Organized Chaos or Chaos organized?

“Struggle for existence” and “Survival of the fittest”.
These are the powerful metaphors chosen by Charles Darwin in his famous work entitled ‘On the Origin of Species’. The expression ‘Struggle for existence’ was borrowed by Darwin from the well known economist of late 18th century / early 19th century – Malthus.
The reason for my mentioning these in this post is not so much to discuss anything on Charles Darwin or Malthuse as to talk about my own recent experience in Chennai which could be described in such terms,although it is neither an existential nor a survival issue. .
The episode I am going to describe has to do with my visit to a Registrar’s office in Chennai and the purpose of my visit was to get ‘encumbrance certificate’ for a piece of land I purchased long time ago.
I had to make two trips – the first one to fill in a few forms and pay fees and the second one to collect the certificates.
The first battle was to locate or find the prescribed forms. I am deliberately using the words ‘battle’,’find’ and ‘locate’ since it was really like a game of ‘Hide & Seek’. There was no one to guide the public on the location of the forms. The forms were kept in an inaccessible corner close to a counter,which was crowded with a sea of humanity. The crowded place(I mean the entire office)closely resembled a Mumbai local train during peak office hours! With great difficulty I managed to secure the form,filled in the blanks and reached the counter once again forcing myself forward in the crowd. The lady at the counter asked me to get the form initialed by an officer sitting elsewhere(no one knows the significance of this procedure,though). I got this done duly and once again approached the counter. One may wonder how I was able to breeze in and out of the heavily crowded counter thrice without any difficulty whatsoever. I must confess that my previous experience in finding my way into crowded Mumbai local trains helped me go past the clearly inexperienced Chennai localites! The lady in the counter took the forms and asked me to wait for an ‘indefinite’ period of time. I waited outside for a an hour or so and learnt from others that unless I pushed my way through,I would never get my turn. Realizing that one has to be a Roman in Rome,I decided to be vociferous and aggressive so as to get noticed and attended to. Finally the lady took my forms and asked me to pay the prescribed fees and come again after 4 days. That was the end of the day’s ordeal!

Exactly 4 days later,I landed at the office once again. It turned out that I arrived 3 hours before the specified time. Nevertheless, I requested the lady at the counter to oblige me with the certificate condoning my early arrival. I pleaded with her to help me out saying that I had come to Chennai all the way from Mumbai just for this sake!(a harmless white lie,I suppose). Expectedly,the lady turned furious and dismissed my plea instantly saying that lots of people like me come up with similar excuses everyday and there was no way she could oblige me. Therefore I had no choice but to wait. I returned precisely at the appointed hour(4pm)to the counter and made my request again. The lady was once again rude with me and told me dismissively that some times people would be required to wait till 7pm to collect the certificates. That was my flash point and I lost my cool. I realized that it was now my turn to turn the heat on. And I did it very effectively blaming and cursing the entire bureaucracy and their high handed behaviour showing scant respect for the common man’s time. This outburst seemed to do the trick. She tried to put up a very weak defense even as her superiors chided her for her rude behaviour. Realizing that was a losing battle,she had to finally act and brought in my papers. She now didn’t have the face to hand over the papers to me directly. Instead she gave them over to her superior officer saying that these papers belonged to the guy who was shouting and screaming at me!(“anda saddam pottavaroda papers”!). The officer pacified her saying that as service providers they should keep their cool even if a customer shouted and advised her to be considerate to people coming from long distances. I was surprised and relieved to find at least one sane voice in that crowd. Later on the officer handed over the papers to me and asked for the receipt. I answered saying that it had already been given away to the angry young lady!(‘anda kovakkara madam ku kuduthachu’)

This is probably a very common experience for many of us in government offices. Given such pathetic conditions of service,I refuse to believe that India is going to become an Economic super power in the near future unless we we carry out large scale reforms in government offices to remove corruption and inefficiencies. I always wondered why we can not have an efficient and much publicized ‘Single Widow clearance’ for all such services. I am convinced that the bureaucracy has a vested interest in perpetuating an inefficient system,which breeds corruption. Most disturbing outcome of such an inefficient system is that we have unwittingly created a class of professionals variously called by different names such as ‘Agents’,’middle men’,’brokers’ etc. The latter work in collusion with the officials and fleece the public for ordinary services which are normally taken for granted in any civilized society.

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