Saturday, October 06, 2007

Born to run around

A certain stripe of Indian likes to go on about what a great country this is and how he or she would travel the world but would never relinquish that blue passport with the lions on it. This stripe of Indian is usually the kind for whom the system is actually geared; that is, the well-oiled system of contacts and access that bypasses, with a phone call and in a couple of hours, the regular system of gruelling bureaucracy that attends the process of getting beyond our beloved borders.

If you ask me, and probably the rest of India, those lions represent a bunch of incredibly grumpy, flea-bitten beasts whose general purpose in life seems to be to growl and roar at people until they go away and stop bothering them. I can’t figure out what they’re doing on a pedestal.

In the normal system, if you need an additional passport booklet, you have to prove your birth, address and general personhood all over again even though you’re physically in possession of a passport that already attests to those things (via a similar painful process of verification that you’ve already gone through once) and just want some extra pages—because you’ve been so thoroughly vetted by several countries that you’re out of space.

Getting your papers together is a process doubly stymied, because if you’re being guided by a travel agent, he or she is so used to applications being thwarted for stupid technical reasons that they insist on watertight paperwork and will make you run around getting yourself photographed again because your hair was falling slightly over your forehead, or will darkly prophesy your doom because you say you’re married on one form but don’t have a wedding certificate and therefore you should white out your marital status and hide the affidavit which says that you’re married—and so forth.

When you have your documentation, you have to get to the Regional Passport Office at 6am to be at the top of the queue so that when the counter on the ‘backside’ of the building opens, three and a half hours later, you can get a token which will gain you admittance to the hallowed inside—which is just as awful, but at least in the shade. When you collect your passport by hand, you queue up only to be told that you need to be in another line; where, when you get to the counter, it turns out it’s the other line; when you get there, they tell you to go to the other other line.

It’s positively Kafkaesque, and it makes your blood pressure soar.

The bypass system is awesome. Someone in it can make a phone call to a school friend or dinner party acquaintance, and replace an expired passport in a matter of hours; or, at the very least, he or she has fast access to gazetted officers and employs one or more bodies who can be dispatched to a court to get a Standard Affidavit typed up on non-judicial stamp paper by some greasy tout, or to stand in line so that by the time he or she swans in, the bod is holding a place at the top of the queue.

I’d love to see the Indian government give to every child born in this country, on the day that they’re born: a birth certificate, a passport, a voter’s ID number that turns into a card at the age of 18, and a PAN card number, all of which remain constant through that person’s life.

If you’re reading this, you’re an Indian whose voice can be heard, but also, chances are, one of the fortunate bypassers. Why would you raise your voice when you have nothing to complain about?


abesh said...

Kafkaesque indeed! Great post, Mitali! I am proud to be an Indian and totally inconvenienced by having an Indian passport!

cowherd said...

"It’s positively Kafkaesque, and it makes your blood pressure soar."

There's a simple alternative. Load the noggin with a fiendish puzzle prior to embarking on the sojourn. Mulling will alter the nature of time. Honestly!