Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Laal Batti Syndrome


We Indians are not very specific in what we choose. In many ways our choices are not ‘our’ choices. Like Darwin’s Homo sapiens our choices alter shapes in conformity to the external factors. We seek the inner self only as a matter of spiritual theory but when it comes to choosing a career we look around for inspiration.

So on one day a child aspires to become an Army Jawan after watching the movie ‘Major Saab’. On the other day he finds in him a cricketer in making as he launches into the television for a mundane IPL match. The same child stuck in a traffic jam when sees a flashing red beacon make its way through, realises how he always yearned to serve the nation through bureaucracy.

The blitzkrieg surrounding the 3Bs-Bollywood,BCCI and Bureaucracy vie for a space in transitory young ambitions . Thanks to the Govt recent complete ban on the use of beacons, except emergency services, bureaucracy might further slide down the list of career choices.(pun intended).

During my growing up years in Bihar of 90s, a convoy of Ambassador cars bearing red beacons engulfed the surrounding not only with  flashing red light but also enthused a sense of aura and inspiration.  The roads revealed an empty space as the red flash pounded on it. The motion of every other being was arrested as if  time stood still for everyone except the convoy.  People awed  and envied the spectacle in equal measure. Far in the corner of the street a firm hand of a father would clasp the soft shoulders of his son prodding him to capture the moment in his dreamy eyes. The image of the fleeting red flash would sparkle a flame in the ice cold vision of the son. The old father would stoop down to his ear and whisper, “This my dear son, this should be your future”.

Back in 90s of Bihar a child was literally initiated into bureaucratisation under such glares of  flashing red-beacons. So much so that she/he suffered from a Laal-Batti syndrome in which any flashing red light from an aeroplane in the sky at night to an ambulance on the road aroused the similar passion and pride.

Before the advent of globalization and before the nimble mind of a child was  bombarded with multitude of career choices , every child in a middle class family was taught to respect the ‘I’. To a spiritually inclined mind ‘I’ would mean to respect the ‘self’. But in the Bihar of 90s SANSKAR channel was yet to be and Baba Ramdev was yet to unleash his yoga skills. So for a middle class family ‘I’ meant a two step process to nirvana- first IIT and then IAS. In pursuit of these one may not attain nirvana but one did certainly remember his Nana.

The favourite pastime of my uncle and aunt was to ask, “beta bade ho kar kya karoge?”. I was clueless about my next day plan so the term ‘bade ho kar’ seemed infinity to me. To rest the case for once and all I would vaguely answer, “I want to sit in a Laal Batti car”. I didn’t know what they understood out of it but their  faith in my educational abilities and mine in their mental inabilities certainly made them imagine me as a government driver.

Although, Lal-batti were also associated with ministers but that did not espoused as much as reverence as that of a District Magistrate or any designated government officer. Probably because there are no such examination like Indian Ministerial Services to qualify, so all  aspirational stories ended their fate at the gates of Public service commissions.

Soon as the competition grew stronger and the career options widened anything under the sun and sandwiched between  ‘Indian’ and ‘Services’ found its acceptance among  anxious parents. As long as alphabets were concerned, in the world of careers, ‘I’ and ‘S’ had attained eternal glory. It was regarded that ‘I’ and ‘S’ would solely bring home the daughter/son in a Lal-Batti .  So we saw a rise in number of professions which could draw equal applause from society and a Lal-Batti car in garage- ITS,IRS,IRPS,IRTS,IES,IOFS,IP&TS, I-what-not- S. Such services disguised as elite government job came to the rescue of aspirants. Services the name of which could not be taken in a single breath, services which revealed no clue about the nature of work. Services which were only buyable in the hope of a Laal -Batti car.

Over the years this Laal-Batti had become a symbol of awe and inspiration for several aspirants spending their best of youth in coaching institutes of Delhi to Hyderabad. A symbol of power, privilege and responsibility for the officer designate. And a symbol of fear and subjugation for an ordinary man. The Laal-batti became synonymous to the VIP culture we became so much accustomed  to. Having seen its prime it is appropriate that it must depart. And when it does it will be missed by its seekers. RIP-Dear Laal Batti.

Thank you for reading

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