The Man from Madras Musings is informed that the busiest registrar offices are those in the outskirts of the city.
Those of you who have been MMM’s faithful followers (and may your tribe increase) will recollect his having visited quite a few of them. There was the place where a pig, a goat and a monkey ran the establishment and then there was the other place where registration of documents was more a question of rude physical strength than anything else. You would not be far wrong in assuming that MMM had seen them all.
But you would be surprised! Life is, after all, a continuous learning process and why should registration offices be any different? Besides, MMM must admit, he does have a morbid fancy for these places. If not anything else, they have never failed him when it comes to providing him with 800 words of mirth for this column. They are friends in need, indeed.
Which is why when his good lady informed him one fine morning that he would be required to accompany her on a day’s outing to a registration office, MMM readily agreed. In any case, what with her eye like Mars, which threatens and commands, MMM was hardly likely to have said he was occupied elsewhere. The one that MMM and lady were going to was apparently the busiest in all suburbia and MMM went with visions of a happening place from where ants could have taken their lessons.
Reaching the place after a fairly bumpy journey, MMM’s good lady busied herself with agents and assistants while MMM was left to his own devices until called forth to produce his thumb, rub it in ink and then affix an impression of it on documents of which he knew nothing about. He may as well have detached his thumb and sent it with the good lady. Something in the way she looks on these occasions makes MMM feel that she too has long come to the same conclusion but just does not clothe the idea in words or, more importantly, action.
But back to the registration office. For all its famed volume and value of transactions, this was no different from the ones MMM had seen earlier. Squalor was its theme. It was an early 20th Century construction, all Madras terrace and Mangalore tiles. In its time it must have been a pretty and spacious office, with a large garden surrounding it. Succeeding incumbents had clearly given full vent to their architectural (and vandalising) skills. The building had broken into a rash of tumour-like outgrowths, each uglier than the other. As a consequence, no natural ventilation of any kind was possible. As for light, the only variety was the kind obtained by pressing a switch. The roof was clearly held by a strong network of cobwebs.
The big man was out for lunch and so MMM and lady were directed to the shade of a tree. A short while thereafter, the boss arrived and belched his satisfaction at the victuals and viands he had partaken of. The place was in business once again.
MMM and lady were ushered in to the presence, identifications of documents were produced, and MMM got busy flexing his thumb, readying it for the big moment. Just then the power failed. This was a scheduled power cut, MMM was told, and he was asked not to worry. MMM understood that this meant some back-up would come into its own and provide light. But that was not the case.
“Let there be light,” bellowed the top honcho and there was light. This was by way of a torchlight pressed into the boss’ hand by an attendant. Battery back-up was available as evinced by a grime covered inverter connected to several cobweb covered batteries in a corner. These worked only when the mains had power. Not that this daunted the officer. He got busy flashing the torch at the documents. He needed to verify that MMM and good lady were indeed those they claimed to be. For this he looked at the identification documents and then flashed his light on the faces of MMM and lady. Now, bright light always makes MMM close his eyes and each time the beam made its way to MMM this happened. The registration boss was not pleased. He wondered why when Madam could do it, Sir could not. MMM did not reply, for such officers are touchy beings. He merely endeavoured to keep his eyes open. After a while the man behind the torch declared himself convinced. MMM and good lady were asked to go to a second room, to produce thumbs and be done with it.
A large crowd was waiting patiently there, as could be seen from the dim silhouettes. It was also evident that everyone had his thumbs on the go. But there was no action. What held it all up was the lack of light. Evidently, the Government allows only one torch light for each registration office and if it was in working condition, which was seldom, it was invariably cornered by the man in the corner office, so to speak. The rest had to wait. And wait they did patiently.
But MMM’s luck was in. The top boss was called away for some meeting with bosses who were further up, impossible though that may seem. He thoughtfully left the torch behind. Matters then proceeded briskly. Thumb after thumb was produced, dipped in ink, affixed on paper and then given a wet tissue with which to wipe off the ink. All along, in a kind of litany, the man who handled the thumbs kept instructing everyone in general that the thumb had to be “left free” if its impression was to be faithfully recorded on paper.
When it came to MMM’s turn, he (MMM) tried being as relaxed as possible. But that was a tall order in a darkened room with thousands of brethren and, above all, MMM’s good lady watching. MMM’s thumb had a sharp attack of stage fright. It would not be free and insisted on clinging to the parent hand. But the chief thumb affixer knew his business. He must have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of thumbs in his time. Having grasped MMM’s thumb firmly, he went about his business, releasing MMM and thumb only after what looked like the shadow of a hammerhead had been fixed on the paper. He then clicked his tongue to indicate that he had seen better thumbs. But that was nothing to go by. MMM noticed that all previous registrations looked like hammerheads too.
This write-up appeared under the Short and Snappy Column of Madras Musings dated 1st April 2013