Last week, an officer from the CBI, with all his paraphernalia, came to my house and interrogated me.
The middle-aged man, looking impassive yet stern in demeanour, sought, in his typical departmental style, precise answers from my family and me, which he proceeded to carefully jot down in his official papers. Being from the CBI, he didn’t spare either my old mother or my young daughter. He brusquely brushed aside my offer of a glass of water with a nonchalant wave of his firm hand, even as he remained focused on ferreting out in-depth details that he had come looking for.
You might feel that the officer erred on the side of strictness. But I don’t blame him. His job is such; as the officer in the CBI, the Census Bureau of India, he couldn’t have been lenient.
(Reader alert: I know there is no Census Bureau of India. But if I had not conveniently abbreviated the department to read CBI, would you have been drawn into this article?)
There is a notion that census enumeration is all about counting the number of people in a country. No, it’s not the case. On the other hand, it involves the daunting and difficult task of compiling and converting simple numbers into statistics that are very handy when it comes to confusing people, which is the main task of any elected government in a throbbing democracy like ours. This is also the big reason that when it comes to nation’s wealth, economists fall back on statistics. The GDP is a good case in point. Half the country doesn’t know what the GDP expands to. The remaining half doesn’t understand what the accompanying numerals (which is never straight, but always a percentage of something) amount to. This has ensured that the personal GDP, if you get my drift, of the economists is in the pink of health always.
Before we get carried away and become overly critical of statistics, we should concede the fact that it helps us to understand the ‘real truth’ behind any set of numbers. For instance, if there are in a room 20 people aged 50 and 20 people aged 30, the average age in the two groups is 40. Backed by this scientifically confirmed data, we can confidently come to the conclusion that the women in the group, who were actually aged 40, had claimed themselves to be 30. Our bank loans and insurance premiums are calculated on this time-tested formula.
Getting back to Census enumeration, it has an interesting history. You have to say so because there is no big history to it. Compilation of population numbers has become a tradition in the last century, especially since the advent of socially-conscious NGOs and rights activists, who not only understand that population explosion is a major problem, but also know a sure way to tackle it: Esoteric seminars at star hotels on scenic shores. If this doesn’t help in tackling the problems of rising population, they may have to move in for radical measures. Like holding more seminars.
Anyway, we presume many of you have some apprehensions vis-a-vis the
census. Since the enumeration process is currently on in India, we thought this could possibly be the best moment to add to your fears. So here goes our primer, in a typical question and answer format, on the census. After this, we might actually have the real CBI coming to question us.
Q: Who is the head of the family?
Ans: Whoever you are, you aren’t the one.
Q: But then, who is?
Ans: Your loan manager is. He is the one who calls the shot in your family matters and he surely decides how much money you are left with every month. If this doesn’t qualify him to be the head of the family, then you need to have your head examined. (For your information, your head is in the locker as a bank guarantee).
Q: I am afraid as to what all details will the census officer ask. Will he ask my internet bank account password?
Ans: This is an unfounded fear. He already knows that your password is some alphanumeric combination of the first love in your life (Shalini123 or Padmini1979). It generally is also your daughter’s name (If you have a son, it naturally means your first love was a male. Yes, you had gayish inclinations).
Q: There may be a lot of people who may be born and a lot who may be dead who might not figure in the census? How do you they account for that?
Ans: The broad consensus is that you have to allow for 10 per cent leeway for the dead, a 20 per cent latitude for those born, 30 per cent for incorrect compilation, 40 per cent for wrongful information provided by the people. If you add 10, 20, 30 40, you get the total percentage of how wrong the census data always is.
Q: Why do they want details of my caste?
Ans: We know you are from the Forward Community.
Q: How do you know?
Ans: We know so many things. We also know that you are against reservation, which you believe subverts the system of meritocracy in the country.
Q: What else do you know about me?
Ans: You want us to tell…well, you are a regular reader of Crank’s Corner, who has just finished reading it.