I remember an exchange between them, not because it was memorable but because it concerned me and the effect was longer-lasting than I could anticipate. It had to do with my admission to a new school, following our move to a new home in a different locale.
Father (with great satisfaction): I took Manish to the new school and got him admitted. Everything went very well.
I noticed that he left out the part about his long chat with the Assistant Headmaster about tennis and the three cups of tea he savored with him.
Mother: I hope you took all the papers from the old school I asked you to take with you.
Father: Actually, I forgot. But they didn’t need any of those. They gave our son a test and he apparently did well. He was admitted right away.
Mother: I hope you spelled his name right (father’s interjection, “Of course, I did”) and didn’t make a mistake about his date and place of birth.
Father: You think I am going to make a mistake about my own son! Certainly not.
And then he made the mistake of saying the place and date of birth. The first was right, the second was not; he had cited the next year. Mother’s face went grave.
Mother: How could you be so forgetful! (Then, the most damning thing a wife can say to a husband) I should have gone to the school myself.
Father looked mortified and quite repentant.
I am told he tried to get the date changed in the following weeks and had little success. It mattered little. My official and false birthdate rolled over from school to college, to university, and to organizations where I worked.
Until the day my wife, an American, asked for a visa for me to travel to the US where she worked. I received from the local consulate a large form and the demand for several documents, the principal being a birth certificate. When I explained that I did not have such a certificate, like many Indians born in smaller towns, and the Supreme Court had ruled that the school leaving certificate should be the age determiner, a young bureaucrat demanded that I get a hospital certificate stating that my birth was not registered. The demand was based on the heroic and totally unrealistic assumption that the hospital would go back four decades to check whether I was born in its premises. They would also have to research whether the birth was officially registered and a certificate issued. Still, I wrote to a friend, a distinguished lawyer in Nagpur, my birthplace, if anything could be done.
My wife, a diplomat, decided to use Yankee ingenuity instead of diplomatic finesse and approached a sympathetic and powerful senator from her district. The old man called the local consulate and insisted on immediate action. The next day, the consul received me personally and practically filled up the form himself. Wherever a needed document, such as the birth certificate, was missing, he authorized exemption and signed. All I did was to add my signature and thank him. I could not resist the temptation to suggest, to his irritation, that visa officers needed to be realistic about country conditions in seeking documentation. The visa arrived by a courier the same evening.
Any day now, as I finish my unimpressive but enjoyable sojourn on this earth and arrive at the Pearly Gate, I bet I will be peremptorily interrogated – as everywhere else – about my date and place of birth. The place I can confidently say, but a huge problem faces me about the date. If I cite the date of birth now noted in every august institution where I worked (and recorded in every dismal document certifying my education, health, insurance, marital status, even mental competence), I would really be lying and be condemned to a lowly circle of hell. Were I to cite the true date, a year antecedent, I could not prove it, nobody would believe me, and I might end up in the same nasty place.