Friday, July 25, 2008

Affidavits, notaries, and keeping your cool....क्या कूल है हम

For some time now, my time has been dedicated to perusing various forms and documents , and getting guidance from various offices and entities on legal and not-so-legal procedures. A lot of my researching time is spent in the environs of courts. Lest you think that I am currently defending myself against a plethora of accusations, I hasten to clarify, that good-old-middle-class me, is involved in doing very simple things like getting things notarized and preparing affidavits, subsequent to a family death.

Cut to the very narrow lane leading to the Andheri court premises. As I turn into this lane, a bunch of guys in black coats, and sheaves of important looking papers kind of sidle up to you in a Pssst kind of way. The low tone chants of "Affidavit, affidavit", " notarize,notarize" draw my attention. I silently salute the bhajiwallas for their patenting of this approach, and half expect someone to say, " Today only !", "Notarize 2, one free" , or "Do one affidavit and get one notarization free" etc.

Back to the present....

I state my requirement : notarizing a bunch of copies of a death certificate. One of the chaps, (his judicial brethren watching the fun from the background), eyebrows raised, desperately trying to look important asks to see the original. I show it. An imperceptible shake of the head . Eyebrows shoot up further. A look trying to ascertain my stupidity. "This death has happened in Pune . " , he said. Trying to look my stupidest, I ask , "So" ?

"That will cost you more to notarize. 125 Rs a copy".

Its time for me to look up and raise my eyebrows (which are much better than his anyway). "Pune is in India, a citizen is free to live and die anywhere, I think you are misguiding and overcharging, and if you have a problem with that, let me have your registration number ", I said. I ask for my papers back, ready to look for a more ethical lawyer.

There is an amazing change . He is troubled by my non-stupidity. A bunch of his aforementioned brethren, vanish, and head down, my documents in hand, he asks me to follow. In my best running-behind-the-coolie-on-the-railway-platform-lest-my-lugguage-disappear style, I sprint after him, to land up at some broken concrete structure, next to a tree, all this in the paan-stained environment of the court. There is another man leaning filmy style, sunglasses and all, against the tree, pen in hand. He is the, notary ! In an amazing display of co-operative work, one guy stamps , one guy sticks, another guy makes some entries, and the stuff is given to the notary who signs it , changing his angle against the tree, as he endeavours to look important,wise and superior , simultaneously.

The notary has not even asked me to show the original, even once.

Out of sheer compulsion, I have become a great fan of "affidavits". Particularly when done in Pune. I was directed to this place by a well meaning gentleman, who saw me repeatedly looking unsuccessfully for stamp vendors in the official set up in Pune, after being told that they exist under various trees and behind courtyards within the official premises.

Far from the madding city crowd, on the other bank of the river, stands a ruin of an old hotel. Broken staircases creaking up three floors, flapping cracked and loosened window frames, assorted clothes drying in unexpected places , maybe they use it as a film set at night. Then there is a huge courtyard, where of all things, a large number of huge Volvo buses are being cleaned and washed. If you follow the various resulting streams and trickles of water that converge on to, what may be called a reasonably level piece of land , you reach a stamp vendor, a lady. A fine professional, she follows all the required procedures, gets you to sign at various places and in various registers, shouts at people who try to bypass the queue, and you get your stamp paper. The uneven rocky terrain is studded with multicoloured beach umbrellas, under which are guys in black coats and collars, sitting/standing next to typewriters, which would have delighted the late Mr Remington . (I assume Mr Rand is a different person, and I suppose he would be delighted too).

You show them or dictate the affidavit text, sitting next to them on a stool which always has uneven legs, and you inadvertently do Kegel's exercises, and exercises that tone your abs and quadriceps, as you try and balance yourself, sitting on a stool that is actually meant for a child. They ask you some very pointed questions as they do the needful. Ten minutes, a few angry glares at the muttering neighboring advocate, a few requests to the next customer to wait, a confident swish of the lever, and my affidavit is done.

Notarizing the affidavit is so much better here than in Andheri. You sit in front of an elderly gent, who sits with a pen in hand, while assorted minions affix various stamps, seals, , make entries, and do everything short of holding the gentleman's hand while he signs. In the meanwhile, the old gentleman makes small talk with you about big things. What the world is coming to, how bad the politicians are, how everything is expensive, how the oil companies that give us the cooking gas cylinders are being unnecessarily difficult about transferring names , even though connections are now much easier to get, etc etc. Just when he is cursing someone orally, his hand sort of flies across your affidavit, and lo behold, it's his notary signature !

Once again, no one really cares to check the numbers in my gas consumer book against those in the affidavit, before notarizing . A crisp fee of a hundred rupees is smilingly charged, and happily accepted.

I find my way out through a rocky terrain, clutching the sheets, and checking the original documents which no one wanted to look at.

A sudden rocky obstruction, a slight twist of an ankle followed by an involuntary loosening of my chappal straps. My next project has just presented itself. Search for a cobbler . I try and walk regardless, then drag my foot a bit, in an effort to cover some ground. No good. I bend down to remove the offending chappal and try fixing it with a safety pin. No success. Taking a deep breath, cursing the judiciary that has these creative locations for doing this terribly non creative work, I look up and notice a very ornamental sign, above a ramshackle shed. "Notary Canteen . Cutting chai : Rs 3"

That seems to be the first sensible thing I have seen all day.


  1. i never did get the point of notaries and stamp papers either. Unless it is to inspire blogposts :-)

  2. Liked this part of this post very much "running-behind-the-coolie-on-the-railway-platform-lest-my-lugguage-disappear"

    Truly impressive.

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