Monday, June 20, 2005

Tales From Middle Earth 1: Form(s) vs Substance

Hello Earthlings. I have returned. It has been a long and eventful twelve days and I am not sure quite where to begin. Telephones are always good places to start. "Sir. You will need to send us six original copies of the visa application." Me: "Six originals ? Photocopies aren't good enough?" "No Sir. Six originals." Ah well. There goes the lunch break. The six originals with six photographs are duly despatched to the Indian High Commission. No news for days thereafter. The night before I am scheduled to leave my passport arrives with four of said six forms duly stamped and scribbled with all manner of hieroglyphics. Phew. The ordeal is finally over. Or so I think.
On board my forty minute Lahore-to-Delhi hop I am filling in the usual disembarkation cards when I notice that on my handwritten visa somebody has overwritten the word "multiple" on top of the word "single". I need multiple entries as Delhi is a transit point. Ah well. Just another mistake. Oh yes. The immigration form states clearly "For Indian Nationals only." I point this out to Pakistan International. "Sorry sir. Those are the forms the Indians gave us." Hmmmm. Curiouser and curiouser. I clamber out at Delhi Airport (more about it in a later blog) join the queue only to discover that I have to fill out another set of forms - this time only in triplicate. My passport is first checked against a Dickensian ledger (to ensure that I am not a member of any jihadi organisation ??) and then I join the queue again. It is much longer now as six flights have since arrived. The new forms state that they are issued under the Foreigners Act, 1947 and ominously state "For Pakistan nationals only." The myriad of other nationalities there do no qualify as "foreigners."
"Next." I march forward and flash one of my dazzling smiles at the immigration officer. She smiles back. "Welcome to India." "Delighted to be here." Her smile freezes and then disappears. "Somebody has overwritten this visa." "Yes. But its not me. The overwriting is in the same ink and the same handwriting." "I'll have to check with my superiors." She disappears for what seems an eternity. The other passengers in the queue eye me suspiciously. Perhaps they do think I am a jihadi in drag. The number of passengers dwindles. She returns finally. "I'm sorry sir. You'll have to talk to the Assistant Commissioner about this. That way please." For some awful reason I think of the first ten minutes of Midnight Express. The return flight to Lahore has left. Yikes.
Mr Chauhan could easily substitute for one of his counterparts across the border. He is wearing the de rigeur safari suit in one of those indistinguishable shades of brown. "Confidence building measures" he snorts. "I have no idea what these politicans are up to if they can't issue a proper visa." I heave a sigh of relief. "Neither do I." "I will let you go this time, but I am warning you that this problem will repeat itself each time you pass through." I am scheduled to pass through Delhi three times in the next week. The prospect of negotiating my way through does not sound promising. Nevertheless, two hours and forty five minutes after my flight has landed I am free to leave. I head for Duty Free. "Two large bottles of Chivas. And can I swig a shot here ?" Duty free boy smiles back. "Drink all you like. I have no change. Can I give you Kit Kats instead?"
Mr Chauhan is not wrong. The scene replays itself another three times. This is not merely sad-it is tragic. Delhi is the one airport in the world, where I can pass through customs and immigration and come out speaking the same language. The banks of goodwill I am to encounter in the next few days are immeasurable. All it takes is a bunch of civil servants to ensure that the road to everlasting peace is pasted with ridiculous forms. I am sure that Indian nationals suffer as much when they cross the border as well. The time has come to join hands and burn as many forms as we can find. Do I have any volunteers ?

5 Comments:

Blogger Sister Spikey Mace of Desirable Mindfulness said...

Travel in-country is different enough. I can't imagine traveling internationally and the headaches that poses. Even when you think you've done it all right, something will come up.

How's your ankle?

1:51 am  
Blogger Sin said...

My Zippo, kindling and flammable materials are at your disposal. Just say the word.

2:52 am  
Blogger s said...

i am amazed that pakis can go to india at all!!

i want to force everyone i know to plan a trip now...new years in goa, anyone?

3:22 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Sis: The ankle's fine. Thank you for asking.

4:08 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

s : We can go to India though its a major hassle there. Worth every moment of it though.

4:08 pm  

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