As Indians, we should be used to it. But for some of us, even after repeated encounters at our many Kafka-esque government departments, we still can’t seem to build tolerance to the mind-numbing procedures that chasing paperwork demands. My passport has gone for renewal. And it should be a simple procedure—if you manage to get through the baffling form that requires you to write in the same details many, many times.
As passports are issued for ten years and I had heard that things have become extremely streamlined, I had little memory of my last experience and few anxieties that things might not go well. And some three weeks after I submitted my application, things had gone somewhat smoothly. My online status showed the passport has been issued, but that the dispatch might take another week. Since I have travel plans for London at the beginning of June, I was hoping things would move a little faster so I could apply for a UK visa. So, I made a few enquiries and found out that I could go collect my passport by hand if I managed to meet the Regional Passport Officer, an IPS (Indian Police Service) officer who heads the passport office at Ghaziabad, a UP town whose jurisdiction I fall under.
So, armed with optimism, I trudged to the passport office on a blazing summer day. But what the heat didn't manage to do, the passport office did by literally sucking the spirit out of me. I was sent back and forth between the second and the third floor to locate the venerable passport officer's cabin while the office staff seemed to delight in my look of frustration. Alas, when I found the crucible of power, it was shut and the huge lock bolted outside left little hope that I'd be able to succeed in my mission.
In the crowded submission hall, fans that must have been over two decades old sat amid the oppressive odor of the humanity forcibly squeezed in. The hallways were musty, the staircase steep, the window had war-like grill meshes. It's as if a concerted effort had been made to ensure the ‘common man’ feels alienated, diminutive and needy when he or she walks in. Interestingly, passports come under the ambit of the Ministry of External Affairs, run by India's cadre of powerful Indian Foreign Service officers. These diplomats get postings around the world so they can't feign ignorance of how many countries have managed to make government systems more efficient, citizen-friendly and modern. In this fast-changing world, clearly some things are not changing fast enough.