Once the paragon of authority and power, the IAS officer is now portrayed as a semi-illiterate person who can’t write a sensible English paragraph but still gets sent off to rule over the masses.’

samelikegodTHE other day I received by e-mail one of those Internet jokes that constantly do the rounds, particularly among expatriate Indians, whose appetite for desi humour, usually self-deprecating, knows no bounds. It purported to be an essay written by a Bihari candidate at the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations for the Indian Administrative Service. The sender quoted what was allegedly the candidate’s essay on the subject of “the Indian cow”, which, for the benefit of those fortunate enough not to be assailed daily by the Internet, I reproduce below almost in full:

“He is the cow. The cow is a successful animal. Also he is four footed. And because he is female, he give milks, but will do so when he is got child. He is same like-God, sacred to Hindus and useful to man. But he has got four legs together. Two are forward and two are afterwards. His whole body can be utilised for use. More so the milk. Milk comes from 4 taps attached to his basement. Horses do not have any such attachment. What can it do? Various ghee, butter, cream, curd, why and the condensed milk and so forth. Also he is useful to cobbler, watermans and mankind generally.”

“His motion is slow only because he is of lazy species. Also his other motion (gobar) is much useful to trees, plants as well as for making flat cakes like Pizza, in hand, and drying in the sun. Cow is the only animal that extricates his feeding after eating…. His only attacking and defending organ is the horns, specially so when he is got child. This is done by knowing his head whereby he causes the weapons to be paralleled to the ground of the earth and instantly proceed with great velocity forwards.”

“He has got tails also, situated in the backyard, but not like similar animals. It has hairs on the other end of the other side. This is done to frighten away the flies which alight on his body whereupon he gives hit with it….”

It goes on for a few sentences more in similar vein, and then the e-mailer added the following footnote: “We are reliably informed that the candidate passed the exam and is now an IAS officer somewhere in Bihar.”

Now let’s put aside the obvious implausibilities of this story — the unlikelihood of an IAS exam paper being posted on the Web, the even greater unlikelihood that the IAS would ask its examinees to write an essay on the cow — and consider the sneering that lies behind it. The anonymous candidate is, of course, supposed to be from Bihar, which over the last couple of decades has become a sort of national symbol for corruption, venality and incompetence in Indian governance, at least amongst the urban Anglophone classes. (This phenomenon has, of course, accelerated since the ascent of unprincipled rusticity to high office in that State, as embodied in the person of Shri Laloo Prasad Yadav.) Worse still, the e-mail claims the howler-laden essay actually got its author into the IAS. This is startling, because it suggests that the stock of that institution, once considered the home of the best and the brightest in our society, has fallen lower than any of us could have imagined, at least in the eyes of our nouveau-riche computer-owning yuppies and their NRI friends. In the old days, the IAS officer was the paragon of authority and power, the prospective bridegroom who commanded the highest price on the marriage market. Today, as multinationals and dot-coms (and better still, multinational dot-coms) reward their executives with riches and perks a mere sarkari babu can only dream of, the once-august IAS man can even be portrayed as a semi-illiterate dehati who can’t write a sensible English paragraph but still gets sent off to rule over the masses, at least in Bihar.

Of course I may be making far too much of a silly Internet joke, but I wonder what its wide circulation (I have received it from at least three different people) does reveal about the way our society is changing. I once wrote elsewhere about the insidious divisions being promoted between “India” and “Bharat” — between a slice of our country that is seen as cosmopolitan, liberal, Anglophone, technologically-savvy and secular, and the undifferentiated rest that is thought of as traditional, casteist, superstition-ridden, backward and vernacular. It worries me that, in this era of greater communication, complete interdependence and the levelling influence of mass telev

Source: The Hindu