The Surprisingly Delightful Indian Passport Renewal Process

Of 3 months of procrastination, 30 minutes at the PSK and 3 days of waiting for the passport

I recently applied for my passport's renewal on the MEA site. As recently as 3 months ago. 

I filled out a PDF form on Acrobat Reader (this is important), converted it to XML, uploaded it to the MEA site. Scheduled a 'Normal’ appointment for June 22nd, paid Rs 1500 but applied for a Tatkal passport, then God-promised that I’d arrive at the PSK with Rs 2000 in cash. 

Then I procrastinated. 

On the appointed day, I woke up at brunch o'clock and figured there’s no way I’d make it to Mangalore by 12 pm. I logged into the MEA site and rescheduled it to July 22nd.

Then I had a realization.

I had to fly out of the country on July 27th but hey, Tatkal passport takes 3 days, right? No sweat. Till Chapman at office reminded me of my Calamity Joy status whilst pointing me to an article that said the Passport Seva Kendra in Bangalore only had 17,000 booklets. Because: The supply of booklets dried up as the India Security Press in Nashik, Maharashtra, was closed between end of December 2013 and January 2014.

Then I was empty-threatened by the MEA site.

The MEA site told me this was my last shot at rescheduling after which I’d have to start the process all over again. If you’ve met the MEA site and uploaded the Passport Application form even once, you’ll know what an empty threat that is. 

So I rescheduled it to August 22nd, requested Mom to bait me with beef sukka and booked my tickets to Mangalore on Cleartrip. 

I made it to the Passport Seva Kendra in Mangalore on the ordained Thursday thirty minutes ahead of my scheduled 12.15 PM appointment.

For the renewal, since I had a change of permanent address (how is it permanent if it changed? Ha!), the site said that I only needed to take:

  • Self-attested copies of the front and back pages of my passport
  • Address proof for the new permanent address - I carried my Voter ID and the family’s Ration Card

Even the list of acceptable address proofs were helpfully listed out in a PDF.

I waited my turn while Mom upped her anxiety by asking everyone about their imaginary PSK doomsday moments. One lady said she’d been waiting since 9 AM for her husband, another claimed the average appointment length was 4 hours.

Surely it couldn’t be so bad? My friend Suku had had a wonderful experience at the PSK just a couple of months before:

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The security guard announced in the waiting room that it was time for the 12.15 pm appointment folks to queue up. Off I went with my 3 documents (photocopies of the previous passport, Ration Card, Voter ID card) while Mom shouted into the office, “I’ll be back at 3.30 pm!" 

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The TCS staff at the first counter checked my documents, filed them in a brown envelope and sent me into the actual waiting area. This hall had people with coupon numbers and people without, an LCD screen with token numbers appearing on them and no instructions whatsoever about what to do next.

Asking around, I figured I’d only get a token number AFTER my name was announced. It could have been simpler and faster had the guy at the first counter given me a token number. But I’ll over look that.

Ten minutes after receiving the token number, my token number flashed asking me to head to Counter A. After checking my documents and clicking my "passport photo,” the lady dropped a bomb:

But where is your marriage certificate, madam?

But I’m not married, madam!

She apologized and went about with her work. So much pleasantness at a government office? Wha!

Did I want SMS updates on the progress of my renewed passport? Only thirty rupees, ma'am. I handed over a hundred rupee note and apologized that I wasn’t carrying change. Counter A Lady said that wouldn’t be a problem and handed me seventy rupees with a smile. 

At Counter B another official rechecked and verified my details. What do I have to do for a Tatkal passport, I asked. This is for a normal passport, he smiled. That was one too many smiles for a government office. Not wanting to ruin my luck, I shut up and moved on to Counter C.

The lady at Counter C checked my details for accuracy and asked me to collect my receipt at the counter near the exit. 

No awkward moments, no fiddling around with the documents, no veiled asks? This can’t be true. 

At the exit, I was handed a receipt that said I didn’t have to subject myself to a Police Verification and a feedback form. Excellent all the way lest they change something because of one Good hidden away somewhere.

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I stepped out completely flummoxed and checked my watch. 12.45 PM. From the time I entered the office to the time I left, it had taken me all of 30 minutes. 

Two hours later, I received an SMS that my passport had been processed. Thirty minutes later, “Your passport has been printed.” And it wasn’t even dinner time!

By Friday evening, the passport had been quality checked. On Saturday morning, the passport shipped.

Monday morning, the phone beeped an SMS from Mom. “Your passport is here.”

I had my appointment on Thursday, the passport was printed on Friday, shipped on Saturday, received on Monday. 

I am 20

A film made in 1967 of the hopes and ambitions of Midnight’s Children when they turned 20. 

Young men and women born on Independence Day in 1947 were selected from different parts of India and interviewed to discover their hopes, desires, ambitions and fears. They spoke about love, they spoke about their heroes and they spoke about their frustrations. The result is this unique film. 

40 years since the movie, there is still an India, there is a Bharat and now a Hindustan…and these shall never meet? Indians then and now speak of similar frustrations- bribes to be paid for “seats in a college or school”, security and stability in the form of a government job, sitting in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned room, a desire to “be a cog in the machine." 

It seems the more things change, the more they remain the same. "We have a hopeful tomorrow but our today is very precarious” as one wise PN Subramaniam says in the film.

Paranoid Android

This happened last evening: I’m standing outside office on the dark lonely but traffucked street that runs by Alliance Francaise, trying to hail an auto. I see a guy in a white maruti 800, yawning and at the same time, driving towards the pavement. Everyone has had a long day, I think to myself. 

Next minute I see the car next to me. There’s a bearded guy in a black tee waving frantically asking me to get in. WTF. My god, the guy’s grinning AND waving. *blink blink* WTF. It’s strange the ways your brains has all these thoughts buzzing around for that fraction of a second: I could get a lift till the signal. OMG, what am I thinking. That guy could be a rapist. Why is he so persistent.

Then it strikes me. That’s my friend, Nakul. Absolute horror to serendipity in 30 seconds. 

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Standing on that stretch of the road always leaves me afraid, vulnerable and defensive. I don’t want to stand too close to the edge of the pavement while I’m hailing a rickshaw because I don’t want a guy on a bike to grab my boobs or mow me down while he attempts to beat the traffic by driving ON the pavement. I shouldn’t be distracted by my phone while I hold my bags close so that nobody has easy access to my body parts. And god forbid, somebody tries grabbing the phone while I’m busy ensuring I stay aloof and my body, defensible.

Nakul makes for a good anti-climax, a friend remarked.

Yup, that. I don’t like being on my guard all the time. I don’t want to think the worst of every man who passes by. It also makes me very angry- when these very real fears are dismissed as paranoia, the workings of an overactive imagination, when good intentions are almost always overshadowed by the what-if. On my worst days, I wish upon them nothing more than what I go through: why must I alone be full of fear, be up for grabs every time I’m out in public. Y'know, I just want to hail an auto-rickshaw and go home. Why must something as mundane as that be so hard, so agonizing?

A snapshot of a memory

I get a lot of flak for this picture and all the flak has everything to do with the camera in the picture. I want to get that camera out of the way: Yes, I own a DSLR. No, I’m not a Photographer. Peace?

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A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are the first 32: You see me clutching a DSLR, you can’t help but notice the verdant surroundings, you may or may not notice the tiny droplets of rains on the window reflected in the mirror.

**

The details matter. Everything matters, in the end. The curve in the road, the rough patch on the tree bark, the colour of her hair under the Bangalore sun, the butterfly shades, the blue of the car- was it aquamarine? Was it turquoise? Was it peacock blue? It matters, all of it. Because we assemble our picture of reality from details. Our ideas about reality come from bits and pieces of experience. It is these experiences that we assemble together, forcefully fit together into something that has a consistent narrative - something to reinforce our belief in our reality. We tell stories to ourselves, and to others. These with the passage of time become memories. But memories? Memory is an elastic affair. We remember selectively, just as we perceive selectively. We have to dig through perceived, remembered and experienced events, in order to figure out what really happened and how we want to remember it, how we choose to remember it.

**

Here’s what you don’t know:

This was a picture I shot one weekend in October 2010. It may have been the second weekend or the third weekend, my memory fails me. Brm, K and I were driving to Coorg.

2010 was a year of heartbreaks. I had returned to India in July 2010. It was Sidkid’s birthday - September 19th - when Brm flew back to India, nursing a broken heart. K was rekindling forgotten friendships and finally allowing time to heal wounds that cut deep. Sidkid was dealing with a personal tragedy.

Remember when we were kids, how we would swoop down, rush in and pull a friend to her feet when she fell? Remember the urgency in the moment to help the friend out? When we didn’t debate and argue back and forth with ourselves if we were crossing lines, overstepping boundaries, bringing down fortresses.  October that year demanded just that kind of swooping down to pull our collective heaps off the floor. One weekend was spent digging into Creatine rich food in Bangalore, on another we drove to Pondicherry, and yet another we almost drove to Calicut.

But it was the weekend we drove to Coorg that I want to remember.

K was driving, I sat next to him demanding chai, Brm dozed off at the back. We were driving through a tiny village dotted with shops, goats and the occasional farmer hitching his lungi and walking the road that never seemed to end. It had started to drizzle and we stopped by a tiny tea shop with asbestos sheets for a roof.

There was something extraordinarily comforting about that moment: the promise of rain, the thought of chai and the warmth of friendship. And really, it takes more than just rain, chai, verdant surroundings and friends to create the rush of sensations that make us feel safe, calm, and cared for. There’s a complex interplay of memory, our own personal histories and quite a bit of brain chemistry, and while some basics apply the specifics are highly personal. For that moment and for now, those triggers of nostalgia will have to do.

**

The problem is that memory is endlessly colored by our imagination, perceptions and beliefs. If there is a story that we wish to believe, our perceptions will modify what we see to fit our beliefs. We don’t see things for what they are but as we are. We remember things incorrectly or differently, our memories change over time.

The brain creates, omits, confabulates, denies, accepts, suppresses, confuses and even distorts. We may think we see it all and know it all but through our biases - our perceptions - the brain may just be blind to what is actually going on around us. The perfect replica of reality as it is/was won’t exist in our brain and therefore in our memories there is no way to separate what appears as reality from reality itself. The brain is all we have.

**

We lose context when hurtling through the daily milieu of our quotidian lives. I needed a picture, this picture any picture as an anchor. What has been captured by this interplay of science and technology and light is the only thing that won’t change when everything else does.