The Stupid Official Prose or SOPsThere was a time when the Earth was a free place. There was a time when we were only restricted by our imaginations. I am talking way before PGA declared that nothing is impossible, or as was proven later, till you get caught. There was a even time when men roamed free and didn’t get bugged by a call to not forget to buy things. Obviously this was the era before mobile phones were invented but more pertinently, this was before the concoction of that institution-which-is-not-even-a-building called marriage.But none of us really minded having all freedoms curtailed. In fact, today we accept bondage like we accept in-laws, which are two words for the same worry really. Life today is a caged version of its truly rampant raving self. One look at the houses of Bombay with their surrounding juxtaposed grills would make you wonder whether it’s an abode for really large birds or else if S&M is really an accepted weekend family pastime as many openly claim.And yet, all these grotesque visions fade, pale like a lemon that has just seen a lemon-squeezer, when you think of the one freedom that has truly and ever-so-softly been curtailed that you wouldn’t even realise till you read on.I am talking about the freedom to converse, like grown-ups, in complete sentences. Take a second to allow it to sink in; if it takes any longer, than you already have been methodologically maimed.I too was living, numb to this crime, till the other day I happened to be seated on the exit row. With enough fellows to annoy ahead of and behind me, I had a Doppler Effect of an experience of the hostess serving beverages. She said the exact same words each time to every guest. “Would you like some tea/coffee”. The affirmative were told to “Please place your cup on the tray”, followed by “Sugar and Creamer please” before the whole thing was repeated with the next desirous.Never once did she let fall forth from her lips any other possible permutation of words that could convey the same meaning with a matched level of respect and obeisance. There was just no “How about some coffee” or just simply, “Coffee?” It was as if in her mind was a printed algorithm that she was following and sticking to like the last leaf in an autumn gale. She didn’t miss one word ever and each time the intonation was perfectly blandly similar to the previous time. Kind of monotonous you’d think. Just the thing that makes the whole idea of joining a self-torturing clan sound way more invigorating. How could anyone, I wondered, manage to say the same thing each time, on every flight each and every day and not feel the happy-noose tightening? I would be the first in such case to pull the emergency latch and bungee out of the plane minus the cord!But these girls seemed quite at ease. They could have done this in any language and had the same amount of measured emotion, much akin to the industry of industrious sex on film. So much for making me feel ‘at home’.SOPs are an institutional way of dealing with discrepancies. I disagree. SOPs are only good when doing things technical. Machines need instructions like that. Humans are smarter. Or so I feel, or felt and thought till now. Sure all of us may not be as adept as grammar but SOPs are a convenient way of succumbing to our shortcomings. It is the classic Ostrich approach: to look away and think the problem now ceases to exist. Training and delegating may be harder but isn’t that what is better.And by then the world had changed, at least to me, or for me. Now I was noticing the ‘matrix’ so to say. Phone rang. “May I speak to Magandeep Singh?” “You Are speaking to him”, I replied. “So, are you Magandeep Singh?”, came the counter-question, leaving me fabulously flummoxed. Another similar one wanted to confirm if I was the man whose first and second name I claimed to go by. Short of a DNA test, I realised, I had no way of proving my, or whoever-I-was-perhaps-allegedly-posing-as’s, identity. The best bit, I was soon able to decipher that they were staring at some piece of (legal) paper that probably had a list of responses as to be exactly recorded so as to anoint them against any ensuing damage if they were liable for prosecution. Little do they know that the only damage that I and millions of others who feel similar ire would cause them would be with the business end of a very nasty gun that fires more rounds per minute than your average midwife. The whole conversation would and could only proceed if I said the magic words. They made me work through a series of ridiculous affirmatives and negatives without once guessing just how my mind was showering them with expletives.And more followed. Another wanted to know the last transaction on my debit card when I had called to ask for one I the first place. Without knowing my Telephone PIN a chap couldn’t proceed to help me apply for a new one. Similarly, I found, entire industries had been wiped clean of any sense of personality or creativity by replacing them with standardised phrases. This was Red Tape but only oral. From ordering food to a taxi, from paying utility bills to luxury hospitality products – all had been structured and set so that nobody would ever need to think again. Habit would soon take over and the person would be as efficient asleep as awake.Robots could then be wheeled in and these catatonic cadavers be ejected from their slumped seats and we consumers would never know the difference. The corporate would because it is cheaper to oil a robot than it is to feed a family of four, or account for cigarette breaks.So many such self-negating illogical cyclic redundancies have seeped their way into our lives that we don’t even realise just how devoid of logic the world we live in is. Sad that we need someone to tell us what is correct or appropriate. Sad that of all the stupidities we could have trusted ourselves to commit, we went and outsourced everyday wisdom.Abroad this problem isn’t as ugly. Sure they have a few common identifying queries – foolproof ways to ensure that the right data is conveyed to the right person – but even then there is space for sentence construction and word-order that needn’t be the same every time. They are not scared to crack a joke, or say something that may be a little less corporate. They have the guts to attempt something a tad personally influenced. Sure they run the risk of offending someone, but don’t we all in our daily interactions. Whatever happened to intuition? Waitaminute, that’s a level detached, whatever happened to common sense!?We rhymed reasonably in Sonnets and held forth in Haiku. Prose aside, we even put a man in space. And then we found out, much to our collective shame of the species that we were only using a mere 10% of our brains all along. But with these SOPs we have unleashed a further reduction of the workload on the already limited usage of our brains thereby risking making us as useless as the 999,999 who couldn’t swim as fast. And sadly we are growing into a country of over a billion and a half with almost linear personalities. This here is my appeal to bring back the human element in service. Let’s resurrect common sense and personal intuition before it is too late. For now, it seems that we may have won our Freedom of Speech but seem to have lost our Right to reason for ourselves.