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Bureaucrat's Play

Bhaskar Ghose

By N.V.R. Ram
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1978, pp. 77, Rs. 24.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 4 January/February 1979

The world over, the bureaucracy is fair game for anyone who wants to have a go at it. Very few institutions have been as reviled, jeered at and abused as continu­ously as the bureaucracy. Not that it is entirely unwarranted, as anyone who has had to go to a Government office and deal with forms or permits knows. And because most people cannot avoid the bureaucracy, a book which rails at it will always be read with interest. This is one of the reasons why Parkin­son's Law and The Peter Principle have achieved the popularity they have; but it is not the only reason. These two books set about the job of debagging officialdom by using satire in one of its contemporary forms: by the straight-faced pretence that theirs is a scientific subject, a study of which leads one to the discovery of what are skillfully presented as momentous truths. Work expanding to fill the time available for it is not merely a clever re­mark; it is very close approximation to a scientific axiom-anyone will do-gives the amusement it provokes a much richer quality. The risk in writing a book on the same lines is that one has to try that much harder in order to avoid repetition. It can be done, if one does it better or if one does it as well. And this is where Mr. Ram's book being weighed in the balance is found wanting. For one thing, the writer claims that it is written in the satirical mode, satire be­ing used as a weapon to debunk the ways of officialdom. Unfortunately it is not very evident in the book. What we get, too often, instead, is a whole series of thinly disguised complaints. Consider one of his examples of the vocabulary of bureaucracy. He has, among them, what he calls the ‘Four “S” es’, which are seniority, servility, senility and stupidity. This is either a sadly ineffective attempt at humour or mere abuse. But that is not the point. The point is that the method-satire-doesn't work here, in terms of Mr. Ram's own objectives-to get the reader to laugh at, criticize ‘and even’  (his words) condemn the bureaucracy and its ways. Consider, again, his observations on the financial outlays for research and development. They read like an extract from an analytical newspaper report which is all right if that's what it ...

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