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Through the Gates of Hell

After my wedding, my in-laws welcomed me warmly into their lovely one-story bungalow in Kolkata. This well-lit and airy home functioned flawlessly under my mother-in-law's watchful eyes and I thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay in that home before heading to the US. Years later, she authorized the re-development of the bungalow into a building with four flats with the desire that after her passing, two of the flats would go to Tarun and his brother.

Until about 2015, the bungalow and the flats held beautiful memories for us – good times with Tarun's parents, acquainting our children with their roots, family reunions, indulging in nearby restaurants and shops, and walking through the neighborhood alleys.

By 2019, Tarun and his brother were immensely frustrated with trying to manage the flats by remote control from the US and Canada. This had devolved into a series of challenges: the lift is not working, cyclone has flooded the flat, rats are in the pipes, the roof is leaking, and the home owner’s association (HOA) needs more money. To mend things, I took over the HOA. Soon we had transparency and a nest egg to make repairs. We were relieved that this new order would allow us to preserve Tarun's parent’s property for the foreseeable future


...the guard’s teenage daughter saw a ghost and an exorcist was brought in to ward off evil.

Visible only to this teen with pandemic-induced anxiety, an apparition allegedly appeared in the form of an old lady in a white sari and floated through the hallways at night. Since dealing with ghosts is well beyond my pay grade, I announced I could no longer manage the HOA. I thought Tarun or his brother would gallantly take over being that they are the actual owners of the flats.

If you know the two brothers, you know exactly what happened next.

They didn’t volunteer. Instead, Tarun said to me - if you can sell my flat, do it. This was the genesis of the saga that led Tarun and me into red tape hell, culminating with a traumatizing visit to the Alipore Police Court.

Long story short, I found a broker who found a buyer and we lined up papers to register the sale at the end of July. Three days before the registration, the buyer’s lawyer called me for Tarun’s Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) number. This is like an SSN issued by the Government of India for a person of Indian roots who is a citizen of another country. Tarun qualifies but does not have an OCI number.

I was warned this could be a show-stopper.

I tried every way possible to get around this rule. I claimed it’s not written, it’s not required by the Govt. of India or by other states, I solicited assistance from within and outside the state to influence an exception, c’mon please, I begged. Our lawyer said the officials were demanding an OCI number because they didn’t want to take the time to prove Tarun is a person of Indian origin even though he has the papers to prove it. The end result is that the sale is now delayed until Tarun gets his OCI.

Since Tarun was in Kolkata, the buyer’s lawyer asked him to do an affidavit of legal heir at the Alipore Police Court. That would formally establish ownership through inheritance. At Alipore Police Court we entered through what I imagine to be the gates of hell and into a labyrinth of alleys, possibly the next source of a global pandemic.

In the monsoon rain, thousands of maskless people were crammed into the hallways of the Court and in a dimly-lit, rickety tent which is the waiting area. Covid was palpable in the air. Rampant bribing occurred at each step. Narrow alleys and piles and piles of paper covered my visual field. Animals ran around between people as if their legal urgency surpassed ours.

Tarun does not suffer bureaucracy and he does not like to step outside the bubble he creates to keep us safe. Alipore Police Court caused him to have a full-blown meltdown.

He was livid that circumstances had put him inside the premises of Alipore Police Court asking me if I could please conjure up his mother to deal with this. I will NEVER EVER do this again, he announced loudly. He was angry at the process to prove what his birth certificate already shows. He was heartbroken to see thousands of old, sick, and disabled people waiting in line. He was utterly frustrated at the scale of bribery and how openly the lawyers and peons indulge in it. And he was afraid to catch Covid.

The visit to Alipore Police Court and the red tape that delayed the execution of the sale caused an epiphany: there is zero chance we are going to leave property in another country to our kids. Otherwise, they will have to go through the gates of hell, they will have no wherewithal to deal with what follows, and, they will try to conjure us up from the great beyond.

I certainly don't wish to revisit Alipore Police Court, in this life or the next!

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