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Friday, July 6, 2012

The tombstones

One of the most interesting and hilarious aspects of railway working is the penchant among officials for attaining immortality by getting their names engraved in stone plaques placed ceremoniously during inauguration and foundation ceremonies. And quite unlike the systems elsewhere in the country, the railway stones generally have names of bureaucrats who may have had nothing to do with the project, except parking their backsides on high chairs and being present during the ceremonies.

And so my divisional office had over a hundred of such plaques for as insignificant an activity as renovation of a urinal and putting tiles in offices. The one incident that really had me in splits was when one of the senior officers was found searching for the plaque carrying his name that during his tenure as the head honcho was cemented on a wall for a shoddy renovation of the control office, but unfortunately was consigned to scrap during my plaque removal drive that began with an order restricting the engraving of my name on plaques.

The matter engraved on the plaques is extremely interesting at times. While it invariably has at the top the name of the bloke doing the honors, it also has names of a couple of blokes who matter and witnessed the sacred ceremony in a dignified way, that is what the plaque generally says. And that leads me to wonder whether others including the guys who did the actual work and the rest of the invitees had an undignified presence. I would really love to be apprised of how does one make an undignified presence at such ceremonies for that is what I intend to do in the future.

Perhaps this penchant to have names carved in stone is borne out of a desire to attain immortality and recognition by future generations without even twiddling the thumb. Pseudo immortality by shady means is how a sensible guy would look at it. The rapid proliferation such acts however gives confidence that future generations of such seekers of immortality would not spare any opportunity, even those of provision of new taps, flushing cisterns or commodes to carve their names in stone.

My visit sometime back to a heritage hill railway shocked me. Massive plaques adorning heritage structures had fallen terribly short of the professed objective because the plaques glorified the officials who were responsible for putting the plaque and not those who built the structure itself. Well a hundred years later, history would stand distorted when the names on the plaque would be mistaken for the names of the engineers who built the structure. Well this act is rather mild when compared to the inauguration of dustbins and toilet blocks by ministers, even in the capital city of Delhi. Such ceremonies definitely attract a lot of sniggers, but what are few sniggers in the quest for immortality.

My occasional walk in the railways eco-park is also made interesting by the very large number of plaques that adorn the campus almost everywhere, plaques that commemorate greens, toilets and stores, besides the gymnasium and restaurant blocks. It appears that the intense competition for recognition among the various past presidents of the complex led to such a spree in the installation of plaques.

I just am not able to appreciate this great national pastime of laying foundation and inaugural stones for almost about everything under the sun. Is it not the job of organizations to provide basic infrastructure like roads, public toilets or railway lines?. Why the hell do we then lay foundation or inaugural stones for carrying out routine obligatory functions. Or is it that the Indian society has become so bankrupt of achievements that even a toilet block or a new dustbin is considered a national achievement that should be celebrated. I am however not deriding these stones totally. Definetely we should lay foundation and inaugural stones for eight lane highways, power stations, fertilizer plants, large factories or if my imagination runs wild, say a new quadrilateral for the railways. These would definitely be achievements of stature and the builders or dreamers of them would deserve immortality, but not those of toilet blocks, dustbins or boundary walls.

If my point of view were to prevail, I would place an immediate ban on laying of any type of stone other than the tombstone. Let people be known and remembered for what they have achieved in life or contributed to the society, rather than by having their names engraved in granite or marble stones for petty acts.


  1. let our time come. we will collect and put them in a Hall of Shame :)

  2. Most of the time the actual malice does not lie with the people whose names we find on the plaques. The system is run by the bunch of sycophants, who have not much to offer by way of work to glorify the top boss, this is by far the easiest way out.
    The problem lies with the lower and middle management who have never risen above the ordinary, I have had a DRM whos equation with the BOs depended upon who gave him how many gifts and of what value...i was at the bottom of his list, a position i maintained till his tenure lasted. The change in your case is driven down from the top, as is usual for our organisation, however the change to tackle this problem has to come from the bottom.

    Vikas Arya

  3. I do agree with Vikas here... but the blokes with their names on blokes can't be absolved of their share in the 'crime'. it their their silly desire for cheap publicity/'immortality' that drives them to seek and others to provide 'glory' in such incredibly stupid 'achievements'. The day one enters Railway, the days are full of seeing these blokes brag and others nod and join in fake appreciation...and one wonders, 'can't they see thru the sham?' or 'have they really started believing this lie?'