FAMILY APPREHENSION, PENSION & GUMPTION It was murky Monday morning in late June in erstwhile Bombay ; and since late night there has been respite from lashing monsoon rains. Heard a gentle knock at the door that was ajar. I was out from shower in towel -wrapped around my waist . Mind replete with piled up arbitration case files on my office table. My UKG daughter -in school uniform - strode to the door, opened it wide exclaimed in delight “welcome- welcome”. I was behind her; and she was in glee of looking at a smiling baby in arms of a young woman and a puny toddler girl glueing to her mom’s phallu. She seem to be set off in fear and in trepidation. Behind them, I saw stocky staff-union-president, a bald man Mr P, tipping his head slightly tapping it with his right fingers. “Morning Sir”. He was holding a red plastic transparent folder. I let them in and pointing to sofa. The young mother with a bare neck in cotton white saree clad in Malabar style, hesitantly uttered a shrill “namasthe sir”. My spouse just peeked out near kitchen threshold, wiping her palms in a chequered napkin, told in Hindi to lady to be seated. A smiling Mr. P, began making a bald statement: “Sir, this lady is spouse of Menon (M)- senior storekeeper at our transit depot at Ghatkopar. Here is a photograph showing store keeper & this lady together. You know sir, M proceeded long ago on sanctioned short leave to native place and after expiry of it, never returned”. “You are the Enquiry Officer and in the last ten months of M’s absconding, you had sent several notices in his name to his native address and written to police commissioner too at his native place to search for him and report status; besides you had arranged notices get published in dailies Malayalam Manorama & the Indian Express. Your search for him followed by several reminders did not elicit any response from Kerala Police Commissioner”. “This lady is M’s widow.She has brought death certificate (DC) in original of her late husband and a photo for purpose of claiming pension. She wants ‘attestation & certification’ in xerox of DC which would help her to proceed to claim and draw family pension”. “She has come all the way from Kannur City in Kerala and says that her wherewithal would not permit to stay in Bombay for a day more & so she would leave for native place bye evening. She seeks immediate help from you sir”. At that juncture, my spouse wincing, gestured for my remaining wet, half-clad in bath towel. The wall clock chimed once indicating time half past eight. OMG- I was getting late. I excused from drawing-hall to dress up and return. Quickly returned in office-ready attire. I saw spouse offering visitors tea from a tray and in a separate plate unpacked biscuits: offered it to toddler. The matter seemed to be dealt with sense of urgency and sympathy, I decided to look into the matter en-route office. I kissed my daughter & bade good bye to them and with Echolacbrief left in hurry with visitors to office. Faintly heard daughter saying ‘good day daddy’. The lady with her infant sat in front and toddler girl sat between P & me at rear in an yellow cab. As the cab began speeding up, I took from P - the plastic folder and glanced the DCin original. I had ignored the printed matter and closely looked only at the typed matter that filled the blank dotted spaces in-between printed sentences. Name was ok. Date of issue and date of death were freshly typed and looked bold & slightly odd. How I wished to console the young widow in her mother tongue offering condolence and few words of empathy! I could utter only equivalent in a mixed Tamil & English which P had translated In Malayalam. Tear-drops jerked from her eyes as P translated my words into her language. I was visualising how to get “her-pension work” prioritised & speeded up. But then, I remembered an obliterated thin hazy rectangle around dates of death and issue of that Original DC. Scepticism crept in. I was cursing my vision and suspicion ! Upon reaching the office, I told the lady to wait in the visitors’ area in the hall with P. I entered office into spacious chamber, noted down on pocket-size spiral-pad, serial number of DC & the name of office of issue particulars. My girl-Friday sneak peeked greeting me. Returning her greetings, I instructed to check the original and get a copy ready of that DC on which I would need to certify to enable the young lady submit along with application for processing her “family pension”. I exited the chamber: told P that I would be back in a jiffy. I went upstairs got the locked conference room opened, where phone with direct STD call facility installed (It was pre-mobile era). I dialled the office of DC at Kannur City in Kerala and upon connection, a lady responded confirming that she was in charge of the office. I told am asked to verify by police commissioner - Bombay, about a DC Issued by her office and would like to know the name of the dead person reflected in that certificate bearing serial number XXXX issued on ddmmyy. (It was pre computer era). For a while, I heard the flip-flap of pages turning near the distant land phone and soon heard voice from other end. After getting re-confirmation of the serial number and date of issue of DC from me, thatlady in a clear and soft tone in heavily Malayalam accented English said, “Sir, the serial no. you had told relates to one Mr. Farook Ahmed aged 86 died on......” I stood flabbergasted.