Government buildings are not so much buildings as they are characters. Mostly shady, smelly, dank characters. I sometimes wonder what they might be telling the civil contractor who builds the damn thing. “Build it so that on entering, the only thing you will want to do is exit. Tch, tch, too many troublemakers come to visit us…those NGOs, and RTI activisits (this is said with a shudder), and those economists who are always pining for data! (This last bit is said with an indignant tone full of complete disbelief)..Koi idhar aadhe ghantese jyaada reh na paaye.” Hehehe. And so these are built. To push even the sunniest and most valiant of us onto the brinks of despair. Econ mom is mostly found these days wandering in and out of one or the other of these ubiquitious cheerless vaastus, wondering how the hell Swacch Bharat or anything remotely connected to anything Swacch can be implemented from these buildings.
Today I was in a particularly interesting building in Mumbai. Well, the building was like any other Government building. It had 3-4 huge boards on the ground floor carrying some random protests from about 27 different groups. One of the boards said “Chalo Mumbai,” though why anyone in Mumbai wants to say Chalo Mumbai beats me hollow. Others carried vehement protests against the Government officers, Government schemes, Government circulars, Government tenders, Government power centres, MPs, MLAs, PM, CM, and all other Ms, errr, Ministers. The only M I would have liked to protest about was the ATM next door which carried the depressing note “Out of cash” outside it. One board was even found to be declaring Coca Cola as completely unfit for kids. I found myself interested in this. I mean, the statement was completely sensible, though why it should be put on a protest board outside a Government office beats me. However, I did marvel briefly at the guy who must have thought of randomly scribbling the statement in pink and yellow chalk on the board and had an insane urge to meet the fellow. Why did he scribble just this, I wondered, why not E = mc2 or something like that? I had a momentary urge to buy a chalk and write “Mothers Zindabad, Fathers Murdabad” and grinned to think of Hubby’s face if he were to see it. Hehe.
There was simply no question of getting into the elevator. There were huge serpentine queues in the lobby and a lot of shoving and yelling. Elevators are designed to elevate, but there seemed nothing in that dark space that could possibly elevate me and my team of three other economists. “Chalo 5th floor,” I grinned at my colleague, who immediately rolled his eyes at me.
As I climbed the stairs, I found the familiar dank smells getting to my brain centers. I could almost feel the chemical composition starting to change within my head, converting me from my usual cheerful self to this aggressive woman having a problem with random strangers on the street. I waited to see if I would sprout an additional set of hands or something, but after nothing happened on the second flight of stairs, I trudged ahead, reassured that the damage was restricted to only the little grey cells and my other cellular structures seemed to be intact.
On the first floor, I gasped in delight, a reaction I do not normally feel in a Government building. A healthy young cat, followed by three beautiful kittens came bounding down the stairs. For some strange reason, a chaiwala had decided to set up a cart on the first floor. Yep, you got that right. There was a chaiwala on the first floor landing brewing chai on an open platform. But he seemed to be a kindly fellow, going by those plump kitties gambolling there. Government buildings normally have a fair share of cats. Why? Because they also have a fair share of rats. Hehe. No pun intended.
On the second floor, a big billboard declared that the Department of Industries was now the Department of Ind Stries. I grinned, thinking of myself, the quintessential Ind Stree, looking at the Ind Stries. I continued on my journey up the stairs to find that the third floor was being lit up. Heaven help us all! Five women employees were drawing Rangolis on the landing and other Government employees were excitedly crowding there, talking to each other in loud tones. Guess what…a Satyanarayan Pooja was going to be held on the landing! One should always be prepared for the unbelievable when one chooses to be an economist. But I seem to be in a near-permanent state of disbelief these days. I continued upstairs when it hit me. Oh God, the stink! The men’s loo on the fourth floor was so terribly smelly that it made most visitors on the landing of the third floor balk and turn into white zombies. My poor brain, already woolly with the effort of having climbed four floors, together with the joint impact of the Coca Cola, chai drinking kitties, stress of the Strees and the Satyanarayan, was pushed into a hyperactive state.
I suddenly morphed into Ethan Hunt. The MI-4 music track started in my brain even as I hit my watch just like Ethan does before jumping into the water, clamped my handkerchief firmly over my nose and ran upstairs to the fifth floor for dear life. I did it faster than Ethan and did not have to be rescued by my team, all of whom, I grinned to see, looked as stunned and white and weak with the ammonia as I felt. “We should have just taken the elevator, Ma’am,” said my colleague Benji. What nonsense! I thought. How could the elevator have elevated us to such ummm, dizzying heights of disbelief? “Gawd,” groaned another young RA. “I am never, ever, ever going to be this breathless again,” she claimed dramatically.
“Don’t be so sure”, I told the young innocent with a wicked smile. “We have reached our destination on the fifth floor. It is the Department of Statistics!”