In the long-distance state transport bus my seat was behind the conductor’s. As it hit the highway, I tapped the conductor on the shoulder and asked him to stop in front of the college where I work three days a week. I always do that and fall asleep for the remaining two hours of the journey.
‘Do you teach there?’ Asked the conductor.
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Sir, please take this seat.’ So saying, he moved away from the window seat next to the door and offered the place of honour to me. It was embarrassing, but I couldn’t say no.
My father often quoted a Sanskrit adage: Swadeshe pujyate raja, vidwan sarvatra pujyate. The king is worshipped in his own kingdom, but the scholar is revered everywhere. It was dad’s way of inspiring me to take studies seriously. Values have changed since I was a child. One’s worth no longer depends on how much knowledge one has, but on how much one has in bank. But the delusion that teachers are scholars has survived. The bus conductor obviously believes both.
‘Sir, what time do you return?’
‘Shortly after five thirty in the evening.’
‘While returning, I should reach the college around that time. Please note my phone number. When you are free, give me a call and check where I am. You know, buses don’t sometimes stop at that place.’
I was amazed. In West Bengal, you are delighted if government employees do what they are paid to do. Extension of such courtesies is unheard of. As I called his number to save it, I came to know his name is Tridib Datta. An enlightening conversation followed.
I asked, ‘How are the long-distance routes doing? I heard they are profitable?’
‘That depends on how we run them. We have screwed up the corporation. People used to run buses when they felt like. But things are changing.’
Well, the flavour of the season in West Bengal is parivantan, change. We have just shown the door to a supremely inefficient, corrupt and self-serving regime and brought in a brand-new yet-to-be-tested government. I got interested.
‘What exactly is changing?’
‘You know, drivers and conductors would take buses on long routes. Instead of coming back the next day, they would take a day off and return the next day. No one would question. Such things have stopped.’
‘Yes. We get fat pay packets these days. We have no excuse not to do our work.’
‘It is a pleasure meeting you, Tridib Babu, but do many of your colleagues share your views? Is it becoming the norm?’
‘I have just heard this from a colleague in CTC (Calcutta Tramways Company). A conductor had been promoted to the officer’s cadre. Over time, he became a key man. No purchase order would go out without his approval. Last week, he was handed back his conductor’s bag. His promotion had been illegal. He is trying to protest, but he can’t escape.’
Later, in the evening, my phone rang while I was packing up. It was Tridib Babu. He called up to check if I had finished.
Those who write on current affairs like I do, have written thousands of articles on how incorrigibly evil government servants are. Through this true story, I salute a wonderful government employee and a fine gentleman. He gives us hope that things might actually change!
Saturday, 03 September 2011