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Did I tell you about the time I took mother to get a new Aadhaar card? It turned out to be quite an eventful day. By the way, to those not in the know, Aadhaar card is our new lifeline. If you don’t have one, it is as good as you not existing.

Mother actually already had a Aadhar card. It was just that they had got her name wrong in it. Many tries – the L&M and she made many, many trips – to a nearby center, didn’t work. The machine just would not read mother’s finger prints and unless it matched, changes couldn’t be made. This difficulty in reading/matching fingerprints is common in the case of the aged, I hear. But then the authorities didn’t seem to have anything in place as an alternative. So we were at an impasse as it were.

Luckily enough it was soon revealed that in such case as mother’s, taking fresh prints could be attempted instead of trying to match with the old set of prints. Once that went off without any hitch, the name change could follow. Accordingly, an appointment was fixed for mother at the General Post Office in the center of the city.

Unfortunately though, on the night before mother was to be taken for her ‘interview’, the L&M fell and hurt his leg when his scooter skidded on some gravel. No moving out for two weeks, said the doctor. It now fell on me to take mother on Mission Aadhar. Not that I was incapable of the task, but in my home it is the L&M who manages all such work without any delegation whatsoever of duties to anyone. So the nervousness I felt the next morning had little to do with myself and more about whether I’d live up to the L&M’s expectations.

The day dawned gray and wet. The cab arrived duly and mother and I got in, with the documents – all put in order by the L&M – in a transparent plastic file folder. We were one of the first ones to reach the place. Mother was called in while I waited outside. Only when the finger-print taking and iris-scanning was done did they call me in to check the documents. Everything was in order. Why wouldn’t it be? The L&M had put them together! Next I was asked to pay the fees, and was given a piece of paper as receipt.

That was it! It was done.

If it had been a Bollywood movie that would have been my cue to run out into the rain and start singing and dancing. Never mind the file would get wet. Though I was indeed elated, dance was the last thing on my mind. Walking down the flight of stairs that was wet with rain, especially with someone else to to look out for, needed concentration and dexterity. Once that was accomplished, a cab or an auto-rickshaw had to be found so we could reach home.

Luckily an auto came by and we were home bound in the pouring rain. When the auto stopped in front of our house, I got busy opening the umbrella for mother when the auto driver said, ‘Madam, your folder is gone!’ Gone? Gone where? I looked at my lap where it had been. There was no file. I looked up at him not comprehending. He pointed through the windshield. And what did I see? My transparent pink plastic folder with the all important documents plus the receipt got from the Aadhar guys was being swept away in the rain water flowing downhill.

I don’t remember giving the umbrella to mother or getting out of the auto, only flying downhill after the folder in my treacherous footwear not meant for running downhill. And that too at my age, with the conditions I suffer. Even as I ran, I could hear my doctor’s words in my ears like a chant. A fall could be fatal. A fall could be fatal. But I ignored it and ran. I simply HAD to get that folder.

Just when I got to it and extended my hand to snatch, it moved away at top speed. This happened twice, thrice. A few feet more and the land leveled, and there the water dropped into a drain which was roaring on its way to… I know not where, having never checked. If I didn’t catch it before that, it was a lost cause. Not just the receipt I got that day, ALL of my mother’s documents would be gone. What a disaster. But there was something else that worried me too. I’d never be entrusted with another job without a reference to this failure. And boy, do I HATE that or what.

I was desperate, but kept on running. A fall could be fatal. A fall could be fatal. Oh, shut up, I told my head, I don’t have time for this shit. The very next opportunity I got to level up with the speedily moving folder, I lunged and somehow caught it. I slowly walked back up the slope, wet and dripping, gasping for breath, the folder held tightly in my hand. The auto driver was waiting patiently. I paid him and then went inside to relate what had happened. The disappointment in the L&M’s eyes was somewhat lessened when he saw a few minutes under the fan was all that the papers needed to be as good as new.

It was a close thing in many ways. And I still shudder remembering it.

© Shail Mohan 2020