OFFICE CHAIRS: ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS A CHAIR By Bhamidipati Ramagopalam

There is a cartoon by Bapu, the remarkable artist of our times. Probably many of you have seen it. Yet I need to articulate it in words here since I am no good at drawing and also because Bapu himself is inimitable. The cartoon was about an officer. While he was on his usual rounds one day, part of his supervision of the staff, he noticed a huge pile of files on one desk, and said to his next in command, “Clear this mess. Find the clerk underneath and send me a proposal to fire him.”
I managed to keep my position safe by staying up late and finishing the files. One time however I was caught by my manager. My chair was the reason for me being in that awkward situation. The woven plastic threads, not the back but, of the seat had a hole in the center. As the hole got bigger it became uncomfortable to sit on and so I put a cardboard on my seat. The cardboard started giving in for my weight and so I kept adding old papers, used newspapers, and the magazines my houseguests left behind. I could save the modesty of my chair in that manner for a while. I wouldn’t have gotten into trouble if I had not stood up per custom when our officer came for his usual rounds. But I did stand up and there followed a huge hullabaloo.

My manager yelled, “Why is that chair like that? What is that pile? If you throw in all the files under bottom like that, how could we get the job done?” and, he made me pick up all the papers. That’s it. I was as much stunned as he was. It was not a small hole anymore. The entire weaving broke into small bits and formed a cave in the place of my blissful seat.
“I cannot say the fact that you working in my office are shameful but having a chair like that here certainly is. Send it for repairs at once,” he said.
“Yes, sir. But we don’t have permission for repairs,” I replied politely.
“Did you apply for permission?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” I said and showed him the file. He finished reading it in a split second even as he stood there (he is sharp). The file read as follows:
1. Sir, I respectfully submit that my chair was torn and permission may be granted for repairs (Memo dt. April 4.).
2. This request was denied since our budget for repairs of chairs for this year was used up (Maintenance Supervisor. Memo dt. April 10.).
3. Since new allocations will be made next financial year, make a note to remind me (Our Section Supervisor. Memo dt. April 12.).
4. It’s getting very uncomfortable to sit on this chair, and therefore, I am requesting to reconsider. The expense may be met from miscellaneous expense account (That’s me. Dt. April 24.).
5. It’s permitted to meet the expense under the miscellaneous expense account. However there is a rule stating that we need to call for tenders for such odd jobs also. We need the manager’s permission for calling tenders and he is currently at a camp. Therefore resubmit your request after 15 days (Assistant Manager. Memo dt. April 29).
6. I understand the Manager returned from camp and therefore I am resubmitting my request (May 16.).
7. Before calling for tenders, we must assess the total needs of all the sections—how many chairs in each section need repair, and consolidate our needs. If we arrange for repairs of only one chair now, tomorrow somebody else will raise the same question and then someone else …and thus it goes on forever. Then just reviewing all these requests by itself becomes a bigger headache for our Manager and then the real work suffers (Deputy Manager. Memo dated June 12.).

At the end we received a memo as follows:
Ladies and Gentlemen: The purpose of this memo is: Each section head is requested to submit a proposal identifying the chairs that needed repairs of backs and seats, make a list of the numbers noted on the chairs, and their users, and any other useful information; the proposals must be submitted to the undersigned within fifteen days from the date of this memo. You are requested to note that this memo has been drafted specifically to review the repairs of the damaged backs and seats of chairs as a special case regardless of budget allocation. In the case of those sections from which we have not received response within 15 days, it will be noted that those sections did not have chairs needing repairs. (From me. Dt. June 4.).

“Excellent! You have created a superb story. I must admit you have a great brain,” our manager complimented me. Then he asked me if I had received responses from all the section heads.
“We will receive their responses the 14th day from the date of this memo. Until then, this will not be considered urgent,” I told him.

Since the manager stood in front of my seat alone for nearly ten minutes, my work suffered. Since the other staff members in our section were enjoying the scene, their work also came to a standstill. Additionally, in the lobby the number of visitors waiting for the manager was growing by the minute. Therefore, he decided to leave but stopped. He called out for the peon and ordered him, “Remove this chair from here and throw it in the storage. Bring one good chair from the lobby and put it here.”

After 15 days, a sum of 504 rupees toward labor costs and a sum of 320 rupees toward the cost of plastic thread were sanctioned for repairs of 42 chairs.

I was proud that I could be instrumental in serving a social purpose—taking care of not only my problem but several others’. A proverb came to my mind—when a woman who was howling for a husband got a husband, so also the woman who did not, also got one.
[End]
²²²
(Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, January 2004)

(The Telugu original, “anagaa, anagaa, oka kurchi” was published in the anthology “Saradaa kathalu” (fun stories) by Bhamidipati Ramagopalam. Visakhapatnam: Jyeshtha Literary Trust, 1995. 2d ed. 2001.).

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