Around and around we goI enter the small room and find myself in the presence of a mountain of files covered in a thick film of dust. There's no one else in the room.
I am not entirely certain about the date shown on the calendar but I can rest assured June 21 will be quite an accurate approximation. Even though it has only been a couple of months since my birthday, which according to the citizenship I hold is an event to be celebrated in the month of August, I still stand by my estimate. The month of June feels long, probably because it has the longest day of the year, June 2, but in this country, that title is shared by every other date on the calendar when one visits the premises of a government office.
As I make my way past the entrance gate, I notice a big faded white signboard that appears to be waiting desperately for monsoon rain. I look around and I take a deep breath, which given the current state of the pandemic and the carefree crowd I am now part of, is quite a risky endeavour. Because this is my first visit to this particular department, I find myself in a state of confusion which makes me wander in search of anything that remotely resembles an information desk. As luck would have it, I spot the word ‘Help’ written on a torn A4-sized paper fluttering against the wall not far from where I stand.
I enter the small room and I find myself in the presence of a mountain of files that are covered not by snow but, just like the board outside, by a thick film of dust. Unfortunately for me, the seat at the end of the room is without any humans. Perhaps what was written outside was not so much an invitation to a lost soul but instead a cry for help made by these inanimate objects waiting to be read aloud or acknowledged. As I am about to turn, a voice from behind reaches out to me.
“Madam has not arrived yet.”
“Do you know when she will?” I ask the man.
“No one knows.”
Left without much options, I then proceed to ask him where I ought to go to file for the application and he generously points me towards the direction. As prior experiences go, the public forms the biggest and the most efficient information desk in this country. I make my way to another block and from afar I can see a long line of anxious people, all latching on to a 15-rupee clear bag and a copy of their citizenships. I join them and after roughly 20 minutes, I get to meet the officer who tells me, without even looking at my face, that I’ll have to get a signature from someone else first.
Perhaps I need to amend the earlier statement about the efficiency of public support because I now feel that a disclaimer regarding uncertainty was lacking in the instructions. But then again, a generous margin of error is expected for anything that comes for free. When I reach 'Room Number 29' I see yet another long line and frustration starts to sink in albeit not for long as the lady in front of me reveals a different purpose for her patience. I then notice another desk at the corner of the room that only has three or four people standing in front of it.
This time instead of merely waiting, I choose to observe. I look on the other side and I see a confused young man being asked to fill a form. I am not entirely sure what else he has to write but I can bet my house that his grandfather’s name is going to be one of them. As someone who lost his, well before birth, I feel guilty that the only place I remember my grandfather is at a government office. I have only seen a few pictures of him and I have no idea what he was like as a person but given this apparent fixation of officials wanting to know his name, I reckon he must have been someone important.
After getting the necessary signature and then waiting for another half hour, I once again get myself to the front of the same line I was initially part of. Only this time, just as my turn is about to come, the officer declares it's time for lunch. I protest but all it does is relieve my frustration temporarily without actually providing any solution to the problem. I fist-bump the people behind me who had created a temporary alliance in support of my discontent and then I make a call to cancel my afternoon appointment.
Part of me wants to walk out of this office but I know very well that the fines are processed much quicker than the papers and I don’t want any of that. I go outside to an open space, hoping that perhaps a breath of fresh air can calm me down. It doesn’t, so I light up a cigarette instead. In the distance I notice a man, one of the officers I had seen inside, munching on peanuts, and for some reason, all of my frustration begins to dissipate. I figure it would be best that I too put some food inside my mouth instead of just poison, which the air of Kathmandu already provides.
After devouring my lunch, I go back to the office and line up to successfully get the signature, after which I am instructed to get another one from 'Room Number 69'. I can see the light at the end of the corridor, both literally and metaphorically, but the smile on my face however is quick to turn into a frown. The door to the room is locked.
From behind, I hear the same voice that I heard in front of the empty information desk. It is as if God, after sensing the predicaments of my heart, sent this gentleman to my rescue. I share my problem with him and after ranting for about five minutes, I end with a question: “I have already submitted the necessary documents, they have already accepted it, but why do I need to get another signature?”
“One more step, one more opportunity. How else do you think we are number one-one seven?”
“I have no idea what that means,” I reply, confused.
“Just give me the papers and go outside. But it’s going to cost you.”
In that moment I say to myself, Pally if you can get me out of this cluster, you deserve all the money in this world. But it is a different issue altogether that I have none on me.