Today I've been ignored, sneered at, ogled, patronized, put in my place, and confounded. I've also been smiled at, spoken nicely to, helped, and complimented. I may have thrown a small fit at the foreign registration office when I was FINALLY driven over my limit at one too many obstacles in my path. This is after I returned to the xerox shop three times, drove back and forth between different departments in different cities seven times, and filled out two forms in triplicate. At one point, I may have had tears in my eyes, muttering under my breath, "This is it, they've beat me."
There are certain rules you have to relearn, in India. I know this, and I'm skilled at it. It won't do to get angry at people crowding a counter in an office, for instance, because the concept of a queue (or a line) is not prevalent. So don't yell and get angry! You're wasting your breath! Or take staring, for example. Staring is a perfectly acceptable social recreation. There's no point beseeching the heavens over it (although you can ask a group of rowdy men to leave you alone, or threaten them with your shoe, like my friend does to particularly naughty ones) because people watch each other here. They will stare at you, a car accident, a cat in a tree, children on the playground, or a foreigner tying his shoe. (There is a whole other meaning to rubbernecking here, as I saw the other day again when I witnessed dozens of men parking their scooters to peer at a car that had driven off the road.)
One rule that I find hard to unlearn, in the area of bureaucracy, is that a well-ordered list of requirements, including needs in the future will be given to you, when you apply for something. For instance, in my world you are told that to get the exit permit that you need for your son, you will have to visit the Secretariat with copies of your passport and visa, a copy of his birth certificate, and a printout of your plane ticket. Then you will need to wait four days and return to start the application here, after paying the visa fees at the Secretariat. Make sure you bring three passport photos with you.
Sounds reasonable, right?
This is the way it really goes. These are the rules I'm wasting my breath, trying to change.
I show up at the Foreign Registration Office. "I need an exit permit for my son. He was born in India."
FRO: "Go to the Home Office, in the town directly north over the bridge."
I go to find the Home Office (Secretariat) and drive around for a while before finding it. The man there ignores me for a while, then finally demands to know what I want. I tell him. He is a low-talker, hard to understand. He tells me to hand write a request for an exit permit and give it to him with copies of my passport and visa and Solo's passport. Oh Good, I say, I already have those.
I hand write the request. I bring it back to him with the copies. He looks through. "Where is the copy of the birth certificate?" he asks. I look blank. "You didn't ask me for one," I say.
"You need a copy of the birth certificate," he says.
I leave the compound, drive out to the little town, and make a copy. I bring it back. He looks at it. (There is a whole lot of ignoring and feet shifting and sighing going on in these interactions, but I'm not including all of it.) "Where is your airline ticket?" he asks.
"You've got to be joking," I say. Okay, I don't say it.
"You didn't ask me for one."
"You need a copy of your airline ticket." These rules are beginning to feel very arbitrary to me, and they just might be, because I know that this man can make anything happen that he wants to happen. I leave the compound again, drive out to find an internet café, find my airline tickets, print them out, and bring them back. The man looks through everything again.
"Come on 27th and pick up a disk at the FRO," he says. "Then come and pay your fees here and you can pick the permit up at the FRO." This means driving back and forth between the two towns again.
"All right," I say, doing some mental math while I walk away. I return to the desk. "The 27th is a Saturday," I say. Are you open on Saturday?"
"The 27th is a Saturday?" he asks, surprised. He changes the date on my documents to the 26th. "Come on 26th," he says.
When I arrive at the FRO on the 26th, they don't have my paperwork. "You will have to go back to that town to the north to ask them about it," they say.
"And then I can take my permit today?" I ask.
"No!" they say. "The Home Department always makes it sound like that, but now you start the application process here, once you get the paperwork and pay your fees. You will have to fill out the applications and make copies and give us three passport photos. Then we will submit your application."
"But I don't have any passport photos. And this is for my son, who is an hour and a half away, at my home."
They shrug. This is when I throw the fit. I'm not ashamed of getting angry. It's a normal part of doing work in India. Sometimes you have to get angry. But I do think I sounded pathetic. "You should give people a list of everything they will need, so they can come prepared! I have come back and forth so many times! Now what should I do? Drive all the way home this afternoon to get passport photos?"
"First get the paperwork," they advise.
So anyways, my fit earned me a compromise. I drove back and forth four more times, filled out the application in triplicate, xeroxed many documents, and paid my fees. I earned the right to bring the passport photos when I arrived to pick up the documents, on Monday. Despite the fact that I hadn't planned to come back into the Capital the day before we leave (!) I almost kissed the man's hand.
* In other news. If you want a Leafy fix, you can get one at Fly Fishes Fly. We're churning out the videos around here.
My daughter turns six today! She is such a delightful person, such a confident and winning and loving girl. I'm amazed that I get to be in her life. She told Kid A that he can have the first turn with any toys she gets. That's the kind of girl she is. (And that's how much she loves her big brother.)
Solo has almost never worn shoes, while he's been growing up. If we are out together, it is at the beach, and otherwise I am carrying him. As a result, he is obsessed with shoes. He feels like the coolest thing in the world when he's wearing them. Oh the simple pleasures of life.
I am wading my way through all the packing and bureaucracy (I am simultaneously embroiled in trying to get my van back on the road, despite the obstacles. The DMV may also be a run around, but at least they tell me what I need to do, from start to finish.) We leave in two and a half days! Egads! And I have another trip to the Capital and a birthday party as well! Packing right now for me involves putting everything into plastic bags or tubs or metal trunks to keep it from molding during the monsoon. I have my work cut out.