Paromita Vohra: Paper cuts

If you see Vijay Mallya, please tell him I’m looking for him, yaar. I need his help.

Thing is, I live in terror of paperwork. Any paper more serious than a restaurant feedback form makes me break into a cold sweat. If I see a question, say, “what is your age?”, I start to panic. Have I understood the question rightly? Do I remember my age correctly? If I make a mistake what will the consequences be? Will they seal my bank account and take away my computer?

Vijay Mallya

If I successfully fill the form without collapsing from stress, I lie awake resigning my sinking heart to the unavoidably dire consequences. Even the words ‘gentle reminder’, should they come from an authoritative source, require me to administer an hour of pranayama to myself.

It’s not that I am a coward. Sometimes, I have displayed amazing bravery.

For instance, yesterday, I received an email from the government, informing me that I had received an Aadhar number. Since I had not applied for one, I responded like any law-abiding citizen. I felt terrorised, scrutinised and potentially accused of sedition. Could this be because I secretly ate one piece of caramel popcorn during the national anthem when I went to see Neerja? Should I forward the email to a lawyer? After eating two grapes and praying for guidance, I rejected this option. I bravely opened the email.

It was an Aadhar number issued to a Paro Devi Vegetable Seller. Naturally, this left me even more tense, wondering if it was a secret code that would unleash the imminent digital scrutiny the government wants onto my computer and reveal every gossipy thing I’ve ever written to the world when I could just have been out and about breaking the law like most other people, and I don’t mean only poor Vijay Mallya, who, as he himself said, is only a small fry defaulter compared to some.

I calmed myself and wrote to a friend and confidante — I have received an Aadhar number for Paro Devi Vegetable Seller — hoping he’d respond with a solution. His hard-hearted reply: ‘these things can only happen to you’.

What did he mean, it can only happen to me? Did he feel it was comedic? Was he trying to send me a secret message? It did not bear thinking about, in case the thoughts led me to consider the possibility of incarceration.

Paperwork is scary because it is the seemingly bland visage of an unknown allegedly ‘competent authority’. Paperwork’s punctilious demands for your unwavering attention, for block lettering, for answers to inexplicable, Kafkaesque questions are designed to strip you of confidence and certainty in the face of power. Only those with an intimate knowledge of power, and its faces, care so little about paperwork, they write in it with whichever colour ink they choose. Vijay Mallya is obviously not scared of paperwork. He has been unjust to employees but never written them a letter. He has defaulted on loans of R9,000 crores. Unmindful of immigrant alert notices on various borders, he perhaps signed some immigration form with an ‘Adios S***ers’ flourish and flew off, maybe in a paper plane, who can say? So un-scared is he of paperwork, he didn’t even file his leave application to the Rajya Sabha. Oh, to be so fearless and careless about paperwork and, therefore, so free, that even your loan is free.

What is his secret? Who does he know that I don’t? I mean, what, of course. If you find him do tell him about my problem —only a confidence man can give me confidence after all.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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