In the morning I went to see the Lambardar, the keeper of the village records,an unsmiling bespeckled man, with heavily oiled hair. He showed me a dusty old register and said, ‘I am sure I put your date of birth in this.’ After flicking through a number of pages he shook his head, and then his face lit up. He dived behind a broken desk and pulled out an even older register. The paper had yellowed with age and was eaten away on the edges. Blowing dust of it, he ran his finger down the side and then smiled, ‘Here it is?’
‘You found it uncle,’ I said pressing on his shoulder.
‘I have found the reference to the register in which it was written down, now I have to find that. It is here somewhere, or maybe it is in Jhelum. Come back tomorrow.’
As I was leaving his house, dejected and trying not to upset a growling dog with angry eyes, that was tied to the end of a tree with a thick rope, the Lambardar came running out after me, register in hand. The dog stood up barked and went for me. Luckily the rope held.
A barefoot little boy, dressed only in a kameez top darted out from behind a buffalo and rushed at the dog. Whacking the animal across the head, he said, ‘Don’t you know uncle Tariq is from England.’
The dog yelped into silence and sat down. The boy stared a me proudly. His mother materialised from somewhere holding his shalvar, his trousers, saying, ‘You shameless bastard, running around with your tuh, your butt, showing, in front of uncle Tariq.’ Before his mother could grab him, the boy ducked under the buffalo and disappeared into the back of the house.
‘Here it is, written in your father’s hand writing,’ the Lumbardar said throwing a disbelieving glance at the little boy.
‘What does it say?’ I asked.
‘It says here, that you were born in December, 1957 on the, it looks like a sifr, a zero…’
‘Uncle it can’t be a sifr…’
‘I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. I am metric pass, from Ramdayal High School. ‘ he said, without taking his eyes off the register, ‘Of course it can’t be sifr. So it must be either 10th, but a bit of the ‘1’ has dropped off or most likely it is the 6th with the handle missing, or it could be…’
‘So which is it then?’
‘I will get you a ‘Bey’ form and it will be clearly marked on that?’
‘Which one will be clearly marked uncle?’
‘Which one would you prefer?’
‘The real one,’ I snapped.
I got the ‘Bey’ form, and the birthday – 6th of December 1957.
But this was only birthday number two…
In those days I was making a lot of trips to Pakistan and my Pakistani Passport had expired. As non-resident Pakistanis could get an Overseas Pakistani Card, which would mean visa free travel to Pakistan, I decided to get one, but I had to have a new Pakistani identity card first.
The night before I set off to the city of Gujarat, to get my Identity Card, my relatives and friends advised me to spend a few thousand rupees in bribes and avoid having to stand in queues. I became incensed at this corrupt suggestion, and decided to do it all clean.
The next day I got a taxi and we set off bright and early, but by the time we got to Gujarat, to the relevant government offices. Hundreds of people were already standing in a long line, stretching from the entrance all the way around the sides of the outer wall of the building. I went to the back and stood meekly in my place. I waited patiently in the queue for about an hour or so, getting wetter and wetter with the sweat, without moving forward, when a small thin officious looking man walked up to me and said, ‘Sir, someone like you doesn’t have to stand in this line.’
He had a folder under his armpit. Even though it was unbearably hot, he was dressed in a three-piece suit.
No one will know, I thought, and asked, ‘How much?’
‘Sir,’ he replied. A look of despair came over his face.’You are a white man, an abroadi, if you don’t mind me saying so. Your are not made like us, you will die in this heat.’
I wanted to shove a finger up at my friends in village.
He walked closer to me whispering, ‘I will get you through the main door. I know every one here. Once through the door, there is no way to get you up the line, everyone is a big someone in there.’
‘May the Almighty bless you brother,’ I said.
‘It is your blessing I need sir,’ he said. ‘I have four children and one applied for.’
I was so angry with him. I thought of turning around and going to the back of the line again, when a drop of sweat rolled off my forehead, and went into my eye.
I handed him t a hundred rupee note. He pushed my hand away saying, ‘I have four children and one applied for sir.’
I gave him five hundred rupees and he led me towards the front of the queue, where the line thinned out into single file. The entrance to the building was guarded by a tall man with bloodshot eyes and a thick pointy moustache. I smiled at him. He ignored me. I turned to the man I had given the money to. He had vanished.
‘I am with him, that man who was with me a moment ago,’ I said to the guard.
‘He was right here. He knows everyone here. He was wearing a suit…’
‘Did you give him any money?’
‘Did he have four children and one applied for?’
‘I have four kids and one applied for,’ the guard said clearing his throat. TO BE CONTINUED.