Tin Roof Press is the last link on my blogroll, courtesy my love for making lists in alphabetical order, and if you haven’t read that blog, you should. Ms. TRP is hilarious and full of superb insights. This morning, I was catching up on the blog and read the post she’d written recently about getting a visa. Serendipity, I thought, because today was the day that I had my appointment with the Regional Passport Office of Mumbai to submit an application to renew my passport. As I read it, I felt a little trickle of envy. A government office would never yield as much entertainment if I was in it or writing about it. My life has no adventure, dammit. Actually, that’s not true. My life has in recent times had a fair amount of adventure but it’s not really as entertaining.
Take today, for instance. I spent five hours, yes five, standing around the Regional Passport Office. There’s pretty much nothing I have to show for it by way of anecdote because nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. Me and 100-odd people stood in line. We all had applied online and had been given 11.45am for our appointment. The first of us saw a passport official at 2pm. We didn’t revolt, we didn’t burn the place down, we just stood there and waited patiently, wilting progressively with every passing hour. That’s about it. Ok, that’s not entirely true. There was a mangy, flea-ridden cat that sunned itself while I was outside Hall 1 (where all expired passports go to be reborn). When I finally entered Hall 1, Cat entered too and proceeded to repeatedly rub itself against my leg. There are some things that we are encouraged to think are pleasurable but are actually very discomfiting. Like sex on a beach and stray cat rubbing against you. Both are uncomfortable experiences and carry with them an unsettling feeling of, well, grubbiness. Plus, Cat kept baring fangs and make noises that were not meows. It seemed like hostile hissing, which I felt was particularly rude. After all, my leg was now potentially a flea farm, I’d been standing for 3 hours straight and was starving; but I wasn’t hissing, was I?
At about 12.30, we were informed by a khaki-clad policeman that we were a blighted lot. Our appointments were all delayed because the “system” in the Passport Office was “down”, he told us. “It was a long weekend so the computers have gone cold,” he said. (“Lamba weekend tha na, is liye computer thanda ho gayla. Isi liye system down hai.”) Never mind the stunning mechanical logic being offered by the man, the point worth mentioning here is that ultimately, there was nothing computerised about what happened at the Passport Office.
When my time finally came, I found myself locking eyes with an unblinking woman on the other side of a plastic partition. She looked at me, looked at two pages of my application and said, “Counter 38.”
“Sorry. Is there something wrong?”
“Go to Counter 38 and then come back to me.”
It was like I’d signed up for a cheapie version of Amazing Race. Obediently, I went up to Counter 38 while my body complained about being made to do aerobic exercise without being given any food. At Counter 38 stood a moustachioed man. I handed my application to him. He flipped through the pages and then said, “Where is the set for Khar police station?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Look here.” He stabbed at a part of the form where I’d given an older address. I looked. It looked fine to me. It was definitely the address.
“That’s my old address.”
“How can one police station share?”
Correction. I wasn’t in Amazing Race. I was in a bad ripoff of a Samuel Beckett play written by some frustrated Mumbaikar.
“I’m sorry, I really don’t understand. What do you want me to do?”
“Who do you know in Khar?”
“You didn’t make friends with neighbours?”
“Neighbours have shifted to Pune.”
“Where is your old passport?”
“Why did you take such a bad photo for your new passport? See how nice you look in this old one.”
“Er, thank you.”
“I suppose you were ten years younger. That’s there.”
“Er, I guess. About this application…”
“See, you are in Bandra now. So Bandra police will have to verify. But you were in Khar before. So Khar police has to verify.”
“But you don’t know anyone in Khar. Never mind. They will decide. You make another set of copies for Khar police station. Make it nicely.”
I’m not sure what a not nice photocopy is but I went and got another set, and returned to Counter 5. Mrs. Unblink took my forms, stamped a few pages and then told me to go and fork out Rs. 1,000 at the next counter. At the next counter, I encountered some technology. A printer spat out a receipt. Presumably this was the instrument that wasn’t working when systems went “down”. I’d come perilously close to heatstroke, been spat at and dry-humped by a stray cat, all because the printer hadn’t been connected to the network. Great.
Compare this to The Bourne Identity version of getting a visa that Ms. TRP writes about here. So much more fun.