My decision to join the post of a District Education Officer in a district far away from the State capital was received with disbelief, derision and disapproval by my colleagues, friends, relatives and well-wishers. “Has he gone mad?” the Principal asked my colleagues. “Why did you go abroad for higher studies in literature if your ultimate aim was to be cog in the machine in the Education Department?” my colleagues questioned me. “Wants to mint money,” remarked the righteous relatives, “There’s enough money to loot,” they whispered at my back. ‘What a shame!” lamented the friends, “From the seat of higher learning to the bastion of corruption and nepotism!”
Braving the adverse criticism of my ‘well-wishers’, I accepted the offer and made all the arrangements to proceed to the District assigned to me. On the preceding day of my departure, on the advice of a senior officer of the Education directorate, I went to meet the Education Minister. It was my first visit to a minister’s bungalow. After all the formalities of a security check, I was ushered into the air-conditioned room in which the Minister was busy reading newspapers. “Come in, come in,” the Minister welcomed me with a smiling face. “You’ve decided to join, right?” the Minister asked me . “ Yes, Sir ” I replied. I was in a shock. How could he know my predicament? “From the ivory tower to the open field!” I don’t remember if it was spoken in jest or in earnest.
I was with the Minister for about 30 minutes and when I was about to leave the room, he said, “Go and join, but don’t go to office every day.” Being startled, I exclaimed, ”Sorry, can’t follow you.” A Minister asking me not to go to office every day! “Yes,” he said emphatically. “At least, for the first month. You will get a jeep and a driver. Go and visit as many schools as possible. They need you. If you sit in the office the whole day, you will be too busy in transfer, posting, court cases and trivial complaints pouring in every day. Visit all the elementary schools of the district in the first month itself and have a rapport with the teachers, not with the middlemen.” Thanking the Minister, I left his room. “Go and join, but don’t go to office every day!” What a peculiar instruction, I told myself.
On the first day, soon after reaching the office, I was flooded by fifty or sixty letters kept on a tray of my table. A Grade IV employee of the office had opened the envelops and put the letters on my table for my perusal. So many letters on a single day! Not knowing what to do with these letters which seemed like arrows aimed at a hapless new officer, I summoned the Bara Babu, the Head Assistant. The nice, all knowing Bara Babu allayed my fear with a smiling face. “Sir, you have nothing to do. Please put your initial with the date on the top of the letter, read the subject line and mark it for the concerned assistant. If it is related to ‘Midday meal’, mark it to Mr XX, if it is related to finance, mark it to Mr. DB, if it is about disciplinary action against a teacher, mark it to Mr.SB and if it is about any data required by the Government, mark it to Mr, CKB, the Statistical Assistant. The letters will be processed by the concerned assistants. They are very trusted people, Sir. You can approve their drafts without any hesitation. Your predecessor must have briefed you while handing over the charge!” The Head Assistant stopped with a mischievous smile. “But, what about the letters regarding academic matters? I enquired, “Who handles letters related to academic matters?” “Academic matters?” the Head Assistant stared at me, “All matters are academic in this office, Sir. We don’t do anything non-academic” It was my turn to stare at him.
Streams of visitors came pouring in. The two Deputy Inspectors of schools and the twelve Block Elementary Officers of the District came one by one to pay their obeisance to the district head. The two Deputy Inspectors of Schools were on the verge of retirement. They knew the names of all the schools of their subdivisions. The Block Elementary Officers were quite impressive in their attire. Some of them knew their rule books by heart but not the names of the textbooks used in the schools. I was happy to know that they were well qualified, trained and experienced. All of them had been working in the district for a pretty long time and had a very good rapport with my predecessor. In spite of the hardships faced by them they were committed to their duties, they claimed. Some of the leaders of the teachers’ unions were not good and I should be cautious, they told me rather casually. As a new comer to the district, I should seek the opinion of the local people and the local MLAs, they opined in a rather roundabout way.”Don’t worry, Sir. Please call us whenever you need any help.” they assured me while departing with a handshake which did not seem very warm.
It was a very spacious room. There was a big map of the district decorating the wall in front of me. It showed the location of the schools. As there was no Google map in those days, I could not figure out the distance of the schools. I memorized the names of a few schools and dialed the number of the Deputy Inspector of Schools whose office was just on the other side of the road. Knowing my intention of visiting two randomly selected schools next day, the Deputy Inspector said, “Don’t worry, Sir. I’ll inform them. Your driver knows the route. He will take you straight.” “No, no. Please don’t inform them. It should be a surprise visit. I would like to find out how a school runs on a normal day.” “ A normal day!” my subordinate officer exclaimed. “Normal is abnormal and abnormal is normal, Sir”. What an amazing statement. “Do you write poetry?” I asked. “Why are you asking such a question, Sir?” the Deputy Inspector of School was shocked, it seemed. A District Educator Officer talks of poetry? How to tell him what happens when the opposition between two words is neutralised. Deviation is a stylistic feature for me , not for my poor official at the sub divisional level whose life revolves round the files. (to be continued)