Published:  12:00 AM, 21 March 2017

From monotonous trains to bureaucratic knots


Most of the victims of corruption blame bureaucratic entanglements for the spread of bribery. Money is one of the most essential things in life. But when money is used for purpose of corruption, it pollutes people's morality, sickens social integrity and jeopardizes state mechanism. Corrupted officials take advantage of ordinary citizens' modesty and diabolically they regard bribery as the daintiest treat to butter up their bureaucratic contrivances.

A few years back one day I had to visit a government office in Dhaka to get a particular clearance. It was not my first look at a public office-bureaucratic dillydally, huge stacks of files, indifferent civil servants hardly paying attention to visitors, I found nothing that could uplift my mood. Anyway, the officer I was supposed to see was in a meeting at that time. So, I had to wait for a while. When he came back, I sprang from my chair since it was essential for me to get that paper but he rushed out of the room saying in a hurry, "I am too occupied today, please meet me tomorrow." I went there the next day as well, but was not lucky enough to find him unoccupied. So, I kept on going to that office again and again but on every occasion I was shown the same crocodile cub-almost the same sort of excuses. Finally, while I was leaving that office with an upset mind, a clerk of that office approached me and said in a rather whispering tone, "You cannot get your work done in this way.

 Just make the officer a little happy and things will be fine." I didn't have to ask how to make the officer happy. Living in the middle of widespread corruption makes us familiar with various sorts of unfair monetary exchange. I felt disgusted, so I grumbled out of sheer annoyance, "How boring it is to visit the same place repeatedly!" The clerk instantly quipped, "For you boring, but for the boss it is business." He said to me rubbing his fingers with one another like people do while counting money. What an absurd invocation of shady deals, I said to myself. Our public offices are like iceboxes--anything once placed there gets stuck. One has to pay frequent visits and wait for indefinite hours to make the ice thaw.

Let me share with readers an event from my days abroad. Once I attended a compatriot's birthday party in Moscow. There were a lot of drinks, savory dishes and guests around. I said to join the amusement, "You know people of China and Japan, they are so great nations, but they do two things in a very boring manner." All pairs of eyes turned to me. "The Japanese way of taking tea and Chinese way of making love are quite boring" I added. Some listeners laughed loudly but Eno, a Chinese girl blushed a little.

 "Well, I don't mean to embarrass anyone"-I said as I was afraid of having offended her. However, I continued, "What is boring in Russia -can anyone answer?" Before anyone could open his or her mouth, Rosendo-our Peruvian friend took the floor. "I cannot exactly figure out what is boring in Russia but one thing is damn interesting about Russian girls" Rosendo replied and continued, "Their way of changing boyfriends-you will never find them holding the same guy's hand twice. It is so puzzling man!" Rosendo talked with fake seriousness on his face. "Anyway, I appreciate their taste of variety". He added to end the conversation on a friendly note. Rosendo was an amateur comedian, always making jokes and telling hilarious stories. This time his humor seemed to have irked a few Russian girls who were also around. "So, is there nothing boring in Bangladesh?" One Japanese gentleman asked me seeking to pull my leg. "Certainly, there are plenty of boring things in our country. For example, our way of making friends is quite tedious, particularly with girls. It may take six months to kiss or hug." A buzz of astonishment rose from the audiences.

 Much later, I admitted to myself, there is a number of boring affairs in our country besides kissing or hugging girlfriends. Once I was traveling from Dhaka to Sylhet by an inter city train. I booked a first class ticket but was surprised to find the compartment overcrowded with passengers-standing and sitting almost on top of each other. It was a hot, stuffy day.

The train was moving in a very clumsy way-stopping, dropping and picking up passengers all the way like the local buses plying between Farmgate and Gulistan. One fellow sitting next to me gasped, "What a boring trip!" Another man retorted quickly, "For you boring, but for the train staff business." This guy made this remark because there are allegations that train staffs take bribes from people without tickets and allow them to travel by first class or other compartments which causes discomfort to the passengers who buy tickets from valid authorities. Even I have seen several times while travelling by train across Bangladesh that just paying twenty and fifty taka "tips" to train attendants is good enough to enjoy a ride without tickets. I have travelled by train from one corner of Bangladesh to another since my boyhood but I have hardly had any trip by Bangladesh Railway which was without perils. There are also complaints from a lot of passengers that railway counters often don't issue tickets without extra money. Moreover, railway tickets can also be bought from unauthorized people, usually called "dalals" or brokers, paying some additional cash.

So, boredom is there--in one country at the most private moment of men and women, in another while taking tea, hinting at the references to China and Japan made in this article. However, in our country it has got a new dimension, it's a form of business--an unconventional one, particularly in public offices and this business is really capable of doing tough jobs done, if the right amount of "hush money" is paid, unfortunate it sounds though.  The writer is a columnist for  The Asian Age.

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