Saturday, May 15, 2010

Aap Ka Naam? Baap Ka Naam?

I have been officially counted as a citizen of India.

Yesterday a lady came for census at my house. Like all courier boys, plumbers and electricians, she also came in the afternoon, when most people in India take a siesta. Though I was not taking a nap, I was engrossed in a thriller and resented the interruption. But remember those good old Doordarshan days? How the government ads urged us to never lie to the census officials and give them the right facts and figures? I was suddenly bombarded with those long forgotten images.
"Jan ganana," she said and I invited her in.
" Aap ka naam? " Was her first query. And then the whole conversation went  like this.

" Aapka naam? " (Your name?)
" Aparna "
" Pita ka naam? " (Father's name?)
" Arun Dasgupta "
" Do you own this flat? "
" My husband and I jointly own the house "
" Whats his name? Whats his qualification? "
I mumbled he was a B.Tech. She looked unhappy.
" What's that? "
" It means he is a graduate engineer. "
" And what else? "
" Pardon? "
" I mean what happened after he became an engineer. MBA? CA? LLB? "
I had to apologetically murmur that he was only an engineer and nothing else.
She looked at me with pity. Already I'm sure the government has classified me under the category Women Married To Lesser Mortals.
After duly noting down my children's and my educational background (she did not raise her eye-brow, thank god) she pounced on my poor mother in law.
" What's her education? "
" She was a B.Ed."
" WHAT? "
" She had done her teacher's training after her graduation."
" What? How old is she? "
" 75 "
" WHAT? 75 and she was so well educated? Can't be possible "
I felt apologetic once more.
" Sorry she studied so much. I hear she was rather good at it so her parents encouraged her to be a teacher."
" OK. Now tell me, where was your husband born? "
" Patna."
" No, no tell me the village."
" Well I know decades of misrule has ruined the place but last time I checked, Patna was still a city. He was not born in any village."
The woman looked suspicious again.
" Which state is Patna in?"
" Er, Bihar?" (Will she get angry and tell us leave Maha Land and go back to 'North India?' These days I have become a bit anxious.). She thankfully let that pass.
" And where were you born?"
" Kolkata."
No geography lessons this time. She knew where Kolkata was.
" And your mother-in law?"
" Dhaka" I mumbled, waiting for the 'WHAT?" I knew was coming my way.
" WHAT?" (See, I told you.)
" Dhaka where? Which state?"
" Dhaka as in the capital of Bangladesh. When she was born, India was undivided."
"OK, OK. But are you sure none of you were born in any villages? Where were your daughters born?"
I apologized once again. "Both my daughters were born in New Delhi. We all are rather suave and urbane Indians. Our families ceased to have the right to go back to the family village the day our country was partitioned.
She was disgusted to know we had no village connections. Rightfully so, the real India lives in its villages.
"But tell me then what should I write as your native place?"
Now that's a dilemma. Mumbai, where we own a place surely can not be a 'native place'. Neither can be Patna or Kolkata where we do not own any property. Apparently she had to write down the address of the house in the  'native place'. After almost 15 minutes of trying to convince her that we were rootless Indians without any native place, she finally gave up.
When she started winding up I became a bit rattled. What happened to the question of my 'caste'? The whole of India was debating that issue and the lady here did not even ask me about this. I felt rather cheated.
" Wait a minute ma'am. You did not ask me about my caste."
" WHAT?" She seemed to have an apoplectic fit. "But you do not live in the jhopad-patti.(slums). You live in a building!"
It was my turn to say WHAT this time. I obviously did not get the connection between slums and caste.
" But the government wants to know our caste. It came in the papers". I was sure it would soon be incorporated in our Fundamental Duties. The Government of India hereby directs all the citizens to reveal their castes to the census officials, or else...
" Madam, are you a SC/ST? Building people can not be SC/ST. We have been instructed to take down the castes of those residing in slums only."
That left me a little confused. Certainly some' Building people' can be members of a schedule caste. And not all jhopad-patti dwellers would be dalits. So what exactly was the purpose of this caste based census then? For whose benefit? I asked the lady about this. She ranted and raved about the ill-effects of reservation, job quota, caste politics and the corrupt politicians exploiting the caste issue. I almost felt sorry for asking the question. I had touched a raw nerve.
After she ran out of steam, she prepared to leave.
" Don't you have to mark my house door or something? "
" Sorry madam, I forgot to get the special ink. But why worry? You have been counted, right? "

So I had. A family of 5, counted and accounted for in the city of Mumbai. What about you? Have you been asked,'Aap ka nam? Baap ka naam?' yet?


Lazy Pineapple said...

oh my lord....I have not had the experience after you, we were constantly on the move throughout India so never had to face this barrage of questions.

Your post reminded me of the movie 'Malamaal Weekly' in which Paresh Rawal is beaten up for asking questions in the wrong a census taker...

R's Mom said...

Yep...done and over..and ya we werent asked the caste...and infact the lady who came to our place was very polite and nice.. :)

Anuradha Shankar said...

good one, aparna! so u have been counted.... waiting for my turn... and loved the part about the caste..... i am sure we are going to have even more interesting conversations, esp since we too dont really have a 'native' place, and we also have the additional problem of having no surnames - taking our hubby's name as surname is something any official refuses to understand... lets see what they come up with!

Kavi said...

Hilarious ! what a lovely take on the census stuff !

How archaic can we get with all of this! you seem to have one heck of a census administrator !

And such a delight of a read. Makes me almost wanting to wait for my census admistrator with a red carpet !


Ritu said...

Me wants! I want to stand up and be counted to!!!!

SavvY said...

Hm. . We have not been counted yet. . . Generally i hate being asked such questions . . And the census guy's rapid fires will be faced by Baba. . So i have no issues. . :-)

Sharmila said...

These ladies/gentlemen are school teachers ... did you know that?!
The lady here handed us a paper to fill ( only in Marathi ) and has disappeared. So much for getting counted. :-p

ZB said...

Shit!hope, me too, am not missed as a citizen of India.How do they calculate People who dont reside physically, but only mentally, in India?

It was hilarious and interesting to read, to say the least.Good writeup. TC:D

Sucharita Sarkar said...

No, have not had the census lady knocking on my (rented) door yet! But post your post, waiting eagerly!

Deepa said...

very entertaining post! I've not been counted yet. But I suspect I'll have the same 'native place' issues! :)

Ire said...

Shoot! You are so patient! I would have thrown a fit...not that it would have helped! I think we should be allowed to fill our own forms and not make these people go from one house to another!

Haddock said...

Oh yes I am waiting for that "aap ka naam, baap ka naam" thing to happen to us.
It can be fun if we have the time and patience.
But on a serious note it may be fun for us, but looking from the other side, think of their plight why are actually "pushed" to do this and the different type of people they have to accost at every door.
Some families can be really rude while answering questions.
By the way I hope they will forget that ink when they come to my place too. (who wants to get the walls disfigured) Moreover I am really scared when some one makes an X mark on my door. Remember the story of Alibaba and 40 thieves?

Ajan said...

Not yet..

This caste thing is kinda getting scary year by year.

Talking about native place, the guy who'd come for the census would be shocked by my neighbors. Their grandparents are from Lavapuri(Lahore, Pakistan), a Sikh General and a Hindu Brahman. Ran away from Lahore at the time of partition fearing mutiny. They still have their Sikh relatives there, family get togethers happen in Dubai. Sounds kewl rite!! :)

P said...

as usual you have managed to capture a malignant situation and nursed it to be benign!

BK Chowla, said...

You are lucky that you have been counted.
I am quite upset about caste based census. We were divided on religion basis earlier and now it may be on caste.

Anonymous said...

Interesting.Never had the good fortune of talking to a census person. But thanks to you, I know what to expect in future.:) I hope by the time I settle down in my Native Place, it still is intact and in one piece. With things going the way they are, there is no guarantee!!! Hey, people are able to convert religion these days. Is it possible to change caste, I wonder?

Aparna said...

@ Lazy Pineapple, not seen the movie Malamaal Weekly, but my experience was certainly enriching.

@ R's Mom,the lady who came to my house was also polite and nice. It was my quirky sense of humour that got away I'm afraid.

@ Anu, all the best for the questions coming your way. No native place, no caste, no last name...are you sure you are Indian?

@ Kavi, spread out the red carpet. Don't forget to blog about it!

@ Ritu, your turn is coming!

@ Savvy, Baba may answer the questions but please sit through the whole process, it is entertaining as hell.

@ Sharmila, teachers? God help. No wonder our kids are absolutely lost.

@ZB, I'm sure there is a way of counting the NRIs. You must check up on the net.Thanks.

@ Sucharita, best of luck!

@ Deepa, no native place? O no!

@ Nikita, no such luck...door to door counting of people till a better process emerges.

@ Haddock, I thought of the Alibaba episode too. But if your door or the wall has not been identified then another census officer may knock on the door once again.

@ Ajan, I would love to know your neighbour. They seem to be like my idea of an Indian family!

@ P, thanks ! that was cool!

@ BK Chowla, Neither do I agree on the caste issue. I was waiting for her to ask the question just so I could say I was casteless. But that did not happen.

@ Jyothi, can I borrow the address of your 'native place' for the next census? One piece or not, you still have it, right?

Anonymous said...

Ohhh, I have not; and I WANT to be asked :-(

sujata sengupta said...

Finally got to read it..there is a census thing going on here as well, and every time any body looking official rings the bell..I become a bundle of nerves..imagine answering all that to a non hindi, non english speaking ever smiling arabic guy!!

Sandhya said...

Not yet! Already our states are divided according to languages! Are they going to segregate according to castes now! Horrible!

I enjoyed your dialogues with 'aapka naam, baapka naam' woman!

kirti said...

Hi aparna,
that was a very interesting account. delightful and insightful.
I have a miniature version experience in the field of being "counted" for the electoral list.A similar school teacher , in the hot may afternoon knocks the door , asks questions ,seeks answers suiting her format (no mention of caste thankfully) .
when I offered her cold water to drink , she lamented that she had to visit atleast 50 families in a day and how her summer vacation was spoiled .

Anonymous said...


Tarun Mitra said...

This is really hilarious..thank god I wasn't there when the Census official came to my mom handled them

Now Jokes apart, this shows what type of teachers we are inducting in our education system. They do not know the name of the city which was only 64 years back was a part of India.

Hopefully they didn't marked u as a my mom told me that when they ask my 86 years old grandpa his mother's name he just wasn't able to recall..Now things are taken with respect to few generations back then I suppose more than 50% Bengalis residing in India would be termed as outsiders

Vrinda said...


The post is really hilarious. your write with ease, I like that.

I didn't had to face these questions, as I'm away from India.

Nona said...

Still waiting for the census official.

See, they still give preferential treatment to the slum dwellers. The caste question is applicable to only them!

Shankar.Nash said...

haha.. we are not counted yet (officially not living in this country).. but considering the way u wrote this.. i wish the officials come to count us.. right during the afternoon.. and ask these questions.. since my parents were born in villages.. i am bound to answer the questions like panchayat, taluk, district, street, temple, pond.. everything.. i await more fun...

Samvedna said...

I have never been counted:)..this belonging bussiness has become ridiculous many people ask me where do I belong to..I am from north but own a place in AP only and live in

RGB said...

Me too counted. Yday. And like you said, afternoon siesta time. The ladies were amicable though. Instead of native place, they asked for birth place, which was easy:) Delightful post!

Mr Happy said...

i was too counted.

She was so bad that she didnt got any of my name which i was saying, and she wrote phone numbers wrong also and instead of erasing it and writing it cleanly she was making the names ugly and horrible.

I said to her wait mam, i will get u an eraser, will u plz write it cleanly :)

she didnt asked caste question to me also...

♥Sugar♥Plum♥Fairy♥ said...

LOL...this is so humorous really....

If u have an Indian address, here are more than jus a few chances to win , a few goddies, ur sure to love or send to ur loved ones, lods of chances to enter ur name, for every chance , add a separate entry ie comment...all the best:-))

Smita said...

I dunno whether to laugh or to do tcch! tcch! tcch!

Seriously! Is it census or a joke! Am sure even God can not answer this one!

Smita said...

And no I haven't been counted as yet!

NR said...

Lolz...yet not counted...
I just wonder the stasts that the govt they even use it and the i dont think this data collection passes the validity test and its reliable!!

Nice post Aparna...again different from others !!

take care!!

Aparna said...

@ Unsung, your turn will come.

@ Sujata, I can well imagine! What will you do? Sign language?

@ Sandhya, we are still grappling with 'divide and win election' policies.

@ @ Kirti,I understand their plight. It is after all very hot. But when duty or country calls,one has to serve.

@ Tarun Mitra, it is rather difficult to explain to the people who have not gone through the trauma of partition how terrible it was for the communities who suffered it.

@ Vrinda, thanks for your encouraging words.

@ Nona, yes, slum dwellers will always get preferential treatment :(

@ Shankar, I wish you could be counted. It would be one hilarious post.

@ Samvedna, a lot of us are rather rootless in our own land!

@ RGB, glad it was easy for you.

@ Lincoln, see? we all have different experiences. Nice na?

@ Sugar Plum Fairy, thanks.

@ Smita, when you are counted, let us know!

@ Nazish, god knows what happens to the data. It is such a humongous task... they'd better use it.

Roshni said...

you seem to have apologized a lot for ...what?! Quite humorous but I doubt I would have been as patient as you if she had started with that 'WHAT?" with me!!!

Destiny's child... said...

The rapid fire round was dealt by mamma darling. I was not at home. When I got back, she told me about the lady who had come counting. Your account was a delight to read. :)

The Holy Lama said...

Loved the post, the satirical take on the exercise, the prejudices all spelt so much.

G S Pillai said...

you never fail to amaze! Period.

Anonymous said...

Very well written. I must say, you have a wonderful blog here.

Ava said...

Very funny. How things have changed. Me too a rootless Indian. I have never even seen my 'native village'.

Ramakrishnan said...

Hi aparna
Just got back after a bit of hibernation. That interview was hilarious stuff. Have you repeated the same verbatim or added some mirch masala from your side. Doesn't really matter though.Enjoyed it thoroughly !


Tomz said...

Nice biodata..nowadays, women are getting more educated than men

Anonymous said...

Building Dwellers cannot be SC/ST -Wow. I am all wide eyed with shock at that bouncer!!!
We haven't been visited by the census people. Yet.
The whole post was hilarious. But true... How odd is that! :D

The Panorama said...

Great post, Aparna! Really enjoyed reading it. This whole thing about putting down your native town can be tricky in Modern India:) Loved this post!

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Anonymous said...

Am I glad that this census business at least counts for some laugh?? Hilarious post as usual..see am running out of words to describe your jhakaas posts :(

A census is going around in this part of the world too. The guy who came here, for some unknown reasons was mighty disappointed to know that we have no links to Mexico. He left abruptly after asking that question :)

Onkar said...

Very interesting.

Unseen India Tours said...

I loved this !!So interesting !!Great written !

radha said...

Two ladies came home. And they were so badly trained. And have no idea - as you mentioned - about the states of India. Even their home state. They made a mess of the names too. But they have been having a bad time. At many apartments, I hear, they have been making repeated visits, because the inmates have turned them away.

Blunt Edges said...


Dheeraj said...

Citizen No. .... Yeah got counted and accounted for in India... and yeah, getting myself counted into your blogosphere, once again... Great to be back... :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aparna said...

@ Roshni,her WHATs rather made me sorry! I guess her lack of knowledge about India made me rather apologetic!

@ Destiny's child, lucky you had a mom to handle such queries!

@Holy Lama, thanks so much.

@ Blue bird, thank you kind sir :)

@ Tranquility, thank you.

@ Avdi, rootless in India...a rather nice name for a blog post, what do you think?

@ R. Ramakrishnan, no mirch masala from my side. The conversation actually happened. Swear!

@ Tomz, true!

@ Choco, thanks.

@ Panorama, thanks. India can be a funny country at times!

@ Sakshi, you guys have no Mexican connection? how could you disappoint the census guys?

@ Onkar, thanks a lot.

@ Unseen Rajasthan, thanks.

@ Radha, actually, this has to be a very boring job. Imagine counting more than a billion people.

@ Blunt edges, dude, where is the comment? I do not moderate my comments at all, unless somebody starts abusing. So I guess Blogger chewed it up and spit it out!

@ Tararumpumpum, thanks :)

Reema Sahay said...

Yes that's done went on till do you have landline, how many 2 wheelers, how many 4 wheelers, internet connection and I was really skeptical when she asked me about caste!