Monday, November 26, 2007


This blog is clearly not burning. Not a single comment has been left on it since I wrote last week and I thought that it was the deplorable writing catching up with me. But my friend has written to let me know that there is a problem with the comments section (and kindly added that i's not the writing!). I had tried responding to comments left on the post before last but blogger made me type them out about 4 times before actually accepting them. I thought it was just my computer but clearly it’s a more deep seated problem and after an hour of hunting down the correct page this morning I have written to the elusive blogger help asking for help. If you have a mo please will you try leave a comment and if it does not work e-mail me at if you have the energy?

I’m having trouble writing the fourth part of the passport saga. It was such a long and complicated process and so fraught with tension and anxiety that all these years later it still lives in my head much like some worm (whose name escapes me) that you cut off and it's head/ tail and it grows back. (am I making up the worm thing with my overactive imagnation and too much Discover/ Nat geo?). It's been hard to write even bit by bit, and I think that in re-telling it in a rush I would be doing the tale-end of it a disservice by not thinking it through enough. I don’t want to exaggerate the grand finale but I do want to reflect what a house of horrors the process was. I also need to come up with an alternate set of names to clearly explain events. No energy suddenly….. Patience is the name of this game.

In other news, this weekend was brilliant. Friday afternoon set the tone for things to come. Friends who were to come for lunch on Saturday cancelled (once again bad planning and inconsiderate-ness played a big part and I would not have known they were not turning up if I had not called to ask about food allergies) and so the weekend stretched languorously ahead. Went to Macondo after lunch and bought some divine blocks of brownies to share in a nearly empty office. No one in London makes a warm brownie quite like Macondo in Hoxton Square. It’s a small arts café that sells the art off the walls and divine organic treats savoury meals. It’s a tiny space with overstuffed sofa’s and dim lighting and an ever-changing menu. Well worth the trek if you live in London.

After an excellent spinning/ indoor cycle class on Saturday morning in which I was nothing less than an ace among the Alps, I decided I did not want to go home. So V gamely agreed to a movie at the Dome. The Dome was overrun by some kind of scouts convention and there were kids and adults in scouts uniform EVERYWHERE. We bought movie tickets and killed time and the hunger in our bellies with a simple burger lunch at Jimmy Monaco’s before the movie. Jimmy Monaco’s was average. I had an Alaskan cod burger which was nothing but a deep fried fillet of cod between a bun and V decimated a veggie burger. Neither had us raving but it was good wholesome food and did what it said on the menu. Then we sat with about 20 people in a 776 seater screen at the Vue in the Dome and watched American Gangster. It was a bit like a private screening there were that few people. I have to say I loved it. Both theatre being huge & empty and the movie. And even the ever fussy V approved, commenting only that “it got slow in the middle”. It did not. Don’t listen to him. Go and watch it.

Yesterday we had a lively, chatty, laughing afternoon with friends in a diametrically opposite part of London. Smooth albeit long journey, more than worth it for both company and delicious food. Came back and was flipping channels and saw the ‘just in’ on NDTV say that Delhi felt tremors. Checked all the newswire websites and V stood in front of the TV till someone appeared on the news ages later to say that the tremors were strong but no damage to life and limb had occurred. I had not wanted to wake everyone in my parent’s house up and so didn’t call till first thing this morning when my mum confirmed that the house and everyone in it was still standing.

Have a good week peeps.

Macondo: 8 & 9 Hoxton Square, London N1
Jimmy Monaco’s: Unit 22, The O2 Dome, North Greenwich, London

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Passport: Teesra kaun?

We are waiting like bulls at the entrance of a run for the red cloth to signal the start of the race. The door opens and out come two paunchy men, the red cloth waved. They approach the counter with knowing trepidation and on cue the Indian crowd surge forward to the glass. Shoving and adrenalin rush forward till they are effectively one mass stuck to the glass pane.

Guy One is short-ish, with a paunch that his mother would approve of. He takes the chair on the left (as I face the counter). Guy Two is a bit taller, with a mustache and a paunch his mother too would be proud of. He gets the chair on the right. The chair in the middle is empty. The counter is like desks propped up on something (as if the height will give it a measure of seriousness; more likely to protect them from the insane with boredom crowd) and the chairs behind it are a bit like breakfast bar chairs.

It quickly become clear that Guy One is for consular services such as affidavit stamping and that Guy two is in charge of the Passport issues. I don’t remember how this became clear. I definitely remember that there were NO SIGNS. I suspect it was a fact-turned-to-rumour by those squashed up against the glass at the front, passed on hurriedly among the impatient, over-friendly crowd. I remained seated and tried unsuccessfully to tune out big industrialist blabber mouth next to me. I gave up. Literally. After a further 20 minutes more of his life history I stood up, murmered some excuse about checking out the delay and joined the heaving masses.

While stuck in the mass of humanity around the deformed desks I got to chatting with a young couple who had come down from the some far flung Scottish island. Both doctors, they were in town for the week enjoying shows and sightseeing while trying to get some work permit related papers notarized by the High Commission. Whom they had called and checked with before making the long and expensive trip. They had been the day before and typically been told that it could only be done by relevant persons in India. Before tearing all their hair out and killing someone they called India and of course said relevant persons had laughed and told them they had to get it done in London. So they were back to try and work their magic pill of sweet-talking and outright threats.

Selective hearing skills well developed in childhood suddenly hear "Token number 118, token number 118, TOKEN NUMBER 118". That’s me and my blue paper token. So in a dazzling, gazelle like manner I shove my way through the great wall of India and suddenly there I am, at the glass pane, looking at Guy Two, whose mouth is not moving. That is when I realize that it’s Guy One that is bellowing Token 118 at the top of his lungs. So I sidle past the people around me to his window, present my token gently on the counter and say, “I am here for my passport extra booklet, sir”. Good manners, my mother said, will get you everywhere.

Guy One looks up, looks down, “wrong window. Token number 119, token number 119, TOK..”.

“Sir, this is my token but I am here to get a passport and no one asked me when giving out the token what I was here for.

“..EN NO 119. Sorry madam, about this I cannot do anything. You need a pink token”

I thump my large and very heavy file of unnecessary documents on the counter. It makes a loud NOISE. LOUD enough for him to look up and see a red-faced angry me. “I am not moving and you are not seeing token 119 till I have my work done. I have been waiting just like every other person here and I am NOT leaving till you sort this out. For hours I have been waiting, for hours.

Dead silence. Even the endless cackle of the densely packed Indian crowd around me is silent, if only for a moment. Pause of expectation in the air.

“Ok madam, not to worry Mr. Kumar here will look at your papers next. He is my friend, no, Mr. Kumar?”. Fake jovial laughter and leaning over to pat Guy Two (who clearly is Mr. Kumar) and, “Mr. Kumar, please see this now. That L has given tokens out like this like that again, no, please, hunh?”

Mr. Kumar, peers over his glasses and with a benevolent smile says, “Ok, not to worry, I will do. After this one, ok? You will have to take mine later ok?”

Not OK. Idiots. I am seething. I could have been one of the first few at that counter if only I had been given the correct token. I am still waiting.

Believe it or not there is more.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Passport: Doosra

So I’m STILL at the Indian High Commission, on a freezing cold morning, here to get the document that defines my patriotic feeling within its blue covers.

I want to step back and talk about the building itself. India House sits snugly in the half moon roundabout at the centre of Aldwych, right next to the BBC’s Bush House. It is an imposing building in many ways, its oversized proportions and faded grey façade hiding some nice detail that you would not notice unless you were looking. But make no mistake - this is very much prime central London real estate. My nana worked here for a few years in the 1950’s and in some strange way that makes me feel a little nostalgic. Every time I pass it I think of him and how his life in London must have been and how different mine is in comparison. And it makes me miss him and all the wonderful grandfatherly things he did to enrich my childhood.

So standing there this crystal clear morning I am thinking about him and how bleeding cold it is. I’ve been here since 7.15 or so. After the inane conversation about Jawaharalal Nehru being Gand-I, I have gone back to my book.

At about 9am the main door opens and the line of visa-seekers enters in an orderly fashion, collecting tokens as they file in. The Indians are left to languish in the cold for a further half hour. We get to 9.30am and the closed windows in front of which we are lined up finally open. We are rushed forward by a bouncer like characters and no questions asked, randomly handed out blue or pink numbered tokens by two people sitting on the arm side of the windows. Token and documents in hand it’s the usual push through the doors, an impatience that marks our Indian-ness as we stumble down the stairs trying to be FIRST. I have a blue token.

Downstairs it somehow reminds me of being in Nirula’s¹ sans the food. A hall lined with rows of chairs, nearly all taken by the visa-seeking firangs, and token numbers flashing on boards to beckon people to the correct neatly glassed in counter. The desi brigade has descended into this orderly world and within seconds is swarming past the lines of shocked firangs to the desk-turned-counter in the corner, ugly and long enough to comfortably seat 2 people behind it, protected from these masses with only a flimsy glass panel in front of it. Two hand written signs, one over each window, proclaim ‘Consular services’ and ‘Passports’. Of course no one is manning either window, the 3 chairs behind the counter waiting patiently for the babu’s to finish breakfast. There are only about 4 chairs in the general seating left for any of us to sit on and in the mad scramble of having been left behind the collected herd at the windows I find myself in fortunate possession of one of these.

I often think I am chosen for strange encounters. I find myself seated between a young lady Indian doctor (come to get an extension booklet) and a hulking man who informs me he is from the Jodhpur royal family (there to get a passport for his wife). Young lady doctor and I are about the same age. We get talking and she tells me how she is completing her specialization at the Royal Free in Hampstead and how she misses India. I concur and we swap stories about where we are from, where we grew up, what we miss most. Hulk is determined to talk to us so he begins a long dissertation on how he has come down from near Manchester where is a big man in construction and how he has played polo with Prince Charles and how he has produced a Indian English film and how he has a pad in Belgravia where he stayed last night and how it is really useful to keep the apartment with a butler for whenever he is down in London. We try to ignore him and continue our conversation but he insists on showing us the 4 passport sized pictures of his wife and asking us if we don’t think she is the most beautiful woman we have ever seen. Then he tells us how she is a Princess and how they had an arranged marriage and she came to be a housewife after a lifetime of being waited upon and how beautiful a son she has produced as an heir to his empire and how wonderful and in love a couple they are. I’ll admit she is quite lovely. But this early in the morning I feel a bit ill and suffocated from all this information being stuffed down my throat. Mental note to self to Google him to see if any of it is true.

The visa lot are fast diminishing, a process helped by the efficient looking people at the nice formal counters. The lit up numbers are charging ahead in swift succession, giving the impression of efficiency and decorum and neat-as-a-pin machinery. It’s well past 10am but there is no sign of anyone coming near the counter for Indian people. The lone security guard manning the door behind the counter keeps telling us to maintain order and be seated (on what? the floor?) as “sahib is just coming”. The desi crew is now sweltering in the overheated space and bunched up-ness of having to stand next to each other, working themselves into a frenzy of high pitched voices and some abuse towards the incompetence of the system.

As for my blue token and I, we remain calm in this sea of madness. How much longer?

Nana: Maternal grandfather
Firang: Foreigner

¹Nirula’s (if memory stands the test of time) is the first fast food joint I remember from my childhood in Delhi. A Delhi institution in its day, it was (and is) famous for its Hot Chocolate Fudge (commonly called an HCF), a sundae par none. I recall that at the time it was a revolutionary idea: you had to go and order your food at a till from menu’s displayed above the food counters, pay up and sit at your table to wait for your number to appear on an electronic board. No waiters, no printed paper menu’s and a board full of fun things such as ‘cheeseburgers’, ‘double cheeseburgers’, ‘triple cheeseburgers’ and 31 flavours of ice cream. So popular was Nirula’s that you always went in a group, most people grabbed a table, one person went to the till to order while the others protected their seat. Yet more groups came and watched you eat while looming over your heads trying to make you feel guilty for taking SO LONG to eat. I loved it all, the pressure of saving a seat, eating quickly or not, the ‘cool’ food, the semi-afordable prices and especially that HCF.