Thursday, April 05, 2007

One helluva experience!

What is the most terrible experience you ever had? Watching India crash out of WC 07? Listening Himesh Reshamiya yet again? Watching some really stupid movie like Vivah or something else? I wouldn’t have been able to answer that till yesterday. You see there are so many experiences to choose from! But I have a very definite answer today. The title for the most hellish experience I ever had goes to visiting the passport office!

Before I go on telling about the experience itself, I would like to tell why I had to make myself go through it. Well simple logic. I went to the passport office because I don’t have a passport till date. Now I have spent close to 3 years in the great Indian IT industry. But I never bothered to apply for a passport. Ideally, I should have applied for it when I was in college itself. But at that time, I used to think that only two types of people apply for a passport – first those who give GRE and second those who get placed in CSC or TCS. In my college days, only these two companies came and took a few students. I was not eligible to sit in the former (since I was not from Comp Sc background) and the latter rejected me in grand style (for the records, it rejected me twice and it is probably the only company which knows my abilities!) Well there did come a few more companies but before that I got placed in a firm which did not bother to ask for passports. After I came to Pune, I needed to spend atleast one year in the city to apply for passport. I spent one year and by the time the second year started I had completely forgotten about this all important artefact! But then one fine morning, my TL realized that I am the only one in the entire team not having the passport and he wanted me to get one asap. (Please note that I am not going nowhere. They need my passport just for the records)

And so there I go to this hell people call Passport Office. Luckily I had all the documents I needed. I had some problems earlier and I will not tell anyone what my first experience was like. So this time I had my birth proofs, my residence proofs, some affidavits, some bills. I had even kept all the certificates I ever won in some music competition or GK competition, just in case. The long journey from my place to the PPO has one advantage. I have a habit of remembering things suddenly while driving and so I could stop at all the photocopy shops and complete the required document sets. I had left at around 9 am and reached there by 10. The line for getting a token was already out of the office and I was around the 100th one. I got the token in about ½ an hour but since there were two counters for document verification, my number was 53 on counter A. The Pune passport office is a small, suffocated room with 9 cramped counters. I think the room cannot hold more than 150 people at a time but during peek hours there can be 700-800 people there. It happens often that people stand in Q for getting a token and by the time they reach the counter they realize that they are at the enquiry counter. There is also a very good probability of loosing all your original documents in such mad rush as is evident with the many Lost and Found graffiti all over the place.

Now for all those who are planning to apply for passport from Pune, BEWARE! Pray that you don’t get counter A. But if you are in desperate need of passport, you will definitely be directed to counter A. The gentleman behind that counter is a man alright but there is no trace of gentleness in him. Your future, in terms of getting your passport and your past, in terms of all the certificates you have ever owned right from your birth, are in the hands of this man, literally. So pray to the Almighty that his wife remains in a very good mood on the day you plan a visit to the passport office and that his children behave properly with him. Also pray that his neighbours remember the commandment “Thou shalt love thy neighbour”. Pray for anything and everything you can think about because this man, if he is in the slightest of bad moods, can do things to your documents you can never imagine. Your original documents will be flying across the room and you would not know how to get them. And also try to put a poker face when you go to meet him. Make sure your face does not resemble a homo sapien because he develops a liking for human faces and wants to see them again and again. He will make you come there atleast twice and you need to face the whole ordeal from the scratch. I realized that most of the people around me were veterans with 4-5 visits in their kitty and I felt that I am still new to the place. By the time my number came, I had heard stories of how people were sent back for not getting a 3rd set of photocopies when the whole world (as the rules mandate) gets only 2. Or the only purpose of the Enquiry counter was to prepare you for the kind of bad treatment you are about to receive from people at various counters.

After hearing these tales, I was quite sure that my nightmare with PPO has just begun. There will be more photocopies, more lines, more stories and more pains. Finally, the number A53 flashed and I went to the counter with a very heavy heart. I just wanted to tell the officer on the other side of the counter to be a little more patient with my documents, if nothing else. My birth certificate is as old as I am myself, and the condition of that document is not healthy. I gave a smile to the officer and stood my ground and prayed (for the health of my documents!). I soon realized that I was sweating badly. My heart rate was 150 beats per minute. I thought I was about to faint when the officer handed me back my originals and asked me to go to the payment counter. I have never cleared any major entrance exam with great ranks. But the feeling of being a topper in CAT or in IIT JEE would be similar to the one I felt as I moved to the next counter. And for the first time I realized that not resembling a human has its own benefits!

As I came out in the unbearable hot summer afternoon, I realized that it is not a bad world after all. Very few times you get to see people with genuine concern for others. I felt that in the PPO. People were actually congratulating complete unknowns for getting the documents verified. There were others who, while waiting for their turn, were explaining the lost warriors on how to bounce back!

But this was an experience I would never want to go through again. But then you got to do what you got to do, no?