June 23, 2013

India Diaries - Mumbai, Day 04.

The strangest thing about being this side of the border is looking how the same thing can be completely repackaged to feel so very different. When I walk down the streets of Mumbai, I blend in as well as the next person, nothing on the outside sets us aside - and how can it, as far as humans are concerned we are more or less the same species. That said, every single policy, procedure and inane formality set aside by the Indian Government is designed primarily to ensure that no matter how comfortable you might be socially, you will always feel like an alien in this part of the world.

While the nights truly have been incredible (thank you my friends for being all kinds of awesome), the first two days were wasted in bureaucratic bullshit, starting from the moment we got out of the plane. Instead of immigration, we filed into a painfully long queue and proceeded to wait while a single-man station handed out a stupid green form (in addition to all the forms that had already been filled out). Two copies of this ridiculously long form were to be filled out by each passenger and stamped and entered into a register prior to immigration. While the flight as per schedule, getting out of the airport post-immigration took close to four hours, which when combined with travel time pretty much ate into the whole day. By the time we got home, got into the city and met up with K and his friends it was evening already.

The next day we made rather ambitious plans which began with reporting (we kept aside an hour for this) and went on to exploring Crawford market and other historic parts of Mumbai city. We made it to the office of the Mumbai police (CID) and got in there to find we were about the 10th in line. This was 11:00am (reporting officially begins at 10:00am) and we waited. And waited. Then waited some more. Three hours later someone who had been waiting from the evening before helpfully explained that this particular branch of the CID, the special cell for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis has recently been victimized by an electronic (computer-based system) scourge. This is the system being followed by the larger (and air-conditioned) foreigner registration cell on the third floor, however the dingy, hot, ill-kept room on the first floor had been denied the privilege up until a day before. Which would have been fine, except the monkey behind the computer was a geriatric government official with earnest intentions but no computer skills to speak off. He painstakingly typed in line after line of each form into the online system (after we had already filled out the paperwork by hand) and had to be supported by one other colleague who read out the information to him. Since he had evidently not been taught how to save a form before it was completed - or work on multiple forms -  he and his other incompetent friend decided to take on a case-based approach and take on passports one at a time. Which would be fine, except in order to get the reporting process completed you need multiple xeroxs (photocopies) and other documents - and multiple pictures -  for yourself as well as your Indian sponsor (who, mind you, is stuck with you during this entire process). And since they did not inform people of these requirements prior to opening their 'case' on the computer, every hapless fool that went to them had to get up. run out of the room to the third floor, stand in line and get yet another photocopy or another polaroid picture. And while they ran this errand our friends behind the counter twiddled their thumbs and caught up on government-office gossip. Or got up to stretch their legs and have cups of chai. Or whatever else idiots-in-bureaucracy do while people wait for them to pull their act together.

By the time we got our turn in line, completed the process and got out of the police station it was 6:00pm and we had wasted 7 hours of the first real day in Mumbai on the CID office. Without food. Waiting in line in uncomfortable chairs running away from large scary lizards and annoyingly clingy cats.

Painful, is an understatement.

And this process is not a one-time thing. We need to head towards Nashik (a city about 3 hours from Mumbai) for a non-negotiable visit to my grandfather's grave. We need to exit via Delhi so we need to make our way there at some point. We need to report an exit whenever we leave Mumbai, report an entry in every new city, and exit again (and enter again). At this rate, we anticipate more time will be spent at CID offices than visiting with relatives or friends. We may as well give them all the gifts, lots of love, and pretend it was them we came all this way to meet anyway!

Either that, or we take advantage of the fact that we don't look any different and just make our way to wherever we want without informing the powers-that-be. As, we are told, every other person does. That said, we have nightmarish visions of ending up in some dingy, specially-made-to-torture-errant-Pakistanis prison cell without phone calls or visitation rights.

Because even though we like it not, and when we meet on neutral territory we feel it not, we ARE different. Those lines are tightly drawn and difficult to circumnavigate. At the end of the day, despite the love we might have for our friends, or our families, despite the shared jokes, and songs, and movies and heritage, we are on enemy territory. And they will ensure that we never forget it.



Aneela Z said...

I'm back in Delhi on the 28th. Try meeting up?

How do we know said...

hmmm. that is the saddest part. sorry u have to go thru this. i gave up on ever traveling to pakistan for the exact same reasons.