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I have been working as a Government officer (prefer calling myself a sarkari babu) with the State Government of Gujarat since last four and half years. Along with myriad and interesting experiences, I have found one thing to have a special connection with every Government official across ranks and designations. And that is the humble chai (tea). This humble drink holds a very special place in everyday
|Image Courtesy: A sarkari babu friend / colleague|
The productivity of any sarkari babu is directly proportional to the frequency, quality and hotness of the cuppas of chai they are served. Give them more, better and hotter cups - and see the productivity zoom northwards. An office day in the life of a sarkari babu starts with call to the peon to serve chai. (Yes, the peons serve them. Who needs vending machines?) Unless the chai reaches tables of every sarkari babu, the day cannot begin. It is like their kick to kick start the journey of serving fellow Indians in some way or the other. (What, don’t look at me like that, after all we are also known as sarkari naukars.) Mind you, this procedure gets repeated at around 4 pm. And no chai is equal to no mood to work, whether morning or evening.
If a sarkari babu colleague (of equal or higher rank) visits your table/cabin, the first thing that gets done is ringing a bell to the peon to serve tea. If you don’t call for the chai, you either don’t respect them enough to be served tea, you are a miser or you are not on really good terms with them. But wait, even if you are not on good terms with the visiting colleague, you still serve the cuppa. All the office politics and differential views go out of the window when it comes to serving the chai.
This humble chai is also an important instrument of showing and receiving gratitude. You help somebody in their work, support them in finishing an urgent assignment, go out of your call of duty to do anything for anybody even if it is just giving some advice to resolve an issue; you straight away get obligated for being served tea by the one you’ve helped. Instead of saying welcome for the thank you that you receive for being helpful, you say ‘Chai pila dena’ (Serve me tea). Yes, it is that simple in our sarkari world.
Chai comes in picture even in times of distress. You are not happy with a fellow colleague or you want to bitch about them, the first words that any sarkari babu would utter are these, ‘aajtak ek chai bi nai pilai hai muje’ (He has not served me a single cup of tea till date). Yes, the chai is that important in our lives. It also goes the other way round. You are casually talking about somebody’s goodness; the chai makes a visit even here. ‘Oh he is a very good person. Jab bhi jao to chai pilaate hain.’ (He serves tea everytime you go to meet him). Getting the importance of chai in our lives? Wait, let me tell you further.
You may arrange a get-together in the daftar (office) celebrating your promotion or retirement, your child’s first rank or your wife’s birthday; you may serve the best of the snacks available, but if you don’t top it up with a chai for everyone, the party isn’t over. People would wait for the chai to be served. And mind you, if you make them leave without their chai, your party is doomed.
If chai comes in picture at the times of bitching, imagine its importance in terms of friendship. You are frustrated and you visit your sarkari babu friend. The first thing that the sarkari babu would do to soothe your nerves is to serve you a hot cup of chai.
Even the rant of a sarkari babu about heavy work load is not free from the chai. ‘Aaj to itna kaam hai ke chai peene ka bhi time nai mila’ (I am so burdened with work that I have not even had my tea today) If you hear a sarkari babu saying this line, immediately understand that they have been battling with some serious workload. Because, it is only in extreme conditions that a sarkari babu would sacrifice his daily dose of chai.
A chai is always welcome for a sarkari babu at any time of the day. You have visited a colleague who served you tea. You go to somebody else’s cabin immediately and they serve you tea too. You never refuse. Never.
Whether it’s a board meeting or a client meeting, the chai is served, always. And if you don’t, it’s considered rude. Very rude. Questions are straightaway raised about the financial position of the organization if you don’t serve it. Period.
The connection of the chai and sarkari babus is so deep that even favours (if you know what I mean) are termed as ‘chai paani’ ;) Ooops, should I be saying this? :0
So be it friendship, enmity, happiness, frustration, celebration, praising or bitching - a chai is available for any and every occasion in a sarkari babu’s life. Have you heard that phrase that you never let somebody who comes at your door leave without giving them alms? There is a similar phrase for sarkari offices and babus too. You neither let a sarkari babu go from your office nor are allowed to leave their cabin without exchanging the humble chai ;) It is also said that if you cut a vein of a sarkari babu, there is all the possibility that he shall bleed chai ;)
Hail Chai and the sarkari babus ;)