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.


  1. I have been quite close to tears myself. First with worry about them screwing up, and then with frustration at their inefficiency and need to make you feel right at home with their disrespect for you because you're the one that needs them and not the other way around. I feel your pain. I hope you finally have what you went in for and don't have to go there again for a long time.

  2. Anonymous2:48 PM

    As I walk past this queue each morning on my way into the office, it's interesting to learn a little more about what is actually happening. If it's any consolation, the queue the following day was worse.

  3. I guess they're just continuing the Great Indian Tradition, spreading business down the chain to the photocopy guys.

  4. Oh I can so sympathise with you. Been dreading getting my PIO card sorted for exactly Smirkmaster go-go types at the IHC!!

  5. what a nightmare:(