He is in his mid thirties and works as a peon to the Director. He comes out with a filthy smile and slowly spreads his hands. And my colleague tucks in the blue note in his hand, while shaking his hand. He looks at the note and says it loud, “Dude this wont even buy a shirt…!!!”. I felt like shouting at him “Are we here to buy you shirts”. And also 100 taka note was not enough for him to just put a file on the desk of the Director. It also made me wonder if he takes a price of a shirt for every file he moves, I am sure he must have about a million shirts by now.
He is not alone in the crime; there are others who are partners to it. Every time a person comes in to the office, they talk to each other through eyes. They seemed to say, “Here comes our prey, let’s share and eat him together”. I can surely say without an inch of a doubt that the ones who work at government offices are the best in non-verbal communication. They look at your pockets like a hawk who is about to hunt a chicken. Every time you put your hand into your pocket, they wag their tails and looks at every movement of your hand greedily assuming that your hand would come out with a note. (Dude, I was just reaching for my phone….!!!)
I had come to this office for a simple document which would help me in extending my visa. My colleague had already done the paying part (Bribing….) and I was directed to wait to get the document. I waited patiently for the first hour and then went to the concerned officer to give him a mild push. (By the end of the day I would have had given a million mild pushes). He asked me to wait for another hour. At the end of the second hour, I went to him again to, of course give the mild push again. I did not even get a chance to do that and he replied, “Why are you coming to me so frequently; your work is getting processed and it will take time. Don’t you see I am busy???” I felt like I just committed the biggest crime in the world and came back silently and sat on the couch. By this time, I have also managed to make a few friends. Our agonies connected brought us together and we again got busy in criticizing the bureaucracy.
I had heard that works get done, if you got the good contacts. Thus, I decided to explore this area and called a friend. She called her husband who works in a media company who then called his boss and requested her to look into that area. She immediately called the director of the office, I was stuck in. And then I was asked to go and speak to the director. I went to his office where the guard asked me for my identity and the reason of my visit. I had just mentioned the name of the media company, that the director over heard me and asked the guard to let me in. I was given a warm welcome and was even asked for tea which of course I politely declined. I suddenly felt royal and forgot all my pain and anger I had till then. We sat down and started talking about things in the office (It was of course him speaking most of time trying to justify the undue delay). I heard him patiently and then quietly tried to push my issue. He suddenly remembered about my document and gave a phone call to his junior officer to look into the issue. He did not forget to mention that it in fact was not his area but still he is doing that because she (the head of the media company) had called. I thanked him for his ‘kind gesture’ and left his office.
Now, my next destination was the junior officer’s desk. And I had to pass the concerned clerk’s (who is dealing with my papers) desk to reach the junior officer’s desk. The clerk had realized by now that I am trying ‘other avenues’ to get the work done. (Oh I forgot to mention that the clerk had already been paid by my colleague in the morning). I gave my introduction to the junior officer and he started asking about me and my country. He started telling me about his ‘distant relatives’ he has in Assam and in other parts of India. He was showering praises on India with his beautiful poetic words as if I was there to listen to it. After his praising episode was over, I again talked about the paper and the urgency of it. He immediately called the clerk and asked about my file. He ordered the clerk to immediately put up the file for consideration. He then smiled at me and asked me to come to him after two hours. Oh my good lord..!!!, I had already waited for four hours by then. I asked him if it was possible to hasten the process to which he responded, “Its govt. office work you know, it takes time” as if government office work is a reason enough to justify the delay and started laughing. I could not make sense of his logic but decided to get out of the office and come back after two hours.
Now I started looking for work for two hours. I obviously did not want to sit on the dirty couch for another two hours. Thus, I gave a friend a call and went to meet him. We had lunch, talked over a couple of things and spent the time. My friend was gracious enough to accompany me to the office. I went to the officer’s desk and smiled (by now I had learnt that you got to smile to get your work done). He then suddenly remembered about me and asked his clerk for the file. The clerk again started looking for the file. I was of course irritated and wanted to scream at all of them. Then my friend and I decided to do all the file moving part by ourselves. We were informed that the file was in the desk of the director. We went to the director’s office and started narrating the tales of my agony. The director obviously seemed like a kind hearted guy and signed the document and gave the file to us. We took the file and then went to the clerk and asked him to type the letter. The clerk, by now had realized that his dreams for extra money would not work out and started to type the letter. After the letter was typed I took the letter and went to the junior officer’s desk and requested him to sign the letter. He had by now by hearted my name and shouted, “Oh Mr. Pegu, it seems like you are doing your own work”. I gave him a blunt smile and put the paper in his desk. He signed it and gave it to me. It was quite late by then and many of the staffs were already leaving the office. I brought back the letter to the clerk, who then stamped the letter. A few others came to desk and started talking to me. While one asked to sign the receiving register, the other started putting the letter in an envelope. They all made it look like they are doing one of the biggest possible favors one could ever do to me. They all looked at me again with their greedy eyes, But I took the letter, put it in my bag and gave them the most disgusting smile I could, said ‘thank you’ and left the office. I had waited in the office for about 7 hours by then.
Last word: I just came back from the passport office where I submitted my application for my visa extension. All of my colleagues, friends etc are happy about it. Some are congratulating me for the mission accomplished part, some are asking for treats while a few of them are taking pride that it was because of their help the task got accomplished. All of them are justified. But it’s me and I feel like I have lost one of my biggest battles in my life. Though I did not pay the bribe myself, I knew that my colleague had paid to the officers for the task. It was their duty to do the task. It was because of their fault that I needed the document (the delay in receiving my work permit was the reason I needed this document for my visa extension). But I still preferred to stay mum; may be because I was scared that if I don’t get my visa extended, I would not be able to finish my assignment. What right does it give me to criticize corruption when I myself play a part in perpetrating it? And this is the second time I am committing this crime. I am slowly myself turning into one to them, whom I criticize. I just feel like, I am just one of the partners in the crime…..!!!