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The Great Indian Paperwork Trick

india Updated: Jun 04, 2009 20:54 IST
Preeti Singh
Preeti Singh
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

It would seem that in some places around the world, swine flu is almost a thing of the past. That’s till you hit the native shores of that great sea of humanity: IGI Airport, New Delhi. This, after a nerve-wrackingly bumpy flight, the cause of which an insightful man explained to his rattled son as the pilot’s attempts to shake some stray air out of his pockets. Hmmm...

Upon entering the crowded immigration hall back home, I was hit by a scene straight out of a B-grade sci-fi flick, in which a flesh-eating virus is unleashed on the mother ship. Had my gorgeous land been attacked by anthrax-wielding pigs while I was away? For there, amid the heat and cloying smell of phenyl, sat the Masks: a band of motivated men and women seemingly waiting to dunk unsuspecting travellers into giant anti-viral casks.

‘Health check’, the board screamed ominously. Fearing some disturbing questions on the state of my beer-swamped liver and cheese-clogged arteries, I was relieved to discover that the ‘check’ merely involved filling up a sickly green form. So I solemnly declared that no, despite having travelled to an ‘affected area’, I had not been sneezing into my fellow
travellers’ sleeves and, no, my body temperature hadn’t been fluctuating like the sensex.

After fighting nameless other infections from the jostling crowd, I finally got the form duly stamped by one of the Masks, who was cautious enough to refuse even the slightest eye-contact with my answers, and that was that. For all he cared, I could’ve easily got away with being the harbinger of a small-pox epidemic.

Having gone through this ridiculous little charade, I couldn’t resist comparing our dotty obsession with signing on those dotted lines to the surprisingly effortless acquisition of a free, pay-as-you-go mobile SIM in London. All in cash, without producing a single document that said who I was or where I was from. Here, you’d need reams of paper just to prove that you’re a bona fide, peace-loving, SMS jokes-forwarding citizen.

The Indian love for paperwork has no global parallel, being part and parcel of our penchant for the dramatic. Almost as if nothing of importance can be done without producing that pen with a flourish. From Bollywood baddies getting wills signed under duress to SRK and Big B lining up to sell those mighty weapons of instruction, here the pen still reigns supreme. Say, shall I sign to that?