Have you ever noticed that our Government is stuck in some 17th century or thereabouts when it comes to its communication style? Or rather ishtyle as it is pronounced by brethren from up north? This aspect was brought home rather forcefully to the Man from Madras Musings when last week he was at his desk with nary a thought in his head other than this column of course.

The Governmental envelope

The phone rang and on MMM answering it he heard an obsequious voice asking if this was Saar speaking. Experience has taught MMM that such beginnings usually mean a Governmental voice is speaking at the other end, at the peremptory ordering of a higher-up, usually a Saar from the I Am Superior cadre. MMM replied that indeed it was and enquired as to what he owed the pleasure of this call. Whereupon the voice said that it had been instructed by its Saar to call Saar and that its Saar would be happy to know if Saar was free on some forthcoming date as Saar wanted Saar to come to Saar’s office and address some other Saars on heritage. To this MMM asked if he could know the name of the Saar who had expressed this desire for MMM’s company. In his experience, not many Saars in service have any affection for MMM, they having labelled him long ago as Mischievous Meddlesome Man. On the contrary, the moment they lay down office and untangle themselves from the red tape that makes them stiff and standoffish, they develop a great love for MMM and grapple him to their hearts with hoops of steel. They then tend to buttonhole MMM at all available occasions to tell him unprintable stories about ministers and colleagues and how they did all they could to save heritage but ‘you know how vested interested were against it.’

But to get back to the story. On being asked to name the Saar, the voice sucked in its breath in a shocked manner. It was like asking a traditional housewife to name her husband. After some silence it repeated its query – Saar would like to know if Saar was free on a particular date for a presentation concerning heritage. If so, Saar would receive a letter of invitation. If not, could Saar recommend some other Saar. To this MMM asked if the Chief had been invited. The voice took on a reverential tone at this. MMM was quite sure that the speaker at the other end was standing up. Of course said the voice. Saar had been invited and what they needed was a second Saar, which is why the phone call. At this MMM caved in and said yes. The voice then rung off, no doubt in order to go and confabulate with its Saar.

The letter duly arrived a day later. In this time and age an email would have done the job but not so in Government. They had spent Rs 20 on sending the letter by speed post. It was in a cover that was so thoroughly pasted all over that it took quite a while for MMM to cut it open without damaging the paper inside. The envelope had all the forbidding stamps and seals that make Government correspondence so disliked. It had the appearance of a summons or at the very least a tax demand.

The letter inside was no better. It had several reference numbers filled with hyphens, obliques, dots and dashes – something like gobbledegook no 111/balderdash 323/245237b. And it began with the words “I am to inform you…’ The tone improved considerably as the letter proceeded and the last words indicated that civilization was here at last – a reply had been requested by email! The mail ID was of course as confusing as the letter reference. The missive ended with the terse legend- Forwarded/By Order. MMM wondered if a simple invite for a presentation needed to be worded like a sentence of transportation for life.

MMM scrolled down to see the name of the Saar who had signed it. Something struck him as he read it. He then went and looked into that day’s newspaper. On reading it, MMM realised that the Saar who wrote the letter had been transferred from this department the previous day. MMM has decided to accept the invite by the way. It will provide him some long-awaited amusement.