Friday, December 28, 2007

This Christmas week...

...has been quiet and reflective. Full of late nights and sleep-in mornings. Skipped meals and big meals. Devoured movies and books. Seeking and finding warmth in the blustery wind. Imagining what 2008 could look like.

I am constantly drawn to these pictures of a beautiful summers day spent at Columbia Road Market in London earlier this year. It was a beautiful and busy day spent laughing with V and friends, shopping, eating and talking. One of the most sparkling days I will remember when I look back on 2007.

I hope 2008 is bright, healthy, hopeful, loved, clear, wonderous, full of promise, good food, family and friends - all within reach of fingers. For V. For me. And for you. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why my Boy is best

I wrote about my birthday resolutions back near the day and I am happy to report back that things have gone well-ish since then. I must do an update on what happened with each resolution but this is not that post.

This is the post to do with the very last line of that post - the 'more on that later' bit, about my fabulous birthday gift. This image you see is of a series of bookshelves packed with books. I originally saw the bookshelf in a design magazine I part share a susbcription to. I was instantly smitten with it. Thin sharp back with perpendicular shelves neither of which would show once the shelf was full of books. It would look like a tall stack of precariously balanced books. Minimal yet haphazardly full. Theoretcial opposites coming together to make something of great beauty very useful. However I immediately dismissed the idea alongside that of owning a circular stone bath I saw a few pages along (only £19,500). While not quite in the same price league, the bookshelf's exhorbitant price tag meant that I couldn't quite see myself owning it.

I forgot about it until a few days later when I had a was wandering around the house with a few books that just would not comfortably fit into my standard wooden giant bookshelf. I piled the books on the side and began praying to the Gods of Google as I hunted the web for a cheaper alternate. I came across the exact same bookshelf at a quarter of the price on an American design site but after much e-mail to-ing and fro-ing they apologised for being unable to actually deliver safely across the seas. They did however offere up a suppliers name who might just be able to. Voila! A bit more browsing and calling and I found it could be ordered in London and imported from Italy. At this point I handed the details over to V who was pestering me for ideas about my birthday gift and he ordered it and tracked it everyday for weeks.

The delivery of my shelf was quite botched up and even as I wrote my birthday post in mid-July it had not arrived. Lucky me, birthday gift was a multiple part gift: I got one of these giant bookshelves and ALL THE BOOKS I COULD FIT INTO IT. This from V was my birthday gift. So in anticipation of the bookshelf's arrival, on my birthday we wandered into a Waterstones and bought the first 14 of numerous books. The bookshelf finally arrived in early August and was assembled in 3 minutes flat. It sits neatly between a wall and a piece of furniture. It can hold up to 70 books (some dependence on the thickness of the books) and since July I have already bought over 45 of the books. It's good for my soul to go into a bookshop and wander around. All those written words and covers evocative of a story; so much to choose from, so many to choose. These wanderings, as leisurely as they are, lead me to a canvas bag of books and intense longing for a weekend afternoon curled up on the day bed with something playing in the background while devouring a book.

It's my best gift yet. And one I am inclined to ask for as a repeat gift when my next birthday comes around. Now you see why my Boy is best

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Passport FAQ: The final countdown

1. Will my details in my passport be printed?
Over 3 years ago now (that’s the distance between sharp and dulling pain over my kaagzaath), just one weekend before I was due to apply to the Indian High Commission for both additional booklet and change of name, we went for lunch to friends in leafy Golders Green. In anticipation of the process we were talking about how the website seemed to have all the information one might need (ha bloody ha!). My friend K then said that she had had her passport re-issued in Mumbai just before coming and she showed us her new passport – typed front page with her details all in the correct places.

Gazing at it I too dreamt of a neat typed/ electronically digested professional looking passport. The leafy tree lined street and the plate of steaming hot pav bhaji lulled me into believing that all would be right with the identity documents. How wrong was I? My passport is not only hand written, a mistake has been scratched out with a blade, written over and signed by someone before being laminated. And the laminate is full of air bubbles.

But apparently things have changed. It’s all printed now – even in London. I don't believe it.

2. Will the passport be ready on time?
The website assures me that it is a 48 hour turnaround. Completely shell-shocked by the trauma of getting my OWN name on my OWN passport I don’t take in the slip which asks me to come back in a week until I get out. I am drained of all emotion. Why did I believe the website you ask? Naivete.

I pay the money, grab the slip out of the cashiers hands and dive through the crowd desperate for fresh air. Outside, the air is fresh and people free. I uncrumple the slip only to see the collection date is 9 days from now. 7 working days plus a 2 day weekend. WHAT? So I walk back to the door which is being guarded by a bouncer dude with dark glasses. He is not friendly. After all he can barely see me standing there. About a foot shorter than him and a few feet through the grey-ness that has set in. He won’t let me go back in but will go and find out himself. He comes back in under two minutes with “Yes, that is correct. Please come according to the slip”. OK then.

So no, my passport will not be ready on your time or even the High Commissions time. It will be ready in Indian Slow Time.

3. Will the handwritten passport, scratched out and written over correction or air bubbles cause any grief?
Of course it will. A year and a bit after getting the passport I was flying back and forth from Germany with some regularity. After a fantastic 5 days with the troupe of colleagues we are all leaving from Berlin airport on the same flight. Our trip has been wildly successful and all 20 of us are ready to go back and have a bit of a break. The guy at the immigration counter has other ideas. He has decided that he does not like what he sees. Well over 6 feet, blonde and with clipped voice he asks me where I got my passport from. I tell him. He continues to peer at it, adding a small magnifying glass to his own eyes. Then he adds a few extra colleagues into the mix and soon they are having a mini party in German all the while handing around my passport and the eye glass, running their hands along the edges, asking more clipped questions. In the meanwhile my colleagues have gone through and from where I am standing I can see that the entire seating area for our flight has filled up. I ask Blondie what the problem is and he smiles and says “Oh maybe you made this at home? It has a lot of airbubbles, no?”. No. Yes. OK.

I give them the IHC’s phone number but they decide that a higher power needs to decide this. So they whisk my passport away leaving me under the watchful eye of a guard. People keep coming back and asking me random questions like where I was born or what my mothers name is. Things I would definitely NOT know / have learnt if I had forged my own passport. About an hour later they come back to tell me that the IHC’s phone number just rang through. Well obviously. The babu’s went home at 4. It’s 5 now. So now what? They keep saying WUN MINUTE. But my flight is about to leave. My colleagues are waving madly from behind the immigrations counter. They have to go or they will miss the flight. I am surely going to miss mine.

In a final burst of enthusiasm I make a short impassioned speech. Suddenly the original blond officer comes to the front of the gaggle, stamps my passport and escorts me to the plane. I make nervous small chat with him all the way there. Turns out that the expiry of my passport looked suspicious because it had been scratched off with a blade, written over and signed before being badly laminated and that they thought I might have done this at home. Yeah right.

I am escorted onto plane which has everyone already seated and it’s engines warmed up. As if my colour was not enough, the escort walked me to my seat and made sure I was belted in before leaving me in the glare of a plane-full of late, irritable passengers. The only people glad to see me were my colleagues. And even they aren't that glad as the flight is late because of me.

So yes, I would say grief was caused.

4. Did I Google the Prince?
DUUUDES. What do you take me for? Of course I did. Sadly he does exist and looks, in real life exactly as he does in pictures. He is a big-ish shot I guess, just not in my world. His wife looks nice too (and just like her picture) and is minor royalty as well. Am I going to tell you who he is?

5. Does my passport fill me with joy?
Well, the name has caused confusion the way it is, with both surnames needing to appear in certain places because of it. Much as V predicted it would. But I love my passport and the fact that I kept my dad’s name and added V’s to it. I don’t have the energy to go back and quibble it. By the time it next comes up for renewal in 2017 (I got it in the window of 20 year passports) maybe the IHC would have got its act together and into the 21st century. I can only hope. In the meanwhile I am full of joy!

I’m glad I wrote out this story. It was taking on unmanageable proportions in my head and I wanted to put some of the facts down for posterity. And to squash the urban legends my mind was spawning. I now charge for passport related advice. The End.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Passport: Four down. None to go

I’m determined to finish writing down my story from hell Indian High Commission before the next anniversary of the day draws any closer and it becomes nothing but an urban legend.

I am convinced that this is a test of my citizenship of India. Hours of waiting, trying rules, rubbish forms, utter rudeness, clamouring crowds, inquisitive aunties, over-kowledgable uncles, obnoxious royalty and endless humiliation.

There is nowhere to run. Even if I wanted to I would have to elbow my way through the crowd of Indians that has packed itself around me in the hope of finding out every little detail about my life. The fact that we, Mr. Kumar and I, are about to have a big fight is just a bonus.

To accurately tell this final bit of the memory I need to use my name. All bits of it. I’m choosing random British names as substitutes because I can’t think of Indian names I’d rather have and I have no emotional connect with the Brit ones. Let’s say my parents chose Patricia as my name at birth and my dad lent me his surname Jones. And then I grew up and married Boy Smith. Much easier I think than breaking up 30in2005, which, anyway I look at, just won’t do.

So here I am, Patricia Jones, waiting to get an additional booklet and add Smith to my name. Mr. Kumar peers over the top of his glasses at me and then head down and through said glasses at my form. I am holding onto the file of additional documents for dear life. There are, after all, about £20 worth of photocopies in there, no small sum for an unemployed migrant.

On the form I have filled:
Given name(s): Patricia Jones
Surname: Smith

Mr. K: “Madam, you cannot keep maiden name as middle name. Ladies ke liye aisi koi suvidha nahin hai (there is no such provision for women)”

Me: “Why? I don’t want to give up my fathers surname. I just want that to become my middle name and to add my husbands as the surname”

“No madam, ladies ka koi middle name nahin hota hai. (There is no middle name for ladies)”

“Sorry but I would like to speak to your superior officer. There must be some way for me to keep both names”

He sighs deeply, whips off his glasses and with a flourish of his hand and “one minute” disappears through a flimsy door opened by a security guard.

All around me the Indians now proffer their advice. Ranging from “kya madam, apne to sab ka kaam rok rakha hai (What madam? you have stopped everyone else’s work from happening)” to “Ladko ke to 'Kumar' laga sakte hain, ladkiyon ka to kabhi nahin suna (Have heard of ‘Kumar’ being a middle name for a boy, never heard of a middle name for a girl). And “Aaapko kya milega yeh karne se madam? (What will you achieve by doing this madam?)”. And “Aapke husband aur papa ko bura nahin lagega? (Won’t your husband and father feel bad?).

There was more of the same, everyone having a discussion about what I, Patricia Jones soon-to-also-officially-be Smith, should do/ could do/ must do/ must not do/ must feel/ must endure. A lot of blah blah blah to me. I just stood there looking uncomfortable and ready to burst into tears. I was not about to give up without a fight. Fifteen minutes later Mr. Kumar emerges from the labyrinth that is the back office of India House and strolls to his desk. Takes a seat and shuffles on the stool till a comfortable (to him) and threatening (to us) pose is struck.

“Madam, show me all supporting documents”

I concur and hastily shove the entire file through the small air hole in the glass. He goes through it sheet by sheet for about 4 minutes. Gives up and says “Aap sure hain ki aapko dono naam chahiye? (Are you sure you want both names?). Hum allow nahin karte hain ladies ka middle naam (We don’t allow ladies middle names). India mein to aise nahin hota hai (It’s not how it works in India)”. Do I freaking look like I care! I want my dad’s name to appear and that is that. With carefully constructed sentences and a modulated voice my tone perfect class 3 music teacher would have been proud of, I insisted. Sighing once more he disappears into the beyond, form, passport, papers and all.

10 minutes later I was silently bartering with God, begging for some resolution and not to be beaten black&blue by the increasingly impatient Indian crowd in exchange for being a kind wonderful human being for the rest of the year. It was November, I would manage a month and a bit. And although I fully sympathised with the baying crowds I just wanted to sort this out and go home.

Mr. K came back with a smile and “Sir ne bola hai, aap jo naam likhwana chahen likwa lijiye. (Sir has said that you can write whatever name you want). But aapka purana surname Jones sirf aapke naye surname Smith ke pehle hee aa sakta hai (But Jones can only appear before Smith and not as a given name). Ok?’.

OK. Anything. Goodbye. I correct the form:
Given name(s): Patricia
Surname: Jones Smith

I must pay £18 only says Mr. Kumar’s scribble at the top of my form, much to the consternation of Ms. Pinky who sits between consular and passport windows with her little cash box. She would like me to be charged an additional £18 for getting both additional booklet AND additional name. But Mr. Kumar is so sick of me that his fake smile has fallen into a grimace and he yells at her to just do as he has written so that I can go. Much to the delight of the waiting, utterly bored crowd they have a small round of petty yelling. My exact change does not help matters as she can’t scream at my smiling face. A small cheer from the crowd - victory for the common woman they always approve off.

One week later I am back to pick up the additional booklet, dark blue and all mine. I am now Patricia Jones Smith. Small details like did I google the Prince and was my passport issued correctly must wait. FAQ to follow.

Citizenship of India - I think I passed the test. And for all its quirks I love being Indian.