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? "
" 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?"
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?