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.


  1. Testing a comment. Sorry I saw this real late because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

  2. Bureacrazy, and especially Indian bureaucrats. Gah!