Instructions from Yore!
By Shoaib Hashmi


It has long been known that when Robert McNamara became Defense Secretary to JFK, he was able to cut down many of the army's requirements by a goodly percentage. The Khakis are notorious shrinking violets where their stuff is concerned, but they did not make a peek and Bob made a name for himself. I know part of the secret, and here it is.
He looked closely at army manuals and found, for instance, that an artillery battery consisted of the canon and ammunition and five men. The first man cleaned the gun before firing by pulling a wad of cotton tied to a cord through the barrel. As the thing was 'Pulled Through' the barrel, naturally it came to be named 'Pull-Through'. The Punjabi version of it is called Phulltroo and you must admit compared to that the original is a wuss!
The second man poured the powder into the muzzle, the third put in the lead ball, and the fourth pulled the lanyard and fired the gun -- and for the life of them they couldn't find out what the Fifth man was supposed to do! They asked everyone from privates to five-star generals and no one could hazard even a guess. Finally they met up with a veteran of the Civil War. This war was fought in the mid-nineteenth century, before the advent of motorized transport, and of course he knew the answer -- the fifth man used to Hold the Horses!
That is one instance of the pitfalls of following ancient instructions blindly. Here at home for instance there is an act of 1866, which pertains to dramatic performances on stage, and other live presentations in general. By then the British colonial masters were getting a bit wary of the sentiments of the natives, and they decreed that you couldn't tout your opinions to the public before first having them whetted by the Deputy Commissioner.
No copy of the act is known to exist, but the authorities still blindly invoke it for their own purposes. If you want to perform Shakespeare's Hamlet on stage, you cannot until a clerk sitting in a back room at the office of the DC has read it, and made necessary cuts and changes. In my time I have had plays by Ibsen and Brecht disallowed, but I got away with 'No Sex Please, We're British' because I sent them the original without the title page.
In the Act a stage performance is called a 'Dance-Drama' and one clerk made that an excuse to censor musical compositions also. His boss, the DC was shamed out of that quickly because the clerk rejected the first piece of music that came to him as unsuitable for impressionable audiences due to 'Too much sax and violins'! He had trouble with English.
All this was brought to mind because a close friend, who has grown long in the tooth recently had to go collect his pension. Before they pay you, they get you to fill out a form, which is also clearly a leftover from times long immemorial and is copied hastily year after year by someone in the press. The form is called 'Whose left', and underneath it says, "This certificate is not required from pensioner of Straits Settlement and Hong Kong Government"! I wonder what the Chinese will think if they see one.
Actually it is a reasonable requirement as it asks the bank officer dishing out the money to certify that on the date of payment the pensioner is still alive and well; and in token of that the pensioner is asked to sign the form in his presence, and also affix his 'finger and thumb impression'. But then there is a cryptic proviso which goes on, "The thumb and finger impression need not be taken in the case of India Princes, European Ladies ..."! I guess that means that if you were an Indian Prince, you'd continue to get your pension even when you were dead as a dormouse. As Mel Brooks said, "It’s Good to be King".
In fact there is a further proviso which says: (Editors please don't change this, I have copied it most carefully and it is an exact copy):
"If the pensioner is a female not ac- customed to apper in public or male who is unable to appear at the trea-sury in consequence of bodily bill ness osenufirmity, the not should be station in the life"?????


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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