Came a day when The Man from Madras Musings’ good lady announced that he had to get an Adhaar card. MMM was not exactly enthusiastic but in the face of the Iron Lady’s steely resolve he capitulated. All kinds of dire eventualities befell those without an Adhaar card, said the good lady. You did not get gas connections, banks froze your accounts and you became persona non grata with the powers that be, she added for good measure. The Adhaar team camped but briefly in each neighbourhood she warned, and they had a tendency like the Arabs (or was it the Assyrians) to suddenly fold their tents and leave. And once they had gone it was apparently like the moving finger in Nebuchadnezzar’s feast. Not all your piety nor your wit could bring them back.

And, so, off MMM went feeling rather like Childe Roland who came unto the dark tower. Nothing could be closer to the truth. Dark was the mot juste. The venue was a school, which had probably been designed by an architect who specialised in prison cells. It was with great apprehension that MMM walked in. In his fevered hands he clutched a set of documents, the most important one being a small census slip that proved MMM was for real and not a mere wraith or phantasm.

Outside the chamber waited an increasingly restive populace – wailing children, angry women, brooding men and a resigned-to-their-fate set of the elderly. Not a chair was in sight. There was no water either. And as for ventilation – perish the thought. If this was the fate of the ‘adhaarables’, those who were doing the ‘adhaaring’ were not much better off. They had the latest cameras and laptops, it is true, but as for the rest of the amenities that go to make up an ergonomic workplace, there was none. A sole fan that swirled slowly distributed hot air. The only light was from the laptop screens and the seating was something left over from the Chinese torture chambers. Bedrolls strewn about indicated that the Adhaarers lived on the premises. A permanent odour proved that they cooked, ate and answered nature somewhere close by.

Into this despairing darkness MMM stepped when his turn came. It was like something out of a noire Bengali film. The man doing the Adhaaring asked MMM to show his documents. He shook his head as though he was not satisfied and then left the room taking all of MMM’s papers with him. After a stage wait, a more superior being arrived and having looked at MMM twice, reluctantly conceded that he, MMM, was of Adhaar standard. MMM was asked to step in front of the camera and smile. But try as he might, MMM could not. He is now, therefore, permanently enshrined in Government records as one prone to melancholia. Then came what was known as ‘fingering’. MMM was asked to place his thumbs first and then all his other fingers on a gadget that recorded their patterns forever. Next time there is a smash-and-grab raid in the neighbourhood, the Government would know where to look. A cold nod indicated that MMM could leave. Outside, the women continued to be angry, the men brooded, the children wailed and the old remained passive. MMM smiled.

Coming away, his documents intact, The Man from Madras Musings could not help wondering as to why any interaction with the Government has to necessarily be sans any physical convenience. Surely in this 21st century, those in charge can be more sensitive to basic amenities?