That’s how they work; or rather do not work. I mean the bureaucracy. Some time back I happened to go to the Land Revenue section of the Mamlatdar’s Office to pay … what else ? The Land Revenue. I was late; I had to pay it by December 31; now it was already 25th January. But the amount is so small – Rs 35, that I easily forget.
I got the challan done, and stood in queue before the cash counter. Since there were rather too many people ahead of me, I began to browse through the challan to pass time. Tax – Rs 35, Interest – Rs 2 (that is 6% of 35 = 2.10, rounded to 2), Total – Rs 37. So, 6% is the interest for delayed payment; I said to myself. 6% for one month; so 72% per annum. That is when I began to feel like a fool.
I went back to the clerk who had prepared the challan, and asked her : “How much interest do you charge for delayed payment ?”. “Sir 6%.”, she said politely. Handing over the challan to her I asked her : “And how much have you charged ?” “Sir 6%.”, she said. That was clean bowling me. “Just check”, I said. “Look sir, 6% of 35 is 2.10, rounded to 2.”
I did not know what to say; decided I could not waste my time on elementary arithmetic. “But, on what basis are you charging 6% ? Do you have the order or circular ?” I asked her, controlling my temper. “No sir; but that is what the previous clerk at this desk told me.” “Ok,” said I, “where is that previous clerk now ?”. I went to the ‘previous’ clerk, now a Head Clerk. And, you know what ? I asked the same question, and got he same answer : “The previous clerk had told me.” Now this ‘previous clerk’ was already the Officer heading the section. Hesitatingly I went to him and asked the same question. And got the same answer.
My grandmother had told me a story. As a new bride in the house, she once asked her mother-in-law why she has to mandatorily cut the fish into two before frying. The m-in-l told her that her m-in-l had told her that. Fortunately the old woman was living. So the question passed on to her. The grandmother-in-law too did not know the reason. But she remembered that this was told to her by her mother. Fortunately her mother still lived. The frail old woman finally solved the mystery. She explained that they had a small frying pan; so they had to cut the fish into two to fry.