Indian bureaucrats began working a five-day week this summer, down from six. Predictably, they complained about the extra day off because it meant they were expected to make up the time by coming earlier each morning and staying later at night.
Their complaints triggered an outpouring of vitriol against the civil servants, showing that many Indians think "babus," as the bureaucrats are known, are lazy louts who waste their days with tea breaks and do little to help the average citizen.
Indian civil servants are considered the ultimate paper-shufflers. Typically, they work in cramped offices with a ceiling fan blowing papers around on desks piled high with dusty files.
They are sticklers for form, which means they often return papers because of minor mistakes. They hate to take any action that could get them in trouble. Files get passed from bureaucrat to bureaucrat without a decision being made.
Indians aspire to a civil servant's job because of the security it provides in a country where work is scarce.
Ironically, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ordered the extra day off to make the government run more efficiently.
"But what they cannot do in six days, can they do in five?" asked A. Raghu Ram of Calcutta in a letter published in The Statesman, an English-language daily.
Rajinder Puri, in a satire published in the Hindustan Times, said the "babus" don't have enough time in a five-day week to plan their long weekend, let alone do any work.
"Immediately upon reaching office, I took out pencil and pad and started planning my weekend . . . . I worked on planning my weekend till the tea break at 11 o'clock. After just an hour's break, during which I discussed the coming weekend with other colleagues, I went back to planning my own weekend," Puri wrote, quoting a fictitious "babu."
But the "babus" had their side of the story.
An assistant in the Home Ministry told the Indian Express that he rushes so much to get to work by his new 9 a.m. starting time that "there is not even a minute to relax" in the morning.
"I now have to wake up at 5:30 instead of 6:30," added a stenographer. "I find the new timings a little inconvenient."
Many here, however, believe that the real reason behind the complaints is that civil servants prefer to spend Saturdays in their cooler offices rather than their sweltering homes in the heat of Delhi's summer.
ONE OF THE greatest surprises to a visitor returning here after an absence of almost three years is the proliferation of new car models in a country that previously had only two.
The sportiest is the new Maruti, really a Japanese Suzuki that is assembled tinkertoy-fashion in a factory on the outskirts of the city.
Eventually, India intends to make the entire car and all its parts here, using a plant that Prime Minister Gandhi's late brother, Sanjay, erected in the 1970s in an ill-fated effort to build a "people's car."
The Maruti has more pickup than the two cars that have dominated Indian roads for almost three decades -- the Ambassador and Premier. Already Marutis are causing problems for other Delhi drivers because they are so easy to wheel in and out of traffic.
The Maruti has become a status symbol, but its lack of back-seat leg room has brought it into conflict with another Indian status symbol: a paid driver.
Opting for both means a cramped ride. On the other hand, owners like the feel of a Maruti so much that some are willing to do without a driver.
This is a far cry from the unwieldy Ambassador, which is stamped from the dies of a 1950-vintage Morris Minor and has been made here ever since with only minor modifications.
It handles like a truck and has room for a driver up front and three persons squeezed in the back. The slightly sportier Premier is stamped from dies bought from Fiat in the 1960s.
"Driving an Ambassador has been likened to a crash course in driving a tank. The Premier has been described as a car in which everything makes noise but the horn," wrote Swaminathan S. Aiyer in the Indian Express newspaper.
Neither is cheap. The clunky Ambassador costs about $7,500 while the Premier sells for about $7,000. The Maruti, on the other hand, costs about one-third less -- a reasonable $4,700.
But only 300 roll off the assembly line a month, not nearly enough to meet the demand, which is backlogged for a year.
Other Indian companies are setting up collaborations with Japanese car makers, hoping to cash in on the success of the Maruti.
Versions of Nissan and Isuzu cars are likely to be seen on the streets soon, along with a more luxurious Austin-Rover car, which would sell for an astonishingly high -- by Indian standards -- $15,000.
For years, Indian auto makers turned out just 46,000 cars a year for this nation of 735 million persons. With all these new deals, however, that could jump to nearly 200,000 cars.
While that number is hardly traffic-clogging by world standards, cars in India share the road with an astonishing variety of conveyances -- overcrowded buses, carts pulled by bullocks or camels, elephants, handcarts, motor scooters and the ubiquitous bicycles.
With no traffic enforcement to speak of, driving here is somewhat chaotic. In a two-hour period one morning, for instance, I saw two accidents and four near misses.
Predictably, the newly appointed Delhi police commissioner, Ved Marwah, announced a program "to introduce stricter road discipline." He will need the power of the bureaucracy behind him. The driving here makes red-light running in Washington look like child's play.
The main difference, though, is that cars in the United States can really do damage. Here, the cars are so underpowered that people walk away from many crashes without much harm.
The new models have now come along to change that.