Friday, June 25, 2010

Day @ IHC: A play in 5 parts – Part 3: Website? What website?

According to the Website (on which I am reliant because of course no one answers the phone or responds to the numerous messages I have left or responds to the e-mails I have sent) this is what I need to get my Power of Attorney attested:

‘The person needs to bring the documents in original along with a photocopy, valid passport and the requisite fees directly to the Consular Counter of the High Commission. In case of Power of Attorney a photograph (s) of the executant (s) is required. The executant is to sign the documents in the presence of the Consular Officer.’ Check check check and check.

Aha! Finally, I am at the counter being served, or not as it were. From what I have gathered so far this is the way it shall go. There are two men behind the counter. One of them takes the papers and then barks an order at the other, who is clearly his subordinate. The subordinate then meekly says “£whatever”, collects it and rings it into a cash register and produces a receipt. All this while the main dude, whom I assume is the aforementioned Consular Officer, is looking through the papers and either:
a) smirking
b) making weird jokes about names and places which make no sense
c) telling you which documents you have missing
d) all the above.

I have read the website so many times that the instructions are printed on the inside of my eyelids. But as he (and just then I nickname him SmirkMaster Go-Go) ruffles through my papers (and comments on how I do not look like my photograph) he says “where is a copy of your passport and UK visa page?”.

Now go back up to the first paragraph if you will, reproduced from the IHC website – does it mention anywhere that either a copy of my passport or my UK visa pages? It asks me to bring the documents (to be attested) with a photocopy (which I have), my valid passport (which I have) and the fees (which I have, exact change actually). If it does, in some secret language, please please do tell me.

Meanwhile, SmirkMaster Go-Go benevolently says ‘Madam, if you want this done today you need to go and photocopy passport first last pages and UK visa. I will hold papers, you go and come OK?’. So I leave him the papers, grab my token back, and race up the short flight of stairs where the Nepali doormen await the throngs of photocopying idiots with varying versions of the words, ‘worry not, go out, turn left, cross the road, go right and you will see photocopy place. You have your token, now run!’

So I run. No mean feat if you have ever seen me and know that I NEVER run. I turn left, cross the road, turn right in front of Somerset House and am quick walking wildly on the footpath looking for the photocopy place. I barely notice the many others like me, wandering around, clutching their sheaves of paper. About 8 shops down, just before the dirty entrance to the India club is a jewellery shop. Outside is a young-ish boy chanting ’Photocopy? Photocopy? Photocopy? Photocopy?’ Without thinking I turn into the shop.

It’s no jewellery shop this. I mean there is some jewellery, but like the amount I have at home, just spread thinly across one wall in a display case. It is instead a thin front for a heaving photocopy business, with 3 machines being run by the owner, his wife and some other relative. I recognise about 15 people from the token line, entry line and inside halls of the IHC. All here, in short lines, to photocopy documents that they forgot to carry or that the website ‘helpfully’ omitted to mention. I get in line. It moves quickly, the men who man the machines churning things out at supersonic speed. The owner’s wife tries to convince me to photocopy my entire passport ‘because you never know beta when you will need these pages’. I decline, makes sure she makes only one copy and that I have all my pages, original and copied. It is 48p for each photocopy. For 3 pages I leave £1.50 and run back to the consulate. Only later does it occur to me that I should have got 6p back. It was neither offered (nor was a receipt) and I was in such a hurry that I didn’t think about it. It may seem insignificant in amount but by volume this is huge. This is how the money is made. Work un-receipted, change unclaimed.

I push through the last of the crowd trying to enter the building and am let in by the guards. I then push my way through to near the front of the counter which now smells of exhausted tired and sweaty people. SmirkMaster Go-Go is grilling some other poor sod. I wave at him. He waves me to the front, smirks (naturally!) and takes my papers. Nods, and then ignores me and goes back to the other guy. 10 minutes later he says ‘Come back at 3.30 to collect’, throws the receipt at me and goes back to yelling at someone.

I walk out with the student who tells me this is his second time for the same documents (the first got lost in the post poor chap) and that when we come back it will take at least 2 hours to collect our papers. I gawk at this because I assume that they will have everything done and dusted and just hand back my papers in order. I had every intention of collecting my still tiny child from day care and feeding him an early supper. He assures me that this is the modus operandi and that it will ‘take time’. For what, I ask. He smiles and a very Indian way says ‘Just’ and crosses the road.

I am so tired that I want to sit by the statue of Nehru in that courtyard and weep.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day @ IHC: A play in 5 parts – Part 2: Token, what token?

There is only one token window for all 800 people in the snaking line. It is giving out tokens for each service that the High Commission provides, so you have to get to the window (shuffle shuffle shove shove) and then say what you want. Then the person of authority behind the window barks some questions at you and deeming your work fit for their attention hands you a numbered paper token differentiating your counter by colour.

It takes nearly 3 hours to get to the window. I ask for, am barked at and have now been given a pink token with number 86 on it. But wait, consular services only gives 50 tokens while all other tokens are given out in the hundreds. I immediately question the bobbing head behind the window only to be told that since yesterday was a holiday and so today they are doing ‘double work madam, so 100 tokens, you are very lucky’. Oh the largesse!

Once you have the token there is no line to join, just a rugby sized huddle of people outside the wood doors next to the token window. These doors are guarded by two Nepali gentlemen, suited and booted and surprisingly soft spoken yet firm in their decisions of how to manage the crowds. They are letting great swathes of people in every half hour based on the token numbers.

Now that I have a token I must wait patiently with the masses to get inside and present my case. I jostle for space in the rugby huddle. People are trying to get in by showing their tokens but covering the bit with the number with their thumbs. Others are using the ‘I want to use the loo’ tactic. But mainly everybody is standing around trying to be friendly yet becoming mildly aggressive if anyone gets inside on false pretences. Finally after an age and much shoving I get let inside with the 11.45 lot of people.

Inside it is nothing short of a fish market. There is a difference between this time and the last. Last time there were all the non-Indians applying for visas. Now visa services have been outsourced - probably somwhere that is airier and more organised - and now it is just the bursting Indian population that has multiplied itself to take up all that extra space they left behind. There is the usual counter ringed by a wood and glass frame (to keep us out and them safe)and rows of chairs affixed to the floor (which do not even accommodate half the number of people in here). There is an electronic board with each counter number, the service it provides and the token number being called forth. Of course having all this is not much use as the number of people far outstrips the seats. People are standing in packed sardine like fashion gasping for air and making tight clusters around each counter, totally ignoring the 'please move back' admonishments of the staff behind each counter. Move back? Where lady?

The Consular Services is Counter 1 and I am happy to see that they have reached token 80 by the time I am positioned near enough the counter, in a mass of people, complaining about the heat and lack of seating after hours of standing outside. The token numbers are speeding by and about 30 minutes after I step in token 86 comes up. I jostle my way to the counter only to see that token 74 is still at the window arguing with the 2 men sitting behind the glass. I find about 6 people behind this man, all with random token numbers, not so much in a line as a hovering cluster. So clearly token numbers are just that, random numbers, addressed in nowhere near the order in which they were given out.

So a further 20 minutes later, after an engaging conversation with a college student about how we shall be here all day all year all our lives, I shove my way past someone trying to sneak in with token number 90 (the cheek!). I have arrived at the very front, the background music of complaints becoming more faint with each passing minute. Little do I realise that life is about to become a lot worse.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day @ IHC: A play in 5 parts – Part 1: Ash clouds

It’s been a manic morning requiring precision planning for childcare followed by the mad sardine tangle of the Tube that I have become so unused to. My aim today is to get a Power of Attorney attested.

So here I am here at the Indian High Commission in Aldwych, London, standing in a snaking line of over 400 people at 7.45am. I am around 250 people along – a common line for people surrendering passports, applying for passports/ renewals/ Overseas Indian Citizenship/ Person of Indian Origin status and all other consular services.

The Indian love of paperwork dictates that every person in queue at the Indian High Commission have a file (or knapsack) overflowing with sheaf’s of paper. Documents and their photocopied triplets all to be chewed up by the Officialdom of Government. In front of me is an Aunty (whom am I kidding, I am an aunty but she is way older than me and that makes her my aunty) in her sneakers and polyester trousers, clutching her knapsack for dear life. She turns around almost the minute I join the line and begins a conversation which includes (but is not limited to) where are you from, what do you do, why are you here, where is your husband, was it a love marriage (I kid you not) - all rapid fired in about 3 minutes, the answers almost inconsequential. I am tired, most of my answers to her are lies and it’s not even 8am. I plug my ears with my ipod and tune her out.

The line moves so slowly that my chances of reaching that tiny window seem dimmer with each passing minute. My phone rings and I answer it to find my father-in-law calling from India. He says that the breaking news is that London airports are shut due to the ash and wants to know where his son (who will not answer his mobile in office and is not answering his landline) and grandson (who as yet has no phone) are. I assure him that son is at work, probably in a meeting and that the grandson is at daycare. I have not heard about any ash (but then I am cut off from the real world by concerns of the childrearing type, still in a slightly obsessed sleep deprived phase) so I ask him where the ash is coming from. This is the rest of our conversation (and please remember that it is on the phone while the other people jumping in are all in line with me):

30in2005: What ash? Where from? I don’t see any ash.
FIL: I have no idea. The news only says that there is ash coming to London and therefore all the airports are being shut.
30in2005: OK. But is it a fire or something? What sort of ash?
FIL: I don’t know; the news doesn’t say.
Aunty-in-front: It is coming from Scotland. SCOT-LAND. You know, in the north. Lots of ASH!!
Boy-behind-me (with own file of paper): Yes, from the North, you know. In the air you know. Much ash is covering London.

I look up and see the bluest clearest sky I have in days.

30in2005 to FIL (now pointedly ignoring Aunty and Boy by looking at own shoes): I don’t see anything. I am out at the moment. I will call you this evening.
FIL: Find out and don’t get stuck. Who knows they may shut down the Tube. And then baby will be stuck!!
30in2005: Tube was working fine when I came out this morning. Don’t worry I can always take a cab.
Aunty: Tube is working. I came by tube.
Boy: No problem with tube. Even all buses are running. Ash cannot touch the Tube. See I can show you the news on my iphone.
30in2005 to FIL: Can I call you back? Bye.

So two people whom I do not know, who can only hear one side of the conversation, who clearly were eavesdropping instead of minding their own business have given me the news that there is ‘ash’ over London, its coming from the North, possibly Scotland and that the journey home should be fine (in their opinion).

I ignore them, pretend like they never said anything and use every bit of self-restraint to not tell them to shut up. I pop my headphones back into my ears and continue the slow shuffle shuffle shove shove to the token window.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Five X: Get going

1. I won't get into the reasons I haven't kept up to my promise to self to write. Suffice to say my middle name used to be organised, now it's lazy.

2. I go back to work tomorrow after a year of Maternity leave. We are incredibly lucky that the law in the UK allows women this amount of time off work to settle their babies into the world outside the womb before deciding on returning to work. Some people need less time to get back into the workforce, others can afford less time. Others decide that working at an office job (because make no mistake raising a child is work in every sense) is no longer for them. In my case I thought I would be back in 9 months but when push came to shove I found myself unprepared to return so soon. And thankfully we were able to afford me this break. We spent the past two and a half months getting our son settled into daycare and getting through the worst of the bugs that merrrily roam those four walls. Now he is happy and we are happy and I am off to being a office drone.

3. I spent the last two weeks doing things I have not done in a while. Mainly lunching with friends, browsing bookstores, attempting to buy additions to my wardrobe and even watching a movie. I had lunch with my mentor a week ago at Busaba (still one of my favourite places - although they are spreading like a rash across London so let's see how long that lasts) and as we left saw the fab duo from Little Britain leave with us. Matt Lucas and David Walliams - Mat was thinner than he looks on TV and David way taller than he looks on the screen. They are incredibly funny and their show is a good insight into the prejudices and oddities of this country, made humourous. They smiled. We smiled back. It made my day.

4. I watched a movie. Let me repeat that in case you did not understand the significance. I WATCHED A MOVIE. Now, I am not a big movie fan in that I do not go and watch every movie that comes out on the big screen. Heck I usually miss most of the movies till they appear on DVD much later. But I have not watched a movie in the cinema in over 11 months. I watched Julie and Julia on a flight from India in November but it took 1 very cranky baby and 7 hours of stop/start to do so and therefore that does not count. So last week I went to the cinema to watch Sex and the City 2. I knew it would probably be rubbish (and it was) but I was thrilled to be watching anything on a big screen uninterrupted by much but the slurping of coke and the chomping of popcorn. The movie was like a bad tourism advert for Abu Dhabi and the story was basic and tired and very unrealistic (as movies are sometimes meant to be?). However, it was a visual feast of colour and fashion and just the mind-numbing thing I needed. The 4 women have aged and although they have incredible bodies it is their faces that show an age that no amount of make-up can hide. I got my £7.50 worth from just the experience so no complaints here.

5. In other news it is sports mania time what with the World Cup football, F1 Grand Prix and Queens and Wimbledon tennis in the next few weeks. So our TV screen is going to be stretched to its limit. I am watching only snatches of it as I try and move back from being lazy to being organised. I have lined-up a number of sociable things for us to do over the next few months including a short vacation, 1st birthday parties for us to attend (not host), and lunches with family and friends. Speaking of friends, one of my dearest friends, who makes London eminently more interesting, is being enticed back to India. I shall miss her terribly. Thank goodness for skype and e-mail and long distance lines and text. I shook my fists at the Universe for this injustice in life. The Universe took one look at me and magnanimously offered to keep our number of friends at a constant with another planning her return. Oh goody!