Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kai Friese: Slow Speed

Slow Speed is the title of Kai Friese's fabulous essay [link via Amit Varma]. Here's an excerpt on Indian bureaucracy:


Related link: Jan Banning's photo series called Bureaucratics -- there's no direct link, but click on 'photo series' and use the menu of pictures on the right to look for the set on India. [Hat tip: Jason Kottke]

* * *

I [once wrote] a satirical essay on the dinosaurs of bureaucracy that had survived Manmohan Singh’s first wave of economic liberalization. I was quite pleased with the title-”Bureaucratic Park”-though it never saw the light of day. But the real thrill was finding myself back on very familiar turf. Grimy corridors, supplicant citizens, and the “concerned officer” enthroned on his swivel chair. I loved the scenery-the towel on the backrest, the psychedelic paperweights… the papers beneath them.

There was the Commission for Scientific and Technical Terminology, an Orwellian outfit that produced a Comprehensive Glossary of Administrative Terms in English and the vernacular. “Hindi is very poor in terms,” a commissioner told me. Another office nurtured the remains of Indira Gandhi’s 20-Point Program from the Emergency days. “We look after points 1, 5, 8, 11, 14, 15, and 16,” a man told me. “The other thirteen have been dropped.” My favorite was the Office of Stationery. “Please apply in writing. In triplicate,” they told me. I went to visit them instead, and found the assembled staff standing hushed and yes, stationary, at their desks. It was a moment of silence for a fallen colleague, a bureaucratic wake.