What task do you hate most? A) filling forms b) filling forms c) filling more forms d) all of the above

I’m trying to decide which of these two chores I hate more: washing vessels or filling in forms. Let me rephrase that in the form of a question on a form. What is your most hated chore? (a) washing up (b) ticking boxes in a questionnaire (c) other. Give me that fatal “other” and I’m done for. My mind immediately begins to run through all the possibilities that (c) might include, and I’m reduced to a frozen blob of indecision, and my frustration peaks sky-high, all of which has one noticeable benefit: I am able to unhesitatingly tick (b) as the right choice.

I spent most of my schooldays grappling with just two kinds of exam questions: short-answer and essay-type. Occasionally, a third would be thrown into the mix: one-word-answer.

Somewhere around my high school or early college years I encountered the phenomenon called multiple-choice. It played no major part in my academic life, considering the kind of subjects I took up for study, but we are all well aware how ubiquitous it came to be.

It was the staple of every entrance test, and students learnt to close their eyes and play tic-tac-toe with questions they were clueless about, and then came ‘negative valuation’, which penalised such guesswork, but by then I was gainfully employed and I fondly imagined that no more questions, multiple choice or any other, would be asked of me.

Was I wrong or was I wrong! Forms lurked around every corner. So many people wanted to know so much about me. I should have been flattered by the attention, but instead it drove me bananas. Some of us detest forms with an almost unreasonable fervour. Perhaps this is because (a) we are philosophers at heart: we cannot lie and we cannot think in terms of black-and-white, yes-or-no (b) we are nitpickers (c) we value our privacy or (d) all of the above. An apparently basic question can get me spinning like a top.

Take question Number One on most forms: Name. My practice is to write my first name last, so do I have to write my full name in reverse order? I have no surname, only initials that are abbreviations of the name of my mother’s ancestral house, so do I expand them and treat them as a surname? That would be two words, but are two surnames allowed? What then would be my middle name, which some forms ask for? Anyway, isn’t this whole business of first name, middle name and surname a western notion?

Well, that was just the first question. Only 36 more to be agonised over. Not all forms provide the ‘None’ option for ‘Religion’ and so I am tempted to provide an essay-type answer, but there isn’t space on the page for me to explain that I was born into one but follow none, that I may be registered in different records as belonging to different faiths and depending on which one I cite I would have to answer, or not, the ‘Caste’ question. Similarly, few forms provide ‘Others’ under ‘Gender’, and even this may not solve your problem if you are, for instance, a male-to-female transgender but refuse to be lumped under ‘third’ and consider yourself female.

No end to my misgivings, eh? But if you, dear reader, think I’m being pernickety, allow me to prove you wrong. On a passport application I have to fill in my date of birth, which sounds simple enough, but I’m also required to write it out in words. Do I spell out each number: for instance, Two Nine Zero Nine and so on? Or do I write Twenty-ninth September Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Eight (which is not my DOB, incidentally) in minuscule letters to fit the space available?

You can tell I’ve been trying to fill in a passport application, and yes, I know everything’s done online now, but I prefer to have a draft in hand so that I can key it in swiftly. The form has been lying around for, believe it or not, two years. Whenever I am reminded of it I take it out, look at it, and put it by. At the rate at which I’m going it might take another two years to complete. ‘Distinguishing marks’ got me spending several minutes examining myself in the mirror. My childhood ‘scar on chin’ has vanished, and I am told that vaccination marks don’t count, only moles, of which I have plenty where the sun don’t shine, while those in more evident places have been obscured by a veritable forest of other blemishes.

I give up. It’s a dreadful bore as well. After a few minutes of gazing at a set of questions I am possessed by a desire to answer wildly. Have you been arrested? Only twice, for forgery and extortion, and oh, I almost forgot, there was that minor murder too.

Speaking of murder, I’m glad I don’t work in a corporate office where answering the tons of pointless forms generated by the strange beast called HR would have driven me to homicide.

When will I be liberated from my most hated chore? At least on my deathbed I can sigh thankfully and say, “No more filling in forms.” But I know there’ll be one last one waiting with my name on it. Only, I’m not going to be around to fill it in!

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