Sunday 26 August 2018


‘You still enjoying your bucolic life up in the Nilgiris hills?’
‘Of course! Very much.’
‘And is your small homestay still giving you an affordable income? I believe life up in the hills is expensive.’
‘Oh, tourists love to stay with families rather than in impersonal hotels. So far I have just about managed to pay expenses, but now it is going to be very difficult. Several other homestay owners are closing down, but I persevere.’
‘Why? What is the problem?’
‘No problem, really... It’s just that the government, with very good intentions, mind you, wants everybody to re-register their properties. People are lazy, getting scared of all the paperwork, and would rather close down.’
‘What! Close down just because of a little paperwork!’
‘Well... more than a little, actually, but I am accustomed to it, since all my people have always worked for the Indian Government. Others don’t know. They say they would rather close down because they cannot afford the bribes.’
‘But bribes are just plain wrong, right?’
‘Not if you know what pressures government servants are under. A bribe is a tip. You know –TIP – To Insure Promptness. If you don’t get papers back from offices in your lifetime, you leave a huge headache for your children.’
‘But – but – but why should there be so much paperwork?’
‘Look at it this way. India is a poor country, and everyone wants a secure government job that gives you a pension at the end of your life. Naturally once you are in, your department wants to keep growing, so everyone knows it is important and indispensible. So government departments recruit more public servants, and they have to do something, so they produce more forms for people to fill in. It is logical, right?’
‘Yes...maybe...but it doesn’t sound very efficient, somehow?’
‘On the contrary, India will fall apart if not for the paperwork. You see, most people are very poor, and there are very many jobless youths, people can’t get proper medical treatment without paying huge sums to private hospitals, they cannot get their children into good schools, without paying huge fees. What does all this add up to? Frustration! Which is dangerous, can lead to revolt. But paperwork keeps everyone very, very busy, no time to think of their grievances. So the kindly government produces more forms to fill in on a regular basis.’
‘My God! And how many forms have you to fill in to have your homestay in the Nilgiris hills?’
‘Not very many, really, knowing government as I do. Let me see now... Yes the usual signed certificates from the Thasildar and the Collector of the District, from the Land Records office, the Town Planning Department, certificates from the Roads and Buildings, from Water Works, from Forest, Agriculture, Mining and Geology departments – yes also from the Railways and Civil Aviation that the house does not pose an obstruction, and, yes, a new one that the Archaeological Survey of India should certify that the house is not on top of a historical site that might be found later. All very simple.’
‘How on earth are you going to get all those certificates?’
‘Well, that’s where the timely tip comes in.’
‘And you put up with it?’
‘Yes, everybody does in India. In fact, the government in its hurry has left out many other vitally needed certificates you should have to get your house approved. I mean, there should be a certificate from the Animal Welfare Board that no animal has been injured on the property, another from the Human Rights Commission that no atrocity has been committed, a similar one from Women’s Welfare Board about no work-place harassment, an important one from the Central Bureau of Investigation that the house is not being used for terrorist activity; and yes, one from the Coast Guard as well.’
‘The Coast Guard? You are up six-thousand feet on the hills, man!’
‘In these days of global warming you can never tell from one day to the next how high the sea will rise. And oh, yes, above all, a personally signed certificate from The President of the Republic that the house is in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution and its Directive Principles.’   


  1. Fantastic Vithal. Like the famous Greek bureaucracy of 30 years ago. Not that it doesn’t exist today bur it’s more tolerable. It’s by electronic means usually and you need to know computers and be online. Youth in the family therefore is decidedly at a premium. Enjoyed greatly your short story. Bravo.

  2. I enjoyed the story too, although as an outsider I've no idea how much of the certification referred to is satirical exaggeration and how much is factual. Would I be right in surmising that there's a strong core of fact here?