Mr. RHTLLAW (real hair that looks like a wig), is possibly the most Chinese looking Maharashtrian police clerk in the ‘Foreigners Registration Department’ at the CID office, Crawford Market. Put a small fake mole on Costable Kakodkar’s cheek. Stick a few strands of white hair on his chin. Give him a cigarette holder. He’d look straight out of ‘Mad Monkey Kunfgu’.
But right now Mr. RHTLLAW is hopping mad. Cause he has had to hop cubicles. He quite liked the lucrative ‘Foreigners Registration Department’ (not to mention very deep and very impatient Ukrainian cleavages that danced inches away from his slit eyes.). He however does not like his job in the new cubicle that issues ‘Character Certificates’ for Mumbaikars going to ‘phoren’. I can vouch for his dislike. When I ask him for an application form, he takes a full two minutes to look up at me from his SAMNA crossword. Constable Woo Lee Chan Kakodkar spits two words at me .“Look left” and dived back into the SAMNA.
I look left. A huge board clearly lists all the documents that are required to be submitted with the form. Fortunately, for once, I have them all. Originals and ‘Xeroxes’ including an ID card of a tabla class I had attended when I was 16. I am 39 now. I turn right.
ME : “ I have all the documents sir. Can I have the form please?”
HE :“Look down”
I look down. I can see my shoes half submerged in a puddle of rain water gone muddy. But the other half is above it. I am a positive thinker you see. I look up at him.
ME : I did not find anything down…sir.
HE : (with out looking up) down and left.
I obey. Ah! Fine print!
‘Lunch : 12 to 1 pm. Forms issued and accepted between 2pm and 4 pm ONLY. Certificates issued between 2.pm and 4 pm only’.
I fumble for my cell phone to look at the time. Dang. 13.05.
55 minutes is too less for a movie. Too much for a tea and wada-pau. Maybe good enough to read a book. But that would require a place to sit. I don’t see any. But then, I am not carrying any book . I could go buy the MID-DAY or the AFTERNOON and do some crosswords myself, standing in the rain. Not an exciting thought.
ME : Sir…can’t you give me a form now?
I get no reply. Filling up the full page cross word cubes, he holds his pen using four fingers. My six-year-old holds it that way too. This fellow sticks out his tongue too. My son stopped doing it when he was four.
I check out the mis-en-scene of his table. Light blue glue bottle (Camel), steel foot ruler, brown envelopes, couple of receipt books, giant sized stapler, his three tire aluminum lunchbox, tap water in a mineral water bottle and…a thick wad of FORMS ! Pinned down by a banana standing in for a paper weight. They flutter and flirt with a macho table fan near by.
Constable Mao Tse Kakodkar is closer to them than the stud fan. Precisely a banana away. He could always expend a few calories in moving the banana aside and lifting just ONE of the many many forms and extending his forearm by an arms length. To ME. Am sure the table fan won’t mind it.
ME: Sir…the forms are right here. Under the banana.
Dramatic background score as Shaolin Kakodkar lifts his face in slow motion. Ekta Kapoor close-ups between us. Build up. But a lame punch line. Very lame actually.
HE : Go across to the ‘jhe-roksh’ shop over there or come here at two. No more questions. OK?
He pulls his aluminum lunch box close to his chest. Covers it protectively with both arms. Suddenly he looks like an indignant school boy. A cheeni-ghaati one ofcourse. But I get the drift. Exit.
A five feet tall matchbox called ‘Ali Xerox Centre’. Bespectacled teenager Ali is six footer. He has seventeen hands. In two seconds flat, he gives me two pale photocopies of the form for two rupees a piece. One for me and one for Mrs. Me.
ME : Ali…these forms….they are acceptable I hope? The same as ‘over there’?
ALI : Come on big brother ( for once…no uncle. Yay)….I was born in this shop. Ask anybody.
ME : Sure Ali. Trust you. Is that today’s MID-DAY?
ALI : Joking big brother? Who would buy yesterday’s MID-DAY?
ME : Point Ali. Point. Give me the AFTERNOON too.
A five feet long wooden handcart called ‘Jyoti Tea and Snakes’. Yeah. Snakes. No sign of Jyoti though. Unless the 10-year-old boy with 23 hands is called Jyoti. Well…I do know of a guy called Sheetal and a girl called Santosh….
I don’t ask the child his name. I ask for a place to sit down. The longest of his 23 hands reaches for two plastic chairs, hidden behind a Bougainville creeper. Entwined in each other, looks like they were having a quicky. I say a mental sorry to the chairs and a verbal thank you to the kid. He says a silent ‘it’s OK’ with a wink.
Meet me two hundred years later. I’d have prolly forgotten my own 10-year-old’s face. But not this child’s wink. Danny Boyle…Mira Nair…all yours.
The forms have no rocket science questions. One, however, seems odd. Name the police stations of the areas wherever you have lived in the city. I fill in…Juhu and Malvani for me. Mahim and Malvani for Mrs. Me. I have no idea what this section ACTUALLY has in store for me in the very near future.
Forms filled, documents in order, checked –rechecked, all set. Mobile phone says its 13: 40. No reason to disbelieve it. 20 minutes to kill. Better than 55 minutes to kill.
The Afternoon, I just cannot read. No Busybee….no AFTERNOON. Period. I give it to the kid. One of his hands uses it for ‘parshal’ Wada paus. Sorry Beharam Contractor. RIP.
The MID-DAY crossword, I like. Easy and makes me feel intelligent. I get most of the words, but for one. Capial of Syria. Starts with D and ends with S. I knew this one. I know it….something like Dinasourous……what was it? What was it? What what what? Fuck it. Don’t think too hard I tell myself. It will come to you before you make the submission and get your character certificate. It surely will. I look up. Jaw drops.
At least a dozen people have queued up outside MR. RHTLLAW’s cubicle. By the time I cross the road and reach it, I am no.14. No 13 and no. 12 is a mother dotty duo. So I am technically no. 13. Wow.
It’s 13.56. Constable Chou En Lai Kakodkar is peeling his paper weight and the entire queue is watching him eat a banana. Welcome to the zoo.
Twelve characters ahead of me, seeking certificates. I don’t ever bother to turn back to see how many characters are standing behind me. I am a forward looking person you see.
But this line of ours…. is strictly Indian art house cinema. There is angst and it moves really slowly.
Mother (mid 40’s) dotty (early 20’s) are tam bram. Besides gold, they wear very wronged and pained expressions. Dotty clutches a thick file tightly close to her chest. Amma wipes caked talcum powder off her neck. Dotty does not appreciate. Amma retreates in to a shell. With in seconds she makes one more attempt at talcum cake. This time dotty lets her do it, pretending it’s not happening, looking at the sky. I look up too. It rains. AK 47 mode.
Umbrellas are drawn out faster than samurai swords. Protecting character proving documents, is serious business.
15.20. I am back, face to face with Constable Jackie Chan Kakodkar. I smile. He does not..Biting his lower lip, he rips apart the staple pins of the two sets of documents, that I made with some care. He makes a crude fat bunch of quite a few of them and pushes them towards me with his left hand which has nine fingers with seventeen rings on them. It’s the new paper weight.
HE : Not required. Take them back.
He lifts the paper weight and it takes me three seconds to reach the documents. The macho table fan takes his revenge. I had actually eyed one of his flirty fluttering forms, hadn’t I? Another AK 47 assault.
Documents fly all over the cubicle. John Woo continues to work. I enter the cubicle, scurrying and scrambling.
By the time I have all of them, Ang Lee is done with my case. So I presume…
HE : Who is this ladij?
Mrs. Me looks at me from her passport. I remember we were not on talking terms when the picture had been clicked.
ME: She is my wife. Her passport says so too. I have attached our marriage certificate.
HE : That I can see. But where is she?
ME: Here in Mumbai only. Why? Sir…
HE: She wants a character certificate too right?
ME : yes yes.
HE : They why is she not here?
ME: She has to be physically here? Right now??
HE : No. She does not have to be physically present. But…
ME : But?
HE: I need a letter of consent from her, permitting you to make an application for her.
ME; Why sir?
HE: Just because she is a woman and happens to be your wife, does not give you
All kinds of rights. OK? Get her or get the letter. Next.
Ticktickticktickticktick….Heart, mind and conscious, debate. Test of character.
ME : If I get the letter, do I have to rejoin the line?
HE: No. But before four pm as you know. Where is she?
ME : In my car. (I have no car)
HE: Why cannot she come?
ME: She…has a broken leg. (I have one)
HE: OK…before 4 pm. Next Next!
Back at Jyoti tea and Snakes, hiding behind the bougainvillea creeper, I practice Mrs. Me’s signature on a blank page. Her passport held up for reference. Her picture screaming at me “I am not talking to you”.
I think I have got it right. I turn to the kid for approval. He winks again. It’s 15:50 and a plump rain oozes from the sky.
Zhang Yimu Kakodkar is almost closing shop, completely unmindful of the kabaddi happening between certificate seeking characters with umbrellas and policemen in transparent raincoats.
SEEKERS: But we came here before two!
COP: come before one tomorrow. Closed for today. Go. Go.
But I am a positive thinker. I yell, “Mr. Kakodkar. Sir! It’s me. The consent letter ( I wave it).
Positive thinking works. God exists.
Wong Kar Wai Kakodkar lets out a shrill whistle. The policeman, who was so far pushing me away, suddenly pulls me in and then pushes me towards the cubicle.
The ‘consent letter’ lands on his table, with me attached to it.
HE: This is her signature?
ME: Yes. (dhak dhak dhak dhak)
He compares the signature on the letter and the passport. He files the letter! As he returns the passport to me, he gets out three crisp envelopes, stapled. Yahoo!!
HE: Your misshesh, must be hungry waiting in your car. Take some wada-pau for her from Jyoti.
ME : OK..sir. ( dhakdhakdhakdhak).
HE: What car do you have?
ME : Err…WagonR. (My brother has one). Why sir?
HE: Just asking…Take this.
He hands me three crisp envelopes, stapled.
ME : Oh…Oh..thank you sir. But three Character certificates?
HE : These are not Character certificates. Read the address.
Envelop no.1 is addressed to Juhu police station. No.2 to Mahim and No.3 to Malvani.
ME: What ? Why? Sir…
HE : All three have to separately issue you Character certificates. Juhu for you. Mahim for her. Malvani for both of you. Get them here. Then we will send them to our Head office. Then they will issue you and your misshesh, character certificates.
ME : Do I need separate forms for these police stations?
HE: First go there. Meet them. Give them the envelope. They will tell you what they need and what they don’t.
ME: How long would they take?
HE: If I were you…I would ask them.
As I wait for a taxi, an Arabish looking family is huddled around the ‘Foreigners Registration Department’ cubicle. One of the little girls has a toy auto rickshaw in her chubby hand.
Mr. HBDSPWD (Half bottle DSP whiskey daily), his thick pink face glistening, earnestly goes about his work.
HBDSPWD: Country which pliss?
ARAB: Syria. Syrian Arab Republic.
HBDSPWD: City which pliss?
Not bad. Not bad at all.
My taxi arrives.
To Be Continued …
By the time, you actually go to ‘phoren’, we’ll have died laughing.
Processes and procedures are supposed to facilitate the end results for which they were formulated in the first place. But in practice, many times they are hindrances – especially in a government set up where the context seem to be the processes themselves, rather than the end results.
Kafkaesque, hilarious… waiting for the sequel… 🙂