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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Life after Death

This is the last of the three posts that I had planned to talk about my father's demise. The other two are here and here.

The first few days pass by as if you are in a trance. You get up in the morning, and want to inquire about his health. You want to check if he has taken his medicines. But then you don't find him on the bed at the usual location. So you want to ask who shifted him, to which room, why. But before you can actually ask that question, you remember carrying him on your shoulders to the cremation ground.

Of course, morning is the only time when you can think. For the rest of the day, there will be a stream of visitors, same questions, same answers, same advise, same prayers. But believe me, repeating the same stories hundreds of times help you to get normal. Slowly, you start believing that he is really gone for ever. And that realization is the most important first step in the normalization process after death. Also, there is strength in numbers. When a large number of people visit, offer their support and prayers, you feel that your father must have been a great soul, perhaps greater than the credit you ever gave him when he was alive, and you get a sense of pride, the pride of being his son. You also start believing (correctly so in our case) that with all these people willing to help, all the issues will get sorted out soon.

Those issues, of course, relate to things like my father's bank account, pension, PF, medical bills, insurance, and a whole lot more. But to start taking care of those issues, you need a death certificate, and that is when your first interaction with government happens. The Municipal Corporation understands Hindu scriptures better than anyone else. Our scriptures very clearly say that we need a mourning period of 13 days, during which we should not go out of our home, and just talk to the visitors. Compressing this period, as is very common these days in cities, is not good for the near and dear ones, as they would not have gotten out of the shock by then. The municipality ensures that you can do nothing for 13 days by not giving you the death certificate (DC).

Once we had the DC, we made a round of all the offices, collected all forms to be filled in, found out the process, and every bank will have a different process, what all documents we will need and all that. For every account (and each Fixed Deposit is a separate account), one needs to fill up long forms, and attach all sorts of documents about father, about the nominee, about the witnesses, and so on. For each account, one could easily have 20 pages of xeroxed documents.

Father had a habit of keeping all records. There was a list of all accounts, along with account number, financial institution, date, amount, name of nominee, and so on. Every single account had a nominee or it was a joint account. On top of that, he had left a will, properly registered. Thanks to him, we were not anticipating any real problem. It was just the pain of filling long forms, getting a whole lot of stuff xeroxed, and doing it for each account. We could not write down all the accounts in the same form. And then you go to the bank, and they all follow the shortest job first policy of service. Since it will take time to go through all those documents, and check them against the information in their computers, they will look at them only when there are no customers demanding their 2-minutes.  So something that should normally happen in 30 minutes, will take 3-4 hours. So only one institution in one day. Of course, all this because they knew my father. Otherwise, they could ask you to get one more document. We actually would carry xeroxes of all our IDs, photographs, revenue stamps, blank sheets of paper, envelopes, file covers. One never knows what they might ask for.

But there is a goal in all that madness. They want you to forget mourning and become normal. And standing for hours will cause enough pain in your body that you will forget the other pain you had.

Transferring LPG connection was more interesting. There is no nomination facility with the LPG connection. So they wanted an affidavit from my mother on a stamp paper that no other legal heir would claim inheritance of that LPG connection. They also wanted the original document that gas company would have given when the connection was first taken. That was 43 years ago. But my mother was not at all bothered. She knew it must be in the file, and there it was.

The medical reimbursement required the maximum number of documents, and thankfully, for a change, the doctor had to sign more often than my mother. I really felt that doctors should charge extra from those who are going to seek reimbursement from some agency. Instead they charge less.

But now we are stuck. How do we transfer the telephone to our mother's name. MTNL believes that a landline telephone connection from MTNL is an asset, and should have been mentioned in the will. He should have clearly said who shall inherit the connection. MTNL clearly hasn't grown up. It was created in 1986, and it is still living in 1986 when it was entirely possible for the legal heirs to fight over that connection. It took years to get a new connection then. But today when landline customers are deserting them every day, and the connection is available instantly, to still treat the connection as an asset does not make sense.

Of course, we can lie to MTNL that he did not leave a will. At least they won't laugh at him for failing to include such an important asset in the will. But that process is also not very simple. They need a no objection certificate from all legal heirs (that is, all four siblings) that they have no objection to our mother inheriting the MTNL connection. And the problem is that my sisters have gone back to US. At least the Indian Oil (for LPG connection) accepted the affidavit from my mother. MTNL wants it from all of us. Of course, the simpler thing would be to start giving mobile number in all offices, and after a while give up the phone. And during this period, keep paying the bills that come in father's name. MTNL, I am sure, would be happier to have one less landline customer.

Another asset that my father did not list in his will is the water connection from Delhi Jal Board. And they are even less forgiving than MTNL. It is not acceptable to them that the four siblings give a No Objection Certificate. They want a succession certificate from the court. Otherwise, what is the guarantee that there is no 5th or 6th legal heir who may claim to inherit that water connection in future. This is the most ridiculous. With MTNL, one could at least think that while the "connection" per se may not be an asset in today's world, but the "number" could be still important. But with Delhi Jal Board, it is just that someone has to volunteer to pay the bills. And my mother is telling them that after my father, she is agreeing to take the responsibility of paying the bills.

I am sure he is watching us from up there, and kicking himself for not including such important assets in the will. With all his planning, and all his record keeping, he still forgot about them.

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