It was 11.25 am on a hot Thursday morning. I had been sitting on a hard wooden stool for roughly 70 minutes at that point and my butt was uncomfortably numb. There was no end in sight to my vigil.
I was waiting for a notary, whom I didn’t know from Adam, to issue me a signed official document (on a Rs 20 stamp paper issued by the government, no less!) certifying I was who I claimed to be. All this, so that I could move a step forward in getting my residential address changed on my driving license. If this strikes you as absurd beyond measure, you are not alone.
Ever since I was told by the stern looking officer at the entrance desk of the Thiruvanmiyur R.T.O office, who looked through my documents and told me that all I lacked was a duly notarised document on the green legal paper, I had been wondering about the rationale, quietly and not so quietly to my long-suffering mother, who had gone along to get her licence renewed. I am sure she wished that she had gone herself some other day.
The officer also helpfully pointed me towards a notary, located opposite the RTO office, with a photocopying centre attached, taking care of all your licensing needs under one roof. Upon enquiries we learnt that the notary was just ten minutes away, so I sat on the aforementioned stool to wait.
And wait. And wait some more.
After 30 minutes or so, the notary walked in, full of amiable smiles to the two sweating women. It was at this point that the comedy took on a new twist.
“Hello madam, how can I help you?”
“Sir, I was told that I could get my license application notarised by you, for a fee?”
“Oh yes, what do you need this for?”
“I have changed my residence and need my driving license to reflect that.”
“What? Address change? The blank documents, duly signed and stamped by me, are readily available here! These guys (the workers at the photocopying station) could have done it for you in minutes! Hey (at the main guy by the copier) why didn’t you get madam sorted already?”
Photocopier guy: “Madam said attestation, sir!”
“No, no. I said ‘address change’!”
Photocopier guy: “I thought you said attestation! Ok please wait.”
And we did.
After a grand total of 75 minutes, the final moments of which were spent in a verbal battle with the previously helpful Photocopier Guy for having sidelined me for so long for such a simple thing, and the notary trying to placate both parties, I was finally in possession of the official document that said I was who I was.
At this point, I should add that I had the counterfoil issued by the LPG gas agency each time they delivered my cylinder home AND my bank passbook, both displaying my address in bold typeface. How these verified sources were not solid enough as evidence unless accompanied by the notarised document was an unending puzzle.
Clutching the precious documents, crossing perilous roads, my mother and I reached the RTO premises again, where we were directed to the back of the building. The counter was just a desk facing the external window of the building, with one harried lady seated behind a heavily grilled and barred window frame, collecting money from a long line of people – driving schools registering their students by the boatloads, hapless senior citizens waiting for official documents for their vehicle, nervous college guys eager to get their hands on an international driving license and us.
Of course, the helpful instructions painted on the walls were either hopelessly out of date or with the paint peeled off at interesting locations, creating an air of mystery and intrigue about how much this enterprise could cost you in the end. Rs 500, I learnt 30 minutes later while my mum got a bigger blow, having to shell out Rs 1900.
The lady, in an effort to be helpful as my mother squawked at the huge sum, pointed out that the price mum quoted was the 2016 price, which expired on 31 Dec and mum missed out paying Rs 1400 less by two months!
After subsequent assistance from the samaritans waiting in nearby queues, we managed to stick the requisite challans to our growing list of documents (glue supplied wordlessly by the guy seated at the bench alongside) and make our way to the room to get our digital photos taken. This took a full 3.5 seconds, after which the guy at the computer unceremoniously dumped our precious collection of documents into a basket, full of similar forms.
And that was that! With his terse “Collect the license next week” ringing in our ears, we beat a hasty retreat in the scorching midday sun, all the time wondering why such a simple procedure involving three desks — one to check, one to collect money and one to take digital photographs — was needlessly complicated by the lack of pertinent and valid instructions and a less circuitous route.
Bureaucracy, thy name is India!