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For parents whose children are currently in class 12, the feared examination season is still two months away. Right now those parents are enduring something that is even more dreaded: The application form-filling season.

I kid not. Filling applications to the various engineering/medical colleges, from being a simple exercise of ticking and filling the prescribed boxes with relevant information, has moved to the level where it is technically more challenging than any of the actual examinations.

For instance, one of the examinations, which my daughter is planning to attempt, has asked for the ‘signature of the candidate’. Signature of the candidate? Isn’t that the most normal thing in an application form, you would think. Huh! This was an online application form.

The rubric above the box read: ‘Candidate’s signature here’. For some moments, I weighed the various possibilities by which this could be achieved:

  • Send the application to the institution concerned by courier, ask the candidate (my daughter, in this specific case) to take the next available bus/train/flight to the institute, get the authorities to download the filled-in application, and then personally sign in the unfilled box.
  • Alternatively, the institute can send a person to the candidate’s house with the filled-in application with the unfilled signature box and get the signature of the candidate personally.
  • Or, the candidate and the institute’s person can meet at a mutually-agreed common place and go through the formalities.
  • This is a technical problem, and hence it has to be tackled technically: Get a custom-made computer keyboard that comes with a key for one’s personal signature.
  • And finally —- this is the most reasonable solution to my mind — the institute itself can forge the candidate’s signature.
  • Of course, my daughter had a better plan: Don’t take the exam at all. By this process, she reasoned out most responsibly, not just the signature box but the entire application form need not be filled.

Turns out that she has to sign in a white paper, get it scanned and upload it onto the prescribed box in — you have to admit technology makes things easy — prescribed ‘resolution’ as it is an ‘image file’.

The next column in the online form was —- I am not making this up — ‘Candidate’s thumb impression here’. I left the form half-filled and did not proceed any further because I feared the next column might ask for the candidate’s DNA sample. In prescribed resolution and in its precise structure, of course.

Back in our times, filling out application forms was easy; we did not even have to sign it. Because the Notary Public did it for us. Seriously. A complete stranger to our lives — one who couldn’t even spell our names right unless we gave graphic instructions — he still vouched to the world, in a stamped paper, that we were indeed we and our testimonials were kosher. He did this because: We paid him to do so.

Anyway, while on the subject of filling forms, not just college forms, I want the Narendra Modi government to take up urgently the reform this country needs the most: Some kind of standardization for filling in names in various forms.

No form simply asks for your name. It usually demands to know your ‘given name’. This plants the first seed of doubt in your mind as to what is the difference between a name and a ‘given name’.  Is it as different as dosai is from rava dosai?  If so then the difference is enormous.

Then comes the ‘surname’ conundrum. Now, no matter which dictionary you read or which expert you consult, there can never be consensus on what constitutes this surname. A classmate of mine actually believed this to be a misspelling of ‘sirname’, and wrote the English sir’s name whenever he had the occasion to fill out a form.

Some forms sternly warn you: ‘name only’. At those moments your chief worry would be ‘what do I with the initial’. So most of you end up expanding the initial and filling it in the box given for surname.  Or worse, you put your normal name in the surname slot and expand the initial (which is normally your dad’s name) to go into the ‘given name’ grid. At least, that is what I did, and so I now have a bank account, an email address, a house loan and unpaid credit card bill, all in the name of my father!

On the other hand, I have seen names like Sudip K L Chopra and Pramila R S VP Gupta. What are those letters in-between? They can’t be initials. I mean, if initials are not initially, can they be called initials at all?

With such complications, no application in India is ever filled with any conviction.

I realise this piece needs a headline. For credibility sake, I think I will leave it to the Notary Public.