Governance Grumbles–a one-act play in Hinglish in three scene

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Kvetching literally means grumbling, finding fault, whining and complaining. Research by Universities like Cornell has concluded that “complaining fosters a social bond within a peer group stuck in the same leaky boat”. The content of the complaint is not as important as the joy of complaining because it provides “breathing space within an occasionally suffocating culture”. This one-act play captures the archetypal kvetching that goes on within bureaucracy and Ministerhood.

(The characters mentioned in the play are imaginary.)

Act I Scene I:
Starring in order of appearance:
Joint Secretary: Suresh Sinha
Joint Secretary: Ravi Mishra
Joint Secretary: Madhulika Bannerji
Peon: Brahmpal

Room of Joint Secretary Suresh Sinha in the Ministry of Power.
(Joint Secretary Sinha walks over from the desk to the coffee table where Joint Secretary Mishra is opening his tiffin carrier.)

Joint Secretary Sinha: Yaar, this Ministry is a real pain. My batchmate in the Health Ministry is eternally in Geneva. In Power we guys hardly get a chance to step out—whatever opportunity comes is grabbed by those techies.

Joint Secretary Mishra: My wife wants me to lose 5 kg. So she has packed me kheera and gajar once again for lunch. But I’m not very hungry. I ate two huge samosas in the Central Electricity Authority meeting today. They serve such unhealthy snacks at sarkari meetings, yaar. In the private sector they get doughnuts and cappuccino coffee. I am told they even have gyms for workouts.

(Enter the third Joint Secretary, Madhulika Bannerji, wearing an ethnic chic sari and a big bindi and kajal.)

Joint Secretary Sinha: Hi, Madhu, you’re looking pretty stunning today. What’s up?

Joint Secretary Bannerji: What rubbish! (Adjusts her pallu and pats her hair.) Suno, guys, I am so mad at the Secretary. He has sent my keen type Director for the third foreign trip in six months. Whenever my file goes with a foreign trip proposal, he turns it down saying that I am indispensable here. Real MCP.

Joint Secretary Mishra: Yeah, he is so unpredictable. One day he grins at you and asks about the family and the very next day he freezes when you walk in.

Joint Secretary Bannerji: I think he’s trying to become the Chief Electricity Regulation Commissioner when he retires. I heard him on the RAX. He was saying that he was the most qualified but the grapevine says the Mantri is gunning for him because he turned that Bimbani contract into a real spin. He even squealed to PMO and CVC as peshbandi.

Joint Secretary Mishra:Madhulika, you really talk too much. If the Secretary gets to hear you, you’ve had it.

Joint Secretary Bannerji: Why should I be scared? Although the Secretary is a pain, I’m on his side if he stopped all that gadbad.

(A peon enters, carrying three glasses of water.)

Joint Secretary Sinha: Yaar, Brahmpal, mere liye dosa lana. Now I say, jaldi!

Peon Brahmpal: Sa’ab, canteen band ho gaya. Kela ya amrood la doon?
(Phone rings and Joint Secretary Sinha shuffles from the sofa back to the desk.)

Joint Secretary Sinha: Hello! Yes, sir. No, sir. I will bring it now, sir. No. No. Rightaway, sir. I am on the way, sir.
(Puts down the intercom receiver, walks back and continues dialogue.)
This Additional Secretary is a real soand-so. Ever since he got promoted he has become so bumptious. I used to know him so well when we were both JSs. He has changed completely ever since. Just because he wants to impress the Secretary at the 3 pm meeting, he is
demanding a briefing just now from me. I’m famished, yaar.
(Sinha grabs a cucumber slice from Mishra’s tiffin carrier and eats it hungrily.)

Joint Secretary Bannerji: But then why were you sucking up to him so much? You should have told him that you had not eaten lunch. On the one hand you crib about him and on the other you really pander to his demands.

Joint Secretary Mishra: Sinha, yaar, don’t listen to her. You had better go. Madhulika’s ACR will be written after one year. Yours will be written by the Additional Secretary in two months. You’d better keep the AS on the right side.
(Joint Secretary Sinha staggers out of the room carrying a big file, his spectacles hanging on his chest, a notepad and a pen in the other hand, the straps of his sandals remaining undone because of the hurry.)

Joint Secretary Bannerji: You guys are such down and out careerists. I think there is more to life than becoming an Additional Secretary. Forever looking over your shoulder. I believe in calling a spade a spade.

Joint Secretary Mishra: It’s okay for you to spout all this, Madhu, because you have at least 10 years to go before you are considered for becoming AS. Sinha can’t afford to take any more chances, Madhu. Don’t bhadkao him. He’ll get even more disheartened. His last ACR last year was just “Very Good”. Between us, he’s already sunk.

Joint Secretary Bannerji: But, Ravi, there is such a thing as self-respect. Why couldn’t he just say he hadn’t had lunch? He’s got to stand up for his rights. ACRs cannot supersede your health.

Joint Secretary Mishra: Don’t be daft, Madhu. It sounds as though he puts lunch before the Additional Secretary. That will finish him for good. Grow up, kid!

Joint Secretary Bannerji: Ravi, don’t you start getting patronizing with me. My mood is bad already. This place sucks, yaar. Everyone here sucks.

Act I Scene II
Starring in order of appearance: Secretary, Power: Padmanabhan Secretary, Development Commission: Ramanathan

(Secretary Padmanabhan is sitting at his desk, telephone receiver to his ear. On the other side of an invisible screen is Secretary Ramanathan, also on the telephone. The two Secretaries exchange notes while sipping tea. A red light is on in both chambers, indicating that the Secretaries are busy with important matters of state.)

Secretary Padmanabhan: Hi, Ramu. How are things in Development Commission? I’m so tired of all my Joint Secretaries in this Ministry. I don’t know how people become JSs these days. They can’t write two sentences straight and are always sniffing around
for foreign trips without doing a stroke of work. Give even one of them anything less than an “outstanding” chit and they go howling all over the place. Give me a good Director any day.

Secretary Ramanathan: You are right, Paddu. But at least you get the better lot in your Ministry. Most of mine in the Commision can’t see the big picture. But they are preferable to those allknowing armchair experts who keep pontificating all day. They have never seen a district leave alone knowing how a State government functions. And these guys actually decide how the country should be run. I am long past taking “Marg Darshan” from them.

Secretary Padmanabhan: Yeah, I agree. My chhota mantri in Power wants to be in Foreign Affairs next time around. Generation of power just does not interest him leave alone any talk of transmission lines. He can’t tell a Megawatt from MVA and thinks that a supercritical power plant is like an ICU. He is desperate for a change in the next reshuffle. He has been walking on air ever since he heard that the chhota Foreign Minister is being sent as Governor.

Secretary Ramanathan: By the way, what happened to your becoming Chairman of the Electricity Regulatory outfit?

Secretary Padmanabhan: I think the Bimbanis have done me in. They have gone around saying that the Secretary is inflexible. You will have to set me up as Member, Energy in the Development Commission after I retire. They will need someone to look after that in the Commission.

Secretary Ramanathan: I wish such things were in my hands, my friend. But I’ll give it a shot, Paddu, for old time’s sake. You can return the favour when I retire after a year. And, by the way, don’t forget that your Mantri can do a lot for you. Keep on his right
side. The real powers that be have a huge soft spot for him. Old boys plus bachcha network. Deadly combination, man.

Secretary Padmanabhan: I did not know that, Ramu. Thanks for the tipoff. I’d better call off now. That eager beaver Additional Secretary has been jhankoing in twice already. He is just panting to replace me when I retire. What example is he setting to those poor youngsters? The old values have disappeared completely.

Act I Scene III
Starring in order of appearance:
Minister for Power
Minister for Industry
Secretary Padmanabhan
(Dept of Power)

(The Minister for Power and the Minister for Industry are sitting on a sofa, chatting. They both wear white kurta-pyjamas. Both Ministers are very young. Minister for Power wears designer sunglasses and Minister for Industry has spiked hair.)

Minister for Power: PM is very happy with the power sector’s performance. He said so himself. But the trouble with this sector is that it is too national. I’ve not been able to do a thing for my constituency – there are no schemes or projects at the district evel. And the officers are so dull and unimaginative. My Secretary works like a Manager. Always bringing sheets of paper with big fat graphs to show how something extraordinary has been pulled off. The guy has no political sense. When my constituency visitors are sitting around he gives them the cool ignore. If it weren’t for the PSUs doing all that CSR stuff I’d be sunk. Good thing he is retiring soon.

Minister for Industry: I’m new to this Mahan Bharat Sarkar business. All I can say is that these officers cram up all those figures and then throw around all that jargon and statistics at briefings. They see ghosts of corruption everywhere. The latest alibi they have now is this awful RTI thing. One would think they are paid only to find ways of scuttling everything that comes from the Mantri. But were the Cabinet Secretary to tell them even once, they will turn somersaults. It’s all the fault of the bureaucracy, I say. India has not improved because of these blokes.

Minister for Power: You know, I would rather have my Additional Secretary as the Secretary. He is down-to-earth and understands political compulsions thoroughly. What is the basis for posting officers? I have three Joint Secretaries who have been here even before I joined. They’re nice people but I think they have been terrorized by the Secretary. And as for that big bindi woman Joint Secretary, she would have been so much better off in Tourism or Culture, even Women and Child Development. It’s impossible to talk
once she gets started. If such women become Secretaries they will be a disaster. But who can say this? The whole nari brigade in parliament will gang up and shout the place down and make a ruckus on TV too.

Minister for Industry: There will be a reshuffle soon. The grapevine has it that you are going to get a promotion, might even land up in the Foreign Ministry. Good for you. You will have much more visibility there. Everything is so civilized in MEA. The only bad part is that you won’t be able to do anything for your constituency there either. And if you think your big bindi woman JS talks too much, you haven’t heard the Foreign Service varieties – both men and women. They can really stretch a five-minute briefing for five hours. Anyway, I’m leaving for the US tonight for Modernization of Fast Developing Countries Conference. I’d better go now.

(Exit Minister for Industry, talking into a gadget stuck to his ear while holding a mobile phone in each hand, both ringing simultaneously.)
Enter Secretary Padmanabhan: Good evening, sir. Namaskar, sir, vannakam, sir
Congratulations, sir. Did you know there is this great gfiles magazine, sir? It’s all about the bureaucracy. In the latest issue I have with me here they have rated how bureaucrats rank the Ministers. Sir, you have been rated as Numero Uno, sir. Congratulations, sir!
You can show this magazine to the PM, sir. And this is really something huge because gfiles is really the last word on the subject.You deserve the number 1 ranking, sir. It’s all your vision for 2121, sir.
(Getting up to go, Secretary Padmanabhan stands up as if to go and suddenly sits down again.)
By the way, sir, I was going to mention that I am due to retire at the end of the month, sir. I don’t have to say anything more to you, sir. You have always been my benefactor, sir.

Minister for Power: Of course I’ll do what I can. By the way, that Sunil Bimbani industrialist met me the other day about his power plant in Bimnagar. What’s the problem with his case? You are such a good manager, sort it out.

Secretary Padmanabhan: Bilkul, sir. It’ll be done, sir. It’s a small thing, sir. Aur koi mere layak sewa, sir? And don’t forget to show the PM the gfiles article, sir. By the way, I’ve got the National Power Corporation to set up an amusement park in your onstituency as a part of CSR. Every child will remember you forever, sir. g


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