Nepal | January 27, 2020

Thing about govt offices: Indifference reigns supreme

Annu Rana

Because my question is injected distastefully with many English words, the guard asks if my papers are foreign, to which I reply yes. With a straight face, he tells me I’m in the wrong department

As I walk up towards a lonely building, I’m greeted languidly by despondent and drying vegetation. I come upon confused faces and bodies hovering near rusting, slim windows. Carefully, they listen to voices babbling from inside a room, stare unflinchingly with knotted brows before breaking eye contact. Systematically, bodies shift from one window to another.

I ask timidly where I should go with the papers in my hands. Everyone waits on somebody else’s response, so all I receive are muted stares. A young man behind me musters some courage and attempts to find an actual door for whatever it’s worth. I choose to ally with Brave Soul and walk behind him. At the first door, he apprehensively slides his body and dares to peek inside. He, too, timidly asks where he should go with his papers.

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Brave Soul is snapped at by a voice springing from a corner of this colourless room. When it shrieks at us to go outside and wait like everyone, Brave Soul lets out a sharp gasp, and lets the door shut at our faces. We return outside into the light, searching for the next move. An invisible hand points to a small, green bulletin board, until then, we had shown contempt for. Pinned to it were a number of papers containing bullet points of demands in a language to which I clearly display remarkable ineptitude.

I look at Brave Soul’s intense eyes dart from left to right simultaneously mouthing the words. Finishing, he turns to face my searching eyes and says that I should be in the next building. So does he. He hops on his motorcycle and speeds off. I walk as briskly as I can so I can give my misery company.

Upon entering, I meet faces painted with certainty and strides of determination this time. A familiar voice shouts at me to ask the security guard for a tear of flimsy paper. Brave Soul is already standing in a line snaking out from a dark window. I nod obediently. The security guard asks me why I need the form, and I give the only answer I know; to apply for an equivalency certificate. He tears it, hands me a flimsy piece of paper and two words: you’re late.

In a parallel universe, I tell him that that makes me a perfect Nepali before spinning on my heels and marching off. Reality documents me cowering apologetically, dampening the form in my hands. I seek Brave Soul’s next advice. He instructs me to find the Voucher Man who bears a protruding belly caged inside a puffer jacket. He dons the Dhaka Topi as well. Before I can completely exhale, I spot the Voucher Man dragging a weather-beaten plastic chair onto the middle of a motorable road to bask in the sun. I can’t believe my luck as I request the necessary voucher. He waves me away as if I were a housefly bothering his pleasant winter sun. Arriving easily at my wits’ end, I call up Father to check on his whereabouts when he fails to arrive on time for my rescue.

Brave Soul asks if I received the voucher. Seeing my glum face, he teaches me to try again; this time with a beseeching voice. He adds that I should mention as dispiritedly as possible that I’ve come from afar and my fate rests only upon favour. I piece together some courage to work up facial muscles and a matching voice. I let Brave Soul’s voice echo in my head. Be apologetic. Show reverence. Above all, acknowledge his hubris. I return to the Voucher Man only to be swept away, so I resign myself to a corner not too far from him where we both continue to face each other.

Throughout his conversation with his lackeys, he throws glances in my direction from where I churn out various dejected looks until one of them disconcerts his bureaucratic inertia. At long last, the benevolent one has been appeased, so he signals at me discreetly. Sheepishly, I wait as he talks in a low voice. Voucher Man says that he is giving me the voucher outside of office hours, so I must not share this classified act. He furtively pulls out a bank voucher folded in thirds that I stealthily slip into my pocket. I return him a quick, firm nod with a brief whisper of thanks. I allow my heart to be elated and my mind to believe that I’ve been looked upon favourably.

Father finally returns my call, and I tell him to hurry before my precious favour ebbs away. By the time Father maneuvers himself out of the traffic congestion, I’m one of the three people left. The second he puts his scooter on a stand, he rushes to read the demands offending his presbyopia (long-sightedness), so he rummages through his bag for his reading glasses. I wait on him when I hear a muffled voice behind me; Voucher Man stands belly out.

He tells me to go to a particular window to complete my paperwork and end my misery. On that same train of monologue, he mentions that I haven’t made good use of his compassionate act. I want to display some of my dejected faces to earn more sympathy, but time isn’t putting up with it. Father and I rush to the counter only to have the window shut.

Voucher Man is long gone. Father says we could try again tomorrow. Deeply I inhale and decide that I will defeat this Goliath somehow. I make a plan for the day after, inquiring with the security guard of the opening hours and papers to submit. Because many of the words in my question are injected distastefully with English, he doesn’t hesitate in asking if my papers are foreign, to which I reply yes. With a straight face, he tells me I’m in the wrong department. I think to myself that I’m nowhere near Goliath’s foot.

 


A version of this article appears in print on January 03, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.


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