My First Job as a Red Tape Manufacturer

(My father Bhaskar Kakatkar (1918-2000) wrote a few Autobiographical articles. This is one of those It gives a little glimpse of the last years British Raj. India achieved independence in 1947.)

I appeared in January 1942 for the I.C.S. Examination, held in Delhi. ( I.C.S. is the predecessor of the present !.A.S. ) It entailed my going to Delhi and staying in a hotel there for almost a month. As a result, I had become penniless. I started skipping all except one meal per day.  Even then, I found it difficult to go on without coffees being replenished.

By 1942 the Second World War had reached a crescendo, with Hitler's armies occupying most of Europe. India, under British rule, had become a combatant as also an important supply base for allied forces. Activities connected with the war effort needed a lot of manpower and advertisements notifying vacancies had begun to appear regularly. I submitted my application for a clerical post in the ARP ( that is, the Air Raids Precaution) organization. I received a call for an interview with the office superintendent. Let us call him Godbole. When I appeared  before Godbole, I tied to parade before him documents testifying to my academic excellence in various examinations of the Bombay University, culminating in my taking the M.Sc. in Mathematics. Godbole was least impressed by my accomplishments. He looked at my certificates as a heap of evil smelling rubbish. Brushing them aside, he threw before me a file of papers and commanded, 

"Read this and draft a G.R. ".

Now, I may have done well in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and even in college elections, but my knowledge of office working and office procedures was of sub-zero level. In my brilliant academic career, I had not come across the word 'draft' in any of its several meanings, and 'G.R.' sounded more like the initials of my friend Desai, rather than a Government document.

Mustering all my courage, I decided to interrupt Godbole who soon after he had shaken me off his back appeared to be busy writing some earth shaking document.

"Er, Sir, one minute please." , I mumbled with trepidation. 

"Now what?", barked Godbole.

"Will you please be merciful and explain to me, sir, what is a draft and what is a G.R.?"

"Ye Gods!", exclaimed Godbole in disgust. "What sins did I commit in my last birth that I should have to break my head with such useless stuff?" He stopped for a second or two, evidently making a super human effort to suppress some swear words which were struggling to gush forth from his lips, and resumed, "Illiterates who do not know what a draft is or what G.R. is and still aspire to work under me!". After he calmed down a little and counted, I guess, more than ten under his breath, said, "Look here young man, a draft is something you write for being put up to your superiors for approval, and ultimately for their signature. And, G.R. is a Government resolution."

I was aghast, After reflecting for some time over what Godbole had said, I asked him, "Sir, do you expect an insignificant guy like me to be able to write a Government Resolution. and that too, by reading the file of papers you have thrown, I mean placed before me? Who am I to pronounce a Government Resolution?"

That did it. My question snapped all the patience Godbole had been able to muster.. He became red in the face, snatched from my hand the pile of papers he had thrown at me. and shouted at one of his assistants, "Mundkur, take this man's application for service and send it to the General Department of The Secretariat."

"And, Mundkur, '' he continued, "Don't you ever send to me for interview any applicant who is as ignorant as this man!" Then turning to me, he said, YOU" ....

"Kakatkar", I interjected, trying to be helpful. He glowered at me and resumed, "YOU, whatever your clumsy name is, can go back and try your luck with the General Department of the Secretariat. They have asked us to send over to them all our surplus applications. If they are brave enough to take you on, I wish them Godspeed."

Well, it did not take long for a call for interview to arrive from the General Department of the Government of Bombay( as it then was).The Department had been entrusted with the responsibility of procuring and distributing food grains, edible oils, sugar, silk and other supplies which were becoming scarce due to war conditions. Later on that department was to experience elephantine growth and eventually split up into various organisations like supply department, rationing department, milk supply organisation, etc. I was called for an interview on some day in April 1942.

By a lucky coincidence, results of the I.C.S. Examination held in January 19  42 appeared in The Times Of India of the same day. It gave the list of Fifty top rankers.  I, of course, could not and did not subscribe to any daily paper, but read them all in the Irani shop while sipping my morning single ( that is, a half cup of tea, available in those days for one paisa ) On observing that my name stood eleventh in rank, I jumped up, upsetting my cup of tea. I checked and rechecked, but there was no mistake about it.  The name appeared in all its glory as "Bhaskar Ganesh Kakatkar". The availability of vacancies in the Indian Civil Service had been severely cut down to a mere three, rest being left in reserve for war services candidates. This may be compared with over a hundred vacancies that are being filled annually from this current day Indian Administrative Services Examination. My success in the I.C.S. Examination was, therefore, only of academic interest. But, to stand eleventh in the queue for the haven born service ( that is how I.C.S. was described in those days ) was not a mean achievement. I thought, wrongly as it turned out to be, my value in the job market must have shot up tremendously. 

The success, such as it was, went straight to my head. So much so that I confused the time of my interview with Rao Saheb K. B. Kamath, Officer on Special duty in the General Department. Instead of 11 O'Clock, I reached the cabin of Rao Saheb at 10 AM Those were the very early days of supply bottlenecks and things were still quite orderly. Later on, the peons were to demand rupees ten just to carry the visitors' card to the Minister or the officer inside.

In the instant case, the peon politely asked me, " Saheb, who do you wish to see?" I scribbled my name on the slip of paper the peon offered me and replied, "I have been called for an interview by Rao Saheb Kamath". The peon took the slip in and soon emerged to tell me that the time of interview was one hour later and that Rao Saheb had asked me to wait for an hour. Intoxicated as I was with my "success" in the I.C.S. Examination, I pushed the flap door, and in response to the inquisitive look of Rao Saheb, I told him that although there was still an hour for the interview to begin, I had butted in to ask, "If it would be worthwhile for me to wait for an hour for the kind of job on offer". "What do you mean worthwhile for you?", asked a surprised Rao Saheb.

"It is like this Sir '', I replied, "Results of the I.C.S. Examination held in January 1942 have been published in today's Times Of India and I stand eleventh in the order of merit". 

"Is that so?", asked the Rao Saheb, who was duly impressed. "How many vacancies are there in the Civil Service?", continued Rao Saheb.

"Only three."

Rao Saheb procured the day's Times and saw for himself that the bloke standing in front of him had, in fact, scored not an ace, but certainly something better than a knave!"

"Well, Mr. Kakatkar" began Rao Saheb Kamath "You certainly deserve something better than the post of Junior Assistant for which you were to be interviewed. The best that lies within my power is to recommend your appointment as direct recruit to the post of Senior Assistant, for which the starting pay is Rs.180/ ."

"That" I said "Sounds better".

"Don't be impatient", counselled Rao Saheb Kamath. "This is something so unusual that I shall have to seek and get the clearance of my Secretary".

"Why don’t you call him in and be done with it?", I asked in all my ignorance as to who he meant by "My Secretary".

 "No No Mr. Kakatkar, it is not that easy to meet the Secretary. I shall have to check with his P.A., as to when he can spare time to meet me and then only enter his cabin. However, I hope to be able to do so in another half an hour or so. In the meantime, you can wait outside".

When I went outside I found a familiar face, that of Hattangadi, who was working in the same department. He greeted me and asked me what I was doing there. I told him briefly what had transpired till then, and asked him why the Rao Saheb was so chary of meeting his secretary. He explained to me that the Secretary of a department who was usually an I.C.S. officer was the top ranking officer in the department. Officer on special duty Rao Saheb Kamath was in the rank of Assistant Secretary and there were four ranks between him and the Department Secretary. Hattangadi also expressed great surprise that Rao Saheb was thinking of appointing me direct as Senior Assistant. "That seems impossible, however well-qualified the candidate may be."

Till I spoke to Hattangadi, I was under the impression that by "My Secretary" Rao Saheb meant someone who worked under him as his assistant. I also realized how much Rao Saheb was going out of his way in suggesting my appointment as Senior Assistant in the Secretariat. Had I been absorbed in the I.C.S., I would of course have started one or two steps above the Officer on Special duty instead of below him. In those days, all secretaries to the Government, all divisional commissioners and most other top positions went to I.C.S. officers. 

After half an hour or so, I noticed the Rao Saheb returning to his cabin with a beaming face. 

"Come in Mr. Kakatkar. The Secretary has agreed to your being recruited directly as Senior Assistant. You will be on probation for three months. When would you like to start?"

Being hard pressed for cash, I replied, " Now, if I may!""Certainly" said Rao Saheb Kamath, and led me to the "Branch" where I was to work. A Branch in those days was a group of some six or seven workers headed by a Superintendent. Under him worked one Senior Assistant, three or four Junior Assistants, a filing clerk, a typist, etc. I was introduced to the Superintendent Mulekar, who prepared a seat for me. Thus began my brilliant career as Senior Assistant on a salary of rupees one hundred and eighty, which in 1942 was sumptuous. Instantly I began the subject of curiosity all over the Secretariat. "A narrow miss from the Indian Civil Service and a direct recruit to the position of Senior Assistant! " That is how I was described among the Secretariat workers who passed by me in groups of twos and threes, pointing their fingers at me and whispering among themselves. I felt like a rare species newly added to the zoo who instantly becomes a subject of great curiosity.

However, I proved to be a ninety day wonder. At the end of my probation period of three months I was told that I was a flop and that they might continue to tolerate me, but only as a Junior Assistant. My pride won over my financial difficulties, which in any case had considerably eased after getting rupees five hundred and forty over the three months stint in the Secretariat. Once again I was on the streets as an applicant in the job market.

Thus I bid farewell to the Secretariat unwept and unsung, but not before I had drafted a dozen odd G.R., several D.O., memos, and U.O.R., all of which were the hallmark of the Secretariat, the supreme manufacturer of the Red Tape in the Government.

Published by Kiran Kakatkar on Dec 24, 2022
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