Filling in Forms

It’s National Day today here in India. I expected there to be a lot more noise and bustle, but it seems quieter than usual. Perhaps they’re saving it all up for tonight…

I was struck when I first arrived by the seriousness with which ordinary Indians approach the filling in of forms. My most recent experience of this was when I first arrived at the Groovy Ganges Guesthouse and had to register with the police. It’s the same in Germany, but here, instead of queuing up at the police station, your landlord submits the forms for you.

So, soon after my arrival, a young man appeared at my door requesting my presence downstairs to meet his father and deal with the formalities. Dutifully, I trotted down and smiled, pleasantly I hoped, at the old man sitting in a plastic picnic chair with what looked like a makeover of a toilet seat cover (the looped kind favoured in the 60s and 70s, it was red) on his head. I was offered a chair and Papa directed his son (who remained standing throughout) to give him his spectacles, then meticulously explained the legalities of the document I was to sign. I listened, fascinated.

Eventually, he opened a large folder and produced the form. It comprised of five questions. Each was discussed first by father and son, then solemnly explained to me. Name was relatively easy—I wrote it out for them and they both examined my entry carefully. My capital letters were a little shoddy in comparison to Papa’s, but they would have to do. Passport number, age and address in Germany were also fairly easy to accomplish and required minimal discussion. Then we came to nationality.

“And your nationality is…?” asked Papa.
“English,” I replied.
Papa looked disconcerted and consulted with his son. He then turned to me and smiled.
“But you live in Germany…” he said, not confused, but keen to be absolutely clear.
“Yes,” I replied. “I am English, but I live in Germany.”
“So you are British,” said Papa, slowly and deliberately.
“Well, I’m English, actually,” I replied, smiling.
Father and son exchanged glances, then a few words, then fell silent. Papa turned to me once more and returned my smile.
“You are British,” he stated, a steely glint appearing in his eye
“I’m English,” I insisted.

Father and son spoke urgently, one to another, and then, as if to offer me the opportunity of turning over a new leaf on a whole new and far more radiant life, Papa smiled and tried once more.
“British,” he declared
I smiled back. I liked him. And I loved his hat.
“English,” I said quietly, but firmly.

Papa and son looked at each other, not quite sure how to proceed. Papa adjusted his glasses, pulled the form a little closer, clutched the pen a little tighter and inscribed carefully, even painstakingly, ‘British” on the form. Then looked up and smiled benignly, as one would smile at an alcoholic who refuses to accept they have a problem. And I have been ‘British’ ever since.

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