Friday, June 19, 2015

The Equality of Democracy - An experience at a PSK

A country of a billion people. A democracy that baffles with its diversity. Everywhere you go, you can get a glimpse of this difference. A difference that exists sometimes subtlely, sometimes right there staring at you in your face.

One such glimpse stared at me one day at the passport office. People from all walks of life, no matter what socio-economic-cultural-ethnic background they come from, get merged here, in a sea of passport applications. Nowhere else is the power of the state more visible than here. Maybe a police station would be another such place. But that is another topic. 

Power, concentrated in raw form, in the hands of a few people. In their hands the power of substantiating you as a passport worthy citizen. The bourgeois and the ordinary vying for their attention, a few minutes of their time. Equally. The aspirational ordinary looking at the better dressed thinking the world is for people like these. They get to go places. The well heeled thinking this is no place for themselves, standing in a queue waiting for their turn, thinking the world is for the masses.

Classes and masses. Classes cursing in English, masses in Hindi - both under their breath of course. No one wants The Government to hear their thoughts (Government being the people at the other side of the counter). The smell in the office a mixture of perfumes, deodorants and sweat. More sweat than deodorant. More Hindi than English. More casuals than formals. More with families than alone. More young than old. Rules the same, roof the same. Discipline - or lack thereof - the same. 

As a lone woman standing in one of such queues, I think where do I belong? Who do I sympathize with? And my turn comes.

I lay my life bare in front of His Almighty. In all original documents. He opens my old passport, looks at the photo and says, is this really your passport? I am shell-shocked. If the Almighty decides it’s not me in person, who would validate my identity? I manage to blabber out that it has been ten years….Sir (I almost said Prabhu at this point but checked myself in time. Yes Prabhu, I cut my hair short, stopped wearing glasses and have aged. Spite me).

I begin to think maybe the Almighty is a bit chauvinistic. His boss comes to my rescue then and does the needful. I thank my stars. The Government poses a second question: your husband’s and your surnames are different? I say yes; I didn’t change mine after marriage. In my head I say, is that a crime? Definitely a chauvinist. The third question proves it. Address change. Where is your wife/of address proof? I go….huh…what does that even mean? Stumped.

Turns out, daughter/of address proof doesn’t work after marriage. I wonder if son/of still does? I take a 180 degree turn then and don’t look back, fearing the Almighty might decide to call in security to throw an aberration out.

I take a look around. Feel people’s eyes on me. The well-heeled and the not-so-chic, the smelly and the scented, the Hindi-type and the English-type. Everyone is looking at me. And suddenly it dawns. I don’t belong. Masses, classes, anywhere.

To hell with them all I think. I shall come back. Maybe with no proof of having married? Then maybe the surname and daughter/of address proof would be acceptable? To The Government, that is.

Coming back to equality. Well, we’ll get there. Someday.

P.S. I did get my passport renewed in spite of everything - surname, appearance - in my second visit. Apparently, a joint bank account statement suffices as the ‘wife/of’ address proof, which The Government aptly forgot to tell me the other day. Google to the rescue! After all, it is the new savior now (till the day it turns the way all All-Mighties are supposed to turn: sour).

P.P.S. In case your are wondering what a PSK stands for Passport Seva Kendra.

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