by Mir Jalal
From the book "Dried Up In Meetings"
Published by Azerbaijan International, USA,1998
From the day that Anketov was appointed as Chief of the United Bath Houses, people stood outside his office, waiting to make their appeals to him. Sometimes there was a long queue - someone complaining about his boss, another asking for a raise, another wanting to change positions, another wanting to study at the university while another wanted to take a vacation at a health resort.
Anketov was new on the job. It was an important position with lots of responsibilities but very few staff to assist him. Many believed that Anketov would not be able to handle the position and some had even opposed his appointment. But when Anketov heard such criticism he said, "Let them criticize me. Why should I care about such people - these dregs of capitalism? They want to continue their despicable work and are afraid that they're doomed to be wiped out. Just leave them to me. I'll get rid of them."
The first thing he did after getting the job was to summon all the managers of the bath houses, and asked them to bring their "personal files". "Yes, sir!" they replied, and tried to pull up chairs for a meeting. But Anketov would not allow them to sit. "Yes, sir!" is not the same as "Here they are, sir! I need you to get your personal files and bring them to me now."
"But Comrade Anketov, if we leave, there won't be a meeting," one of the men said.
Anketov was a bit puzzled by this statement. Opening his arms as if to embrace someone or something, he spoke with a calm voice, "Without a personal file, what's the use of a meeting, my son? Shouldn't I know with whom I'm meeting?"
So, the managers got up and left Anketov's office. They returned with their personal files, some from home and some from the office. And some hurriedly filled out application forms while others prepared resumes and work files. When all the personal files were on his desk, Anketov apologized to the managers and said, "Comrades, I want to get to know all of you. That's why I'm asking you to wait outside my office. I will have my secretary call you in shortly." Saying this, he shut his door and began to page through the personal files, reading them slowly and haltingly. "Mmmm...Mursal Hadiyev. Born 1911. Father, blacksmith." Anketov underlined this word in red and put a question mark in the margin. Then he examined the rest of Hadiyev's file.
The managers had waited about an hour in the hallway, when, from the adjacent room, Anketov's secretary appeared and announced, "Murad Ahmadov may go in now. Mursal Hadiyev must go home and return with his father's certificate. All others, please come in."
Ahmadov didn't understand, "Comrade, what are you telling me? Let me talk to him and see what he wants of me!" Hadiyev joined in and shouted, "What certificate? My father has been dead for more than thirty years. Even his bones have disintegrated by now!"
The secretary, making fun of him, said, "Why are you acting like such a simpleton? The chief doesn't want your father literally. He just wants to know his profession." Hadiyev pleaded, "My dear, let him look at my documents! He was a blacksmith. All the information is right there in my file."
In order to get away from the complaints, the secretary returned to her desk, but the managers would not leave her alone. Finally she cried in exasperation, Write a letter!"
"What kind of letter?"
"Write a letter so that we can see what you want."
"We don't want anything! You tell us what you want from us!"
The secretary said, "You know very well that the chief is checking the records of his staff. He's been reading your personal files for an hour. Now he calls me and tells me that your records do not satisfy him."
Ahmedov left in protest. Hadiyev waited until the meeting was over so that he could talk to the chief.
Anketov did not keep the managers long. He gave them strict orders to prepare their staffs' personal files and to bring them to him in three days. After the managers had gone, Hadiyev came in. Anketov's head was down, buried in the files he had so nicely arranged on his desk. He raised his head and not seeing any certificate in Hadiyev's hand he asked, "What do you want?"
"I don't want anything. According to your secretary, you wanted to question me about something." The chief ran his fingers through his hair and asked Hadiyev, "What is your name?"
As soon as Hadiyev answered, the chief found his file. Uttering a meaningful "yes," he put his finger on the question he had written on Hadiyev's file.
"You have written this in a rather vague manner. I read your file. I read all of it very carefully, yet I still don't know you very well. For instance, in one place you say your father was a blacksmith. There are many types of blacksmiths."
Hadiyev interrupted him. "What type? He was a blacksmith. He shod horses and oxen."
A sarcastic smile appeared on Anketov's lips. Shaking his head, he said, "The question is not about horses or oxen. The question is about their owners. Did your father shoe the animals of wealthy exploiters or those of the poor and helpless?"
Hadiyev began to laugh. "Whoever gave him moneyhe shod his animal!"
"But surely, during the bourgeoisie period, when your father lived and worked, the landowners had more money than the poor."
"Of course, the landowners were wealthy."
"So, as you say, most of your father's earnings came from the exploiters. Isn't this so?"
Hadiyev asked, "What difference does it make?"
Anketov, not raising his head from the papers, raised his hand and ordered Hadiyev to silence. He went on, "Just a moment, just a moment. Isn't it so?"
"Isn't what so?"
"Isn't it true that landowners had more horses shod?"
"It is true."
"That will do. You can go."
Hadiyev said, "I don't understand why are you so interested in my father's occupation as a blacksmith. Do you have an animal to be shod?"
Again, Anketov did not raise his head from the papers. He placed his left thumb on the family name "Hadiyev," shook his right index finger at the man standing before him, and taking his pen he wrote, "You are not allowed to have the job. Take ten days at your own expense and clarify your parent's social position."
Because the chief was so absorbed in the personal files, application forms, resumes, character recommendations, investigations, explanations and requests, he very likely did not hear Hadiyev's last words as he left the office. Anketov could hardly wait until he could get the chance to organize his files. He really believed that everything depended on those folders. Some days he would sit in his office from morning until late at night reading personal files, one-by-one, like a delightful novel. He would arrange the folders according to the social positions of their owners. The folder of any person he disliked would go to the bottom of the pile, while the folder of the person he liked would be put on top. In the margin of request letters, he would pen, "I gave him another job. Fifty manats added to the salary. As you have worked hard, I am giving you a raise."
Anketov would have real conversations with the folders that he'd occasionally take from one shelf to the other. Someone overhearing him might have thought that Anketov was dealing with five or six kindergarten children. It was as if Anketov were taking the hand of these children, putting one child here, one child there, and still another child on a chair. Sometimes he talked to the folders as if they were real human beings, or in his own words, "workers." To Anketov, it seemed that these folders were actually the good and bad workers. The real people - the bath house managers, cashiers, boiler attendants, cleaners-were mere shadows of their files. The actual thing was these folders and there neatness and accuracy indicated the honesty and integrity of the owner. If "Fired" appeared in the margin, its owner would disappear like a phantom. On the contrary, the person who had "Accepted" written in his file would be called to work that very day.
If someone told the chief that one of his workers was ill and was in the hospital, Anketov often refused to believe the news. Immediately, he would go to the files to look up the personal folder. If there was no mention of illness there, he would say, "I beg your pardon, but he is safe and sound and is doing a fine job." Sometimes he was so familiar with a particular folder that he would not even open it. He would simply look at the shelves, and seeing the folder number in its right place, shake his head and say, "He's doing a fine job."
It was at such moments that his secretary would slap her hand on her knee and exclaim, "Oh my God, he doesn't believe me! Comrade Anketov, Gurbanali has been in the army for the last three months! He sent a letter from some far-off region, and I think he's presently working as a sanitation worker."
Anketov would get angry, but controlling his anger he would say, "Stupid, can't you understand? Don't you see his personal file in front of your eyes? How could he go anywhere without it? If he had gone, his personal file would have gone with him to the appropriate place!"
Frustrated by such explanations, the secretary would walk out, not wanting to continue arguing with him. It was useless to do otherwise because the files were, in fact, everything to him. It was as if whatever one did, whatever one believed or whatever one thought immediately penetrated the personal file and remained there - indelibly - until the end of time. In order to evaluate someone's work, it was enough to bring that person's file to the chiefalmost as if to the Day of Judgment.
One day, in one of the meetings, Anketov stood up and said, "Comrades, we have a tradition here in the bath houses which is really quite absurd. I'm referring to the Complaint Books. Every passerby stops and writes something in them. We don't know if he's a friend, an enemy or if he's neutral. I propose that the person who files a complaint should first fill out a request form and have it certified by us; otherwise, we should not allow his complaints. People write and write, and we don't know into which personal file you should place their complaints."
Upon hearing this, Anketov's boss, the Head of the Municipal Department, interrupted him. "Comrade Anketov, that's enough! Be sensible. It seems that you are having a hard time listening to the voices of the masses and learning their opinions. You must understand that the Book of Complaints is the voice of the people - our customers' opinions. The complaints are a permanent record!"
Anketov blushed deeply and regretted what he had said. He asked for permission to speak and with quivering lips, said, "I have made a grave mistake. Now I understand my mistake and I fully accept it. But please, I beg you, don't write this incident in my personal file." Anketov guarded his own personal file fiercely.
Sometimes the managers approached and complained, "Comrade Anketov, the workers want you to come and see them, to see how they work."
Immediately, Anketov would pull out the workers' folder and ask, "Which worker requested that? Let me see. . ." Then he would point to the shelves and sigh, "Day and night, am I not with them? What more do they want?"
Then one day the manager of Bath House Number 10 needed some workers. He wanted a bath attendant for the women's section, a cashier and two cleaning women. Since he knew Anketov's style, he had already prepared the applicants' personal files, put them in a folder, and brought them to Anketov. He said, "The applicants are at the door. Do you want to see them?"
"What do I want to see them for? I'm not interested in what they look like!"
"I thought you might want to talk to them."
Anketov slapped his large hand on the folder and said, "Here are the files. I want to talk to these."
The manger left and Anketov began to examine the "future employees."
One of the personal files belonged to Nuru Nuruzade, a member of the Young Communist League (Komsomol), and the manger wanted to employ him as a cashier. He had some experience in accounting and in high school, he had received excellent marks in mathematics. Another file belonged to Nisa, daughter of Qanbar, who had six years experience in Bath House Number 11 in Tbilisi. She was very good and the manager wanted to take her as the bath attendant for the women's section. Sharabanu, an old woman, and her divorced daughter, Masma, both wanted to be cleaning women.
Anketov took his red pen and wrote his comments in the margins. He rejected Masma, asking her to bring an official document about her relations with her ex-husband, but he employed Sharabanu. He was really pleased with the personal file and the account of Nisa, daughter of Qanbar. He was becoming more impressed as he read, "She is the daughter of a blacksmith, none of her relatives include any suspicious characters, she is a housewife and is enrolled in the literacy classes. I need an employee with such a clean record." He made her a cashier. Instead of Nisa, he made Nuru the bath attendant of the women's section. He filed the files in different folders on the shelves and came back rubbing his hands together in satisfaction.
The manager called on the phone and complained that Nisa, daughter of Qanbar, did not want to accept the cashier's position, and that she had every right to do so because she was illiterate and could barely add and subtract numbers. Anketov was beside himself with anger. "Who is she not to accept? Let me talk to her!"
He put down the phone, quickly picked up her folder and began to scold her. "I really didn't expect this from you, not from you. I had absolute trust in you and that was why I appointed you to this position. Is this a joke? I call it nothing but a joke. Don't joke about such things! Now get to work!"
He put the papers back in the folder and returned it to the shelves. Suddenly, the door opened and a teenage boy came in.
"Hello, are you Comrade Anketov?"
Anketov walked around the desk as if busily looking for something. Then, raising his head, he asked, "And what if I am?"
The young boy replied, "I have come to thank you. You want to make me the attendant at the women's bath."
"What do you mean 'want?' It has been two days since I appointed you. You should be working there by now."
"No, excuse me, but in order to take this job, I'd have to be out of my mind, just like you."
Outraged, Anketov stared at Nuru, but he said nothing. He went to the shelves and removed Nuru's personal file. Angrily, he opened the file and wrote, "You're fired! Go wherever you want to go!"
Nuru grabbed the folder from Anketov's hand. Anketov was taken aback. "Be careful, the papers might fall out!" he cried.
"Let me see what you've written in my file."
Nuru opened the folder and read Anketov's note. He burst out laughing. "Look at this idiot and his claims! Who are you to fire me? You fool!"
Saying this, he tore the Chief's note into pieces, right in front of him. "Uff," a sigh escaped Anketovs' lips, as he fainted and collapsed on the floor in a heap.
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