My father was – quaintly termed as it was in those days – a ‘government servant’ all his working life as he rose from the ranks of being a Lower Division Clerk (LDC) to the being an Asst. Accounts Officer (AAO) over a career that spanned three-and-half decades.
The Government was everywhere in our lives and I have a great regard for its people though they are not as popular in the eyes of the common man nowadays.
My father’s job as a ‘Government Servant’ was a matter of pride for him. In the initial days it just about provided enough for the family to lead a simple life and for the children to be sent to the Government run school. My mother busied herself with looking after the family while my dad was very much the ‘man-of-the-house’. He used to enjoy his routine job that was never that very taxing – my dad even used to manage to come home to have his lunch. It surely helped that our ‘Government’ provided staff quarters was a five minutes walk from his office. It was in the Cantonment area built possibly during the days of the British Raj and we had the luxury of having our own garden as well.
Entertainment meant a weekly show of the latest Hindi movie in the ‘Open Air Theatre’ – the projector would throw the images on a long white wall. On other days the routine would be to listen to a popular radio program ‘Binaca Sangeetmala’ that was aired on Radio Ceylon and listed the popular hindi movie songs. Forget internet even television was unheard of in those days and a ‘Walkman’ was the ultimate status symbol of the privileged class.
Our central government-run schools – Kendriya Vidyalaya – would serve as a cultural melting pot that melded kids of the Defence personnel from all part of the country. Indeed a typical posting would mean that the families kept moving every three years to different cities. A standard syllabus and the use to English and Hindi as medium of instruction was a key element that enabled one to do smooth transits. who were constantly on the move across the length and breadth of the country. Camaraderie and egalitarianism best describe my schooling in a Kendriya Vidyalaya school and the ethos was one of discipline and hard-work that most kids demonstrated as a reflection of their upbringing by strict and determined parents.
It was thanks to the Government run entrance exam that I was able to pursue my MBA program and be able to afford the fees that was charged for the same. Even that amount was a huge investment for my family but they were very proud of me as I was the first one to complete a ‘PG’ course in the family and start my career as a Manager.
My father always favoured investment in the small savings schemes such as NSC (National Savings Certificate), POMIS (Post Office Monthly Income Scheme) etc promoted by the Government institutions. Wisely I was introduced early on the world of PPF (Public Provident Fund) of the past era. There has not been a more fruitful and tax friendly scheme for a risk averse investor.
For any health requirements too my father would rely on the use of the CGHS (Central Government Health Scheme). While one can’t compare it to the modern world of private hospitals, they were nevertheless effective and managed to deliver basic healthcare under trying circumstances with limited resources.
My father did not see much sense in privatizing everything and unleashing the ‘animal spirits’ as they call it. He wouldn’t agree that there was no role for ‘public enterprise’ and that the Government has no business to be in business. Driven by the desire of improving productivity and efficiency as the Schumpeterian ethos of ‘creative destruction’ takes hold, one can see why the babudom seems a bit old-fashioned and inadequate to the young anxious and aspiring class that has emerged now.
I think the sense of the unease he felt was like an unstated echo of a great story about Booker T Washington, a prominent black educator and racial leader of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Coming from a disadvantaged background he was permitted to pursue ‘college-level’ education because the Principal was impressed by the application shown by him to the task of cleaning and sweeping a classroom. In the strict sense the assessment done by yet another Government Servant at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in the United States of America in 1872 was not of merit but of the need to be given an opportunity and to be empowered. The sense of purpose and commitment to improve oneself was recognized and rewarded.
It needs to be mentioned that Booker T Washington became the most notable alumnus of the institute and founded the Tuskegee Institute when he was only 25 years old. He went on to have a long and illustrious career aimed at educating and improving the living conditions of his people.
One does doubt that this would happen in the hands of a System run with the sole motive of private profit. Many people, I reckon, continue to look at the role of the Government with a mixture of awe and wonder as it does seem to touch and improve every sphere of their lives.