The Shyam

The Passport Chronicles, Day 63

Or, as I like to call it, “When is an enquiry counter not an enquiry counter?

The Wait

When we last left me, our dashing hero (yes, I’m humble and modest. Deal with it…), I, along with my mom and dad, had just submitted our passport applications. Despite many setbacks and evil overlords, we had managed to persevere, and submit, only to be handed a slip which said the earliest enquiry we could make would be 45 days after the application was submitted. And so started the most arduous, pain-staking, information-lacking wait of my life. For the first two weeks, we didn’t think twice about it. And then suddenly, my Dad’s passport arrived in the mail. No verification, no nothing. Painless. And suddenly, hope sprang eternal from the lowest, deepest, darkest of wells.

One such well

Yes, as deep and dark as this one, in fact!

But then, as it was bound to happen, another 2 weeks passed without any updates. I started frequenting the Kharghar police station every few days to see if my passport application made it to them, and if they were just sitting on it. After the first four times, they had had enough of me. They politely told me that they would only receive it after the central CBD Belapur Police station (which I feel was their way of saying, ‘You, stop bothering us. Go and become someone else’s problem’). And so started the weekly visits to the CBD Belapur police station.

The Buck Gets Passed, again and again

Now that was a station on top of its game (Yes, I admit it. One of the few, other than the Service tax dept, that I was duly impressed by). They simply asked me for my application number, entered it into their system, and told me it hadn’t arrived yet. Any annoyance I might have felt at the slowness of the process vanished at their efficiency. The first time. Of course, by the second and third time, the annoyance was back in full swing. But they clued me onto an interesting fact. That only my passport application would be coming for police verification, and my mom’s (lucky her) would bypass the verification process completely. Why was I the lucky chosen one? Because my last passport was renewed in the USA, and we all know how <sarcasm begin> broken, slow and incompetent <end sarcasm> their process is.

So inbetween this, right before the 45 day mark, we received a surprise in the mail. My mom’s passport had arrived, properly renewed and shiny! And all that was left was lil ole me. And the CBD Belapur police station had also had enough of me apparently (It seems everyone can only handle me in small doses, anything more and I get tossed around like a frisbee!). They gave me a chit in writing saying that (paraphrased, of course) “THey had not seen hair nor hide of any passport application that might even remotely resemble the person that had been annoying them, otherwise named Shyam, and would they please take care of him so that we wouldn’t have to?”.

Someone else's problem

I wish I could have said the same thing…

With this in hand, beaming, I resorted to traveling to the final frontier – The Thane Passport office, not Space in this case. But first, I tried my hand at calling their call centres. The ones that they had provided dozens (ok, exaggerating, maybe 3) numbers for. To the surprise of my surprise, I got through on the first try, only to be told that their lines are open for enquiry only between the times of 10AM and Noon. I breathed a sigh of relief though, as no mention was made of the fact that you would have to stand on one leg, chanting passport shlokas while piercing your bodies with pins and making a sacrifice of one of your fingers to the passport gods. Safe!!

So I attempted another call during the aforementioned time slots. And then I attempted another, and yet another. Finally, 16 calls later, I got through, only for the phone to keep ringing and not be answered. At that point, I decided it was time. They had made it personal, and I was going in! Which brings me to my pet peeve.

I'm going in

Going in, though nowhere near as cool as pictured

When is an enquiry counter not an enquiry counter?

The question above is not rhetorical. It is not a clever puzzle either. The answer to it is, simply, at the Passport office in Thane. I have seen enquiry counters work in multiple ways in the past:

  1. The usual, most simplest form – You walk up and you enquire
  2. You take a token, then you walk up and enquire

But, no, at the passport office, the process works quite differently -

A person will

  • Stand in line outside the office, if he arrives before 9.30AM, to be let in
  • That line will then be let in and a line will form just outside the enquiry office from 9.30AM to 10.00AM
  • This line will then move to from THE line, that goes to the Enquiry counter.

Now here is where things start diverging from the standard:

  • When you finally reach the enquiry counter, one of two things can happen
  • You are rejected outright and sent back
  • You are given a form to fill, where you can fill your query
  • Then you wait, again. No token issued, no number to track. They take back the form, and you trust in god (and the passport office) and wait
  • Randomly, peoples’ names are called out from one of the two offices where officers are sitting. People who came after you are called in, while people who came before you are still waiting sometimes.
Y U NO WORK??

Y U NO WORK??

Where’s my email?

Finally, two hours later, it was like the clouds parting and sun shining down on me, when my name was finally called. As I walk in, a somber faced gentlemen sits at the desk, with a whole bunch of files. He starts calling out one name after the other. Finally, after the fourth one, my name is called. I jump up in my seat and move towards his desk like an excited hamster on sugar, and he frowns at me. He opens my file, and asks, “Why are you here?” I reply, meekly, “My passport has still not arrived, and it has been more than 45 days (63 in fact)”. He immediately replies, “We are still waiting for police verification. Please contact your local police station to find out why they still haven’t done it.”

Aha, I knew it. But I foresaw this move, and came prepared. I immediately pull out the letter from the police station stating that they have never received any application of mine. He stares at it, perplexed and slightly annoyed at not being able to successfully pass the buck. Grunting, he opens the file again, and then notices one word randomly written on one of the pages of my application. EMAIL. He turns to me, pointing at this random word, and says, “Well, we emailed you about it. You haven’t responded.”

Sorry, WHAT?? Me? Mr. I don’t have any unread email in my inbox? Mr. Gmail? Seriously? You want to play that game with me? Well, fine, lets play.

So I replied, “Sir, I haven’t received any email on any email account of mine. Do you know what ID it was sent to?”
“Well, see here. It says an email was sent.”
Ok, fine. “When was it sent? What was it about?”
“You must have obviously not seen it”

Hello? Way to completely sidestep my question. Fine, no need to piss off the person controlling my destiny (or atleast my passport!). Let me play along.

“Ok, so what should I do now sir?”
“Please submit the passport particulars form again.”

WAIT! Hold on a second! You mean, the same form that I had submitted before? The one that I am going to fill again with the very same information? The one that never made it to police verification? That one?

Yup, that very one! Brilliant. So, I was handed the personal particulars form, and told to skidoosh, and come back on Monday with the form filled with two passport size photos for submission. This was Thursday!

What followed next defied all belief. What little expectation of control I had from the passport office in terms of flow of information and centralized information was blown to smithereens. I begged to ask, “Oh TCS, What Has Thou Done?”. They had taken a horrible out of date, mess of a system, and made it a modern, bigger mess! Goddamn you! But that is a story for the next post: Passport Chronicles, Day 67, or How an enquiry was lost!

2 comments

  1. Anand
    July 26, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    Damn! This was amazing and gruesome at the same time. Didn’t know life was getting just a little more painful, thanks to our Babus! I think I will embark on a similar journey soon…
    And I may outsource my chronicling to you!

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