Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Passports

For the longest time, Vijay and I had put off the idea of getting passports for our twin boys. We had only ever travelled to the United States once with young Peanut, and even now, Vijay would ask her what she remembered from the trip, and when she drew a blank, he'd sigh and lament 'See? What was the point of that expensive ticket?'. She was two years old at the time.

But we didn't have that excuse given that the young boys themselves were now over 5 years old. So we kept telling each other 'We should get passports done for the twins.' And then we'd agree solemnly and proceed to do exactly nothing about it. This went on for a long time.

I was going through our files recently and saw that Peanut's passport had expired.

'WHAT?' said Vijay.

I showed it to him - more than five years had passed since we'd got hers, and it was actually almost a year ago that the passport had expired.

For some reason this galvanized us into action. I determinedly went hunting online for the passport website of the government - here it is for those of you who are worse than me in such matters - and immersed myself in the process of figuring out the forms and documents required and so on. It took me a while, but not anywhere as long as I'd assumed. In about an hour, I had the forms ( fairly longish) filled for all three kids - the first one took me a while but the second and the third were much smoother because by then I had all the information ready.

Vijay insisted that we go ahead and schedule an appointment at the earliest, so I gave in and decided a half-day off on a Friday in the subsequent week wouldn't be so bad even though it meant the kids would have to miss school, which is something that I hate. We took the appointment and for all three kids, the slot was 9.45 a.m. to 10 a.m. This was strange. How would we manage to do it for all three at the same time? Still, we resolved philosophically, we would just have to see.

The day before the appointment was chaos. It was all very well to fill in forms online, but I had given the responsibility of getting all the documents printed, attested, photocopied etc. to my dear husband who put it off till about the midnight of the last day, and so we were basically tense and arguing with each other. Okay, so I was tense and arguing with him while he beatifically went around arranging the papers and ignoring me, whistling softly to himself. I had to admit he ended up doing a pretty good job with multiple back up copies everything, even the things that we didn't need.

Annexure 'H' - mysterious thing but we found a copy online. Check. Both of us signed? Check.
Passport copies of parent with spouse name endorsed? Check.
Birth certificate with self-attested. Wait, did this mean we had to attest or the kids had to attest? Never mind, we'd figure it out there. Check.
Aadhar cards as proof of address, Check.

You get the picture. So on the appointed day, we took three excited kids who had no idea what to expect to the passport office in Udyog Vihar. We left about 40 minutes before the appointed time and ended up reaching 15 min early at 9.30 a.m. Pickle and Papad especially were thrilled at the idea of getting their passports. They clearly thought that the minute they had the little booklets in their hand, they'd be whizzing off to 'America' or 'London' or 'even Asia.' as they put it.

My heart sank at the sight of the government-y looking building, whatever that means. It actually looked like every other dull old building, but it was the air of quiet desperation amongst the people lining up that got to me. But wait - there weren't really THAT many people. In fact, whoever was there was being ushered in fairly quickly. This wasn't that bad. We went through the unsmiling security checks and found ourselves in a waiting room sort of area with some people milling around. There were four or five counters, and I sat down with the kids while Vijay went and stood in a line with the papers.

Pickle and Papad decided this was all a very nice adventure and started to run about, inspired by some other kids who were doing the same. My attempts at admonishing them and telling them about the seriousness of this whole venture went unheard. They tried to slip into a cordoned off area and the guard told them to get out, which they did and just went to create havoc elsewhere. I gave up trying to figure out where they are, and just sat there with a quiet Peanut, until I spotted them opening the door and trying to escape into the bright sunlight. A few sharp words from me brought them in again, and caused a couple of the people sitting around me to edge away slightly.

Vijay came back triumphant. In a matter of moments, the names of the three kids were called out in quick succession. The man behind the tall counter couldn't see them at all,  but he didn't seem perturbed.

'Is he here?' The man asked Vijay. Papad raised his hand and waved over the counter and the sight of his little white palm was apparently enough for the man. He proceeded to do the same for the other two and then we had to go through into the actual passport making area.

It was about 9.45 a.m. by the time entered, and what exactly ensued in those 15 minutes is not very clear in my memory. Vijay whispered 'This is all TCS managed - don't worry.' Suddenly the electronic notice board was flashing our numbers. We had to go to counters C5, C6 and C 20. Okay. You take Pickle to C6, I'll take the other two, said my husband. Okay, but...before I could ask him anything, he had disappeared with two of our children. I went trailing after him with Pickle trailing after me, and soon was at the desk of another unsmiling young man. He asked for the passport application and the birth certificate photocopy. I fumbled with the file and took them out and gave them to him. Move to the side, Madam, I have to take his photograph. Okay, I moved to the side. Stop moving around, little boy. Pickle had his photo taken. Then there was a thumb-impression taking exercise. Vijay appeared saying he needed the file with our passports, and by the way, since Papad's counter was actually right next to Pickle's, I might as well handle both side-by-side. Okay, but...he was off again to Peanut's counter before I could say a word. The new guy who was to handle Papad's passport took his picture and the passport application and asked me where the parent's passports were. I said waitaminute please and ran to get them from Vijay who was barely done with them by the time I landed up. I snatched our passports from him and ran back and gave them triumphantly to the second guy for Papad. The first guy who was doing Pickle's passport asked me for some signatures on a document to be submitted to the Municipal Authority of the zone where Pickle's birth certificate had been issued. In the meantime, the two men started to argue about the necessity of thumb impressions but the first guy convinced the second it was needed and so Papad also gave his thumb impression. He couldn't quite keep still so it took a few tries and the man was a bit impatient which made me even more nervous.

This part done, we went ahead to the next series of counters. This time, again, we were lucky enough that two of the counters were next to each other, but the parallel processing started to get a bit confused to me because speed and time were clearly of the essence. There was this one annoying woman there whose job seemed to be to make people uncomfortable in the process of keeping things moving along. N20, she barked at me twice? Are you N20? I am indeed N20, Madam, but right now, I am struggling with the documents of N18 which my husband keeps stealing from me for N19. She was unconvinced by my answer and just shouted in my ear again N20, you need to go to counter M-5 immediately. A flurry of documents, originals, photocopies, my children milling about, unfriendly faces were making me very disoriented,  and it was only the presence of the calm, unperturbed six feet two tall gentleman weaving about with a big folder and three sub-files that caused us to manage to get through the whole thing without much incident.

It was only at the gate where we were submitting our final application receipt that there was a bit of panic. Where is Papad's receipt, I cried? It was with you all along. I knew it, I knew it, I wailed and then Vijay pointed to my side. I had the receipt firmly ensconced under my armpit for some reason. I drew it out sheepishly and handed it to the fellow behind the counter, and just like that, we were done.

'Not...bad!' Vijay declared as we stepped out the door. I counted to make sure there were five of us as Vijay said 'it's only 10 a.m.!'

'WHAT?' I was shocked. That entire series of lines, stamping, photographs, signatures, counters, N20s being yelled had taken us only 15 minutes - and we were actually done? With three passport applications, all done?

We walked to the car, and as we got in, I marvelled at the change. I remembered how horrible it had been getting my own passport done in Bangalore several years earlier. The exact details failed me but I did recall that their 'system' had consisted of a couple of hundred people sitting about the room and a security guard who would tell us to shift-up-shift-up as the people in the front seats went up to the counter. My bum had therefore sat on about 100 chairs in the process of shifting-up. There had been no bum-shifting here. It had all been very smooth. While I did think that the staff could have been more friendly especially to the kids, I was quite amazed at the speed of the whole thing. Very efficient.

I looked at my phone. There were three messages - your passport application has been received and the printing of the passports has been initiated. I showed it to Vijay wordlessly and he looked very impressed.

'Can we have ice-creams?' The kids started to plead. My first reaction was to say no, as always, but then I gave in and nodded.

This was indeed cause to celebrate. They were going to get their passports. We might even get to travel internationally as a family soon. Maybe even to Asia.

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