Saturday, January 15, 2005

Of Languages, bureaucracy and computers

Languages provide a competitive advantage for the bureaucracy in India. A few days back at the local RTO (Regional Transport Officer) office, I was handed over a sheaf of forms in a local language. There were no translations available, said the glum face behind the "may i help you" desk.

Sure enough, 'helpful' translations of older versions of forms were provided, but there were no translations of any procedure.

Sure enough again, there were English versions at the kiosks below the building which housed the RTO. Of course, India has a uniform Motor Vehicles act. If someone could get all these forms and procedures online with a click to download versions in any language, the sand castles of these officers would crumble.

There is also a signboard which says "Do not approach middlemen", but true to their style, you do not have to approach middlemen, they approach you. Nothing like a few hundred rupees to "translate and facilitate" the myriad procedures of an RTO.

Knowing local languages, quirks and traditions can be a great competitive advantage (as can having a babelfish handy) as polyglots/travellers/businessmen would affirm.

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