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.


  1. ok this is the part of Indianness I don't miss. Is it because we are just too many people to manage? Or is it inefficiency pure and simple? By the way, it all sounds very like the US Consulate in Bombay before they decided (for their own safety due to bomb threats, not concern for making people wait hours outside) to outsource the token part of the service. So you were STANDING for three hours outside?

  2. Bride: Yes outside for over 3 hours, in horrid shuffling line and then hours inside because there were NOT ENOUGH chairs for the number of people they allow in! It's not many people to manage - it's a badly planned and manned system. And in a few weeks we have to do this all over again.....for yet another thing the Indian consulate is holding over our heads...

  3. I feel like putting all your IHC posts into one long letter and sending them to the Consul.