I have during the past few days been the victim of torture, the likes of which is inflicted on the people of Pakistan day in and day out. It was my misfortune that I had occasion to visit a few government offices to fulfil some legal and regulatory formalities. I was shunted from one room to another for two weeks and must have penned in forms, enough to fill a trunk. At the end of it all, I was given a printed piece of official paper smeared with at least five different stamps and an equal number of squiggles that represented signatures.

Before leaving the dark and smelly building, my journalistic curiosity got the better of me and I asked a responsible official as to why did the issue of a single page simple document entail so much bureaucratic activity and paper work. The response forced me to take a fresh perspective on the functioning of government offices meant for public service. My conclusion was that while corruption and inefficiency constituted fifty percent of the picture, the other fifty percent was the result of our own doing.

I was informed that paperwork for, let us say, registering a power of attorney issued by an overseas legal office and verified by the Pakistani Mission there, was a much shorter affair some years ago. It was then realised that cases of fraudulent and criminal nature related to this particular document had increased manifold. Instead of better police work and deterrent punishment, the government decided to introduce ‘checks and balances’ that turned a simple hour’s procedure into a weeks-long nightmare.

To make matters worse, the checks and balances failed to reduce or eliminate fraud. On the contrary, the long-drawn and complicated paperwork created new windows of opportunities for corruption. In a nutshell, it would perhaps not be far wrong to state that half of what happens to us, in a government office to complete some necessary formality, may partially be the result of our own lack of character and conscience.

I don’t think that we will ever see the day when ‘mug shots’ cease to decorate our roads and buildings in a bid to impress a passing VVIP such as the Head of our Executive. So warped has our sycophantic psyche become that we consider the practice necessary in order to register our loyalty and faithfulness. So refined has the art become that the size of the photograph and the font signifies the hierarchy, precedence and status of the person endeavouring to impress the passing dignitary.

I happen to know an individual, who is a fit case to be awarded a post graduate degree as Master of Sycophantic Sciences. Take for example the time when he planned to receive the object of his ‘devotion’ during an inspection tour by sprinkling rose water on the short stretch of the drive leading up to the main door. Not content with this arrangement, he also arranged a group of children to shower rose petals on the visitor. To his bad luck, the VVIP changed his program in favour of a better option. It took almost a week for the short-changed victim to get out of a severe bout of depression.

I once asked a psychologist as to why this phenomenon was so rife amongst us. His response was direct and logical. In his opinion, our feudal culture coupled with colonisation may have created the ‘durbari’ trait in our character. The trait itself may have found fertile ground because of our genetic hospitality and respect for elders – a notion that was generically positive had it not mutated to subservience and fawning.

During my professional career, I have spent much time in the ‘mofussil’, a term denoting ‘the field’, where I always tried to draw a line between hospitality and sycophancy. Regretfully enough, it gave me a reputation for being unkind and lacking respect for other’s feelings. I now look up to the new generation of young professionals to resist seduction by sycophancy – for this is a cancer that needs to be eradicated if we want to join the ranks of the civilised world.