Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Passport: One of Many

This story is so long and draining that I will write it in installments. You will see why.

It’s just past the 3 year anniversary of THE DAY I APPLIED FOR MY PASSPORT at the INDIAN EMBASSY. A day I cannot talk about with making my tone convey CAPITAL LETTERS. A day that I commemorate every year but making V listen to the story AGAIN.

Why am I here?: My passport pages are all full. After nearly 3 years of being married and having my father and father-in-law ask me numerous times when I am officially changing my name on my passport I have given in. They know that on everything else (bank account, rental agreements, supermarket loyalty cards) I am using V’s surname as my own since the day I got here. But clearly a passport is an overriding document, the thing I must not leave home without in case of a fire. So I am going to gently hit two birds with one stone: get a new booklet AND alter my identity.

Method of madness: Form downloaded from flimsy website and filled with great concentration. Re-done it many times over because I
a) keep filling it in the wrong colour ink and making mistakes that could only be guided by sublminal responses, and
b) cannot decide on the name change, the sheer loss of wiping out my dad’s name and a lifetime identity weighs heavily. V does not care except for uniformity which his Virgo-an mind processes best. So I play with various permutations/ combinations and settle on my original surname becoming my middle name. Of course the form has no space for a middle name so finally tag it onto my first name and change the surname to V’s surname. This is not how I have it anywhere else (bank account, rental agreements, supermarket loyalty cards) and V is not happy by the asymmetry but it’s my name and I can’t let go. It’s a girl thing.

How to be sure?: Phone call made to Indian embassy to double confirm ‘documentation’ that I need. I don’t need an appointment, “just be there early as there is a line”. New passports are issued in 48 hours. Hoorah, unexpected efficiency

What do I need: The list seems endless; our marriage certificate, my passport and V’s passport (for identity, visa etc), proof of current address, letter of employment, salary slips, form and pictures. And multiple photocopies of the lot. Leaving only my kitchen sink in its place, armed with every document we own, in triplicate, I am at the starting line.

First thing a.m.: I don’t need V to accompany me. I’m a grown up, I can find it, do this on my own. It’s a cold Tuesday morning, I can see the air as I exhale. 7am is not an attractive time. Yet with 2 hours to go before we are even allowed inside, the queue is forming. I am about 12th in my line, stood behind Indians all here for consular services. It starts at a closed window and snakes its way through the courtyard, up the few stairs, and around the building. I am on the stairs, reading a book, blowing on my hands to warm them, unaware that an ipod will some day make all this waiting less tedious. A parallel line is forming which seems to start at a closed door, guarded by bouncer looking man suited and arms crossed, talking into a headset. It’s the foreigners in line to apply for visa’s to go see my India.

Mix the cold weather and ignorance for a strange cocktail: Our parallel lines are as different as the colours of our skin. My line is all very brown Indians, a bit haphazard, zig-zaggy, lovely, smiley and chatty. A bit over curious but nothing I don’t expect or cannot deftly deal with. The firang line is shades of magnolia, orderly, proper, prim despite gently showing their hippy-ness with the odd splash of colour against a mainly black-brown uniform of winter wear.

I am taking a break from an utterly boring book. The guy in front of me feels it is our duty to bond as fellow Indians and so we are exchanging life stories, when this conversation makes us stop talking.

Brit lady One (BLO) to Brit aunty friend (BAF): So who do you think THAT is?
BAF: That, my dear, is Gand-I. He’s the non-violence chap. You know, the one they made that movie on.
BLO (nodding knowingly): Oh yes! How could I have not known (strange shrill laugh)

THAT is a bust of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in the small courtyard where our two lines wait patiently. I am gob-smacked¹, a word I have only just learnt as a migrant. My friendly neighbour is more vocal than I. He breaks off our conversation, leans over and taps BAF on shoulder, “Excuse me madam, that is Jawaharlal Nehru, he is our first Prime Minister”. BAF looks like she has been stung by a bee, he eyes are wide open and she is shocked at being touched by this unknown man. Instantly gains composure, nods wisely in agreement and thanks him for correcting her. He turns back to resume our conversation.

Less than 4 seconds later this is what we hear, “I don’t think he knows dear, that is Gand-I. I have seen the movie you know. He WAS their Prime Minister.”

I feel: Cold, mainly. And a tad irritated. An appointment system could avoid all this waiting in the cold. And how about all foreigners need to identify statue in courtyard before visa’s are issued?

I should have come here in summer.

There is more.

Firang: foreigner

¹Gob smacked: is a British slang term. Combination of gob, mouth, and smacked. It means “utterly astonished, astounded. I use it all the time.


  1. :-) Indeed a story worth sharing. The behavior of the BAF is BAFfling to say the least.

  2. This should be widely circulated. :-)

  3. Anonymous5:00 AM

    Oh yes, what would the poor native know about his own country's first prime minister?

    Write part 2 quickly!

    ps: I resisted the name change and the double barrel.

  4. Anonymous5:12 AM

    Of course, why would we have the statue of anyone other than Gand-i in our consulate....

    Getting a new passport was a lot easier in the US. All I had to do was mail my current passport to the embassy in NY (with a few supporting documents) and they mailed back my new one. A jumbo one at that! i couldn't get myself to do the name change though. Am too attached to my name.

    Can't wait to read Part 2!

  5. Oh no, another serial post. Hurry up and write the rest before the suspense kills me...

  6. LOL@ Gand-I.

    Came by after a long time...liked this post tons!

    Have had had years of passport woes so can totally relate to what you must be going through.

    All the best!

  7. Anonymous2:41 AM

    Crazy!!! I look with desperation at the pages so quickly being used up in my passport and dread my next visit.

  8. Parth: Wait for it. There is more and more baffling things to come.

    ggop: Thank you kindly.

    MumbaiGirl: not quick enough eh....You will just have to see what happened to my name!

    Chakli: It's become easier here as well I hear. But I don't for a miunte believe it.

    Rohini: Trying!

    Parul: Thanks. My woes took forever to end. And I live in fear of going back for something else.

    Southways: Have passport. Will travel. It's the NRI mantra seemingly....

  9. Anonymous9:52 AM

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