Thursday, July 23, 2009

A passport to hell!!

Getting a passport for my daughter was something on my mind for quite some time. However my constant practice had indeed honed and perfected my procrastinating abilities.(Actually my modified policy is more like – don’t put off doing anything….just don’t do it!!!)
Anyway circa July 2009, I was finally on the doorsteps of the gateway to the world. I’m sure the babus (More of ‘babis’ actually….if that is the feminine of babus…actually what is the feminine of babus? Bibis?),inside the Kochi passport office describe their hallowed abode in even more grandiloquent terms. I had already made an online application form for my daughter and had an appointment for exactly 9:00 AM.So here I am with all the documents and Photostats of documents and back-ups of the Photostats all in plastic folder walking up to the security ‘chettan’ and confidently announcing “I have an appointment for 9:00 clock”.
Security chettan stares blankly at me in reply.Hard of hearing maybe me thinks , so I lift up the application form from the file and show the bold print saying ‘9:00 AM’.
Security chettan continues to stare (a wee-bit more blank I think).Hard of hearing and sight?? Dumb too maybe?
“Appointment eh? Eh?EH?” a gruff outburst pours out. OK not dumb….at least not in the ‘can’t talk’ mode. Actually quite a talkative guy, as I find out during the next few minutes, when he launches into explaining that the appointment thingy and the online-application thingy is something like himself…quite a farce. “You want give application, you take token, you stand line , you wait, you give ,you understand, you go”.
I go.
The next joker I have to meet is stamping out numbers on the application form. This is how the fully computerised online application works. You get your token number stamped, You wait till your number is called and then you give your forms to another babu/babi who points out each minute mistake in the form and often affords you an invitation for a revisit to correct the deficiencies. (Now what ‘online’ has to do with the whole system was getting curiouser and curiouser for me…something like alice in wonderland…..with a bit of malice in wonderland thrown in free!).

Anyway I finally mange to get a darshan of the first ‘babi’ in the hierarchy after waiting in the line for a couple of hours (oh maybe online was ‘on’line’?!!).Anyway babi dearest , a rather stern and ominous looking lady touching the wrong side of 50, made short work of my application. Apparently I needed either me or my wife to have each others name listed in the passport as spouse so as to ensure that we are married ,so that we can ascertain the fact that we are both Nadia’s parents and apparently there was some confusion whether a marriage certificate actually proved that me and my wife are actually me and my wife ……at the end I wondered (with a slight grin ) whether I was married at all….ok now if that confused you as much as it did me, you should be getting a hang of how the passport office works and secondly, there was the need of both the parents original passports, (not one parent’s alone) for verification (which I admit made much more sense than the former issue which I’m still trying to figure out exactly).Anyway more than the substance of the lady’s comments it was the tone that made my day. I’m convinced that the staffs in the passport office have to pass some basic (or maybe even higher course) in rudeness before they get a job there. The absence of smiles and politeness was so consistent that you simply have to hand it to them!!

Anyway , having a perfectly good day messed up ,I decided to have a little revenge. Actually I really wanted an old fashioned hindi movie type thing where I could beat up all the staff in the office till I reach the big boss himself and then say something like “ Yeh meri beti Nadia ke rejected passport application ke liye” followed by the customary dishum-dishum and so on.However I restricted myself to calling up the higher-ups in the passport office to clarify issues. Now this was a two hour long attempt at various numbers listed in the web-site of the Kochi passport office (including one apparently for complaints) and at the end realisation struck me that the higher-ups are apparently so high-up that they simply can’t be reached ! (at least not by mere mortals like me).I finally ended my own misery by shooting off an e-mail to the only id listed on the web….I know it would be a miracle if I get any kind of response…God might respond to your prayers once a while ,but the regional passport officer never (Old jungle saying).

The good part is I think I’ve hit upon a fantastic solution to prevent brain-drain from India. Just set up more passport offices with exemplary staff like the above mentioned office…..nobody will dare going out…..and even if they do, most of what brains they had would have been drained out by the RPOs!!Jai hind!

PS: Apparently after some recent public outcry the functioning of the Kochi passport office had been improved. If this is ‘improved’ I shudder to think what the previous situation was!!!