Wednesday 8 June 2011

Signing off for the niceties

By Marina Mahathir

Marina was pretending to be Lionel Messi in an office futsal match the other day and made a mess of it. Fell and fractured her left wrist in a few places and had to have an operation to insert a titanium plate in my hand. Do pray for her fast recovery - 1Christians

Civil servants, when writing to others, sign off with the phrase declaring themselves as servants of the people, their real masters in theory.

THE penny dropped for me the other night. It suddenly dawned on me that the ubiquitous sign-off “Saya yang menurut perintah” on government letters was in fact a translation of that quaint colonial bit of politesse, “Your obedient servant”.

While the latter may not have been meant at all sincerely (Humphrey the smarmy Chief Secretary in Yes Prime Minister comes to mind), still I find it fascinating that while we have studiously imitated all the administrative niceties of our former colonial masters, we have managed to go our own way on this little courtesy.

You see, “Saya yang menurut perintah” literally means, “I who obey orders”. This is not quite the same as “Your obedient servant” that should be translated as “Pembantu setia anda” or perhaps, more accurately, given the way we treat our helpers these days, “Hamba abdi setia anda”.

Not only are the words lost in translation, so is the sentiment behind them.

The English version, used by civil servants when writing to others, is meant to convey that they are servants of the people.

As I said, this may not be meant sincerely at all but, as the Brits would have it, correct form is everything.
Our version however begs the question: whose orders are you obedient to? Ostensibly, these should be orders by the government of the day and by extension, the people who voted them in.

We also pay the taxes that make the salaries of civil servants possible. And at over one million of them, that’s a lot of taxes.

But we all know that obeying their real masters, that is, us, is not really our civil service’s calling. So whose orders are they obeying?

It’s a valid question when you see so many cases where the people’s concerns seem to be dismissed in favour of, well, who knows?

For example, why are the residents of Gebeng’s worries about the Lynas rare earth plant hardly entertained? How is it, when we are supposed to become ever more developed, we are expected to hold ourselves to lower safety standards than Austra­lians?

When civil servants make life difficult for the people, what is that obedience for?

I read a sad story about someone who, finally, after years of trying, gave up staying in this country, where he was born and bred, because the family could not get their utilities fixed.

It might seem small but these are public amenities our taxes pay for, and we should not have to beg for them to be fixed. Why don’t we simply call ourselves a Third World country so that our expectations are not too high?

The other day I met someone who was so tired of trying to jump through the bureaucratic hoops trying to get his proposal approved that he went overseas to try and sell it. And did so with far less aggravation.
I can’t say whether his project has any merit, but I can understand his agitation at not being able to discuss facts and figures, merits and demerits without being passed from one clueless person to another.

So perhaps our bureaucracy ought to have a far more honest sign-off from now on. How about “Saya yang akan melambatkan (I who will slow things down)”?

Talking about obedience, every paper’s been abuzz about this obedient wives’ club this week. Talk about anachronistic; nobody has pushed this type of archaic concept since at least the 50s.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry to read of women degrading themselves like this, blaming everything on their own sex’s supposed inability to keep their men.

Life’s miseries are attributed to women smelling less than fragrant! Wow, who would have thought of that!
Not long ago, a male politician said the best Muslim wife is the one who would drop everything, undoubtedly even feeding the baby, every time hubby wants some nooky. He should be the patron saint of the OWC.

It does strike me as interesting that the guys who like to say these things are rarely the sort women would generally drop everything for. Do you think George Clooney ever has to even think about this?

I actually propose another club we women should join. It’s the Good Husband and Father Fan Club. Like any fan club, members will extol the virtues of the good husbands and fathers they know.

Hubbies who help at home and who do homework with their kids, for example, would qualify. If they are clean and smell nice, they would get lots of bonus points.

Each month there could be a Hubby and Father of the Month, and they would all compete for Hubby and Father of the Year.

And yes, their prowess in bed would also be a consideration.

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