Sunday, February 05, 2012

'Offical" and "star" birthdays

Many years back, I decided I would call up my colleagues on their birthdays and greet them. The system was simple. The office had a data base of employee birthdays and my secretary would leave a reminder note on my table with the name of the colleague to be wished. To my dismay, invariably, after I had conveyed my greetings in the chirpiest tone possible, the other person would sheepishly tell me that this wasn’t his real birthday, only the ‘official’ one carried forward from his school records. His grandfather had given the wrong date to get him into school a year ahead. I gave up calling people.

This was quite common in the generation that was born till the ‘60s. Birth certificates were issued by the Corporation, but schools did not insist on the certificate for proof of birth date. They accepted the parents’ word. But the flip side was that these people who had advanced their birthdates were also pensioned off early.

It was only in the ’70s, I think, that it was made compulsory to obtain birth certificates and to produce them as proof.

So, when there is a controversy over the Army’s Chief’s actual date of birth and the one on record, those of my generation will readily understand the issue, though we may not sympathise with him. He got in a year early, and his tenure should be counted from that point, will be the general opinion.

If one is fudging one’s age , one should be careful to not to leave any trail, as in this incident narrated in the Open Page of The Hindu by P.M.Beliappa, a retired IAS officer. It involved the sitting Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Hon S.Ramachandra Iyer. At that time, the retirement age of Judges of High Courts was 60. The presumption therefore was that the sitting judge was aged below 60, until one day an invitation was received for the Shastiabadapoorthi (60 years) ceremony of the younger brother of the Chief Justice. By inference, therefore, the Chief Justice had crossed 60 years and had no business to be on the Bench!

An article quoted by Belliappa, summed it up thus:

“The question of the true age of S. Ramachandra Iyer surfaced as a major issue after he became Chief Justice of the Court. It was then believed that he had a fair chance of being called to the Supreme Court. The declaration of his age was found to be not true when his younger brother sent out invitations for celebrating the completion of his 60th year. He was known to be a competent judge, but competence and ability are not synonyms for ethical or moral conduct. Nor the presence of ability and competence assure also the presence of ethical conduct in the discharge of duties. It became the unenviable task of the then Chief Justice of India, P. B. Gajendragadkar, to ease him out of the position without much damage to the Institution. Really age has nothing to do with a person functioning as a judge. Nor has it anything to do with the administration of justice. But once an age of entry and exit is fixed misrepresentation of age becomes unethical and continuation on such representation does affect the administration of justice, not because he is past the age but because he misrepresented to extend his tenure.” Hon. Justice Iyer resigned in 1964.
That’s the crazy thing about Indians. They have no qualms in lying about the age to extend their career, but dare not violate the tradition of conducting their Shastiabdapoorthi celebrations on the day laid down in the Hindu calendar. Consistency is not our strong point.

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