Have you ever tried calling any Government office? The Man from Madras Musings has, and he can assure you that it is a fun activity, particularly if you have plenty of time and no particular agenda on hand that requires immediate attention. These being days of telecom revolutions and high-speed connectivity, most Government departments feature telephone numbers on their web sites, letterheads and circulars. They exude the image of desperately wanting to be in touch with the likes of MMM and every one of you out there. The responses that you get are quite typical and MMM has classified them under various heads for your convenience.

Landlines: These will give you one of two results – either a recorded voice will tell you in a bored manner (it is only on Government telephones that even recorded voices can sound bored) that the dialled number is not in use, or the phone will keep ringing till eternity. Sometimes you will find that it remains engaged till eternity (bored recorded voice – dyulled numbarr is busy, please duyal later) which simply means it has been kept off the hook so that our Government officials can get on with more pressing business on hand, namely attend endless meetings. Sometimes the odd miracle does happen and the call gets answered. Here again, you can have two results – the first one being that the person at the other end says that this is not the relevant number and if he/she is in a good mood gives you a different number. When you try that number, you find that it is either not in existence or keeps ringing or is engaged. In desperation you call back the first number in the hope that the kindly voice will give you another number, only to find that that number too now rings away to glory with no response.

The second result is not meant for those with weak hearts – the call is answered and then the person at the other end offers to transfer the call to the intended respondent. But be of good cheer, for nothing further will happen – most Government officials do not know how to transfer calls and will simply hang up. Otherwise they will tell you that the respondent is not, er… responding (sir/madam is not in seat) and ask you to call later. When you do that you know that the number will be either continuously busy or will just keep ringing.

Cell phones: Some departments publish cell phone numbers of key officials. These are strictly one-way instruments – the officers only make outgoing calls on them to juniors. All senior bureaucrats have a second and private cell phone on which they receive calls from their spouses and children or receive transfer orders. That number is never disclosed to the undeserving general public.