Wednesday, April 11, 2007

India Consulate in Dubai

Wait and Queue are the two words that I have been fed and nurtured all my growing years. Those of us who have grown in a state controlled economy too must have been familiar with these words. Be it a milk booth, a rationed grain shop, a barber, a bank, a post office – Q is every where. Wait - is the hallmark of expressing one’s domination. Be it as miniscule as a peon sitting on wooden stool or a clerk busy cleaning his beetle nut residue from his teeth or a manager dozing behind the closed door cabin. Wait is distinct pronouncement as soon as you utter to solicit something. In recent years, with the spread of privatisation and internet, Wait has lost its steam but Q would be hard to banish, as long as India’s population is ballooning.

After many years, I have had my dose of wait and Q at India consulate in Dubai.

“For dead body, please go to counter number 8, If no body then go to counter number 7” This notice on the glass showcase on the right side of the foyer was a fair indication of amusing time I would have at the Indian Consulate in Dubai. This is not a typical consulate like that of other countries with sleek indoors and compact space. This is a microcosm of true India with the exception of beggars, eunuchs and union leaders. There are illiterate labourers, skilled workers; tie clad sales persons, newly wed couples and even new born babies all waiting in Q to complete their passport related work. The trade people have been insulated from this milieu behind the main building for attestation related service. Sight of security man behind robust rotating gates is understandable but his approach to let go without even seeing inside the bag baffles my logic. I guess he is either over smart or too naïve.

No longer you have breathed fresh air from security dungeon, you are hit with men who are standstill, they are part of many serpentine Q’s that are to get inter-wined as you go inside. They all seem to originate from every window or office cabin. In this entire melee, there is ubiquitous lean tall soft spoken Sardar – managing crowd, assuaging irritated nationals and sympathetizing with overstayed labourer’s plight. I thought him as a PRO of India consulate; he turned out to be the man from security agency.

First Q leads to a massive square table managed by four people, on the table lie host of forms stacked up next to each other. ‘I want to delete a name ….’ before I could finish the sentence, a form was thrust in my hand by stern looking, delicate framed lady. Only after I started filling up the form standing at a desk next to notice of ‘dead body at counter no 8’, I realize that this was for a woman who wants to change her name after marriage. A young man next to the ‘writing desk for standing people’ asks me if it’s necessary to put his thumb impression after signing the form. Before I could say no, I am jostled by another person who is keen to occupy coveted desk space. I gather there are more people than this small desk would provide. Another Q is in the process of being born.

Consul is like a Lord in this consulate. If you need to get job done in a day, you must prostrate before him with pitiable face and ready to provide to the Govt of India of additional US$20 over and above normal charges. I join this coveted Q outside his office. Lord was patient, soft spoken, listening to everyone’s grievance and providing succour to his best ability. I imagined him a like a benevolent King from poor kingdom serving his society. Soon, the cubicle outside gets packed. Every minute, Lord speaks on telephone, three more join the Q. Seeing hustle bustle, Sardar arrives goading people to make U turn in that small space. Now I am squeezed between three shoulders and wall. But I manage to nudge, squeeze and protrude my neck to measure the time that I need to reach the Lord. He attends to me and guides me to go to ‘Counter – no 8’. Dead body flashes in front of my eyes.

I come in the main foyer; this place is like Indian railway reservation hall with counters from 1 to 8 with amateurish hand painted boards in English, Hindi and Malayalam pronouncing the purpose of the counter. But there is one board at Counter 2 to 5 that is bigger than any other boards that draws my attention “Counter Closed”. Counter no 7 and 8 are almost merged with some people squeezing themselves in between. A howling protest from people behind for an intruder is quietened with his announcement that he was just a witness to sign paper. Another burkha lady arrives with Arab husband, and heads to counter window. I was intrigued about preferential treatment for Arabs but learn that it’s not Arab but woman who gets special privilege not to stand in queue. At last, woman managed to get reservations somewhere. Meanwhile, a young mama with 15 day old baby snuggles in. Her husband holding blue ink pad ready to take imprint of baby’s finger to fit to put on passport form. Poor baby, she is too stunned with the whole environ and even scared to cry or howl. I was told that infant must have separate passport with their finger print. My curious eyes take me to the instruction sheet for verification of documents that is pasted for Counter No 7. The word J &K is prominent, anything with J&K must be referred back to the India. I wonder if India has already made up their mind of giving J &K or its is just an extra security

Seeing verifying originals with photocopy, made me realize the essential of the word ‘duplicate stamped on the form’. I head outside the main building but still inside the campus. A small porta cabin has been turned into a photocopy center and outside is a long winding Q` of people, clutching papers in one hand and mobile on another while brazing the scorching sun. Occasional white woman become cynosure of the eyes of labourers who find it a welcome change from their mundane daily hard grind. The photocopy inside a cabin is a manual version of industrial robot. This man with one hand on cover flap of machine and other on documents, keeping the documents – pressing buttons – counting money – and yet taking shouts from people behind “kitna slow hain – how slow he is”

Counter no 8 man is efficient, doing his work at frenetic pace. As I reach near the counter, I could see portion of the false ceiling tile opened up displaying air conditioning ducts. Aluminium support strips that hold slab of this false ceiling are protruding downwards. I fear of this man being hit by falling debris of this ceiling. Split ac is roaring with vengeance, but accumulated dust has given colour of brown tinge, switch of this unit is hanging in precarious balance by a wire. But there is no worry; ac is grouted well to the ceiling. I have now completed my work at counter No 8 and directed back to the Lord. This time with the help of Sardar, I hoodwink the standing members and get Lords signature. Aha…, the mission that began with big table seems to be reaching culmination but there is one more Q to be conquered. I must reach first floor of adjacent building to pay the fees.

In the foyer of first floor, a forlorn looking lady under meek looking portraits of Prime Minister Man Mohan singh and President Kalam plays fiddles with the knobs of her telephone instrument that has more LED signals than music arranger would have. She must be feeling a bit lonely and neglected by not having people Q'ing in front of her desk but her sudden verbal rebuke for people to be seated instead of standing in Q makes every one by surprise. I also realize that sitting Q is more elegant than standing one.

Job done, next day I am asked to collect my passport between 3 pm and 4pm. I arrive early so as to be ahead in the Q. But there is no Q. Sardar is collecting receipts and sending them inside while admonishing people to be patient and wait for their turn. He explains ‘there is no guarantee that those who come early would get their passport early’. Every twenty minutes a lady arrives at counter no 7 and everyone jumps at their feet as if teacher has come out with their answer paper. There is a big black box sitting at the edge of the counter with many knobs. I learn that it is a speaker with mic on the side for lady .When lady doesn’t get response, she picks up mic and yells … Gurwinder singh pushes himself in the crowd to take his document with pride, Sardar is glad seeing his compatriot getting ahead of others. My turn doesn’t come till 5pm. By now, crowd is thinning out but Sardar is consoling ‘don’t worry; everyone’s job will be done. Have pain once, relax for five years’. A lady shouts my name, my excitement is submerged when I hear that their central computer in India is flagging against my name and they must refer my case to Bombay. I wonder what could be the reason. Is my name clubbed in the category of Pappu Yadav and Paapu Kalani or my visit to Iran, Sudan, Syria aroused ministry of external affairs. She thrusts me two more forms and ask me to see the Lord again next day.

Another process of Q’ing outside the Lord office crammed with people and pleading exercise. But Lord is happy, he says ‘get me a copy of this receipt and I will study the file. Come and see me at 2 pm’. Another visit to Porta cabin, another Q. I arrive at 2 pm to meet Lord but gates to the Lord’s office are close. I am perplexed and seek Sardar’s help. He tells me to go to receptionist, She calls up the Lord and tells me go and ask me meet another lady at counter no 7. When I reach down, I was told that this lady never comes in the afternoon. I am getting exasperated. I go back to the lady again. My hope of getting my passport is diminishing. When I reach her desk, I get a feeling that portraits of Man Mohan singh and Kalam are laughing at my plight. I force her to call the Lord . I force her to hand over the phone. Lord as usual is pleasant and courteous. He assures me that he has approved my case and I must go to counter No 7 and wait. Another journey, another Q but as soon as I arrive, a lady ushers in, saying that my case has been cleared and I must patiently wait.

I am relieved, happy and understood the meaning of phrase ‘patience is virtue’. As I chose to sit in one of string of yellow bucket seats, a thudding noise occurs, before I realize anything, I can see myself collapsing with false ceiling beaconing at me as rush of helping hand gather to pull me out of the bucket. Sardar comes running and proclaims, ‘This is India consulate; they would always buy cheap stuff. Thank God, the man was robust imagine what would have happened if there was a lady ‘. I organize myself. I can see one of the legs of these chairs got uprooted from the base. Sardar takes the chairs instructing everyone not to seat there but keeps them erect with broken leg. I wonder if he is keen to witness another accident or it was his absent mindedness ‘I turn the chairs upside down.

My passport arrives but without necessary correction. Now I imagine of another day, another Q but the man come out with novel solution. They put a rubber stamp with handwritten note of necessary correction.

My ordeal is over and am relieved. But when I study the process and workflow, I can’t but admire the staff of India Consulate. They are doing herculean task of attending almost 4000 people every day and yet do their best to provide solution. Whats heartening is their approach in handling people by according utmost respect and dignity to everyone. Many visitors are illiterate yet am sure that they too don’t feel as second grade citizen (perhaps J&K residents may do so). India consulate do have a system and their employee adhere to that system but surging huge crowds make their job extremely difficult. They must be doing nearly half the job of all consulates put together in Dubai. And I am sure; they earn lot of money to India exchequer too. India Govt should seriously start in terms of implementing innovative measures like introduction of biometric passport, 80 page machine readable passport and internet based passport processing and yes many more photocopy stations for India consulate in Dubai.

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Anonymous Chris said...

a small mark at the time of my passage on your very beautiful blog!
thanks for making us share your moments
you have a translation of my English space!
cordially from France
¸..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
((¸¸.·´ ..·´ -:¦:-
-:¦:- ((¸¸.·´* ~ Chris ~ -:¦:-

5:56 AM  

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