At the Pearly Gates
THOUGH he sang and danced his way into the hearts of millions of fans and was featured in Oscar-winning films like "An American in Paris'', I always associated Gene Kelly with the dashing D'Artagnan, the role he played in MGM's "Three Musketeers''. So was Clark Gable. For all his versatility, to me, he was the Rhett Butler of "Gone With the Wind''. And more recently, though he played the lead role in "Richard Nixon'' and other powerful films, I could never think of Sir Anthony Hopkins as anyone but the evil genius, Dr. Hannibal Lecter of "The Silence of the Lambs''.
Thus, some weeks back, when the media reported the death of British actor, Sir Nigel Hawthorne, I had a vision of the British bureaucrat, Sir Humphrey Appleby leaving White Hall and making his way to the world above. I can never forget Sir Nigel in the role of the oily, scheming, voluble bureaucrat in that brilliant British satire, "Yes Minister'' and "Yes Prime Minister''. Sir Nigel's death was widely reported in the Indian media. I wanted to pay an unusual tribute to him, not by a flattering obit, but by an imaginary meeting between Sir Humphrey and Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates of Paradise. I had to do it because I cannot think of Sir Nigel as anyone but Sir Humphrey.
Place: Pearly Gates, Heaven. On a light day, St. Peter is relaxing. An aide comes rushing in.
Aide: Sir, there is someone at the Pearly Gates who wants special entry. Speaks a language that I do not understand. Says his name is Sir Humphrey Appleby.
Peter: Ah, ha, at last! This should be interesting. Send him in, I can understand his language. After all, we have a bureaucracy here. (Enter Sir Humphrey with the usual smirk on his face.)
St. Peter: Oh, it's you. Took your own sweet time, eh? I thought you had gone to the other place. Sit down.
Sir Humphrey: Well, you know how it is. There were so many well established procedures to be followed in a case like this where a Permanent Under-Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary who had a Principal Private Secretary under him, along with 10 Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under-Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries finally had to shift. Committees had to be formed, existing rules checked, new rules explored before it was decided where I should go and when. All this takes time and that is why I was late. It would be in the fitness of things that looking back on my contribution, I mean, what I had achieved, that I gain a special entry to this place.
St. Peter: A special entry! Why, is there a ruling on this?
Sir Humphrey: Of course. Notwithstanding the provisions of sub section (3) of Section A of Clause 214 of the Administrative Procedures Act of 1878, it had been agreed that, insofar as the implementation of the statutory provisions is concerned, the resolutions between anomalies and uncertainties between responsible departments, do not forbid such an entry.
St. Peter: Should we consider this a policy matter?
Sir Humphrey: Well, I am sure there are people above you who make policy decisions and people like you to carry them out. We did it often from where I came from. After all, this place needs people like us. When the chips are down, St. Peter, when the balloon goes up and the lights go out, there has to be someone to carry on the government even here, when everything stops.
St. Peter: But I don't know if I have the powers to grant you a special entry.
Sir Humphrey: Then you can get cracking on the issue. Take the matter to the ministerial committee here, and then you can go ahead to the official committee. After that, it is plain sailing, straight to the cabinet committee and then once more to the cabinet.
St. Peter: But then, we need to investigate your case. Even vet you. We also have rules here, you know!
Sir Humphrey: Let me explain this. If there had been investigation, which there hasn't or not necessarily, or I am not at liberty to say if there has, there would have been a project team, which, had it existed, on which I cannot comment, would have been disbanded had it existed, and the members returned to their original departments, had there been indeed any such members. Or words to that effect.
St. Peter: I think I will have a taste of manna. I wish you would ask a straight question on this matter.
Sir Humphrey: St. Peter, if I am pressed for a straight question, I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another, in terms of the average of departments, then in the last analysis, it is probably true to say that, at the end of the day, you will find, in general terms that, not to put too fine a point on it, there really was not very much in it, one way or the other. That is why it is imperative that the issue of special entry is pushed through, acted upon, immediately, without any further delay, leaving aside procedural matters on the validity of the question about any precedence here.
St. Peter: I get it, Sir Humphrey. We shall certainly decide on the issue of your special entry. In due course. In the fullness of time. At the appropriate juncture. When the moment is ripe. When the requisite procedures have been completed. Nothing precipitate, you understand?
Sir Humphrey (with new-found respect in his voice): Yes, St. Peter!
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