I became incensed at his demand for yet more bakshish.
‘How can you too have four kids and one applied for?’ I blurted out. ‘Do you have no shame?’
The guard threw his hands up in the air saying, ‘I am a panj-waqtia, a five timer.’
Oh yeh, I thought, you pray five times a day, you son of a blind donkey?
But in truth, I was worried about something a bit more closer to my heart. I had 4 one-hundred rupee notes, and then only one-thousand rupee ones in my wallet, and judging by this panj-waqtia, if I took out a one thousand note, that was would be the end of that.
Handing him 4 one-hundred rupee notes I hissed, ‘I am not paying for any applied for. How do I know it is not just in your pants?’
The guard took the money hesitantly, shook his head in disbelief and let me through. Once inside, I picked up an application form from a pile on a desk. It was doubled sided, Urdu and English. I filled the English side with my details and then waited in another queue. Everyone had to go through a pre-check of documentation, then had to be photographed and then and have the data rechecked and then got their ID cards.
After around two hours of patiently playing musical chairs, there were only two people left in front of me for the pre-check, both old men. The first man went to the counter, where a young studious clerk looked over his documentation and asked him, ‘Have you ever been out of the country?’
‘Yes,’ the first man replied.
‘Where is your passport?’ the clerk asked.
‘It is in my village, but I have a copy.’
‘You need to bring the original. That is what is written in the rules.’
‘It is written?’ the first man asked.
‘But my village is a long way from here.’
‘Then uncle, you will have to go a long way, I do not make rules I obey then.’ As the old man was trying to work out a reply the clerk shouted, ‘Next.’
The second man went and sat meekly in front of the clerk.
‘Have you been out of the country?’ the clerk asked.
‘How much education do you have?’ the clerk asked.
‘I am BA pass,’ the man replied proudly.
‘Do you have the certificate?’
The second man didn’t reply.
‘They must be original. No copies,’ the clerk said.
‘I lost them a long time ago,’ the man said laughing falsely.
‘You have to go and get a report from your local thana, police station.’
‘But my thana is four hours drive from here.’
‘I am following what is written in here…’
The second man grabbed his documents,cursed and walked out.
‘Next,’ the clerk said nodding to me.
I went in front of him and gave him my documents.
He looked over my application form and shook his head saying, ‘You should have had your form filled by a literate clerk. This hand writing is so bad.’ He took his eyes off the form and looked at me.
Suddenly, I discovered a movement of my neck I didn’t know I knew I could do. I moved my head left and right, without turning it.
He thought for a moment and said, ‘But what to do, at least I can work out what it says.’
I did a right to left movement with my head, and smiled back at him
‘Have you been out of the country?’ he asked ticking a box.
‘How much education do you have?’ he asked.
He scribbled something down on a form, and I waited nervously for him to enter the details of my family into his computer. He did this without once looking up from the screen and then gave me a token and told me to go to be photographed.
I was in the photograph booth before he called out, ‘Next’.
After having my photograph taken I was directed to the final counter. There were two screens, one facing me and the other facing a clerk, bald headed man much older than me. My side of the screen had, just like his, all the details of my application. My date of birth said 1.12.1957. I pointed to that section of my screen and asked, ‘What is this block of numbers here?’
‘That’s your date of birth, uncle,’ he replied.
Ganjay, bald one, I thought, how dare call me uncle, but said meekly, ‘I have seen it written differently, the numbers were different.’
‘If it is written here, then it is written. If you think it is wrong…’
‘Well, son, I know one thing, for sure.’
‘I was born.’
‘Yes uncle,’ he said looking intensely at the screen. ‘And uncle you’re wife’s name, is a bit strange.’
My wife has a South Indian name. I began to panic and thought quickly. Raising my voice I said, ‘She’s my wife and not yours. She can have any name she likes.’
This embarrassed the clerk. He apologized, pressed a few buttons and gave me a number with which to go and collect my ID card.
Whilst Pakistani bureaucracy is kind,in its own unkind way, and allows one to change birthday dates, Face Book is not so forgiving. It has limits on how many times you can be born, and I am stuck with what Face Book has given me