One head and a hat too many

Satish K Sharma

A common occurrence in ‘babudom’ is the phenomenon called ‘additional charge’. Because, to paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel, “‘bureaucracy’ like cancer grows”. There are never enough officers to occupy all posts. Thus, officers who cannot keep their head steady under one hat, can be seen sporting several with aplomb.

My own record in this regard isn’t too bad. One or two extra charges, I had held from time to time, but one summer when we decided to skip summer vacation since my daughter was in class 12, I happened to hold half a dozen extra charges! If I had informed the Guinness people, perhaps I would have earned a spot in their hallowed annals.

As Joint Director (No. 3 in the pecking order) in the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the state, I already held extra charges of a Deputy Director and another JD (both posts being vacant), when one fine day, I was asked to hold the extra charge of IG Prisons, since he had proceeded on a month-long training.

With three additional charges, I was like the wicket-keeper guarding the entire slip area on the side. I could have protested and be damned with ‘the officer is reluctant to assume additional responsibility’ remark in the annual confidential report, or accepted it happily thinking, ‘more the merrier’.

The careerist in me chose the latter and was soon rewarded for my ‘devotion to duty’ — more hats fell upon my head — of the Additional Director, my immediate boss, and then of the Director himself, both gentlemen having proceeded on leave. Finally, the Additional DG (Prisons), the boss of IG Prisons, whose charge I was holding, also went on two days’ leave. Thus, for two fateful days, I held seven positions, including my own.

Curiously, I never felt overburdened, because I let the files be piled up on the desks of the respective worthies and attended to only the urgent matters. I was also spared the meetings and the boss’s undramatic monologues therein.

An interesting experience was to indulge in a correspondence with myself to and fro different positions. I wrote letters addressed to me and then replied to them — to myself again. Needless to say, I took care that the boss in me never spared the subordinate in me.

It didn’t last long. By and by, the incumbents returned and I was relieved of much of the extra burden. But a few days later, when I happened to meet the state Home Secretary, I asked him why he had given me all those responsibilities. I hoped to hear something complimentary, like ‘only you could handle them’.

Instead he said: ‘Elementary my dear! You were the only officer available in those days!’

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