Monday, April 23, 2007

I love my government

I just love my government. I've spent all of today on a pavement outside the regional passport office in Bombay trying to get a ECNR* stamp on my passport. "The how much??" said my friend 'Jack' who is culturally disadvantaged where it comes to comprehending the finer points of Indian Laws. He was brought up in America. We will keep one minute's silence to mourn his disabilities and move on to an erudite analysis of how the bureaucracy works hard to make your life fuller and more meaningful.

First, the facts. It so happened, dear reader, that we landed up at 6.00 am, application form and all documents under the sun in hand, on the pavement outside the Regional Passport Office. That early because we were advised that the queues could get really long. Some 50 people had already beaten us to it.

Just ahead of us was a distinguished looking gentleman dressed in formal office wear, shoes shined to a finish that slobs like me can only dream of. He had the air of someone who was turning the wheels of the economy. Which he was, because we later discovered that he was a very senior officer of the Reserve Bank of India. I, for one, found it surprising that someone of so exalted a station in life could not manage to find a lackey to stand in for him, like so many other prosperous people who sauntered in languorously at 9.30 and occupied positions that seedy looking gentlemen had been occupying since earlier than six.

Some of the poor saps who had been standing there since 6 in the morning took umbrage at this and protested loudly. There was a brief altercation where the contestants discussed intimate details of relationships between them and their close female relatives in extremely crass and graphic terms. Then one of the worthies bitch-slapped the other, raising the volume of the argument by several hundred decibels. Soon, the cops turned up and sadly, for the bunch of us who were enjoying this immensely, restored law and order.

Meanwhile, my friend the Reserve Bank Governor was getting increasingly concerned that in his absence, the wheels of the economy might just stop turning and vociferated this concern several times in various grammatical structures. The beads of sweat appearing on his broad forehead, for some reason, struck Sheela and me as droll.

Presently, I decided to forage for some coffee and went walkabout. Presently, I came across a Cafe Coffee Day outlet whose employees were stretching, yawning and rubbing their eyes. They firmly told me that the shop had not yet opened for business, but I'm not a Bombayite for nothing. Ten minutes later, they were pouring out three Cafe Lattes, one thoughtfully ordered for Mr. Indian Alan Greenspan. When I gave him the coffee, he was really overcome with emotion. If he had had a daughter of marriageable age, I am sure he would have wedded her to me. Sheela of course did not agree with this analysis, citing some lame reason like he's not blind. Be that as it may, we spent the rest of the morning being fawned upon by him.

Eventually, our turn came and we were ushered in to a hall which mercifully had air conditioning. At the stroke of ten, a lady possessing the eyes and dental features of a medieval dragon appeared behind the desk. The place came alive and the chaps in front of us were summoned.

They went in the manner of aztecs going to the head priest to have their hearts cut out. With trepidation, if you know what I mean. The dragon lady spoke sharply and flames shot out from her eyes, but she did not actually bite them, which livened me up considerably.

I was next. The dragon eyes went over the documents. They looked up and started frying me on a low flame. "Where's your address proof?" they asked. I opened my mouth to speak but no words would come out of my parched throat. With a croaking sound, I proffered my ration card. The eyes raised the temperature to "medium". "Ration card is not proof enough" they said and told me to prove that I existed in some way acceptable to the God Baal, or prepare to be sacrificed. "What about my passport? Isn't that proof of residence?" I asked, throwing all caution to the winds. The flame went to "high" and with a muted scream I hightailed out of there faster than a ninety pound weakling at a bodybuilders' convention.

Such then is my tale. On the morrow, better prepared and wearing holy charms, I managed to satisfy the lady (document wise, that is) and won for myself an ECNR stamp on my passport. I am now in the exclusive club of distinguished people who can visit the Middle East, Japan, Korea, China, Africa and South America without having to ask anyone. I bet you
can't do that. So bow, underling. Accept your inferiority

*Foot Note: ECNR stands for Emigration Clearance Not Required. If you need to know more than that, I suggest you meditate under the Bodhi Tree. Its either that or read the Government Rule Book. Whichever is easier for you.


Ashok (Kichoo) said...

Sure sounds as exciting as battling the roaches (or as the locals call it in Mazatlan, Mexico- La Cucaracha ) one has to battle at 2am in the morning, standing in line to get a multiple entry H1 stamp.....

Of course all worth it standing in line with the girlfriend, showing her how brave you are (yes, stomping on a few of those suckers), all the while wishing for a miracle ORKIN man (exterminator) to magically appear....

Guru said...

The Reserve Bank of India gentleman must be an honest man or perhaps the RBI has lost its clout as there are hundreds of ways of getting hold of foreign currency these days. During those days when I held Indian passport as an NRI, a trip to an Indian Embassy or nearest Indian Consulate was not the activity I was looking forward to. Once I was standing in a reasonably long queue which spilled outside the Embassy building. A shining Mercedes arrived and a middle aged man getting out of the car was greeted by a posse of Embassy officials. While the VIP was being led into the building, he suddenly stopped by me and said 'what a surprise to see you here sir! Why are you standing in a queue here? I will see you later sir". Then he walked with the posse and I could see some nervous glances directed at me from disappearing officials. Within minutes, an Embassy official briskly approached me, I was led into the inner sanctum of the
passport section, was asked whether I wanted liquid refreshments and while I was enjoying one, and chatting with the official who was trying his best to please me with his politeness, service attitude, false smiles etc.. my new passport arrived within 30 minutes!! My application for renewal was still with me and my old passport was replaced with a new one. No fee was asked. I left the fee on the official's desk who saw me off coming with me to the front of the building. I had no clue who that VIP was and why he mistook me for some one else!!

On another occasion, while I had to get an Indian Visa to visit Mysore on a matter of urgency, I hurried to the Indian Embassy which was closed for the day ,and talked to the security officer, who first refused to entertain my request and seeing me very persistent asked me to write my full name on a piece of paper so that he could phone some one. He read out my full name to some one at the other end of the line and after a few seconds of listening his attitude suddenly changed! He politely asked for my non-Indian passport, asked me to sit on a chair which he fetched, disappeared inside and within less than 10 minutes my passport was returned with the visa stamped for 5 years multiple entries!! There was no application and did not asked for the visa fee. I left the money on his desk and hurried out scratching my head thinking about Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors!! But later I discovered that my surname and middle name which had that magic effect!!

narendra shenoy said...

Guru, thanks for your comment. I dont know your middle name and surname but if this has happened in the near past, my conjecture is that your middle name is "Sonia" and your last name is "Gandhi". Just joking. But I do find the VIP culture obnoxious. Started with Nehru, ofcourse. Have you seen his house in Delhi, Teenmurti Bhavan? The leader of 600 million impoverished Indians, many dying of starvation, lived like a Tsar. Shameles, utterly shameless. He can be all the English speaking, speech giving, respect of the world's intellectuals begetting super statesman he likes, if the theory of Karma is correct, he must have reborn as a dung beetle.

Coming to my RBI friend, yes, I thought it admirable that he chose to stand in line himself. And he insisted on paying for the Latte, despite my saying it was ok. A rare tribe, and one that the country is running because of.

Guru said...

No, It happened when BJP was in Power, and coming from a working class, my two names I thought in my younger days were taking me no where!!

When I was studying engineering we visited Teen Murthy Bhavan in 1961, and had an audience with Nehru himself. I had a lot of respect for him as an individual and as a freedom fighter, but as a Prime Minister of Independent India he was surrounded with people whose agendas were different. Also, he let his daughter to grow very powerful under his shade. Living in the West and reading about him through Westerners eyes, I understand that he was not that popular among Western leaders because of his propensity to think about something else when a conversation was taking place, which many Western leaders assumed that he was ignoring them. This was commented on by John F Kennedy and Herold Macmillan. He was lalter joined by his friend VK Krishna Menon who was such a disaster as a Minister without Portfolio (when he single handedly
managed to mess up India's relationship with just about every country except Soviet Union), and his tenure as a Defence Minister was no better as he presided over the decline of Indian Army, put Generals into a closet and hence allowed Chinese to capture Tibet
and part of Indian territory.

atul said...

Hey! I had the exact same experience as you, though I was trying to renew my passport. I had turned 18 two weeks before, but somehow, the benevolent man at the passport counter decided that only a permanent Indian drivers licence/voters card could prove the fact that I'd been in Chennai for ten years.

But, on the upside, I do have ECNR!

Elspeth said...

This is great info to know.

Cleaning Service Oklahoma City said...

I agree with Ashok - bring on the roaches! :)

cleaning services fort worth said...

God bless the government! (sarcasm) :)

tulsa divorce lawyers said...

It sounds like Jack needs to be Indianized :)