Madam Outside my apartmentA few months before I left India, a very strange, but deeply Indian thing happened.

The doorbell rang and when I opened the door, there stood two small ladies with a clipboard and one of our (fairly useless) building security guards.

They told me they were from one of the local schools and wanted to know if there were any children at the address.

No, no children here, says I and go to shut the door, smiling vaguely at them.

They look appalled at the door closing and ask very quickly, ‘What is your name?’

Well, there’s no children here, so no need to write my name down, says I, continuing to close the door.

They both shriek at me me – ‘you must give us your name’.

No, no, I don’t.

They get very insistent, tell me that they have to write a report and that they must have all my details.

To my Western mind, this seems like a massive invasion of my privacy. I’ve never seen these people before, they knocked on my door and I have no need or compelling reason to help them in anyway.

I’ve been polite and answered their question, even though I didn’t have to. So I point out that I will not be giving them my name for all these very sensible reasons.

They look blank and start on about the report they have to write. As though that will make it reasonable to invade my life with their requirements.

I point out again:

I don’t have to write a report and I don’t know who you are. So I’m not giving you my name.

But we have to write the report.

There are no children here – so nothing to report. You’re not from the government, you don’t need my name.

But we have to write a report that there are no children.

Write zero and you’re done.

And with that, I very firmly close the door on two shrieking faces and an appalled look from the guard. Patently they had no idea why I refused to help them fill in a mandatory piece of paper. Even though the paper has nothing to do with me at all.

All over India there is a respect for useless bits of paper that defies all logic. There is no awareness of the sort of privacy we take for granted where I’m from. In India, if a form needs filling, you will obviously hand over the necessary information even if it interferes with your own privacy.

Annoyingly you can almost entirely guarantee that once the paperwork is completed – it will never be used or referred to again.

All in all, it’s most odd, and most annoying. And I bet those ladies had quite a lot to say on exactly the same subject about the foreign madam who refused to answer their reasonable questions…

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If you enjoyed this post, why not check out these earlier posts:

My neighbourhood dryad: the water walla
I am currently stuck in a pothole
The deckchair has finally arrived

And do please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.