Nazim Akbar has been a government servant for nearly 10 years and has risen to the middle management status of grade 19. He’s the deputy for a director whose post has been lying vacant for two years. Mr. Akbar is practically the director and his own deputy.
This morning he woke up at 9 am with a splitting hangover. His mouth down to his throat and guts was bone dry. There’s a peculiar rumbling in his stomach that could only mean one thing: some lowlife had served him hooch last night. Again. He remembered he’d hopped between parties but couldn’t remember who the hosts were.
At 11.30 he enters his office hiding his bloodshot eyes behind dark shades. The PA takes one look at the boss and rushes to the kitchen to get him black coffee and two aspirins.
‘Sir you must get some rest. There are visitors waiting for you since 8.30 but they are in no hurry. They’d rather you feel well enough before they bring their problems to you.’
Nazim Akbar likes the suggestion but his mind is not yet at ease. Did someone call?
Yes sir, secretary saab called and asked for you. I told him you were on round, going from desk to desk, ensuring everyone was punctual and constructively busy.
Good job, he throws his head back on the ergonomically designed executive chair and puts his feet on the desk, don’t give me any calls. Not even begum saab’s. Especially begum saab’s.
He calls the PA at a little after 1 pm: what’s the lunch scene?
Sir, that contractor is still camped in the waiting area. He insists that he won’t leave until you accept his invitation to eat out. Then there’s that hotel owner who won’t launch his new restaurant until you have given your blessings. And the maim saab you often call, has left a message that she wants to have lunch with you. Whatever you wish sir …
Ok, I’ll take the contractor’s offer. Ask him to find a nice restaurant, and do explain to him what fine dining is. On second thoughts there’s no need to explain anything, just give him the short list of my favourite restaurants. Tell maim saab I have back-to-back meetings in the afternoon so I’d like to take her out for dinner instead. Ask the hotel owner to book the new restaurant for maim saab and me tonight, and book us an executive room too, just in case.
At 3 pm he returns after having lunch with white wine and feels reinvigorated. He looks at the stack of files on his desk with a hint of displeasure and decides it’s time for some work. Send me the first visitor, he directs the PA. An old man enters and starts supplicating for Mr. Akbar’s long, healthy and happy life.
Aha! It’s Asghar. How are things my good man? Minting money in the private sector? God be praised sir, I am doing alright. Last three months I was ill and couldn’t get out of bed. I left home as soon as I could stand on my feet and got the certificate from Civil Hospital to claim three months’ pension sir.
What, a sickness certificate? He asked, leafing through the file in front of him.
No sir. The doctor certifies every month that I am alive before I can claim the pension for that month.
Hmm, I see. There’s the certificate … but it is only for this month. What about the previous two months?
Asghar is flabbergasted: Woh sir, actually mein toh aap kay samnay sir, I mean present sir …
Look Asghar, I hope you realise that this organisation helped you raise your family for 30 years. For the last 20 years it’s been helping you raise your grandchildren. Don’t get me the wrong way but your long life is an unnecessary drain on the meager resources of this organisation. Having said that, let me assure you I’ll push your case for earliest approval, if it’s complete. Get the certificates for the last two months and leave them with Khadim saab here, he waved at his PA.
He tires easily. Work tires him faster. He gestures to the peon to clear out all files and leans back in his executive chair, nursing a deeply spiritual and therefore very personal issue. It is impossible to stay clean while swimming in dirty water, but one can at least do one’s bit. I had the authority to approve Asghar’s claim but that would have been a gross violation of laid down procedures. And so, against my wish for Asghar to be inconvenienced, I had to demand adherence to rules. I hope someone noted it down as an act of selfless professionalism.
PA interrupts his thoughts: Secretary saab wishes to speak, sir. Tell him I’m praying. Will get back to him in five minutes.