C.K. Meena battles with Bangalore bureaucracy and the sweltering summer heat and lives to tell the tale

Sarsaparilla, anyone? “Sar-say what?” I can hear many of you exclaim at what might sound like the prating of a mind unhinged by an (as I write this) unrelenting 36 Celsius. Some of you, though, would be familiar with this cooling herb used to make a refreshing summer drink which, I admit, not many would find palatable, given its characteristically oily consistency. But when one has been driven from pillar to post by a host of government departments one has no option but to stagger in a daze towards the nearest bottle which, in my case, happened to be sarsaparilla concentrate bought in a spirit of charity at the Bengaluru Santhe beside the S.V. Road metro station. I found time, in between mopping my fevered brow and flicking through the essays of a palliative Stephen Fry, to scrutinise the label and discover that the syrupy brown liquid was manufactured at the venerable Khadi Gramodyog in Nanjangud district.

The magma of aggravation that erupted through the fissures of my patience to reach the volcanic crater of my intolerance (you can tell I’ve had a surfeit of Fry, can’t you?) was preceded by many a rumbling of discontent. In short, the heat had finally got to me. Now I am normally capable of challenging the most demonic sun, but this summer — perhaps as the result of my advancing years — I balked at venturing out before the sun’s rays lengthened. For the first time since we moved into our well-ventilated first-floor flat almost 20 years ago — and once again, perhaps as the r. of my a.y. — we turned on the fans in the living room the livelong day, and all night long in the bedroom as well. It was the kind of weather where, when the hairdresser asked you “just a trim, ma’am?” you gasped “really short”. The kind of weather that incited you to loll about indoors in shorts and spaghetti top. It was definitely not the kind of weather that invited you to pace the streets at high noon in order to tango with officials of various denominations.

It was a reluctant writer, therefore, who boarded a bus on the day after Yugadi (that the ticket was Rs 12 is germane to the story) to confront the BSNL about their dastardly act of slapping her with a ‘late fee’ in March when she had paid the February bill, as indeed she had all bills heretofore, well before the deadline. Of course I had the good sense to first pay the March bill at my usual Bangalore One outlet before heading towards the head office. The vigorous fan in the accounts section whipped the wall calendar about to face the wrong way so that it showed November. This sparked some banter among the staff, and when the officer turned it the right way around it was still wrong, for it displayed March. He tried to convince the others that he had deliberately not turned the sheet. “I didn’t want it to show April 1,” he said.

Hoping I wasn’t going to be made a fool of, I produced two months’ receipts as evidence of my diligence. After much staring at screens and inspecting of dates he agreed to ‘reverse’ the excess amount in April’s bill. Laying the blame for the error squarely on Bangalore One, he urged me to pay future bills at BSNL outlets instead. I then caught an a.c. bus, which cost me Rs 30. Kindly do the math, people. The ‘reversed’ amount I would save was roughly Rs 20. Perhaps I was a fool after all. April 1 wasn’t finished with me yet, as I found out when, in order to complete as many chores in one trip as possible, I stopped over at the local BBMP office to collect my property tax form. “We no longer receive property tax,” a man stated baldly. “You can get the form at Bangalore One.” Concluding that I had fulfilled my quota of government-public interface for the day, I went home pondering how BSNL was pulling me away from BO while BBMP was pushing me towards it.

I set out again, late morning, to the BO branch. The woman shook her head. “No forms,” she said. “You have to go to BBMP office.” That’s when I lost my shirt and got hot under the collar (mixing metaphors helps me amuse myself in such weather). I sweated my way back to BBMP, mentally composing nasty epithets, but the man’s chastened face made me bite back my curses. He sold me the form but told me I had to submit it at BO — by Demand Draft only, which meant an extra trip. To my local bank I had to go with a heigh nonny nonny. The BBMP website, however, assured me I could pay in cash at certain designated banks, one of which was situated nearby. Armed with form and cash, I battled the sun anew. “Can’t connect to BBMP. Network down.” Why was I not surprised?

The government has further plans to roast me. I have to vote, remember? That’ll be my next sunny outing — melting into a queue that slides down a toasty corridor into a baking room. But you won’t hear any complaints. It’s a cause worth frying for.