Renewing an Expired Passport

November 14, 2006
Part 1 – Figuring Out What to Do

This, let me tell you, is not easy. The website gives scattered, incomplete, and sometimes contradictory instructions. My favourite was:

           If <something something something>

           And <something else>

           Then <do this>

           Period.

If not, or if this but not that, then go figure, cos this website is not going to tell you what to do. In the particular instance that concerned me, the first If was: “If your passport has expired;” and the second If was: “If it is not a Bangalore-issued passport;” the Do This was: “Get a Verification Certificate.” Now this is important, so make a note of it.

Other contradictory instructions were of the type, “Get one attested photocopy of all the following documents,” and “Get only two copies of the old passport,”

Regarding such minor matters as fees, the website is delightfully vague: it lists fees for new passports, for various corrections to be made, and for sundry miscellaneous conditions. It is left to you to decide which category renewal of an expired passport comes under and what fees are applicable.

Then there’s information that’s not really available on the website, such as that photographs should have a red or blue background only – well, it is there on the website, but it takes a great deal of perseverance to find it, because it is buried somewhere under all the debris mentioned above.

If your criteria exactly match mine (viz. an expired passport originally issued outside Bangalore and therefore requiring address change but no other changes) then you might find the answer to the puzzle at the end of this blog. On the other hand, my answer might not work for your question, even if it is the same question, so if it doesn’t – don’t sue me!

If you’re thinking – isn’t there someone I can ask questions to, well, I don’t know, but you could try the FAQs on the website. I didn’t find them terribly helpful, because I followed them as far as I could but still went wrong.

Part 2 – Submitting the Form

This is a tedious, time-consuming, frustrating process, particularly if it starts (as it did for me) with a prolonged hunt for an auto willing to take you to Brunton Road or even to MG Road or nearby areas (what is it with these auto drivers?). Plan to spend half a day. I’m not sure if arriving early makes it quicker – I reached around 10.15 and found a queue on the verge of spilling out of the gate and on to the road! The good thing is, it was very orderly and there were two cops restricting access into the building. The queue moved fast enough and in an hour I was in the building. (If you think that’s long, you should have seen the way the queue snaked around the courtyard and to the gate – I thought it would take several hours!)

The first thing to happen is that you get a token stuck on your application – and my number was 210! I went on up and into the hall and found that they were currently serving 136. The hall was spacious and had lots of chairs, several of which were vacant. The bad part was that at each of the six counters, there were people crowding around in a haphazard manner. Towards the back of the hall was another queue. “What’s this queue for?” I asked the chap at the tail end. “For emigration,” he replied. Well, since I wasn’t planning on emigrating, I went and took a seat, though I did think it strange that emigration should be happening here (don’t they do that at airports?).

After a long time, someone next to me informed someone next to them that they would have to go stand in the queue at the back before going to the counters where token numbers were being processed. This someone turned out to be right. The queue at the back was for “arranging” the papers. They take your bunch from you, rip things apart and put them together in apparently random order, throwing out some stuff and asking for others. To my great indignation, they threw out my Verification Certificate which I had gone to such lengths to obtain! I argued with the chap that this was required and would preclude the need for police verification but he withered my protests with a ferocious glare and waved me away.

In due course, my number appeared on the electronic display and I pushed my way through the crowd at Counter 3. Here, they demand to see originals, and then send your papers to an officer at a desk just behind the counter. There’s one officer for two or three counters, and he processes the forms in rota. There seems to be no system for sending applicants away and calling them by token number once the processing is done; instead they just call out the name of the applicants when the officer sends the paperwork back. Since there are over 200 people in a big hall, it’s no wonder that those waiting for their names to be called are crowded up against the counter. I added to the crowd and waited breathlessly for my application to be processed.

The officer at the counter made some notes on the “For Office Use Only” sheet of the application and sent it back. Then I paid up and got a receipt that gave me a phone number and SMS number to follow up on the status of my application. Two and a quarter hours of waiting in queue and I was done!

What I Found Out the Hard Way

  • Having read all the instructions on the website, compile a set of all the documents you need, all the documents you think you might need, and all the documents you can think of that you don’t think you’ll need. Just in case.
  • Make at least two copies of every document, three if you want a copy for your own records. Though it is not clearly specified in any of the web pages I saw, they really will ask for two copies of everything. There is a photocopying shop outside the building (and what a lot of money he must be making!), but after waiting over two hours in queue it can be really frustrating to have to rush off and get copies. Luckily, they don’t make you stand in queue all over again in that event, but it might be difficult to get your turn at the counter, if your token number has been called while you were away.
  • You don’t need attested copies if you are going in person – just ensure you have the originals with you.
  • You don’t need a verification certificate if you are not applying for Tatkaal.
  • For re-issue, the instructions ask for two photocopies of your old passport. I was inclined to take just the relevant front and back end pages, not the whole passport, but Amit advised me to take the whole damn thing, just in case. As it turned out, they rejected all the inside pages and kept only the front and back pages.
  • The fee is Rs 1000

Part 3 – Getting the Passport

There isn’t a Part 3 right now, but there might be, if the police verification and the process of actually getting the passport in hand turn out to be interesting.

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The Private Lives of Domestic Help

November 6, 2006
My mother used to say, “Never get involved in the private lives of domestic help.”

My first domestic help was  a cook. Shaheena was a young muslim girl, tall, slim, pleasant looking, cheerful and clean. Also honest – I never noticed the slightest suspicious dwindling of kitchen supplies. Shaheena could read Hindi and Urdu, and a bit of English as well. She was keen on improving her spoken English and very soon I started speaking to her only in English – much to the amazement of visitors and guests. Initially she was regular as clockwork; then she got married. Almost at once, the trouble started. She was unwell; her husband didn’t want her to work; at least he didn’t want her to work late; she needed money (hitherto she had never asked for an advance and it wasn’t a habit I was keen to encourage); and eventually, of course, she was pregnant. She sent her sister in her stead and I saw little of her after that.

Her sister, Noor Jehan, was much older and had three boys from 9 to 16 years of age. She was less educated than Shaheena, and with fewer aspirations, but just as clean and just as honest; and she was an easier employee, more obedient in the kitchen, and the food she dished up was less bad and sometimes even good. But Noor Jehan was not as regular and very soon Amit was up in arms against her. At last I took matters in hand and over a period of several months took to cutting her pay for unplanned days of absence exceeding a day a month. Over the last year or so, this strategy greatly paid off. She learned to announce leave in advance, and offered to cook extra in advance or make up by working Sundays, rather than having her pay docked.

I usually don’t make too much trivial conversation with my servants. Not for any other reason but only because I’m usually too busy with something else, such as reading, writing, working, or watching TV. But every so often Noor Jehan decides to talk to me. She doesn’t gossip, but usually talks about herself, her sons, and occasionally her husband. When she decided to send the two younger sons to a religious educational institute outside Bangalore, she was very sad. “But they don’t study,” she explained to me earnestly. “I have to send them away.” When they came to visit, she would be quietly pleased; when they went back, bereft. The youngest son hated going away from her, and would howl every time. It broke her heart, but she was convinced it was the right thing to do.

When her eldest son took to coming home late and after long, unexplained absences, she was worried. “He gets into bad company,” she said sadly. She had recently heard of a bunch of teenagers who went to a picnic spot outside Bangalore and drowned while playing in the water.

Sometimes, she talked of her health – backache, fever. She asked for medicine, but added that she never felt comfortable swallowing pills. Once she confided in me that she had a searing pain in her abdomen. Someone had told her that it could be kidney stones. I told her to drink lots of water. She added, unasked, that she had pain while passing urine and also during intercourse, which, she said, was not very often. A little taken aback at this unsought confidence, I advised her to see a doctor. She did, but nothing came of it apart from a BP check.

Meanwhile, she kept me up to date on Shaheena’s life. The first baby had died soon after birth. There had been some minor birth defect and a minor bout of fever. More worryingly, Shaheena had developed a psychosis – complete with visual hallucinations and a total disconnect from reality – shortly after giving birth. Their mother had had a similar psychosis after Shaheena’s birth, and had never recovered. She was on medication even today. Shaheena’s psychosis lasted several weeks. She was sometimes violent, always irrational, ignored the child altogether, and often did not recognize family members. After several episodes when she ran away from home, the family was compelled to admit her to NIMHANS, where they treated her with sedatives, anti-convulsants, and electric shock.

Several months later, I met Shaheena in passing. She was healthy, happy, and pregnant again. And a couple of months later, I heard from Noor Jehan again: another boy, healthy and normal this time, but more psychotic episodes and hospitalization for Shaheena.

One day, Noor Jehan asked me about a loan she was considering taking. It was a sort of collaborative loan, from a loan shark, not a bank, and the rate of interest was quite high. She didn’t really want to take the loan, but the terms were such that ten families needed to take the loan together, and she was under pressure from the other nine.

Another time, she showed me a piece of paper saying that she had won a week-long holiday at a resort, all expenses paid for two adults and two children. She was already planning where and when to go – when she realized that there were several things (meals and suchlike) that were not included. It would work out too expensive – so she was forced to drop the idea.

Then, one day, her husband fell ill. He had aggravated his piles and was in excruciating pain. “He drinks,” she said to me despairingly. “Even when he’s so unwell, he just doesn’t stop.” He stayed home for several days, in intense pain, and she did the rounds of the hospitals again. The symptoms she described had sounded more like ulcers or appendicitis to me, but apparently the doctors agreed that it was just piles. According to a brief search on the Internet, there’s no interaction between alcohol and piles, but Noor Jehan didn’t want to hear this. She had tears in her eyes one day. It was a Sunday, and she had spent the entire day at home. Usually she worked at another house on Sundays, but this Sunday they had given her off and she’d had to be home. This alone had driven her to distraction. She couldn’t stand the company of her husband, and Sunday was his day off, and so he spent the entire day drinking, instead of just the evening.  “In sixteen years of marriage, we have been to a movie hall just once,” she said. “We never go out together. He was sober only for a year or two after marriage. After that, he’s just been drinking and drinking. I can’t leave him, I can only wait for death to end this marriage, but I have got a really worthless man.”

I might have suspected a con if she had laid it on too thick. I might have suspected a con if the tears had been followed by a demand, spoken or otherwise, for money. But Noor Jehan is not the self-pitying type and when she does discuss her troubles with me, it is with no great excess of emotion. And as for money, she does not hesitate to ask for what is her due, but has almost never asked for any extra or any advance. One day I offered her a piece of sweet that I had just made in her presence. She refused it steadfastly. “I only want my earnings, I don’t want anything extra, not even a cup of tea, not at any of the places I work,” she said. Yet, she said it with a smile, so that it was not offensive.

I see her life, I see her troubles, I see her small joys and how much they mean to her and how easily they are taken away; and I see her keeping on going, mostly smiling, mostly strong. She’s an unlikely heroine, but – in my opinion – she really is a Woman of Substance.


Darjeeling and Pelling

November 3, 2006
Pelling is the right place to go if you want to do absolutely nothing. There really is absolutely nothing to do here. This is not necessarily a bad thing, provided you’re in the sort of hotel where doing nothing is a full-time occupation. The only hotel that fits this description in Pelling is the Norbu Gang, and it’s probably worth the money. I can’t say definitively, because we didn’t stay there. We stayed in a much more modest place, which was clean, functional, and offered a good view of the Kanchanjunga from the balcony – but not from bed. As the great snow-capped mountains are only visible between 6 and 7 a.m., viewing them from bed would be a distinct advantage.

Post 7 a.m. you spend the day wandering up and down the one road that leads from Upper Pelling, through Middle Pelling and on to Lower Pelling. The total walk from end to end and back might take and hour if you make an effort to stroll very, very slowly. Apart from petty travel agents and snack shops, there’s not much to see on the way.

We spent two nights in Pelling, which meant about one-and-a-half day. We had driven up from New Jalpaiguri, familiarly known as NJP. If our cab driver had known the way, we might have reached in less than five hours. As it was, we reached around 2.15, after spending a good six hours on the road. It really was quite a good six hours, with green hills on all sides, and the lusty Teestha rushing along below us. The heat, dust, and crowds of West Bengal fell away as we climbed into the serene, green hills of West Sikkim.

The next day, we opted for one of the whole-day taxi tours of surrounding areas. The excursion to Yuksam had been highly recommended, and as it took in several minor sights along the way, we settled for this. After catching our first good views of Kanchanjunga early morning, we grabbed a hasty breakfast and set off around 8 a.m.

Yuksam, it turned out, was a bone-rattling drive over untarred roads, making the journey far longer and much more uncomfortable than it need have been. We took the diversion to Khechupalri Lake first. On this track the road was bad only in patches, and the lake was quite pretty and extremely unusual with hundreds of prayer flags surrounding it, so the long drive was quite worth it. When we reached, there were no other tourists around and the quiet serenity of the still green water surrounded by the still green hills and the fluttering, multi-coloured prayer flags was a peaceful way to start the day. After half an hour, a large group of tourists started trickling down the path to the lake, talking loudly, and we quickly made our exit.

We retraced our path partially and took the road to Yuksam, stopping at Kanchanjunga Falls along the way. These falls were really not worth stopping at, except that they happened to be right on the way. The cascade was pretty, but very far short of impressive. There was the inevitable row of snack stalls at the foot of the falls, ruining any impression of natural beauty that might otherwise have been.

We reached Yuksam around lunchtime and stopped for food before going sightseeing. Yuksam is on the tourist map as the first capital of Sikkim. We went and saw the few remnants of four hundred years ago, but were largely unimpressed. There was a stone throne, a huge, ancient pine tree, a foot print, a monastery, a lake. In an hour, we were through and ready to get back to Pelling.

The next day, we left for Darjeeling. Though we had had quite enough sight-seeing the previous day, we were prevailed upon to take in the Pemayangtse Monastery and Rabdentse Ruins on our way out. These two stops we thoroughly enjoyed. The monastery was grand, colourful, quiet – its ambience matched that of Khechupalri Lake early in the morning. The ruins were secluded, romantic, forlorn. They were set deep inside a sort of miniature natural park, and you had to walk about a km to reach them. Since this was evidently considered an extremely long walk, ASI had put up encouraging signboards every few hundred metres, exhorting you to persevere and informing you that the ruins were now quite near. Rabdentse was the second capital of Sikkim and the ruins were about 250 years old.

We finished our sight-seeing and resumed our journey to Darjeeling around 11 a.m. To our astonishment, we were at Darjeeling by about 1.30. We had taken a route that led straight through tea gardens for about an hour-and-a-half and emerged just outside the city. The road surface was unbelievably bad, and, as I was extremely sleepy, it’s a surprise that my head didn’t jump off my neck with all the jolting around.

Darjeeling is by no means a sleepy little hill station. It is a huge, sprawling city with all the paraphernalia of traffic, cows, and fashionable young women crowding the streets. Since we really did not want to be in a big city, we selected one little corner of the big city to call our own, and pretended as if the rest of it did not exist. Our little corner consisted of the mall, bandstand, and a short section of the road to Lebong.

Our physical exertion in Darjeeling consisted of trying to walk to Ghoom through the Cantonment area, trying to locate the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, and trying to gain access to the inner mechanism of the clock tower. All of these were subject to varying degrees of doom. Our walk to Ghoom was marked by way too much uphill walking on a tarred road, when we had been promised a delightful downhill walk through a forest. Having lost our way several times, we finally reached the Cantonment, where they refused to allow us passage and sent us off instead to trek down the hillside to the lower main road. From there, they said, a 40-minute brisk walk (by army standards!) would take us to Ghoom. But, on reaching the main road, we found that a 15-minute stroll would take us back to Darjeeling, and that’s what we did.

The walk to HMI was even less enchanting. We started out at 5 p.m. and in no time, it was dark. Then, there was a power cut, so that the road was plunged into total darkness. We stumbled along, trying to find a safe path between careening vehicles on one side and the deep, dank drain on the other side. At long last we found HMI, which, naturally, was closed. The guards advised us to take the lower road back to the bandstand, mentioning that the upper road that we had come by was not so safe. The lower road, Lebong Cart Road, when we ventured upon it, seemed much longer and a lot more uncertain. This, doubtless, was mainly due to the darkness and the nagging feeling of insecurity induced by the guards’ warning and by not really knowing our way back on this path. After a long, long walk to the bus stand, I spotted the moon face of the clock tower hanging above us, then navigated expertly through a crowded bazaar to emerge finally on our own stretch of the mall, much to Amit’s amazement.

As for trying to gain access to the inner mechanism of the clock tower, this attempt called for much bravery. The clock tower, which boomed forth a robust and melodious tune every hour on the hour, stood not far from our hotel. When we entered the building, there was a flower show in progress. The steps to the upper storey were stinking and had plenty of little puddles to explain why. I braved both to climb to the top floor, but everything was filthy and the door to the inner chamber was locked.

Despite these minor misadventures, there was much to enjoy in Darjeeling. There was the unique agony of waking at 3 a.m. to catch a cab to Tiger Hill and watch the sunrise cast its red rays on the massive Kanchanjunga. In the distance, Makalu, Lhotse and Everest were faintly visible, Everest looking the smallest of the three.

Then there was the charm of the toy train – a genuine steam locomotive, much to my delight – which chugged its way to Ghoom and back, stopping along the way to have its internals cleaned out. The train had three tiny coaches, with about 15 seats each. Each coach had a brake, which had darjeeling_40_66_small.jpgto be operated manually on downhill stretches. The track zig-zagged across the road, intersecting it innumerable times. There were no tunnels in this journey, but there was a loop, where the train circled around and passed under its own track.

Another quaint pleasure in Darjeeling was our hotel, the Olde Main Bellevue, which stood just off Bandstand. It was an Imperial-style building, and our room had a sloping ceiling of polished wooden beams. It faced west, and there was a large skylight to let in the morning light, which gave a wonderful effect. Outside our room on the top floor was a common sitting area, a vast drawing room with windows, tables and chairs, a little terrace looking out on the mall, and a vast expanse of sloping wooden ceiling. It was fabulous.

But the best part of our stay in Darjeeling was undoubtedly Glenary’s. This – which you’d have easily guessed if you know me – is a foodie place. But the thing is, it is not just one foodie place, it’s three or four put together. 

On the ground floor is a sort of café, with a counter full of cakes and bakes, similar in range to Sweet Chariot here. The far wall is a long row of windows, adorned with lace curtains (!) and offering clear views of Kanchanjunga. While the bakery items are self-service, tea and coffee are served in silver pots, with milk and sugar separate, cups and saucers with paper doilies and whatnot. There’s also a menu card, listing breakfast and associated items, which are served at the table.

On the first floor is the posh, classy, pseudo-imperial restaurant. It is clear that it used to have a sort of club-type ambience where only the snobbish upper-class folks would dare to venture, but today it is getting a little Indianised. The menu has Indian and Continental fare, and the wine list looks impressive but stoops to Grovers Vineyards by the glass. We had lunch there the day we arrived, and, starved as we were, the food was excellent, and the service was unexceptionable. 

And then, hidden away in the basement, was the pub. Just like any Bangalore pub, it had its own identity, its own ambience, good music, interesting seating and décor, and the standard fare in terms of alcohol.

Though we enjoyed every aspect of this multifaceted institution, we spent most of our time in the café and breakfast room on the ground floor. We breakfasted there for a good two hours, starting with croissants and muffins, and progressing in slow and easy stages to porridge, bacon-sausages-and-eggs, toast, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. Then, we usually picked up some chicken rolls or meat pie for lunch or dinner and waddled off. In the early evening, we’d drop in for a pot of tea and a slice of cake. 

One day we made the mistake of going to Keventer’s for lunch. This was a mistake not because the food wasn’t good but because it was not only scrumptious but it was extremely extremely too much. I mean, after finishing several courses of breakfast at eleven, if you arrive at the lunch table at 2.30, you only want a light sandwich or somesuch. So Amit ordered a platter of chicken salami, ham, and sausages with eggs, and I went for a plate of pork sausages. The amount of meat that was placed in front of us 45 minutes later would have made a hungry lion blanch. We almost fainted at the sight of it. Sitting on the rooftop, with warm sunshine on our backs, we slowly slogged our way through the best part of it, and at 4.30 we admitted defeat when the bottom of the plate was in sight.

We had planned a fancy dinner at the most expensive hotel on our beat, Windamere, where the seven-course dinner would set us back Rs 1200 for two. But, after that lunch, the last thing we wanted was more food at 8 p.m., so we panted up the slope to Windamere and cancelled our dinner reservation and demanded our advance back. Then we spent the evening laughing wildly at Lage Raho Munna Bhai, and followed it up with a quite boring Big B movie on the telly.

All in all, it was a thoroughly relaxing, self-indulgent holiday. But at the end we were forced to the conclusion: trekking had spoiled us. We could no longer enjoy sanitized holidays to hill-stations accessible by road, where every meal was a feast and hot water came streaming out of a shower on demand. If there was no dusty trail, no pack animals, no kerosense stove to generate homely, vegetarian food, no silvery stream or babbling brook filled with natural pollutants, no silence, stillness, cold, no pristine natural beauty virtually untouched by human presence – if there was none of this, and no physical exhaustion to heighten the appreciation of it all, could it even be considered a holiday?


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