View from the Bottom
Going Table to Table with your Bills
My friend Modabber Munshi came to my office the other day in a very foul mood. He was fuming, to say the least. He requested me to let the air cooler go full blast. After a while I asked him the reason for his exasperation. He looked at me and said, “Do you have to go to the government offices to have your bills corrected? Do you have to stand in the queue for one hour in the heat? Do you have to tolerate those obnoxious people, looking here and there, chewing betel-leaf all the time, asking a colleague about how much did his hilsha fish cost that morning, or whether his gastric was better and so on? And they do all the 'faltu' talking while you are standing in front of them, looking helpless with a bill full of mistakes. Do you have to run from one table to another, correcting the wrong figures given by the same office in the bill and then looking for a piece of white paper to write an application to the chief executive to accept the amount after correction? Do you have to then walk up five flights to reach the chief executive's office to get his approval? Do you understand how it feels to find that he is not in office and won't be back before lunch? That's over two hours of waiting! Do you have any idea how it feels to discover that by that time everyone downstairs has gone to wash and do 'meswak' (brushing teeth with a tree branch) before going to say their midday prayer (though prayer time was one hour from the time they left their tables) and then taken a break for another hour for lunch and more chewing of betel-leaf afterwards?"
Modabber Munshi, my friend, paused. I grabbed the opportunity and asked whether he could give me a specific case of harassment in the hands of the powerful betel-leaf chewing government office staff. He said, “Aha, so you want a specific case? Well, have it then. Take the example of my ordeal with my telephone. As I am a busy man, I did not notice that bills of my new phone connection were not coming on a regular basis. I paid as soon as I received one, thinking that I have not missed any month's bill.
“After a few months of irregular bill payment, one fine morning I found out that the phone was dead. I thought of meeting the lineman in the locality to complain to him. It must be something temporary, I thought. Maybe water had sipped into the line or something. As I had a mobile phone with me I never felt immensely inconvenienced.
Then one afternoon a friend of mine called on my cell phone and wanted to know how come I surrendered my phone! I was quite surprised. Why should I surrender my phone? He told me to dial my land phone number from my cell phone. I dialled, and a male voice answered. I asked him about the number and he said he had got it from the phone office through normal procedure. He has been waiting for a free number for a long time and finally got one when the previous owner became a defaulter for not paying many months' bill. The man, however, confessed that he had to pay a 'handsome' amount to......
I went to the telephone office next morning. After going from one table to another finally I landed in front of a betel-leaf chewing 'staff'. He showed me a large ledger book and said that I skipped payment of bills for many months in the middle and then started to pay towards the end. But by then a disconnection notice has been served. I told him that I never received any bills for those months and I never received any notice of disconnection. He showed me documents that the notice has been served and it had been received by someone in my house! 'Sorry, bhaisab, you made the mess yourself.' The man grinned, exposing some half-broken red and black teeth. I came out of the office trying to figure out what really happened. I could never figure it out. So, friend, are you happy with the authentic real-life story?”
I was stupefied because something like that had happened to me too! I did not tell Modabber Munshi about that. I told my office peon to get us some lunch and soft drinks.
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