French leave versus friend's leave

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh *

I was fortunate that I was ordained in to service at a very early age and I was also fortunate to have a good formative stage in my career in the office with a highly caring head of Department in the person of one Mr BSK Sarma.

I have said this before and I would like to underline once again that it is very important phase, a good boss in one's first few years in offices make a whole lot of difference in one's entire career.

The first two years, let us say are very important, most of initial probations last this much. Late N.K. Sir (Nepram Kunjo Singh) used to say it emphatically, if an officer commits blunder in first two years, it is the first boss to be blamed, I know a friend who is still suffering from "bad first boss syndrome" even on the verge of retirement. Bad luck, but it is not in everybody's luck to have good first boss.

"He is on French Leave" Mr Sarma once said when an employee was absent by the evening on the eve of an infamous "Bandh". During those days when a bandhwas called, we used to camp the night in the office so that we were not absent from office the next day as there were strict work culture as well as orders from administration to monitor the attendance on the days of bandh.

"French Leave" Mr Sarma said, but one of my senior colleagues mistook it as "Friend's Leave" as these two have some stark similarities.

We used to have a lot of very friendly discourses in those days and there were opportunities to express oneself. Writing note sheet was an art, very crisp but expressive terms were used, the good part was that they were noticed by the boss and by the evening when we had tea in boss's room, he would certainly say a few words, a subtle appreciation, that was enough drive.

Note sheets of those days carried history of the case, self explanatory, not like what is written nowadays. A simple example is that when I joined the Department, within two days I had to draft a letter and I was not a novice even, what I did was to put boss's note as it was in the official format by adding salutation and conclusion part, it became a good letter, so unambiguous was the note.

Not like evasive ones written nowadays. One stereotypical phrase being used nowadays is "Self explanatory"; "Pl find letter at P-8 which is self explanatory, kindly take a decision as per rules." Seems like a good note, but highly evasive. More evasives the boss again, writing back another extremely evasive phrase, "as proposed".

If we examine departmental files, we shall find such notes in hundreds. In the field offices, the culture of note sheet is dwindling, as the attendance in District and field offices is less than 20%, a tradition of bulk note sheet writing has evolved.

The DA would write notes in hundreds leaving spaces for the boss; the boss would also sign in hundreds in one go either once in one or two weeks. This syndrome is (or was) common not to one, but to many offices. I would blame the decline in office phrases to two reasons, poor attendance in field offices and evasive nature of boss's.

Talking of attendance and phrases let me tell you something which is very much connected with good governance. I intend to talk about "Friend's Leave" first and its use in official parlance. It is a notorious word in Manipur.

Friend's leave is a proxy attendance, it is of two kinds, one: a friend doing his work on an agreed amount or free of cost, two: the boss allowing you to be absent with an understanding, in most cases, the boss is kept informed and work do not suffer.

Against this, "French Leave" is leaving duty without informing anybody. It is similar to leave without pay or unauthorised leave. The usage came from a person leaving a party without informing the host, the British ascribed it to French, originating from a French leaving a party without informing the host.

But then, the French and Russians ascribed it to the British, which few would take, English people are famous for their etiquettes. The phrase was first used in late 18th Century.

"Filer l'Anglaise" the British way, the French would say. With so many weddings to be attended nowadays, one has to resort to either Friends Leave or French Leave, whichever is handy.

But neither "Friend's Leave" nor "French Leave" are in the rule book, you won't find them, and only a few dictionaries have them. During February and March, these leaves, particularly French Leaves are very common, we can call this period as "French Leave Season" or "Mass French Leave" as almost all the staff would disap ear.

Needless to say, but there many people who would take social functions more seriously than the official duty. For the bosses, they can always say, "I have to attend a meeting" and leave office, but for poor subordinates, they have to resort to French leave.

Otherwise, how can one cope with the situation? No reform is in sight to reduce the redundant social customs no step has been taken to review the sacrosanctity of the timings of social functions. Instead, attending more marriage ceremonies, religious functions has become "status symbol", "I have five functions today" one would boast; "five functions" or "seven functions" a day are nowadays social status, people are now taking "French Leave" as a matter of right, but as per law, no leave can be availed as a matter of right, they are all subject to sanction by competent authority.

Whoever started, it has come to stay, the French Leave. It has entered the lexicon and (un)official parlance. But I propose that it be sparingly used, yes, Friend's Leave also, because office attendance in Manipur has been poor.

We are leave loving people, during king's days, the number of holidays were matter of discord in administration, between the Maharajah and the British Political Agent (PA).

The PA with English work culture would like to reduce number of holidays, but the Maharajah, would like holidays even on slightest pretext; royal or religious. Now also, everybody avails leave, mostly unauthorised and seldom not and this has been strong concern in good governance in the state.

* Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on February 20 , 2018.

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