The stagnated air filled with the pricky smell of phenol and urine stands heavy in those murky corridors of the run-down building complex, which houses prominent Government offices, a stone-throw distance from the power centre of the State where the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary of the State is holding their prestigious plushy offices. The dimly lit, shabby narrow passenger lift was full of people, and we somehow managed to squeeze into it to find our way to meet a prominent officer in the Department of the Government of Kerala to discuss an official matter. At the end of a bumpy ride on the lift, we successfully landed on the fourth floor to surprise ourselves with a heap of debris welcoming on the neglected verandah. Being on time is a wonderful thing, but that feeling was short-lived on us as we couldn’t trace out the said office even after several earnest attempts. Fortunately, we located another office just opposite the said strip and, being eager to be on time for our scheduled meeting at 10 AM, asked for the location of the ‘missing’ office from a person who was curiously searching for his soul in a newspaper. Without even raising his head to look at our faces, he helped us by showing us a stairway which could lead us to one floor below. Sighed with relief, we rushed through the stairway, thanking our capacity to hold our breath to save us from the stinging odour that filled that passage. But to our dismay, we lost again miserably and, to save ourselves, courageously stepped into the reception of another government office which was deserted even at a time past 10. AM. Throwing an angry face at us for disturbing her deep concentration from the Instagram reels, the government employee had irritatingly ignored our query about our destination and to our disappointment, she nodded and went back to her reels to find her solace deep in it. Being clueless and a bit tensed about our pre-scheduled meeting, we crossed the walkway and rushed through the middle of another government office, where we could see only empty seats, even at ten past fifteen. We then managed to pop our heads through the big banners placed throughout the verandah, a few expressing deep grief on the demise of Oommen Chandy while another few calling strikes and on numerous other matters alien to us.
You can’t imagine our happiness when we could finally find the said office at the end of that tunnel, and our legs pulled us faster to the room of the officer, who had been waiting for us for the last fifteen minutes. Being a bit ashamed of missing the scheduled meeting time, we tried to enter his den, which was ramshackle, hardly 25 sqft cardboard box-like, accommodating a very old wooden table with broken edges and a grimly cushioned hand-broken chair on his side, two handle-less plastic chairs on the visitors' side. The small table was suffocating with many dusty files and suffering from the weight of one CPU carrying one old LED screen over it and another damaged screen which had no reason for being there. We pulled in one more plastic chair from the other room and squeezed into the room to start the discussion, but the China wall made of CPU and the LED screen blocked our faces during the conversation. I managed to stretch my neck to the maximum to see his face and struggled to keep my presence throughout the meeting. I felt sad about the plight of the wall-mounted fan, struggling to rotate his wings and push some air through the grills covered with dust, cobwebs and much more. I looked for my handkerchief to wipe out the sweat from my forehead and cursed myself for not keeping it handy, but at the same moment, I felt a bit relaxed on seeing more sweat on the foreheads of others who were sharing the same plight as mine. Within those limited infrastructures, the said officer extended a patient ear to our issues, offered solutions and wished the best to us. Hurriedly, we finished the meeting in fifteen minutes, which felt like fifteen long hours, and jumped out to gasp a share of fresh air from the streets. While carrying ourselves through the same shabby, shady, lifeless corridors filled with debris, banners and filth, my mind goes to that officer who works in that cage-like room, which is harder than a lifetime of imprisonment.
The Housing Board Building, which accommodates many Government Offices under its sleeve, is a true reflection of poorly maintained public infrastructure, which is directly affecting the productivity and creativity of a resourceful person. One who is destined to work in such kind of atmosphere cannot attend his office dutifully and treat his visitors diligently. If they become grumpy and tight-faced with those approaching them, the blame is on our system for treating them like prisoners. The same building can be managed in a better manner, if the Government could give some more care in maintaining it, more conscious use of the facilities by the offices and its employees and more diligent use by the public who are the real beneficiaries of those facilities.
Bijoy P Pulipra