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.


  1. Whew! Truly a horror story. All the best for whenever you get a new booklet:)

  2. Anonymous10:14 AM

    I started off reading the first of the series and went on to read the entire saga. Hilarious stuff! Great writing style.