Thursday, November 29, 2007

the birth certificate

Well, it is finally official, little Annie has a birth certificate.

As we checked out of the hospital on Saturday, they told me to return on Tuesday regarding the birth certificate. We left, wondering about the process of procuring a birth certificate in India, where the paperwork is illegible and inconsistent and plentiful. I returned on Tuesday to hear the hospitable hospital lady tell me that everything would be all taken care of by the hospital, I would just need to go over to the city board in two days and give them the names of the parents.

"I know who the parents are now, could we just send... that information... with the..." I felt myself trailing off, weakly wondering if the irony of such an errand would occur to her. The very idea of a Mussoorie city government had my palms sweating. I did not know what or where the city board was, but I was immediately certain that somewhere in Mussoorie, within the thick walls of a crumbling building, there was a dank little room full of battered registers and purple stamps and eddies of beedi smoke wandering through the dirty window beams that illuminated the musty offices of the City Board. A room full of papers and paperclips and little pots of glue for fixing stamps to official papers whose letters had been fused together and worn smooth generations ago by the photocopier. A room full of paperwork, full of circular queues that would have me wasting my hours, full of self-contradictory rubber stamps that would have my family stuck in immigration with our baby (that any idiot could see had been born) as our plane flew toward loving relatives and baseball games and hamburgers. I hate paperwork.

So I gritted my teeth and smiled and asked directions to the city board before stepping out of the hospital toward the unknown. The differences between a step of faith and a stride of sheer resignation are few and sometimes invisible. I found the city board, and an alarming number of my predictions were accurate, including the part about the directions being a kilometer off.

When I was fairly certain I was on the premises, I asked where to go, stood in the only line I found, and waited. A kind man pointed me in the right direction, and I found a room full of ancient seven-foot-tall enameled cabinets and desks with blotters and windows of wavy glass.

There were four men leaning on a desk over a few papers, so I waited. I explained my desire to get a birth certificate, and I showed them the form from the hospital. With no English and in spite of my own ignorance of Hindi, one of the men was able to show me that I needed to copy down a hand-written request for the issue of a birth certificate, as submitted by the previous father. I idly wondered if mine would go unprocessed until it had served as the model for the next father.

When the letter was done, I was taken to a different room and asked to wait. This small room contained two large desks, several of the looming cabinets, and no less than seven wall calendars. Eventually I was asked how many copies I would like. My mind went wild with the temptation to ask for five hundred copies of little Annie's birth certificate. I mustered the restraint to say that two copies would be sufficient. I probably overcompensated from my initial impulse, maybe three or four would have been good planning. They asked for ten rupees and told me to come back in two days.

I went back today and received the birth certificates, which were hand written (translated into English even though I didn't ask--I guess I still come across as a foreigner) and duly substantiated by the purple stamp of Indian paperwork. The process was in no way miserable, and I was even able to be thankful for the chance to live in India.

Pictures of Annie:


  1. You're such a good storyteller. I like the details.

  2. i laughed out loud! i could almost smell those rooms... i am so glad you write, nate. hugs, mom

  3. What a story!! I tried to post a comment last week and it seems it didn't go thru so I'll try again . Annie is adorable. We already have a small pink heart on the chain. We have a small blue one for Will. Hope everyone is doing fine. Love and hugs Gramma and grandpa