ARGH! Bureaucracy. One of the most stereotypical images of India is that of the babu in the Home Ministry, forcing the poor tourist to jump through hoops to extend a visa or amend or paper or whatnot. Until about a month ago, I thought it was just that: a stereotype. But no longer.
Because the visa guys are COMPLETE ASSHOLES! That's right, I said it. I'm not going to be a nice girl anymore. I've had just about enough.
One visa guy, in particular, seems to have a vendetta against me. Maybe he's just upset that he has a really, really obvious (and horrible looking ) toupee. Maybe he is bewildered by my girlish charm. Maybe, as one of my co-workers suggested, he had a fight with his wife in the morning.
Let me back up a little bit. AND...scene.
T arrives at the Home Ministry at 10 a.m. on a Friday in December. After procuring a visitor's pass from the reception, she proceeds to the Visa Facilitation Centre.
T: Hello! Here's my passport.
Visa Reception Man: No. Fill this out. Two copies.
T dutifully completes the form.
VRM: Sit down. Wait for name to be called.
T sits. Waits. And waits. And waits. By noon the office has emptied of everyone but white people.
T (to a fellow waiter): Do you know why it's taking so long?
FW: The US/Europe visa officer is late for his shift. Three hours late.
T: Oh, oh.
More waiting. Some small talk. She meets an Texan who is annoyed at a child playing unsupervised near us. She meets two Germans and tries to remember her three years of studying the language. She reads a book. And she waits.
FW (circa 1 p.m.): Oh, here's the officer.
The sea of white faces begins to thin. T is called.
T (with a broad, idiotic smile): Hello, sir! Here is my passport, and you have my documents...
Visa officer: What do you want?
T (hesitantly): I would like my employment visa...the endorsement needs to be changed from Company A to Company B. Here is my appointment letter, here is a no objection certificate from my previous employer, here is proof of my residence...
VO: Do you pay taxes?
T: Well...I haven't been here for a full financial year yet, but I will when the time rolls around.
VO: I can't even consider your application until I see proof that you've paid taxes.
T: But...I won't pay my taxes until the financial year is over, and by that time my visa will have expired.
VO: And why should Company B have hired you? What do you have that an Indian doesn't have?
T (intimidated): Well...they made the decision, they thought I was qualified.
VO: That's not enough. You get a tax certificate and come back and then we can consider the change in your visa.
T (blinking back tears): Thank you, sir. Have a good day.
T bounces down the stairs, crying. She returns to her office and relays the story, then phones Company A and devises a way for them to draw up a document that proves she has not earned enough money to file taxes (in fact, in six months, she has only earned Rs 39,000; the minimum amount a woman must make in India to pay taxes is Rs 1,35,000). She returns to the office in mid-January, and cringes to see the same horrific little man, his tuft of synthetic black here unartfully arranged, behind the desk. T waits, then waits some more. Eventually, her name is called.
VO: I've been calling your name for a half an hour. Why didn't you answer?
T: With all due respect sir, there were about thirty people standing in front of me and I couldn't hear a thing.
VO: These people are not my problem. You are my problem.
T: But sir, why would I wait a half an hour to answer if I had heard you? No one likes waiting in a crowded room.
VO: What do you want?
T: I need to change the endorsement of my employment visa from Company A to Company B.
VO does not answer, but reads through the document and seems satisfied enough to begin making notes on the back of her visa application. He ignores her, then finally registers her presence again.
VO: OK, come back at 4 p.m. for your visa.
T (overjoyed): Oh, thank you very much sir!
She goes to her office, does some work, drinks some coffee. Then she returns. The visa reception officer directs her to a room, hidden in the depths of the building.
T: Hello, I was told that my visa was ready in this room.
The dreaded visa officer appears as if from nowhere.
VO: What are you doing here? You are so impatient, always in a hurry.
T: I'm not in a hurry; the receptionist told me I was to come to this room.
VO: Get out of here. Stay in the hall.
T sits on a chair that is a bit rickety; she waits for an hour before the VO again approaches.
VO: Now, what is your name again?
T (thinking about how frequently she has met her nemesis in the last month): Txxxx Xxxx.
VO: Well, T (mispronounces name she has just pronounced for him), you cannot have your visa changed. It is against all policies. You need to leave the country, this visa is no good.
VO: Your visa, it is endorsed by Company A. It is written. We can't change that.
T: But my company and I have been told that this is possible. May I know the reason it has become impossible?
VO: You cannot change this visa.
T: Well, then, what can I do?
VO: You need to leave the country. You have nothing to do here until you get the right visa.
T: Where do I need to go?
VO: You can go to any of our consulates abroad and apply for a new visa from there.
T: Is there anyone I can talk to about this? Are you sure there are no other options?
VO: Mishra will tell you why it is impossible. It is in room 12C.
T ventures to room 12C, which is nearly impossible to find, and empty when she does locate it. Then she calls Company B, panicked. Then she cries for about two hours, calls S, waits for him to pick her up from her position, slumped, head in hands, on a sidewalk outside the ministry. A number of men, including several rickshaw-wallahs, tell her to stop weeping. This only makes her cry more.
So, at this point...I have less than three months to find some way out of this mess. I hate all the politics of this. He kept asking me about my salary, and seemed to be...perhaps...alluding to some greasing of the wheels that could be done to make the visa problem disappear.
And...umm...homey don't play that game.
I am a responsible citizen, regardless of my nation of origin. I will pay taxes if I make enough money to be required to pay them. As it is, I do everything in my power to be a productive member of society. I don't waste resources. I don't get paid a high/Western salary. I don't demand luxury, and I don't expect India to be like America. I don't expect much of anything, really; I only hope to learn from my experiences and maybe have others learn from mine.
S tells me he'll have someone call a mucky-muck in the ministry, but I am reticent. I don't want special favors. I want to make my way of my own merits, but sometimes it seems as if that's not enough here.
I don't know if I'm reading the situation correctly, but the officer seemed to be unduly brusque to me. I don't know if that was a function of my age, my race, my nationality, my supposed affluence. But it was 100% obnoxious. It reeked of hatred. It was permeated with animosity.
There are so, so, so many things I love about India. But it seems no matter where I go, I am not wanted. I am fated not to fit in.