My father’s official communication, written in June, 1947, opened up the visage of an era that we have long forgotten. People of my generation who were born in the early years of independent India had the privilege receiving information about many anecdotes from the first-hand experiences of our parents’ generation. Sadly the younger generation, having taken freedom for granted, have not been exposed to what it felt like growing up in a slave nation. Luckily I grew up listening to stories about the Raj as well as the Gulami of our nation.Looking back, I can see, for sure, the reason and the factors making me the person that I am today. If you look at the official communication of my father intently and read the last closing line of the letter you’ll find that he closes it with the expression:
“I have the honour to be your most obedient servant”
Now this expression, “your most obedient servant” always generated a debate in our home. Though I had never seen this letter earlier but there were a number of English Grammar books and also Essays and letter writing books, belonging to my father, that I would read with great interest. All the official letters, in the Essay and Letter writing books, had in the signature line the same very odd expression, “your most obedient servant”! As I grew up, in an independent India, inhaling the fresh and clean air of Simla, I would be very angry to see that government officials would resort to use such a language in their official communications. I would question my father, “Do you also write expressions like these while writing to your officer?” And when he would say Yes to it, my little heart would bleed with agony. My Bauji was epitome of dignity for me and the fact that he used such expression of obedience would just be difficult for me to swallow! “But we were servants of the Angrez Sahibs” he would say laughing aloud in his open style laughter and would add wistfully, “we are servants of the public”. “Why have our books the same expression in all the official letters?” I would retort back, “Are we not living in a free country?” People of my generation would recall that all our English Grammar books had this kind of concluding line. My father had no answer to it except saying, “Old habits die hard”. and would add. “gradually with the passage of time people will learn to use more dignified language in their official communication.
My father’s dream of free people living in a free country has, unfortunately, not been realized despite being the fact that we have been free of the slavery of the British rule for more than sixty four years now. But, sadly, the mental slavery to the master still pervades all walks of life.
I cannot say much about the corporate work-life but in the corridors of Government work-life it still remains, “your most obedient servant” though the style has innovated a little. People address the Director, invariably, in their official communication as “Worthy Director” or sometimes even “the most worthy Director” and use so many “your kind attention please” in one single letter that would have sufficed my father an entire year of official communication.
Nothing has changed. “Public servants”, in the name of Government, make blatant misuse of power vested in them for public good and sadly no one, I repeat NO ONE, seems to mind. The chalta hai attitude has rotted the fabric of good governance. And under such circumstances persons like me who have grown up dreaming of living and working in a country where there would be no need to write, “your most obedient servant” are worst hit by the powers-that-be!
Bauji, I ask you today, why didn’t you teach me the tricks of the world? Why did you bring me up to be an upright citizen? Why did you fill my little heart with the feeling that all will be well in Free India?