Much ado about Babu-dom

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Lunminthang Haokip

Origin of Babu: In British India, Babu was a term used to address an Indian Clerk in the way the word ‘Mister’ was used. The honorific suffix to one’s name became popular in the 20th Century; more so in Bengal where the diversified equivalents, ‘Babushona,’ or ‘Babuji’ denoted deeper show of respect to a bureaucrat. The words of common address come handy even today when someone whose name one doesn’t know is required to be given a call in social and official transactions. Switching focus to the bigger picture, through out the length and breath of our vast country, Babu, by and large, is the accepted usage to refer officers of the IAS, other Government functionaries, and even respect-worthy elders in one’s orbit of activity.

Take on Manipur’s Hill Area Babu-dom: Christianity, along with the Gospel Light, brought the thirst for education in the hill villages of Manipur. The hitherto complacent and ‘contented’ hill-settlers who were satisfied as long as they had sufficient stock of paddy, livestock and rice-beer to make merry with, with the arrival of Missionaries and Evangelists, felt the need to learn English to be on par. The Holy Bible and the Hymn books handed out to them needed to be translated in their own dialects. So, proposals to open schools, governmental or Private, were welcomed with open arms and Psalms. The spirited lettered local elite grabbed the organizational leadership positions. A zeal triggered partly by spiritualism, and partly by materialism, which was further fuelled by the drive to “equal one’s betters and better one’s equals,” catapulted many rural aspirants to placements of prominence. Many of the ST Babus who serve in offices in the NE Regional and State Capitals and the Hill Districts are second or third generation offspring of ‘Gospel-sufferers’ who held on fast to the Word despite stiff opposition from their own kindred, in the past.

Positions of Hassled Advantage: Being assured a regular monthly salary, except in times of financial crunch, puts the white-collared Babus at a pedestal in the eyes of the less-privileged lot. The recurring morale boosting reassurance, that basic requirements will be taken care of, is notches more comforting than pastoral and agricultural abundance one’s forefathers banked heavily on. Yet, the euphoria of holding on to a job is taxing at times. The economics of rural hardships hassle the Babus’peace of mind off and on. Excepting a few families of high-ranking bureaucrats, most well-placedone-in-a-sub-clan officers of hill-origin have the varied ‘hopes’ of their ‘poorer’ extended family-members and relatives pinned calculatingly on them. Add to that the collective aspirations of religious and social organization from the Babu’s native area who have the ‘local big-shots’ in mind whenever they plan an event without a proper budget. The officer, having gone through our social set-up, plays ball to an extent; but when ‘cornered’ to render things untenable for the ‘family man’ to please all favour-seekers, the ‘boss’ is at a loss’ as to whether it will be wiser to go teflon-coated and play ‘hide and seek’ by saying one thing and doing another.

The ‘Lurks’ and Perks of Officialdom: No pain no gain, the old adage went. In this cut-throat competitive era, a struggle to make it in exams and interviews that feature equally keen and competent competitors, is no cake-walk. Burning the midnight oil isn’t enough. A wannabe top-ranker must have an innovative approach to studies, be IT savvy, cultivate the right aptitude and attitude and acquire an emotional intelligence to create an impact on the interviewers.Initial failures in repeated earlier attempts add flavor to ultimate success. Along with consummate performance in Public Service Commission-conducted Tests come placements commensurate to the merit achieved. Facilities attached to one’s hard-earned status, sooner or later, are taken for granted. Appreciations and plaudits showered generously on the ‘rising son’ is elating for a while, but one grows owlishly indifferent to ‘all that jazz,’ if the same are felt to have been overdone with some ‘overacting’. But the most durable perk, that lurks and lingers for long in the mind of the ‘new incumbent’ in vantage-position, is the ‘honour of being looked up to’ and ‘taken seriously’ by the same people who did not give ‘him’ much ‘bhav’ and ‘credit’ in his salad days.

Thrills and Shrills of District Posting: If much power and authority is bestowed upon the District Administrator, and to a lesser extent, to the subordinate DLOs, much more is expected from them in terms of delivery of service. Human rivalry and one-upmanship remain the same everywhere. Needs and desires are unlimited, but the means to quell them are limited. Besides, there are ‘pressures’ and priorities one can ignore at one’s own peril. In critical situations when contentious issues confront one to either heed to the ‘voice of conscience’ or to the more pragmatic ‘prompting of the heart,’the latter, unfortunately, has to prevail over the former, much to the silent ‘chagrin’ of the man on the hot-seat. Merciless comparisons of ‘predecessors’ and ‘successors’ are made with one’s balance of ‘loyalty’ tilting heavily on ‘closer proximity.’ But systems cannot change overnight with the posting of a new incumbent-in-authority. He is no superman to wipe out ‘every tear from every eye’ or exhibit Don Quixotic chivalry in taking ‘immediate decisions’ regardless of the consequences. The bull cannot be shot with the butt facing it. Men in authority had been trained to be tactful, careful and mindful of local and community sensitivities so as to save one’s tenure from hurt and ridicule.

Disadvantage Bureaucrats: Bureaucrats are bound to act on orders from above at the risk of ignoring equally urgent ‘orders’ from ‘those who matter’ in the home-front. If the Babu gets more and more appreciation in the discharge of his duty, the reverse will be true in the family circles. Home ‘mini-stirs’ have their own agenda and the ‘power’ to emotionally ‘impose’ them on their own incumbent-hubbies who, at times, are put on a quandary by contradicting sundry calls. A domestic fuss is inevitable if the hectic schedules make the ‘man of the house’ forget a wedding anniversary or a child’s birthday. If growing children lag behind others in school or college, the ‘bechara’ father is squarely blamed for “not giving ‘pura’ attention like ‘so and so’s hubby.” Mid-level Babus with lesser responsibility score better in guiding children’s education. Heavy-duty officers also have the best of ambitions for their sons and daughters. But time is at a premium. When the calls of official duty and family duty are at odds with one another, ‘imagined’ feathers desired to be capped on children’s academic performance, are often dispensed with for holistic ‘paapi pet kasawaal.’

Let Us Support Our Babus: All said and done, having left only a few aspects of Babu-dom undone, let us have a heart for this class of non-elective administrative policy-makers who work overtime for the masses to oversee that necessary daily demands get done in the best manner. Civil government is an institution of the Creator, apart from the family and the Church. It was in existence right from the time of Moses. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, advised the ordained Servant of God, “Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, ….and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens (Exodus 18:21).”God also commands us to obey those in authority: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God (Romans 13:1).”

Source: The Sangai Express

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