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I shudder to think what we have to go through in our daily life when dealing with people in government offices. Most times, those in such offices take pleasure in snubbing you, not letting the opportunity to have you at their mercy for the short period, go to waste. And if you are a woman and belong to a higher rung in the social ladder to boot, then you had it. I have noticed this mentality the many times I have been required to visit government offices.

The time I had to get a certificate from the Tahsildar for the senior son when the time for Board exam was at hand comes to mind as an example. The rudeness of the man concerned had to be seen to be believed. Everything had been in order. He only had to sign a certificate, but to look at him you’d have thought he was being forced to give away his ancestral property to me!

It is true that having grown up as daughter of an Administrative officer of the Civil Services, I have never had any reason to go to such offices or deal with those working there. But I have heard enough of stories from people from all walks of life and the trouble they are put to by them. Imagine taking money from a maid servant as bribe for releasing the necessary papers for the old age pension of her bedridden mother.

As wife of an army officer, I have had even less reason to visit government offices, especially with the Lord and Master always ready to do the needful. But even for one such as him, so willing to take on all the work, it is impossible to be everywhere all at once; so he is forced though reluctantly, to entrust some of the work at least to me.

I have come across a massive feeling of inferiority complex among the men and women in these offices which makes them act quite the superior lot distributing largesse among the needy beggars that are the public. I am cheerful by nature and polite as also reasonable. I don’t ask for favors, am patient to a fault and follow the rules as also the queues. But all this matters the least. Civility is conspicuously absent.

And yet it is not always so. Of course you do find the odd ones with a smile on their face, polite and helpful as ever. But….  those that take the cake are the too-friendly ones, those that think they are God’s gift to women.

If you think this is a rant, oh yes it IS.

Recently BSNL has been promoting a free sim card for their existing land-line customers. Why not, I thought and put the matter up to the L & M. Since it involved office hours, the L & M had no go but entrust me with the job of going to their office. Accordingly he gave me the necessary documents and photo to be submitted.

At the office, I found our usual contact missing. The one sitting in his chair was helpful, not that this involved too much of work. All he had to do was accept the documents and photo, give me the sim card and explain the relevant details. But the man seemed a garrulous sort and talked as he checked the form.

Where do you stay Ma’am??

It was already clearly mentioned in the form submitted. But I knew he was making conversation and so answered politely.

Ahhh I used to work that section, now I am on the adjacent one, he said.

Which house thereabouts??.

That was also there on paper. But I answered anyways.

Ohh, next to Dr. So and so??

I gave another polite smile.

Where does Sir work?? Ohh an army man eh??

I told you he was garrulous, so you get the idea. I answered him simply, matter-of-factly. You see, I have a cheerful disposition (I know I already said that) and I don’t see why I have to act snooty with people from whichever walk of life.

He then very helpfully, proceeded to explain the rates applicable to the card, the free calls that I was entitled to and such. I felt he was delaying things a bit and was impatient to go off.

If you have any doubts Ma’am you can always call me. My name is such-and-such and my number is such-and-such.

I dutifully noted down the number. It is always good to have someone to call for assistance if need be.

I will have your sim activated today evening itself Ma’am, if not the latest by tomorrow.

That was good to know.

I will call and let you know about it and also how to add those numbers you may be calling frequently.

I sighed inwardly. Yeah, I am a woman and a moron, I don’t know to follow the instructions he has already explained to me. He has to call and instruct me.

You wouldn’t mind my calling you Ma’am??

Alarm bells started ringing on hearing that.

Of course he is free to call and give me instructions or check if the connection is active. But…. why was he asking me if I would mind he called in THAT subtly different tone?? My guard was up; my antennae (like any woman’s) had picked up wrong signals. And yet I couldn’t come right out and accuse a guy of something he hadn’t done. I merely smiled politely for the nth time, got up, said thank you and walked out.

The telephone was ringing shrilly even as I unlocked the front door on reaching home.

Hello

Hello Ma’am

Hmm… It was the guy. What had happened in the time it took for me to reach home that he had to call?? Was there some mistake in the application??

Ma’am I told you that you could choose a number to make free calls to.

Yeah

I thought I will adjust it such a way that you can make free calls to my home number.

Excuse me if I appear not too quick on the uptake the next few seconds. All I can say in my defense is that I couldn’t believe my own ears or trust that my brain had deciphered what the ears conveyed, correctly.

He repeated what he said.  ‘His home number.. His home number…’ My brain kept chanting that, while I said, ‘Shut up, it couldn’t be ‘you fool brain you!

I was all befuddled, fighting with my own brain. You see I did not appreciate my brain telling me that a BSNL chappie whom I had just seen and submitted an application to, wanted our phones to be connected for free calls. Pray, WHY??!!!! Would you blame me for the befuddlement??!  My brain was not too pleased with my refusal to admit evidence and deluding myself that he was probably speaking of my own terrestrial phone number.  Ignoring my brain for the moment, I said to him,

How can that be?? BSNL promo clearly states that calls to my fixed line are absolutely free of charge in the first place.

Ma’am you have not understood me

You bet I hadn’t, I had heard what he said twice over, not to mention my brain hammering it to me. But I refused to even consider it. He next went on another trail.

You know there are those other numbers you can choose, one within the state and one national, to which you can make calls at reduced rates.

Yeah, I already told you I am choosing my husband’s phone number, was my answer.

Meanwhile, letting the fog clear I had humbly accepted what the brain had to say and was wondering what and how to tell the idiot without myself being accused of seeing things where there were none. I had let the moment of ‘my home number’ go. If I went back to it, he’d only say I imagined things.

At this point he (probably) gave up on my ability to pick up signals and simply said,

Ma’am please note down your new number. It will be activated today itself.

I found pen and jotted down the number, relieved that it had all been some mistake. The last digits of the number he gave me were the same as those of my fixed line.

I got you this number with great difficulty Ma’am.

HE got that number for me????!!!  The BSNL promo says the sim card is given commensurate with the land-line number!

I cannot guarantee this will be your number. But most probably it will be. I am trying my best to make it so for you Ma’am.

He must really think I am one dumb woman. Since I am of the opinion that it is useless to talk to people who consider you dumb, I did not reply. Besides I did not trust myself to speak.

You don’t mind me calling you again Ma’am??

On no, not again! Good Lord, have mercy on me.

I thought we could talk when you have some free time.

I don’t have any free time, I said abruptly and banged down the phone wishing it were his head.

Later in the evening, recounting the incident to the L & M, I said I shuddered to think the situation of women who had to approach such Romeos for any sort of help. How they’d try to take advantage out of the situation!  Truly speaking I prefer the rude ones any day to the Romeos. The Romeos give me the creeps. The L & M has been trying to get through to our usual contact who seems to be on vacation.

And no, my sim card hasn’t been activated as yet.