Another shadow appeared on the clerk’s desk behind the iron mesh.
“Who are you?” The clerk asked without looking up.
“I am… I am me.” Said a hollow voice, the torso shrouded in an over-sized sweaty shirt that had once been white.
“And who is you? Do you have the papers?” The clerk eyed the figure suspiciously.
“Papers? Yes, yes, but of course!” A shaky hand hastily pushed a bunch through the tiny window.
“Hmmm, I see. I see. But these won’t do.” The sombre Servant of the State shook his head.
“Why not?” The lanky frame clung to the iron bars, waves of bodies lashing against its back.
“This only says someone by so-and-so name exists. You need to have more papers.” The clerk scribbled through the register with practiced efficiency, while the other hand waded through mounds of paper.
“More papers?” The thin frame gasped for breath under the summer sun, its skull barely shielded by a thin gamchha.
“Yes. Like the one that says that the so-and-so is you and is alive. Another to prove you were born Here and not There. Also, the one that says that you have been living Here and nowhere else.” The clerk spoke with a zen-like calm.
“I am not dead, so I am alive, I suppose. I am not sure where I was born. But I have been living Here as long as I can remember, I can tell you that. In fact, I don’t know where There is.”
“No, no. That’s not how it works. You need to have your papers. Also, the papers for your father and your mother, and their fathers and mothers… More the papers better it is for you, you see.” The clerk explained.
“Better? How’s that?” The figure wiped its furrowed brow with the gamchha.
The clerk tied a bundle with a red string, another with black and flung them over his colleagues’ heads towards the other corner of the room. An apprentice expertly caught the flying stacks and stuffed them in the gunny sacks.
“Well, once you have the papers, it will very easy for us to conclude that you are you and that you belong Here and nowhere else. After that all you need is a witness and then it’s almost done.”
“A witness?” The parched whisper drowned in the din.
“Someone who knows that you are from Here and not There. Provided of course, the witness is who he says he is.”
“And the witness needs to have his papers?”
“Yes, and a witness.”
“And what if one does not have all the papers or the witness?” The scrawny figure asked.
“Then the status for your case could change to ‘In progress’, ‘Doubtful’ or ‘Nobody’. It depends on which papers are missing and what witness is produced or not produced.”
“Also, it is very important to ascertain if you are This or That.” The clerk tapped on the hard-bound registers on his left and right.
“What is This and what is That?” The bewildered eyes darted. More heads pressed against the iron mesh.
The clerk put his pen down and sipped on the tea that had just been delivered on his desk.
“Well, if you are This, then you cannot be That. And if you are That, you most certainly cannot be This. ‘Cause This is This and That is That!”
“And what difference if one is This or That?”
“If you are This, then your case should be settled sooner than later. But, if you are That, then it’s a different case…”
“A different case?” The skeleton mumbled.
“Oh, there is nothing to worry really, as long as you have your documents and witnesses. I mean it’s all the same in the eyes of the law, of course. But sometimes what is same could appear very different, depending on who’s seeing it. But there is nothing one can do about it.
If you are This and not That, then your status is most likely to be ‘In progress’, which is a good status really. But things change very fast you know, so you should be cautious.
But if you are That and not This, and you do not have all the papers, then you may be a ‘Doubtful’ case. Which is to say that you are neither in nor out, yet. In that scenario, your papers and witnesses will be reviewed by the Senior Clerk who would decide your status.”
The clerk drained the saucer in one big slurp and resumed his charge.
“These things take time, you see. Many people live in the ‘Home of the Doubtfuls’ until their cases are resolved. See those houses across the road? It’s really for the convenience of the people.”
The now blurry form craned its neck towards the rows of silver tin sheds with blue rooftops fenced by barbed wires. A cold shudder went through it.
“And who is a ‘Nobody’?” The ghostly shadow ventured.
“Oh, you definitely do not want to be a ‘Nobody’. Nobody is neither from Here nor There, neither This nor That, neither Dead nor Alive.”
“And what happens to them?”
“I cannot say for sure. After all, I am only a junior clerk. My job is to collect the papers. Nobodys are not my concern.”
The clerk frowned as he flipped through the register.
“Now c’mon, don’t waste my time. I am falling behind on my quota for the day. Where are we with your papers?”
He looked up. The shadow had vanished in the afternoon sun.
Shulin Todkar is a wannabe semi-fiction writer who has spent most of his adult life making PowerPoint decks. He is a die-hard cynic and has a special interest in dark humour, satire, and irony. Shulin is also a rookie parent and a history enthusiast.
For Indian writers writing in English, this is a tumultuous time to be alive. Politically and culturally speaking, a lot is happening in our nation today. And these posts are our attempt to decipher, understand, and explore the concept of nationhood. Our writing is a celebration of what it means to belong to a nation that is as diverse and pluralistic as India is. And in this attempt, if we persuade people away from propaganda, we might have just created literature.
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