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Serious Busyness

To lack any public display of productivity seems a wasted opportunity to pinch the consciences of unproductive Dilliwalas...

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Serious Busyness
Serious Busyness

In a city packed with romantic buildings—stone tombs and zananas, centuries-old, each one thrumming with phantom echoes of love-songs, death-throes and emperors tumbling down stairs—the one building that always struck me as the most quixotic is not yet 50 years old. It stands, compact and upright, painted in a shade as glumly grey-green as any the CPWD ever mixed, and proclaims itself to all as Productivity House.

As everybody knows, P-house is a long rectangular building lying north-to-south at the junction of Lodi Road and Bhisham Pitamah Marg. Its northern façade, facing Lodi Road, has an external stairway that zigzags from floor to floor. Every time I pass it I am disappointed to see no tiny figures breathlessly running up and down it, hauling overflowing stacks of documents. I would even settle for the tableau, glimpsed through a window, of an employee bent ferociously over a keyboard. To lack any public display of productivity seems a wasted opportunity to pinch the consciences of unproductive Dilliwalas, of whom there are more than a few (however you define them—Adam Smith’s example of unproductive labour is the menial servant, for Marx it was the capital-owning class—either way, a lot of Delhi is sitting on its ass).

What Productivity House does have is The Sign. Additionally, it has an electronic marquee at ground level, which scrolls out vaguely threatening messages like "Knowledge is Limited." But all eyes settle on the sign. After all, there is a reason why Productivity House announces itself with large capital letters set high upon its brow: quite apart from what goes on in there, its mere existence is a message, a gentle reproach, what scholars call an illocutionary speech-act. Its presence puts a similar weight on the soul as a large, centrally-located Morality House might do, except that productivity, much more than morality, is a sensitive subject in the present age.
In fact, it seems likely that a great many of City Limits’ readers woke up this morning and swore to themselves and to God to be productive today—undoubtedly more than the number who promised to be honest, be punctual or be sober all combined. This being the case, I will resist the temptation to shout, "Get back to work!", and return to the subject of Productivity House. 
‘Utpadakta Bhavan’ is actually HQ of the National Productivity Council of India. The NPC’s website introduces it as "a national level organization to promote productivity culture in India." Snort! Good luck with that, guys! Their ambition makes the NPC seem heroically futile; it makes the sign on their building seem as poignant as a ‘wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command’ half sunk in the city’s listless dust. 

But hold on, poets and pessimists! According to the ILO’s global productivity report, the average labour productivity in India is growing by 3.7% every year! That is higher than just about everyone except those goddamned Chinese (and a scattering of other slave-states to our east). So, without ever doing more than idling at the red light in front of it, we can happily presume that the workshops, best-practices awards, and consultancies performed inside Productivity House—as well as its grey, frowning sign—are themselves as productive as they preach.

This article originally appeared in Delhi City Limits, December 2007

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