Always at leisure

New Year's Day was billed for a flurry of activity in Assam. While the partial draft of the updated National Register of Citizens, containing the names of genuine Indian citizens, was published for 1.9 crore applicants, new office timings in the state were also kick-started on January 1.

  • Published 12.01.18
  • a few seconds read
  •  

New Year's Day was billed for a flurry of activity in Assam. While the partial draft of the updated National Register of Citizens, containing the names of genuine Indian citizens, was published for 1.9 crore applicants, new office timings in the state were also kick-started on January 1.

Contrary to expectations, neither of these generated any ripples. People calmly queued up outside NRC seva kendras to check if their names were on the list, but did not resort to histrionics if they drew a blank. Most verified their names online. As for the effort to improve the work culture by bringing office timings forward by 30 minutes, the response from the 4.2 lakh workers was lukewarm. Employees had been urged to reach office at 9.30 am instead of the prevailing time of 10 am, with a 30-minute lunch break. To help women employees of the secretariat reach office on time, a free bus service was launched in Guwahati on Wednesday.

If the first week's attendance record was anything to go by, the trend of entering office late continues. The apex body of Assam's government employees, the Sadou Asom Karmachari Parishad, attributed the delays to train and boat travel to reach offices. In 2014, the SAKP had reacted to surprise raids and checks on latecomers by demanding that officials monitoring remote districts stop functioning from the state capital. Many officers have been functioning from Guwahati for nearly two decades, most of them allegedly enjoying the patronage of influential politicians and bureaucrats.

Unhurried pace

Similar was the case when Mamata Banerjee came to power in Bengal in 2011 and wanted to infuse 'work culture' among the babus at the secretariat and doctors in government hospitals with sudden swoops. It proved sensational at the start but died with a whimper. Instilling punctuality in adults unused to any proved a Herculean task. Thus no such alacrity was visible when she came to power for a second term, and this week, two tea gardens in the state, Sylee and Hila, suspended work citing "deterioration of work culture."

In Assam, the deputy commissioner of Majuli, the chief minister's constituency, showcaused 79 tardy employees, but his implementation trajectory will inevitably plummet as those penalized are unlikely to stride to work on time. The bureaucrat, Bhaskar Phukan, had reminisced about his days as sub-divisional officer in Sonitpur in an interview, saying: "An IAS probationer came to my office for an 'exposure' visit. I was surprised to find that the young officer, originally from Karnataka, spoke reasonably good Assamese. When I mentioned this, he said, 'I am learning everything lahe lahe (unhurried pace)'. You are already an Assamese if you are doing things lahe lahe, I said in jest."

Cultural stereotypes tend to be infectious. A former chief minister of Meghalaya was caught in a traffic snarl while travelling with his convoy into the hill state from Assam. After a prolonged hold-up, he quipped: "We have left the land of lahe lahe, but now we seem to be going even more slowly - la-hay, la-hay".

Phukan summed up this trait succinctly: "Come spring, when the orchids bloom and the air is filled with the sounds of the pepa and the beat of the dhol, an Assamese just shrugs off everything else and revels in the spirit of Rongali Bihu. Once again he celebrates life lahe lahe."This somnolence is characteristic of all the eastern states, where a siesta is so cherished that even shops down shutters for the afternoon.

Should we take a cue from Benjamin Franklin's daylight saving time concept and push forward the office clock? Or would that deal the unkindest cut in a region where life needs to be savoured?

Tags
About
Author