Here is an incident I thought I should pen down in the light of all the issues facing India today, issues that have made our system sluggish. Years ago before I got into my present career as an actor I had dabbled in the show business arena where I freelanced as an anchor for live events. Among a variety of events ranging from beauty contests to lavish weddings, I would also occasionally get some interesting projects where I could learn on the job. One such was a multiday seminar conducted by the then Government of Karnataka where various Government Department Heads were required to make presentations on how they intended to improve its functioning and make it productive. All this solely because streamlining processes in the departments was a prerequisite by the World Bank if Karnataka wanted to get the loans it was applying for sanctioned.
What I am about to share now is from a slice of time over 14 years ago. Though a lot has changed since then, I still see vestiges of what alterations were on that day promised, at least for Karnataka. As the event progressed, speaker after speaker, what dawned on me was the utter ineptitude of those Heads of Departments who seemed to have risen to their positions only because of time bound promotions, quotas, strong political influences and the likes for not one of them would have survived if they were part of a corporate firm that lays onus on performance. Their presentations were boring, mostly irrelevant and downright pathetic. In the course of the different presentations was a speaker from the Regional Transport Office (RTO) and what he revealed that day made me form an impression of our administrators, which till today has not been altered. He started his presentation with the usual introduction and reached the point where he listed out issues that needed to be rectified. These as he then claimed were rules laid down by the department and had to be adhered to for vehicle owners to get certificates or permissions to ply on the roads and some of these laws dated back to before or when the Indian Republic was born.
The official made a reference to a sight all us Indians are accustomed to seeing written on the backs of the heavy vehicles plying on our Highways – ‘Horn OK Please’ and this is what I learned. When a vehicle was brought in for registration or renewal an official from the RTO inspected the vehicle to see if it conformed to all the rules before he signed on the papers to certify it. One of the rules that had to be adhered to, was the painted display of the text ‘Horn OK Please’ at the rare of the vehicle. So strict was the rule that failure to display the said text would result in either cancellation or denial of the certificate. No one knew how or why this prerequisite was a rule so the official making the presentation did what his predecessors many years earlier should have ideally done – he asked the question ‘why’. He discovered that this rule dated back to the time of the Indian Independence.
When the British left India they decided to liquidate their assets by selling them to the general public, many of which were heavy vehicles that were used by the then colonial army. We are all aware of our heavy vehicles today running on ‘Diesel’ as fuel but it so appears that another fuel that was widely used by heavy vehicles 65 years ago was ‘Kerosene’. Like how we today have the name of which fuel the vehicle is running on written next to the fuel tank, the rule was back then brought in to intimate the fuel station attendant that the vehicle he was about to fill up ran ON KEROSENE and this is how ‘OK’ was born. ‘OK’ meant ‘On Kerosene’. No one ever asked ‘why’ so years passed, kerosene motor vehicles became history but Horn ‘OK’ Please stayed mandatory outliving its purpose. It’s not surprising to me though, it’s in our DNA, considering we live in a society where we foolishly follow cultural and religious rituals blindly without ever questioning ‘why’. Jai Hind.