Runtime:53 minutes 20 seconds
Country of Origin:India
Those who can, do, those who can't teach; and those who can do neither, administer…
The Story In A Nutshell
Lal Bihari, founder of the Association of Dead People, first learned he was deceased when he applied for a bank loan in 1975.
Proof of identity was required for the transaction. But when Mr. Bihari came here to Azamgarh, the district capital of Uttar pradesh, he was told quite peremptorily that he could no longer be who he said he was. Official records now listed him as dead, something that had allowed his uncle to inherit Mr. Bihari's share of the family's ancestral farmland.
"Take a look for yourself," insisted the lekhpal, the low-level bureaucrat who kept the appropriate books, Mr. Bihari recalled. "It is all written here in the registry."
Death was a disconcerting change of circumstance, and Mr. Bihari was especially annoyed to hear of it from the lekhpal, a man he knew well and with whom he had recently had tea.
Indian bureaucrats often work in strange ways, when they work at all…and to be fair, that is not a uniquely Indian phenomenon! If they had certified his demise, Mr. Bihari might need a lifetime to prove he was not dead.
Mr. Bihari faced his predicament with a potent combination of outrage and humor. He added the Hindi word "mritak," or dead, to his name. He began his "association" and
printed up stationery.
But mostly, he schemed. Mr. Bihari believed that artifice could force the government to acknowledge his continuing existence. He tried to get arrested; he ran for office; he sued people anything to get his real name on the public record. In a bit of reverse psychology, he had his wife apply for widow's benefits, but the same officials who insisted he was dead refused to allow him to profit from his passing.
Fortunately, his story has not turned out to be so dreary. His legal resurrection was accomplished in a mere 19 years, and in the process, Mr. Bihari, a poorly educated merchant, found his mission in life: championing the cause of the similarly expunged.