My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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17 August 2015

When you keep me waiting, you keep me hating

It struck me just how much the government sees people as little insects—numbers on a file, to be pushed around and stamped and signed, but not actually like people, when I was asked to be witness to my friend’s court wedding. I went along full of great optimism, they only released 10 appointment slots a week, my friend said, so she had to sit up at midnight and book a coveted space. After that, she said it would be a four minute process, sign, stamp, sealed, married!

We arrived at ten to ten, because our appointment was at ten, and we wanted to make sure we had everything before we went in. The door to the sub-magistrate’s office was still closed and bolted, but we assumed he’d get there in ten minutes. After some signing, filling out a form (a different form, my friend tells me, from the one they had her fill out online, thereby adding one extra step to the red tape), we sat on the hard chairs outside, swinging our legs and waiting for the man in charge.

We waited.

And waited.


And waited.

Until it was quarter to eleven, and no sign of this man. We went back inside to enquire how long he’d be. “Oh,” said the man with the papers, with absolutely no expression of guilt on his face, “He’s on a site visit. He’ll be back sometime between noon and four.”

This, disregarding the several people who were waiting there—not enough chairs meant a lot of people were standing, and the fact that they had everyone’s cell numbers on record when they took their appointment, so a simple message to the three or four people (out of ten!) who were waiting, would not have been that much extra work for any of the paunchy men standing outside, looking bored and disinterested in life.

The problem with this country is that no one places any value on your time as an asset. Delivery men call at all hours and say, “Oh are you home today?” as if your entire day is dependent on them and not the other way round. You then spend a day you could be running errands or stepping out of the house, just waiting. Waiting for the broadband man to come and fix your wiring, four hours after he promised. Waiting for a government service you’re paying for, because the people in charge have decided making you wait is a way of them showing off their power.

Of course it is about power, mostly. The more you can make someone wait, the more you can indicate your senior position compared to them. It’s a common business trick, but is the man sitting on the other side of the desk, picking his teeth and drinking another cup of tea going to pay you the two rupees or five rupees or unquantifiable amount your time is worth? He is not. So, by waiting, you’re wasting massive amounts of money as well, if you consider your productive hours and how much you get paid and how much work you’d be doing for those extra four hours you have to sit around at someone else’s whim.

In the end, we went out and got a bite to eat, and returned when we were called at noon, but then the waiting began again. We waited and waited and waited, and finally my friend had enough. She kicked up a fuss asking the men who worked there why no one was willing to give her an answer, why they thought it was okay to make everyone sit around for so long. The people gathered around to watch her, mouths agape. It was the most exciting thing that had happened all day. Furiously, my friend, her new husband, and the two of us witnesses, following fascinated in her wake, barged into a meeting where she made the same points again, and wouldn’t you know it, by kicking up a fuss, the sub magistrate decided he was ready to stamp some papers after all right that moment. Great message to send society. Sit quietly and nothing will happen. Shout at people and doors open.

Maybe it’s because “people like us” are more entitled, and more aware of our time that we decide it’s our right to storm into offices and demand to be seen. Certainly no one else there was doing anything, though their waiting faces took on a hint of desperation. My friends are both lawyers, so it’s unlikely that anyone could have threatened them with bad paperwork as a result of their rocking the boat, but not everyone is so fortunate. We met a woman as we were walking out of the office finally, and she turned to my friend and said, “Thank you for saying that. I did that last time, and my matter got even more delayed.” It turned out they had been seeking a resolution for the same case since 1958. 

(A version of this appeared as my column in

(I made up the title myself, and now I think it should become a common proverb)


  1. I sooo agree with your post. I had a similar experience at the RTO a couple of weeks back, where they had impounded my car and even after paying lifetime tax (again!) for another state we were made to wait for 6 hours just so the official signs the release papers. It was only after kicking a fuss that we got someone to sign the papers and got away without having to pay any "under the table" money. I guess that is the only way it works in these Govt offices!

  2. Why just in govt offices, even in private hospitals. Discharge of a patient is delayed for hours. We were told that they will discharge my MIL after giving the evening injection. then when they handed over the discharge summary i came to know that we have to give her the same injection for the next 2 days twice daily. My question to them was if you thought we were capable of doing that for next two days, why did you think we were not capable of giving the evening dose. They just gave us a blank stare, charging us for 1 extra day of stay, with no extra nursing service, no doctor visit after 8 am just plain waiting till 6 pm for the injection. Turns out that at 6pm the staff nurses were busy with an emergency accident case and we brought the patient home without even giving the much awaited injection.


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