Traveling to a foreign land is always full of uncertainties if one is over thinker particular about petty matters and also happens to be acquainted with custom laws of the country one is visiting. A food item carried by one as meal at airport can be worrisome if it could not be consumed due to business in boarding and allied matters. If one goes through “Customs Declaration Form” for disclosing the items including food, in possession of the flier, everything one is carrying appear suspicious. What one will do with the left over food being carried inadvertently, is a million dollars question. Apparently, carriage of such eatables, though lacks mens rea, yet can put one to grave trouble. The other day, it was reported in the papers that a lady carrying an apple given as compliment by the flight attendant staff, was fined heavily on account of breach of custom laws although the country imposing penalty was a pass over destination and not the final one. Such incidents plus stringent custom laws generally cause worry and uncomfortable situation when one enters foreign land although one has taken all precautions not to contravene laws.
Being in the know of custom laws after its short study before departure, discomfort was still clearly writ on the face of Dev when plane landed. He was uncertain of the forthcoming events although he had completely complied with the provisions of applicable laws. Declaration form duly filled in, in his pocket, he along with his wife followed the fellow passengers presuming they were moving in right direction for custom clearance. Rightly, they were proceeding to the officials of custom clearance. There were his compatriots and other travellers from neighbouring Asian countries flown by some other plane that also reached about same time as his plane. Making sure that he had reached the correct place, he was asked to enter his particulars in the Computer though the particulars had already been described in the form kept in his pocket. Probably the system had been revised and made paperless thus obviating the need of the form.
To his disappointment, there were no instruction books to guide him how to enter the particulars in the Computer. Not being adept in data entry and also as he was in his twilight years with signs of wrinkles appearing on his face, he sought the help of a compatriot who himself was entering his particulars. He assured Dev he would help him after he finished his work. However Dev found that he was also struggling while entering the data, in such a situation, he preferred seeking help of custom official. A lady on duty was present there probably to help the travellers. When Dev requested in his Indianised English, she was able to understand his phonetics, presumably she must have been a settler here. Her accent proved, she was originally from some Latin American country.
There was a concern and worry on Dev’s face when he requested this lady official to enter his particulars in the Computer. However, she without reading the concern of a foreigner, replied that she would not enter the data but would provide him assistance in the form of instructions as how to enter the data. She gave him then some instructions while standing where she was and without going to the desk where the computer was kept. When Dev reached the computer, series of instructions given were not helpful as he still did not know how to proceed. He tried but in vain. He then looked for his compatriot for help, he had also already left.
He requested the lady official again to help him out of the situation but she did not budge. It appeared as if the computer was untouchable for her and she wanted Dev to try himself. His situation was similar to that of a driver who knew very well how to drive a vehicle but was unable to pass the driving test, as being illiterate, answering questions was beyond his skill. It is the question answering skill that matters in the driving test rather than the driving skill. Here also, it was his data entry skill that mattered than the fact that he had abided by all the rules and instructions. He was able to submit declaration in black and white but his lack of skill in data entry was the obstacle. Skill in data entry had the preference over the abiding by the custom laws.
Technology has made life easy and efficient but compulsory enforcement of technology where manual operations are easier, can not be considered a right step. One experiences in service sector particularly in Banks that in some cases, operations performed on computers take more time than performed manually. Whether it is the cautions exercised by the computer operators sitting in banks or it is the computer that takes longer time taken by in performing operations, is irrelevant as the customer wants disposal of his work promptly. It is also observed that help of calculating machine is taken even for simple arithmetic operators that could otherwise be easily performed orally.
Too much dependence on these devices has made us computer dependent and that retards the moving wheels of progress. Dependence itself is not a right attitude whereas self reliance is unparalleled. We are forgetting how to write efficiently, how to spell word correctly, how to remember telephone numbers, addresses of our nears and dears. What will happen if these devices stop functioning, is left to the imagination of readers. There were chaos at International Airport at Delhi when it suffered power failure a few years back. Complete system at the airport failed in absence of electricity. This is the disadvantage of complete dependence upon machines. Even machines can malfunction and and to avoid that do you think it would be proper to install another machine to monitor the first one? A number of machines then will be cascaded to ensure foolproof functioning. Would it be worthwhile?
Advancement of technology does not mean doing away with manual operations, operations done manually are sacred and need combination with technology so that one supports the other rather than one replaces the other. Such an approach which I call, hybrid, is the need of the hour.
Likewise replacement of the practice of physical submission of declaration forms with entry of data in Computer also needs hybrid approach, an approach that makes use of salient features of computer and manual operations. In such a system, a declaration form can be filled up as usual and then inserted in the scanner for optical mark recognition, this will solve the purpose. This will also avoid data entry to the ease of travellers.
Faced with the problem of data entry, Dev made another request to the lady official to help him out. This time she moved along with him to the place where the Computer was kept but again asked him to operate the computer. Dev was now helpless, when one finds oneself helpless, one prays to Almighty or His human beings for tiding one out of difficult situation. He was in same situation, he asked the official, “Do you go to a religious place for prayer? How would you feel if your workplace were your religious place and your official work your prayer? How would you feel if your help to needy and out of place travellers were accepted by Jesus Christ as His best worship by you? How would you feel if you were granted exemption from going to church in view your help extended to the needy? Do you know the purpose the travellers are here from their native land after crossing seven seas?”
She was silent but was listening to him intently without interruption. She was lost in search of finding replies to his questions. Her silence and intent listening were obvious acceptance of what Dev wanted to impress upon.
Dev, in stead of waiting for her replies, volunteered to answer himself and pleaded, “Very few travellers are here for merry making, they all have compulsions that brought them before you in the strange land where food, clothes, language, environment, culture, everything is different. If there were any similarities, these are that they are humans, they have the same feelings, same feelings of happiness, of pain, of separation, of union and love. Some are here to meet their loved ones, some to look after their ailing kins, some to study further after advancing loans, everyone has a compulsion that dragged them here. You, official on duty can help them, can reduce their sufferings, by patting them on their back, assuring them of positive results and even welcoming them with your helpful smiles. These gestures are treasures of wealth that Almighty has given us including you in in-consumable quantity and He has also directed us to shower these on all needy.”
Referring to the lady, Dev continued, “You are lucky, you have been assigned the duty here, you can operate the computer yourself for the helpless and alienated travellers who look up to you for help. They are needy and God has assigned you, specially you this duty of assisting the travellers and He has chosen you as most capable for it. By helping them, you are worshipping Him and you are also performing your official duties diligently. It is a win win situation for you.”
Before Dev could complete his pleading request, the lady official stood by his side and started assisting him and entering the particulars herself where Dev found difficulties. After disposal of the work, when Dev saw her face, she was smiling and there was unseen satisfaction clearly writ on her face. She kept smiling continuously as a player continues smiling after winning the match.
Thanking the lady official, Dev proceeded to custom clearance window. When he turned back and saw the lady official again, she still had the smile of satisfaction. While he stood in the long queue waiting for his turn, his eyes again searched for that official. To his pleasant surprise, she was seen entering herself the particulars of another passenger who had also found himself at sea with the data entry. She was completely transformed and changed, she was kind and helpful, arrogance and haughtiness had vanished, she was looking godsend angel now.
Dev’s face lit up with smile, the smile that radiates satisfaction, that satisfaction which is a bliss and incomparable with worldly gains. A candle is lit, it will lit another and their light will dispel the darkness giving hopes, service to needy will be one day the way of life.
N.B. Major part of the story is based on real life incident.
2. Image 2, courtesy https://goo.gl/images/JH5dA6
Author is an Electronics and Electrical Communication Engineering graduate and was earlier Scientist, then Instrument Maintenance Engineer, then Civil Servant in Indian Administrative Service (IAS). After retirement, he writes on subjects, Astronomy, Mathematics, Yoga, Humanity etc.