... but it gets things done too.
"It'll take forever!"
"You will have to bribe a lot of people."
"There will be a lot of running around."
"Don't expect anything too soon."
These were the horrific warnings I heard before I submitted my passport for renewal. It's not that the passport had expired... and no, it wasn't damaged either (God knows, I am obsessively careful about my possessions). It is just that I had run out of pages, and the government had recently changed its policy of having to issue a new passport rather than simply add new pages to a full one. I was scared, worried and not looking forward to the process.
Lo and behold! Incredible India continued to surprise me. A country with more than a billion people, with a slow moving bureaucracy, rampant corruption and an inefficient government never ceases to throw out a curve-ball or two and it was no different in this case either. I can't say the process was the smoothest or that I didn't have help from the 'inside', but all in all, most of the warnings and prophecies fell short.
It has been over a month now since I first submitted my passport and the PSK, that has been outsourced to a private enterprise. Sadly, or ironically, whichever way you look at it, it was this private enterprise that caused me the most grief. In all my interactions with the police, the Criminal Investigation Department, and the passport authorities, the people were polite, considerate and willing to listen. The individuals in the private entity were the ones that were rude, arrogant and unwilling to listen. Was it a sense that they were superior that caused them to behave that way? Did they think that they had the mandate from the government that could never be taken away? Or was it just a plain lack of consideration? I think it was the latter.
On my first and only foray into the police station, I met a polite young man (I was expecting a gruff looking older gentleman to question me on a range of topics about my past and what the heck I was doing in India) who wanted to discuss my love for basketball and my experiences at the United Center. A pro basketball player himself in India, he said that it was his dream to watch an NBA game live, and to visit the 'home' of a certain Michael Jordan! I guess greatness knows no boundaries. Happily discussing basketball, he questioned me about my time in India, why I was back and what I planned to do here. We lamented about the lack of sporting infrastructure in the country and how little was being done to promote sports other than cricket. I could've been in a bar discussing this with my friends (the dust and piles of papers lying around definitely provided a reality check). When I requested him to speed up the process, he said he would get the necessary signatures and pass it on to the next stage, the CID, as soon as possible.
On to step two, and the CID office... I saw a long line of people, some individuals leaving the line shaking their heads in amazement, others being handed envelopes at the inquiry counter, and I thought to myself "Oh no! This is where the hurdles are going to arise, it looks like!" Ten minutes go by and I'm at the counter, facing a paan chewing clerk at a computer. I ask him for the status of my passport and he tells me that it would be another 10-15 days before they clear it out... I don't get an envelope, nothing, just that statement! Odd! Does he think I won't pay a bribe? Can't pay? Is he expecting it so that he can move it faster? All I tell him is "Sir, please, I need my passport soon. Is there anyway it can be expedited?" (In Hindi of course). This is the one time I was hoping that I had paid more attention during Marathi lessons in school... Maybe it would have helped.
To my surprise, he takes my application, walks me into the office of the senior officer, gets his signature, and voila! It's done. My passport has cleared the CID office in three days... This can't be too hard I'm thinking. So much for all the red tape... for all the stories...
Just as I walk out though I see a woman in tears who is urging the man to expedite her passport which has now been sitting in that office for four months! I wonder what she did? Did she say something that pissed them off? Does she have some kind of a record? Either way... Phew! Maybe I am just lucky... I look up to the skies and thank the [passport] Gods!
And it was a similar experience at the passport office too... I saw people being asked to go back, to do this and that... but mine moved through 'smoothly.' All I ever did was ask, say please and thank them for their efforts. Maybe that was the difference. Maybe people expected them to do what they were supposed to... Maybe they ordered them... Either way, all I learnt through this experience was that kindness pays... Even when it comes to getting that big old elephant to move... the Indian bureaucratic machine!
Follow Tarun Sakhrani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tsakhran