Listen attentively. The secret that I am about to betray is a closely guarded one. Everybody suspects it, but nobody knows for sure. It is only discussed in the shady corridors of power and in gent’s toilets. This State secret is: If an activist comes sufficiently close to exposing the System, the guardians of the System make him an Information Commissioner. Is this true? Hear my story and judge it for yourself.
One day, I was standing in a toilet when a man wrapped in a Kashmiri shawl came and stood in the stall next to mine. “Psst psst! DoPT says send your biodata,” he whispered hoarsely. My heart jumped!
The previous day, my friends and I had stood in the same shauchalaya. “How much longer must we keep up this hungama for transparent CIC selections?” grumbled Voracious Giver in mid-flow.
“Yeah! When are they sending us feelers?” asked Achcha Meeting, adjusting himself.
The walls had ears! They had heard! And that is why, barely 24 hours later, the man in the Kashmiri shawl was here. The feeling of feelers in the toilet gave me a sudden attack of unexpected modesty. “Oh, but I have been an RTI activist for less than two years!” I squeaked. “Do I really deserve to be Information Commissioner?”
“Shh! Sssh! Don’t let anybody hear you!” he whispered. “Add some awards to your CV to make it look substantial and send it at once!”
“Can I say Madhavrao Award for Excellence in Social Service 1988?” I asked.
“Superb!” he replied. “Nobody remembers anything before 1991.”
“Thrice nominated for Vasantrao Grand Maratha Medal for Investigative Journalism in 1985, ‘86 and ’87?” I asked.
“Good boy!” he said approvingly.
We went and sat down in a small tea-stall near the toilet. The man in the Kashmiri shawl wanted to hang around with half his bum on one chair, the other half casting a shadow over another chair. “You are in a funny position, Sir,” I pointed out politely. There was no reply.
“You frequently approach people in toilets, Sir?” I asked, trying to break the uncomfortable silence.
“For The Family, I can do anything,” the handsome man said suavely. “Last year, I recruited Guiding Saint in this toilet. He had uncovered the mysteries of Slumbai’s Crow Bazaar and Hilly Lands, fingered the Chief Minister’s Piggy Bank, and was about to reveal to the public the ugly underbelly of Prime Paaji’s Piggy Bank. So I persuaded him to join the big boys at CIC and drop the matter about piggy banks. He did, and now Guiding Saint is Sailing Gently.”
“But did it really happen that way?” I protested. “Didn’t Cagey Wall put the Saint’s name before Prime Paaji and Saffron Sindhi?”
“Shush, my boy, don’t strain your brain. Good things happen to good people. That is all you need to understand,” he said, one eye constantly winking.
And then, out of the blue, he shot a thunderbolt at me. “Your friend Voracious Giver will be chief CIC,” he said, smiling.
“Chief?! VG will be my boss? Why?” I squeaked, stung by jealousy.
“Because you, Mr Naaraj Rowdy, are a rude and abrasive person,” he shot back. “Whereas VG is a pucca diplomat like me. We need diplomats in the Chief’s chair.”
“But aren’t rude Information Commissioners good?” I argued, trying to salvage my ego. “Wasn’t one a front-runner for the Chief’s post until Saffron Sindhi ruffled Prime Paaji?”
“Oh yes! Rude commissioners are everywhere in this country, and at CIC we have some of the best,” he said proudly. “Academically Making Money is one of the crudest, most uncouth persons we have… Appellants despise him and we love him. So he will be your role model and mentor in Delhi. In his company, you will be having dinner with IAS officers, smooth talkers, oily chiefs of PSUs… and maybe even ministers! You will tour the country and make presentations on RTI, my friend!”
But I was having second thoughts. “I am like Aamir Khan in Ghajini; my memory goes blank when I wake up every morning. Like Aamir desperately reading his tattoos in the mirror, I read my gmail inbox and reminders on my mobile to regain my moorings. They are the only things saving me from total amnesia!”
“We know, my boy, we know,” said the man, giving my hand a reassuring shake. “Why do you suppose DoPT chose you? Being half-senile is a great qualification! Why are so many retired babus across the country being made Information Commissioners? Why do our orders contradict one another? Why does each paragraph sound good, but the conclusion make no sense? Because we can’t remember what we dictated in earlier paragraphs! There is method in our madness, you know…”
“My eyesight is fading too,” I said, digging for compliments. “After two hours of paperwork, my eyes go dry and fuzzy.”
“Fantastic! Your Chief SIC’s hearing aids don’t catch 60% of the words. Isn’t he great at holding hearings? And then, to top it off, he postpones dictating orders for months, so that he forgets every trace of what transpired at the hearing,” he said. “Learn from your seniors!”
“My brain goes dead after three hours of work” I said with growing excitement. “Any intellectual work that I do after 12 noon is like sleepwalking, based on illogical reflexes. But I get a lot of work done, sounding irritable all the time. Is that good?”
“Is that good, he asks?! Oh man, you are brilliant! You are even better than Sailing Gently! Sleepwalk and snap through 200 hearings, use illogical reflexes to type 200 orders in a day! You will be our star!” The man was furiously pumping my hand in joy.
Suddenly, he froze. We both saw Jolly Knowledgeable Chap from Alexandria walking into the toilet. The man sprang to his feet and dashed off in hot pursuit, Kashmiri shawl fluttering behind him. “Don’t go away, I’ll be back. Keep my chairs reserved!” he shouted.
– Crisp Naaraj Rowdy