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.


  1. Made delightful reading, as usual, though am glad it was you and not me going through it :).
    One thing I dont get is if your parents named you Rebecca at your birth, so where does Patricia fit into the story here ?

  2. Anonymous7:28 AM

    Thank god you finished the story-hilarious, though it must have been infuriating for you!

  3. Anonymous11:01 AM

    i was also wondering where Patricia came from? 40in2006

  4. Naming error in story: I was toying between Rebecca (one of my all time favourite stories) and Patricia (because I recently met one and I had never met any Brit with the name before although I had heard it was a common enough name) as I wrote the post and hence the confusion. I have shelved Rebecca and used Patricia all over now. Apologies for error!

  5. An interesting read.

    I guess every person who walks into India House @ Aldwych has got an interesting story to tell. Thank the great babus for the wholesome entertainment. :)

  6. You have passed all tests of desi-ness with flying colours!
    Waiting for you to answer the FAQs:)

  7. That's odd... I had to get a new passport at the Birmingham consulate and apart from having to pay the extra £18 for the name change - that is, adding my husband's surname to mine (exactly as you wanted to do) - I didnt have any problem on that score. (Getting them to send me back my new passport was a whole other story though!)

  8. Shyam: I did not want to add his surname to mine. I wanted his surname to be mine and to move my maiden name to my given name(s) so that everytime I book a flight ticket I don't have to use two surnames to match my passport. Also the jumbo booklet cost £18 and the name change cost £18 and I was meant to pay both but they were so sick of me they waived one. The passport and any additional booklets are not free.

    Everyon: FAQ's to follow shortly...

  9. Dear God! What a story!

    I have been contemplating changing my passport to incorporate my hubby's surname (while keeping mine). I'm already using this 'Patricia Jones Smith' for all other purposes. No double barrelled surnames for me. Why is it so hard for people to understand that?

    Do I dare change my name here????

  10. This is all sooo scary. I am due to make my appearance at the very same section in a few months to get my passport renewed.


  11. Anonymous6:57 AM

    Me too, have to make a visit in the next couple of months. So not looking fwd to it. Great story, looking fwd to the rest

  12. Ohhh... ok, gotcha. Well, you got it done anyway, so good for you! :)

  13. I know this is a really old post but I just found it and I wanted to say how I got exactly the opposite "advice" from the jobsworths at the Indian High Commission! I went requesting that I have a hyphenated surname (MaidenSurname-MarriedSurname) and I was told to drop the maiden surname and the only thing they could do was keep the maiden surname as a middle name. They're such a bunch of sorry losers. Aaaargh!

  14. p.s. They also said they don't issue jumbo booklets any more! Double aaarrrgh!