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Everyone derides the procrastinator and rightly so. I have no love lost for those who are prompt only about delaying matters at hand till issues fade away or blow up in the face. Such people are de-motivating in the extreme and, by and large, deserve to be shunned. But this piece is on a variety that’s almost diametrically different from this dilly-dallying tribe – the over eager hustlers who jump in at every opportunity, take action where none is required or which complicates matters enormously and then, eyeing the sweat on their brow, pride themselves on being ‘doers’ while at the same time admonish others for being laid-back or worse. These are the busy-bees and in a typical official setting, where desk work rules the roost, they can be very annoying for there is no way you can escape the constant buzzing sound emanating from these hyper-active, super-charged, bull-headed tornadoes. A busy-bee’s motto in life is to never sit still. It is sacrilegious for him to not find himself scribbling, annotating or underlining. He has to be barking, hissing, murmuring or hinting something or the other at all times. He is an expert in finding action paras where none exist, in constantly conjuring up fresh areas which need to be ‘looked into’, in continuously adding to the agenda of any meeting till even a cursory reading of the list threatens to take as long as the actual duration of the meeting, in filling up his ‘to-do’ list at all hours with just as much delight as felt by a gourmet while filling up his plate at a luxury restaurant, in being always ‘busily busy’ and showing it. A typical scene involving this barely human caricature of a cyclone over the Bay of Bengal unfolds something like this: a letter comes from somewhere and mentions something in terse 10-12 lines. Now, whether it is from the Prime Minister or from the Head Office or from outer space, the busy- bee would scan it in one go and identify action to be taken in a) one hour’s time b) 2 hours’ time c) 4 hours’ time and so on and so forth. Detailed guidelines would be worked out and the workers reporting to him would realize without being told that their evening is done for. He will rub his hands in glee and then get down to tackling his ‘action plan’ starting with the most time-taking, long-winding task first because, you see, the idea is to happily wade in files, folders, notes and memoranda and keep wading for as long as possible. Now that he has frightened / cajoled / brain-washed the HoD into believing that the letter contains hidden action points that have to be implemented without delay or subtle queries that have to be answered at once, our busy–bee would be relaxed enough to linger over the letter lovingly. He caresses it, smelling the paper, feeling the font and ogling at the logo/emblem at the top while doing so. He would go over the contents again and again while lesser mortals hang around-some wringing their hands out of sheer frustration and others marveling at this man’s ability to derive poetry out of garbage. A small smile would linger on the busy-bee’s lips and also in his eyes. He’ll appear to be almost in a trance. Suddenly, he’d resurface with a grunt, shout at nobody in particular, pick up an inconsequential argument with three or four people simultaneously and bemoan the fact that the workforce allocated to him is insufficient in quantity and deplorable in quality. Still, like the white man toting his ‘burden’ heroically in a dark, ugly and thankless world, our
busy-bee would put on a sacrificial air and shrug his shoulders but his eyes would give him away. He is supremely happy to be in command of a ship that’s going nowhere. This is his specialization. Now the head-spinning activities would commence in right earnest. Computer screens would be stared at; files would be thrown hither and thither while waste-paper baskets would overflow like drains at monsoon time. A centripetal force of frightening proportions would be created and all the resources of the Department would be sucked in for assistance. The HoD would offer unsolicited and, usually, ineffective advice which our busy-bee would interpret any which way he wants. The brigade under him would charge in every direction like a maddened bull surrounded by a series of red flags and in the forefront of it all would be the busy-bee, spearheading this supreme assault on the senses. Like locusts, his army would sweep across, triumphant and useless. Since almost everybody would soon know what he has to do in order to not do what he has to do and since the very purpose of the exercise is to prolong the exercise, the worker who is stupid enough to search for a meaning and naïve enough to think that all this is leading somewhere would be the one saddled with most work and least influence. He’ll type one minute, phone the next minute and fax the minute after that. Caught in all this, he’ll forget to check his official mail through which the busy-bee would have sent him some communication just a minute ago and for which he’d get shouted at good and proper. This fellow – let us call him the Moron for I have no patience with such types either – would envy the Prince, busy- bee’s right hand man, whose main job is to remind the busy-bee what others have not done. His other task is to order ‘paan’ at frequent intervals for his master. The Moron underestimates the Prince’s talent for divining people’s secret thoughts and, as a result, despite the fact that he never voices his complaints, the Prince marks him down as a potential trouble-maker and makes sure that the busy-bee knows this too. The hours would tick by and this juggernaut would roll on. A few casualties aside, everyone would soldier on and even help the busy-bee in crushing one or two minor rebellions. This is because they know that rebellion is just a further waste of time. In a magnanimous gesture, the busy-bee would order for snacks and tea (for which someone else will pay). In an exaggerated display of emotion, the HoD would tut-tut upon hearing that someone has a splitting headache and…and move on. All around, workers in other Departments leaving for home would cast a pitying glance on their comrades caught in this interminable and inexorable nonsense before rushing out – to loiter about would be dangerous because the busy-bee, when in his elements, recognizes no departmental barriers. It would be worthwhile to stay with this story further if only to find out if such a seemingly unending evening would ever draw to a close. It does…that’s the beauty of life – the worst also passes by, eventually. At some point, after he has derided his staff enough and blamed the slow progress squarely on the shoulders of everyone but himself (and, possibly, the Prince), the busy-bee would cull out honour from the disastrous endeavour by coming up with a face-saving formula –an interim reply!
And so, some five-six hours of ceaseless efforts later, the HoD would be presented with a two-line draft which would run somewhat along these lines: Please refer to your letter so and so dated so and so. We are in the process of collating the information desired / initiating necessary action and would be reverting with details shortly. Even this draft would be changed twice at least before it is put on the fax machine and, in nine cases out of ten, the fax would not go because some ‘idiot’ (in busy-bee’s words) down at the other end would have forgotten to leave the fax machine switched on. The Moron would then be entrusted with the responsibility of coming an hour early the next day and faxing the letter “without fail”. His observation that the fax machine at the other end is unlikely to respond before commencement of official hours would be rebuffed as unwarranted at best, irresponsible at worst. Everyone would now start to pack up for the day. Few bawdy jokes would be exchanged by the workers - these modern day galley-slaves – to make light of the hours ruined. The more sober ones would send a silent prayer up to the Lord, thankful for small mercies. The busybee would take the opportunity to slide up to the HoD with his litany of woes and also detailed plans as to how the job is to be completed on the morrow. The Moron would stare at the clock: it is 9:30 p.m., his house is an hour away, a rickety bus –if he is lucky enough to catch it - the only mode of transport to take him there and he is due to report next day at 8:30 a.m. sharp. His thoughts would be interrupted by the Prince who’d remind him that he should come by 8:15 “at the max.” so that everything is in readiness for the fax to be sent by 8:30. The busy-bee would beam at the Prince upon hearing this (who wouldn’t at having so responsible and organised a subordinate?) while the latter would continue to sport a grave look –his burdens are heavy indeed! Finally, everyone would troop out leaving behind bemused PCs, confused telephones, burnt out tube–lights and tired ceiling fans. The gods on various calendars hanging around would exchange glances: was this why men were created, they’d ask each other in silence before deciding, wisely, to drop the subject. There are better things to think about! I need not add that the job shall not be completed the next day or the day after…it shall, in fact, be conveniently forgotten by everyone but the Moron till it is time for audit or till a reminder is received. Then, the Moron would be pulled up for negligence and…
May 12, 2009
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