Waiting for the file

I had established a camaraderie with the tracers during my previous work experience with the consulting group hired to oversee the revision of the DP, which allowed me to share in their inside jokes and language, despite being one of the few women in this space. On an early day of my fieldwork in 2017, I was determined to finally ask them directly about their work routine and the many different kinds of people hanging around them all day. I was curious about their relationship with their superiors and the general politics that seemed to be shaping the changing nature of their job. I was consistently met with a returned curiosity centered on what it was that I was doing. It seemed inconceivable to them that anyone could be interested in understanding their day-to-day activities. In his typical gossipy fashion, Gaikwad leaned over to me and, with a perplexed look on his face, would routinely ask me, “Kya hoga yeh sab seekh ke? Paisa milega kyaa?” (What is the point of doing this work? Will you get money for it?). I had explained to them on a previous occasion that I was doing my PhD and was funded for the duration of my fieldwork. He completely disregarded this and went ahead to say “Naukri milaa kyaa yehaan? Architect ke pass jaakar kaam kar lo – tum bhi liaisoner ban jao – bahut paisa milega” (Go and ask an architect for a job, you will get a lot of money – become a liaisoner). This prompted me to ask Gaikwad: what is it that these liaisoners do? Who are they? With a smile he said, “Joota silai se leka rchandi path – sab kartehai” (They do everything around here – from stitching shoes to reading prayers), alluding to the occupational associations of the liaisoners’ various castes (from low, working with shoes, to Brahmin priests) and evading any discussion of their bureaucratic function.

As he said this, he pointed to the cubicle adjoining the tracers’ station that I had at that point thought to be an unused space left vacant by the tracers. There were, though, a few men sitting there, staring at their phones (or pretending to), talking in hushed tones. This, I learned, was the designated cubicle for the liaisoners, functioning as a kind of waiting room-cum-office for these agents to prepare their papers, share thoughts, or simply wait for the relevant officer whose attention they sought to capture. Gaikwad was telling me to join them and ‘ask for a job’. While Gaikwad was simply trying to rid himself of my attention, I took this opportunity to meet these quiet men. Lined with cupboards stuffed with maps accumulated over the decades and with paper strewn everywhere, the cubicles had signs taped around saying ‘Please do not sit idle’. On this first visit, there were at least five men doing exactly that – sitting idle. As I cautiously walked up to them, armed with my little notebook, a few of them glanced up at me, the rest uninterested. I asked about liaisoning with a set of quick questions: what it involved and how it was done. They patiently listened to me and then returned their eyes to their phones.Finally, after I persisted, one man responded, “madam, aap aayenge na phir kal – kal baat karte hain” (you will come here again tomorrow right? Let’s talk then.). I returned to my original position at the tracers’ station, thwarted.

I develop this in much detail in Chapter 1 of the Dissertation