I was tensed and worried. My heart was beating faster. Cursing at nobody in particular, I rearranged the documents in my file again. It felt like doing for the hundredth time. Suddenly I got pushed from behind and nearly fell on an old lady standing in front of me. Balancing myself, I apologized to her only to be glared at. I, in turn, glared at my neighbour standing behind me. He was busy adjusting his file. Sensing my gaze, he looked up and made an apologetic face. Then glanced back to yell at the fellow standing behind him. I sighed and turned my attention to the front of the queue. Apparently the crowds were being pushed for no reason at all or just for a time pass. But who cares?
I was standing in the longest queue I had ever been in and never hope to be in again. All for getting a passport. It seems more important these days than your graduation degree. Even when I am in no mood to visit London or New York, I need to have a passport. You want to stay in India? Then also you need a passport. Why the hell do you need a passport to reside in your own country? Because that is required in jobs these days. That’s if you don’t want your name in the list of ‘unemployed youth in India’.
So here I was! I came in the morning and it was nearing my lunch time. But still I was in the queue. And it was just the first round. After some time, I neared to the counter. A couple standing a few feet away were arguing with the man sitting behind the counter desk. Apparently, one needs a bank statement having the last year transaction detail i.e. 12 months. But the couple had only 10 months transaction. Reason? They had opened their account only 10 months back! So where could they bring more 2 months from? But their verification was rejected. Another man had a whole year transaction detail but not from an authorized bank. A woman standing in another queue ( there were 4 long queues) did not have a marriage certificate since she was not aware of one. Well, I couldn’t blame her. People marrying in 70s and 80s didn’t bother about marriage certificates. Ask for proofs of their marriage and they would produce their marriage photographs. Easy!
Finally my turn came. The man verified my documents for 3 minutes. Inspite of facing so much criticism from the rejected lot, he maintained a straight face, throughout the small interview with me. No emotion at all, all business-like. After a few painful moments, my documents were declared verified. Hurray! It seemed like I had won a marathon. Delighted, I took the coupon from him and entered for the second round where my photo was clicked. I didn’t like my own image that flashed across the monitor screen but resisted saying so aloud in front of the stern lady. The profile picture on my facebook timeline is much better instead.
The third round had a few surprises for me. All the people had to wait for their chance to come. We had to see on the big screen for our token numbers to appear. Those token numbers were followed by the counter numbers. By this time, I was exhausted and hungry. With nothing to eat and god knows where your turn will come, how long are you suppose to stand and wait? Except a couple of fat kids running, there was no other form of entertainment.
After waiting and staring, I was fed up enough to move out on my own. To hell with the verification! Enough’s enough. I would apply next time, I thought angrily. But the image of my shocked family members when they would see me at home like that came in my mind and I stopped on my tracks. After 5 mins of this indecision, my token number flashed on the screen. About time too! I ran towards my assigned counter number and met a middle aged man behind the desk. He went through my documents and I could see that he was not satisfied. Something was bothering him. And that bothered me as well.
‘Where is your birth date proof?’ he asked sounding stern.
‘Here sir’ I said and pushed my birth certificate forward.
‘But where is it on your 10std result?’ he asked.
I explained to him that being from the Maharashtra State Board, 10std result during my time never had birth dates of the students on it. He looked doubtful.
‘That’s strange’ he exclaimed. Well, it wasn’t my fault, was it? Going through other documents, he asked me the name of my hometown. I answered him and voila! His whole expression changed and his mood lit up. He said that he had gone there a lot of times. He knew that Nepal is nearer from there and asked whether a passport a needed to visit Nepal. Now here I was in a dilemma. To lie or just stick with the truth? The honest answer was a no. One does not need any passport to go there or so I have heard. Never had bothered to go there in reality but I knew this vital piece of information. I decided to stick with the truth. I told him a bold no. That passport is not needed there. He nodded and sent me to an old lady sitting behind the next desk. She couldn’t understand my birth certificate as it was in Hindi. She asked her neighbour who spelled my name for her from my certificate. It all seemed very comical.
And then after the final signature, I was free to go. I went towards the exit door with a light heart. But my happiness was cut short. At the exit door, I was stopped and given a feedback form to fill. It asked about my experience at the passport Seva Kendra and personal opinions for improvement. Now this was too much. I was about to write regarding having food stalls and canteens inside the premises, shorter queues, less crowd, lesser number of documents for verification and a Sony Bravia EX525 Series LED TV for some timepass but decided against it. Instead I clicked on ‘good’ at every given question and left the improvement space as it is. I submitted the form and hurried through the exit door. Coming outside the building, I blinked in the sunshine and hurried towards a juice-selling vendor for an ice-cold Nimbu Paani which was more important at the time than the passport. Completely nuts, I tell you!