The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”
[From the Preface]”
― C.S. Lewis,
When I was a mild-mannered human, I had to apply to renew my passport which had expired when I turned 18. My mother celebrated my entry into adulthood by informing me that I had to deal with the entire process myself. My deep, deep horror of banks, administration and government offices turned me into an absolute whiner at that. She enjoyed telling me, however, that adulthood is all about having to do things that you don’t want to do. (She has, by the way, gleefully enjoyed telling me this ever since I’ve turned 18, and it’s been four years now.)
Indian bureaucracy is a direct descendent of colonial British bureaucracy, in that the bureaucrats think they either should or do rule over us all. (They do.) I am not a coward for being afraid of them.
I was in Kota at the time, so thought it tedious to apply for a passport there when I’d be staying just for a year. I waited for me to return home before applying. It took 7 trips to the passport office and many, many hours spent waiting in lines before my file came to my local police station for verification. Except, I didn’t know that. Some glitch in the system kept me from being informed that I was supposed to go to the station at a specific time on a specific day, and when I finally called them, I was told my file had been closed. Facepalm.
So I applied again. By this time, I’d managed to pass the entrance exam, but where I would actually study was still unknown. I called the police station every day until they finally asked me to come down. It had been three months since I applied, so by then I was well settled into college in Mumbai. I had a huge folder with umpteen notarised and self attested photocopies of all my documents, and I was so ready to Get. This. Done.
“Where do you study?” the gentleman asked me kindly.
I smiled and told him. I even added “To be a doctor” for good measure. People have a soft spot for future doctors.
“Ah, I see. Good, good. That’s a good college. My niece studies there. You’ll have to apply from Mumbai of course, since you live there now. We can’t possibly do your police verification in Mumbai.”
I stared at him with my mouth open.
“Couldn’t you just send this file to your Mumbai counterparts? ”
“I’m afraid not.”
All arguing and pleading was in vain.
I applied for the third time in Mumbai. It was particularly enjoyable since now I had to deal with the passport officer’s suspicions about my previous two closed files, not to mention having to go from pillar to post to get bona fide certificates from my government college red tape-laden office. Having to fill triplicate written applications for the smallest details is cool too. And of course, travelling in Mumbai monsoons with important paper documents is always easy and pleasant.
I wish this story had a happy ending. But the fact of the matter is, I still don’t have my passport. My globe-trotting brother got his passport stolen in Hong Kong in May, and he had to return home on an Emergency Certificate. He already has his passport.
If I was on Twitter, I would tweet Sushma Swaraj. If the papers are to be believed, that generally helps. Or maybe I should learn the art of discreetly bribing. As my mother will no doubt enjoy telling me, that’s what adulthood is all about too.