'Sofa' and your Telephone Call
think all our readers know how frustrating it is to get
somebody on the phone. And if that somebody is a high official
in our epitome of inefficiency-the secretariat- then of
course you will need to be extremely lucky to actually get
the person on the other end of your call. First, your line
could be out of order. If you are fortunate, then the line
of the person you are calling could be 'dead'. If, in the
rare case, both your lines are ok, then the person could
be out, could be busy, could be doing a thousand things-
most often in meetings- for which your effort could be completely
there is another reason why your frantic effort or your
heartrending pleas to be connected could fail. When you
have crossed all hurdles and when the all powerful PA has
put you on hold and said I will connect you to Sir
then it may not work because --(you can only guess if you
call the secretariat often enough) the person you have called
is in 'his sofa'. What has sofa got to do with your being
able to talk to the person you called? Apparently everything.
you call some bara shaheb (big shot) in our government
offices (it does not happen in private offices) and when
you have crossed all the PSs and PA s and when your heart
is beating fast to hear that all important voice on the
other side, suddenly you may be told Ooni akhon sofai
aachen, tai aaponar shangey katha boltey parben na. Apnee
porey phone koren (he is on the sofa now and so cannot
answer the phone at the moment. Try later). You try to appeal
to a sense of pity in the heart of the PA and say I have
been trying for days and after so many calls I have finally
got him, please, please see if you can connect. It would
help me greatly.
The passive voice, with a hint that you are unable to understand
the gravity of the situation, will say Aaha ballam tao,
ooni sofai aachen, akhon line deya jabe na (I have
told you he is on the sofa. I cannot connect him now).
who never call the secretariat deserve an explanation. As
one becomes a senior in our bureaucracy his (her) office
room and desk get bigger, the cushion on his chair gets
thicker (with an all important towel to cover the backrest.
I have often wondered about the towel. What is its purpose
or function? I guess that it was to prevent the headrest
from becoming soaked with hair oil. But who puts that much
hair oil nowadays? So why the towel? Surely it cannot be
a status symbol. But from the way a peon gets told off if
the towel ever gets misplaced, I am forced to conclude that
there is some magic to that towel that we, non-bureaucrats,
don't know about). The number of telephones on his desk
increases (five/six sets are not uncommon with the all important
'red phone'- the ultimate status symbol of every aspiring
bureaucrat-placed in the centre), number of chairs surrounding
his desk go up and he gets- and this relevant for our story-
a sofa-set where he can conduct business with his important
visitors. This sofa-set is usually placed away from his
work desk and there is no telephone line there. Therefore
if the official you called happens to entertain his guests
at his sofa then he becomes out of reach on the phone. And
the higher the official, the more he gets important visitors
and more he uses his sofa. So your chances of getting him
out of his sofa gets slimmer according to the level of the
official you called.
if an officer is high enough and important enough to be
given three/four/five telephones for his work, then why
can't extension cords be provided so that he can take calls
when sitting on his sofa? At least one could be a cordless
set. Imagine an international caller being told that his
call cannot be answered because the person he called is
on his sofa. The caller may have heard of a psychiatrist's
couch but to be told of a bureaucrat's sofa will definitely
make him wonder about the nature of our bureaucrat's work.
Now we wouldn't want his imagination to fly, do we?
aside, we think there is an issue here which needs to be
addressed-namely accessibility of our officials over telephone.
In most developed countries-I think the US is the most advanced
in this regard where you can practically do everything over
phone-- telephones help you to accomplish most of your work.
In Bangladesh if we learn to use our telephones better I
think we can save the exchequer a lot of money in wasted
official time in meeting people and the countless hours
wasted in trying to meet high level officials.
of the revolution mobile phones have brought into our lives.
So much of time, money and energy are saved because we can
now communicate with relevant people before deciding on
our course of action. Millions of hours of meeting time
have been saved because so much can now be accomplished
over the mobile phones.
that to happen we need to greatly increase phone accessibility
among all social strata and of course, we must ensure that
once given accessibility that our phones work. Tall order?
We don't think so. The technology is there. Only our mindset