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E-Pao! EI - From Poetry to Prose

From Poetry to Prose
- Academics Vs Bureaucracy -


By: Kshetrimayum Imokanta Singh *


Is society all facts and figures? Or is life only here and seen? Are real and reel; facts and fictions; prose and poetry and for that matter, bureaucracy and academics just binary opposites?

In common parlance people often talk as if they are really binary opposites, so as to give words to their thoughts. These categories are often invoked to differentiate what they think is real from what is unreal.

If we try and delve into little carefully and ponder on what lies beneath the surface, there come out many exciting and not yet seen and known knowledge.

In this endeavour one gives herself or himself the privilege to be 'philosophical' which is violently mocked at in today's Manipur, in particular, and world, in general, so that the mundane world dominates her/his existence. So, let us now do some soul searching.

Poetry generally is replete with metaphors, expressing something with the help of something analogous. What we call 'flowery' language is the basis of most of the poetry, in both oral and written literature.

On the other hand, prose is mostly in mundane language. In this vein it has been discerned, generally, that poetry is above the mundane world. That is, it inhabits in the realm of imagination while prose connects directly with the 'real' day-to-day world.

The dynamics between poetry and prose is also seen in the same wavelength as idealism and praxis. Those who are not practical are often mocked at as being idealistic.

By practical we generally mean when a person is able to mingle around with people, attend social ceremonies, take care of family members, participate in bandhs and strikes, having yu (in some places it is now synonymous with AMADA) with friends even if he is not really willing to do so, etc. The list is eternal, to say the least.

When one is lost in his own world, fumbling with beautiful ideas, constructing a vision for a beautiful society, he is often stigmatised as idealistic and as a result he inhabits in the world of poetry. If we follow this line of thought the world today, mostly, dwell in the domain of prose.

Is the transition from student's life to a government servant a case of transition from poetry to prose? To go little deeper, is the transition from academics to bureaucracy a disjointed journey?

Do they not meet each other? Does joining bureaucracy mean unlearning or complete discarding of what has been learnt in university?

This was the impression shared by some of the serving and retired bureaucrats of the Government of Manipur, when they educate the recently appointed probationers of MCS, MPS, MFS and SDC. They say, whatever we learnt in M.A., M.Sc, M.Phil. etc. will not serve much once we take the duty in Governments offices.

Most amusing was when somebody said that my Ph.D. degree would not be of much help. My contention is just the opposite. But then, today is not tomorrow and I have not seen my tomorrow. On the other hand, they have seen their tomorrows much in advance in their pasts. So, the contrary opinions need to be kept in suspension mode until I see my tomorrow.

It is accepted that there are different subjects and specializations within subjects. In this vein, training to be bureaucrats gives a fresh experience, which is a bit different from what we learnt in universities.

If we follow the aforesaid general argument, it is a transition from poetry to prose. The topics related to office procedures, fundamental rules and regulations of the government service, financial matters etc., which are taught in the training programme, are a means to really feel the working conditions of government office.

The anecdotes, related to their service period, narrated by the trainers are really exciting. They prepare the probationers for their future postings and duties.

But then bureaucracy is not a new term, especially for the sociology students. Though the term is French in origin, it is an old administrative system practiced in Imperial Rome, China and many monarchies.

It is generally characterized by behaviour which are prescribed and controlled through the enforcement of rules, a hierarchy representing a chain of command, promotion based on competence, creation of continuous and full time employment, clearly defined job duties and documentation and record keeping.

A name, which comes to mind, is Max Weber who regarded bureaucracy as a rational legal way of administration. This knowledge about bureaucracy came much before the current training. In other words they were part of what we call academics.

In common usage, especially in Manipur, even within academic circle, when a speaker wants to say something not directly related to day-to-day life, he says, 'academically speaking'. This is the starting point of misinterpretation or misunderstanding or non-understanding of the very word 'academic'.

If we go back to the question of bureaucracy, the different facets of bureaucracy taught in the training are not diametrically opposite ot what we learn in subjects like sociology. So, it is substantiated that theory cannot be established in vacuums.

They have to be based on the empirical world. If there is no connection at all between the two, then why there is much debate on the truth and falsity of a theory? This will alert those who use the word 'academic' very loosely and clumsily.

Bureaucracy today is not that respectable among some who think ideology cannot be connected to practice. For them it is synonymous with red-tapism, chamchagiri, and abuse of power. They think that it is an unnecessary evil.

They are always ready to shout against the system, no matter how good the system does. They think any self-respecting person should not be in bureaucracy. The basic question remains, will only being critical all the time without giving better alternative and shout from outside solve the problems?

Instead of creating an imaginary wall between academics and bureaucracy, there should be a mutual transaction of ideas and actions. After all bureaucracy is not a den of devils, if one is determined to stick to his basic principles.

One more issue in hand is the applicability/non-applicability of the specialized knowledge, studied by the probationers in universities, to the duties they are given according to their cadres. Some subjects might not have direct applicability.

For instance, an engineering graduate may not be able to use her/his technical knowledge in financial dealings when she/he joins Manipur Finance Service cadre. But then life is not all finance and accounts. There is life beyond them.

Again those who are interested in theatre, music, painting etc. may still pursue their passion along with the particular service they join. This depends on how much one is determined and able to take up multi-tasking.

Poetry is as real as prose and academics as practical as bureaucracy. Life is not constituted by matters and mundane dealings alone, there is also much space for fictions, imaginations and irrationality.

The curtain (a metaphor) between them is an osmotic one, if not hollow.

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* Kshetrimayum Imokanta Singh, Manipur Finance Service (MPSC); Submitted Ph.D. Thesis to JNU, contributes regularly to e-pao.net . The writer can be contacted at kimokanta(at)yahoo(dot)com . This article was webcasted on October 17th, 2007.


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