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.