Translated from the Hindi by Sharmista De
That person sitting on the other side of the window was skimming through pages with the same coldness and detachment.
“Fill in the child’s father’s, i.e. your husband’s name in the column.”
“This is not needed,” said the woman bitterly.
“Ma’am, isn’t this the column for the child’s father’s name?”
“There must be a name of the child’s father. You fill in the name of the child’s father.”
“See, I have been divorced, and that too for ten years. I have nothing to do with him. The divorce papers are also attached here. Just process my papers.”
“Ma’am, I have already told you, fill in the name of the child’s father. His signature is also required.”
“Why? Why do you need his signature?”
“He is your child’s father. And what if you stayed back in the foreign country.”
“I can stay anywhere with my child. He is my child. I have his custodian papers. We have nothing to do with him now.”
“You might have nothing to do but you need your child’s passport, right? Here, take the papers and complete it, ma’am.”
“My papers are complete,” she said. She was giving him the supporting documents of the papers.
“You are wasting my time. Go upstairs and have a talk with the passport officer.”
She helplessly arranged her papers. She turned back and saw the same girl from yesterday, standing right behind her in the queue. As she was walking past her, the girl stopped her to ask if she was going to meet the passport officer but she left without answering. She went upstairs. The passport officer was not in his room.
“Sir is in a meeting, have a seat,” said the man.
She looked at her watch. Lunch was in about half or a quarter of an hour. She stood up restlessly and trudged onto the balcony.
“You can check upstairs, maybe he is there,” said the same man.
She went upstairs. It was on the fourth floor. There was no sign of the elevator. She looked closely at the corner of the balcony and found out two men were busily absorbed in playing cards. When she asked around, she got to know one of them was the passport officer. She went closer and said—“Excuse me, sir!” Her call did not elicit a reaction. “Excuse me, sir!” He looked up from his cards with what seemed like great difficulty. She took out her card saying, “I am from a media house,” and offering it to him, mentioned, “I am a special correspondent and I wish to talk to you.”
“Okay, go downstairs and sit in my room, I am coming.”
Controlling her anger she said, “I am coming from there. I was told you are in a meeting.”
“Are you threatening me? Showing the power of a media person…” he said looking at her and then correcting his stance, he stood up.
“Come, ma’am” saying he went downstairs with her to his room.
She saw the same girl sitting on the bench.
She gave all the information to the passport officer. She also showed all her papers and confronted him—
“See, I can’t link that criminal’s name with my son. He is a political figure. A malefactor son of the minister. I have all the papers. These are my divorce papers. This is the child’s custodian paper. I even have this paper cutting off the news, the very significant case of Geeta Hariharan with the verdict of the Supreme Court. It states the mother as the legal guardian. Sir, I am living independently. I have not taken any maintenance from him. I am bringing up the child for the last ten years. The child was of three months when I left his home. Your staff is harassing me.”
“It is not like that, ma’am. There are some official formalities. And those need to be fulfilled. You must know how the system works. You could do one thing, ma’am, bring a reference letter from the MP who attested your papers. And that will do the work. Sorry ma’am, for the botheration.”
She stepped out under duress and saw the same girl. As she walked out, the girl went inside. She could hear her shout—
“Why do you need the father’s name?”
Phew! And she held her head in her hands. She came down. She thought to herself, getting the letter won’t be difficult. The MP was her friend’s aunt.
She called the MP’s PA. “I will have a talk and call you in five minutes,” said the PA. The call came and asked her to come over. She went there. The information about her arrival was directed to the main entrance. She directly parked her car and was ushered upstairs. The PA welcomed her and after a call took her to the MP. The MP was sitting on a chair, seeing her she spoke, “Come, come.”
She continued, “Don’t worry, my PA has briefed me on the whole situation. What can be done? Our system is such. He will show you the finished draft of the letter. Okay, now tell me, what will you have? Tea, coffee, or something cold?”
“Please, don’t bother about all these.”
“Not at all, I will also have coffee with you, I will send for it,” she added and ordered two coffees. “Either you don’t come to our home or you come at a time when I am not there.”
“Oh! No aunty,” saying, she laughed throatily.
He brought the letter to the MP. She took it, signed it, and put her seal. “Hope things will be okay now,” she said. Taking the letter, she thanked her and walked out. Immediately she took her car and went back to the passport office. She walked to the counter with the letter. She looked at her watch. It didn’t take long. The entire thing had taken around one and a half hours. She noticed that the seat at the counter was empty. On asking the person beside the reply came, “He will just be here, have a seat.”
“But the lunch hour has long been over.”
“He had come back from lunch, ma’am. He has gone upstairs. Sir had called for him.”
She stood there. She was in stress. He returned quickly and she gave him the letter and said, “Here, take it. Now my passport should be ready quickly.”
“Ma’am, please go upstairs to Sir. He has asked for this and only he can write on it. I can’t do anything.”
She clattered her teeth in anger and said, “I won’t go up and down. You have no coordination among your staff. Your boss is saying something and you are saying something else.”
“Okay, ma’am. You leave this letter here along with all other documents. Also, give a copy of your old passport.” She gave them all. “Well ma’am, this has the child’s father’s name.”
“This passport is from before the divorce.”
“Alright ma’am, come tomorrow.”
She trembled in anger but controlled herself as all the formalities were done. She would have to come the next day to collect the passport. As she turned to leave, she noticed the same girl. She looked a little hard-pressed. She was sitting on a chair going through her papers from her file placed on her knees. Seeing her, the girl looked up and asked, “Ma’am, is your matter resolved?”
“I have given the reference letter. They’ve asked me to come tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Saying this she went back to her earlier posture and continued, “Ma’am, I had also given the reference letter.” She sat back nodding her head.
She reached the office the next day. It wasn’t that crowded. She stood in the queue. Her turn came quickly. “Ma’am, first go and submit the fees at counter number 2,” said the person from behind the counter. She went to counter number 2, submitted the fees, and came back to the previous counter. She saw the same girl, violent with rage screaming like the goddess Chandi, “Why do you need the father’s name?
“Ma’am, you have a child, so the father’s name is a mandatory requirement.”
“He doesn’t have a father. I don’t have a husband. I am not married. Do you understand? You have been repeating the same thing for the last five days, the name of the father! The name of the father! He doesn’t have a father.” She slammed her foot on the ground and howled, “I am a rape victim. It was gang rape. I was gang raped! Four men raped me. I was fifteen. I was raped by four men on the school bus. You want the names, write down: bus driver Manak Chand, bus conductor, Pandey, the peon of the school Yadav and the owner of the eatery in front of the school, Satbir. Write now, write the father’s name. Also, let me know. Now write the father’s name, why aren’t you writing? Why are you staring at me?”
There was absolute silence in the lobby. People remained stuck to their places, leaving their work aside. She screamed at the top of her voice, “Go! Get it signed by his father. Go to the settlements. In all possibility, he still must be roaming like an unrestrained ox. Just go, whose signature you want…”
“Is there anything else you want? Any other information? Write down the father’s name. What has cast a chill over you? Why are you quiet?”
It seemed like bullets were being fired, bang-bang-bang. All the people froze in their places, anxious. The girl almost stumbled and the woman who was sitting with her came to her rescue. She embraced her and said, “Calm down Minu! Calm down, my child. Get a grip on yourself. Aren’t you my brave child?”
She came closer to the woman and said, “You have also been harassed for the last five days. You have had the same problem about the father’s name.”
“I was fifteen when this accident happened. My parents then brought me here. My abortion was not possible. I was in trauma for several months, I was anemic. The child took birth. He could have been killed. Another option was, he could have been given away to an orphanage. But then, the newborn is not at fault. He is innocent. He has done nothing for which he ought to be punished. After all, he is made from my blood, flesh, and marrow and grew out of my womb. I accepted him. Now tell me, why he needs the father’s name.” The woman stood straight suddenly and peremptorily told the person sitting at the counter, “I want my passport in five minutes…”
Slowly the people around came back to normalcy from being still puppets. The person sitting at the counter called out to the woman and said, “Ma’am, take your passport.” She went and took her passport. She opened the passport and shouted—“What have you done?”
The father’s name was written in front of the child’s name.
The person uttered nervously, “We have renewed your child’s passport and your passport on basis of the given information.”
“Have you gone mad?”
“This is a government matter, ma’am.”
“Next, you come….” The man standing behind in the queue came forward.
The girl sat in front growling. The person at the counter was sitting clueless and somewhat stunned, sometimes flipping the pages and sometimes looking at the girl.
He looked at the men’s faces and saw blue-black marks made by the bullets fired by that girl. Some wounds were even oozing droplets of blood. There were few women in the lobby. Some on this side of the counter and some on the other side of it. A few pictures and statues of Mother Mary had come here from the nearby churches and those women were becoming one with those pictures and statues. The picture was an image of Mother Mary, kept behind the altar, which got subsumed in that girl.