My wife is from Bombay, and when we were a-courting, she would tell me, "If you want to see what England was like fifty years ago, come to India."
When the time came that we got married, I saw that this was true. Both the Church and the U.S. Government, my employer, insisted on proof that she had actually been born. That meant we had to get a copy of her birth certificate, so that we could satisfy the requirements of both God and Caesar. And so we headed downtown, to the place in Bombay where such recondite documents are kept: a wonderful old structure called The Army-Navy Building. We entered the Office of the Clerk (which in those parts is pronounced, "clark"), and asked for the birth certificate.
What happened then could have been scripted by Dickens, because it looked like the whole operation had been contracted out to Scrooge & Marley, Ltd. The clerk, a little old man with thin hair and spectacles down on the end of his long slender nose, looked at us dutifully, and then opened the door to large room. Inside, we could see a host of other little old men, all sitting atop tall stools at desks with slanted fronts. All of them were busy toiling at documents with pen-and-ink, carefully entering information in immense ledgers. Shelves in the room were piled high with bales and bales of yellowing documents, dating back to goodness-knows-when, because in India, they never throw anything away.
After a while-and not too long a while, really-the little old man came back. And yes, in that immense mountain of paper, he had found exactly the file he needed. When he came, he was carrying the file in a bundle of other files. And then I saw something I didn't really know actually existed: the bundle of files was all tied together in cloth tape, cloth tape colored red-they were all tied up in Government Red Tape!
Until that moment, I had thought that red tape was just a figure of speech, but now I saw it with my own eyes. And, wonderfully enough, old Bob Cratchet-ji, the ancient Indian clerk, easily extracted the birth certificate for us and handed it to us with a polite smile. The system may have been as old as Queen Victoria, but it still worked.