannot avoid but endure, are more than made up for by the frills and thrills that assure governance that, although causes one’s hair to grey faster, makes one a lot saner and wiser. If I were given the chance to start all over again in a career as a raw beginner, I’d choose the challenging better-field of administration, all the same.