Warning, this post contains tales of dealing with bureaucrats, which is almost never interesting, even to those directly affected. If you plan on traveling to India, you might find this educational, but on the other hand you might not. Also photography is prohibited in Consulates and other government buildings. To make this post more interesting, I started it with a gratuitous picture of a very cute Indian police officer. You’re welcome.
Since I was traveling to India, I had also planned to visit my friend Khan, who I had been corresponding with on the internet for 6 years. We’d become great friends, but had never met in person. Since I started chatting with him, Khan had moved from his native Pakistan to Abu Dhabi, and when I knew I was coming to India, we arranged to meet in Dubai.
As discussed in the previous post, I flew from Delhi to Dubai and had a great visit. There are a few things I left out of that post, however, and this post contains what Paul Harvey would have dramatically called ‘The Rest of the Story!’
I arrived in Dubai on January 9th. I’d been in Dubai for a little over a day when I realized that I was missing Dan badly and decided to return to Delhi to be with him. Truth be told, I was also missing India. I’m someone who craves order and neatness, but the chaos of India had gotten under my skin, and Dubai’s order felt artificial and plastic to me.
Emirates was very accommodating in changing my ticket, and I arrived at the airport on January 11th, ready to return to Delhi and Dan. At the check-in counter, the agent brought up my ticket and examined my passport. “Oh!” she said, “you have recently been to India?”
“Yes, I only came to Dubai for a couple of days.”
“Yes, according to this stamp you just left India a few days ago. This is a problem.” She pointed to some fine print on my visa. “This visa says you must wait two months between visits.”
Holy fuck. I had read the ‘2 month’ clause, but thought it applied to people who maxed out the 6-month-per-visit allotment. We went to talk to a supervisor. She confirmed, firmly, that I would not be able to fly back to India for two months. Was there anyone that I could speak with in the airport? No.
Okay. I had checked out of my hotel, I had a flight back to the U.S. from Delhi on the 15th, and I could not return to India for two months. Adventure!
Khan was with me, and together we grabbed a taxi and went searching for the Indian Embassy. We got there at 8am just as they were opening. Khan, being Pakistani, could not easily enter, so I bid him good-bye, and he left with the taxi.
After talking with several people inside, I was told that I could apply for an ‘Emergency Re-Entry Visa’. I would need photocopies of my passport, as well as a print-out of my flight leaving India. I also needed to fill out a form asking for the visa. I needed to find an internet café and a copy machine.
I left the embassy and flagged down a taxi. I asked them to take me to an internet café, which were hard to find at 9am in the morning. We eventually found one that was open, and I was able to print out my British Air itinerary. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a copy machine. I paid them for the time and print-outs, and went walking down the street. A block away I came across a hotel. I went in and asked them if they could make passport copies for me. They were very nice, and did so at no charge.
I found a taxi and returned to the Embassy. An official there made me sit for 20 minutes before looking at my paperwork. He shuffled the papers, stapled them together, and then stamped and signed each page carefully. Then he sent me to a different window on a different floor to submit the paperwork.
I made my way to the new location. Behind the window was the same official who had signed and stamped my papers. “Yes?” he said, as though he had never seen me before. I handed the papers through the slot. “30 dirham” he requested. I had a Dh100 note, and handed it through the window. He looked like I had slapped a pile of my own feces on his desk. “No change!” he said. Where could I get change? “Try the Hall of Attestation” he suggested, “they deal with money.”
The Hall of Attestation was a small auditorium. Along one side were a number of men at desks, and in front of them were lines of chairs, many filled with waiting people. It wasn’t clear to me whether there was a queue, so I asked a security guard where I could get change. He led me to one of the desks. When I asked the man there for change, he first rolled his eyes and then handed me change for my Dh100.
I returned to the window and handed over my Dh30. The man behind the glass told me to come back the following day at 4pm. “Is there any way I could get it now?” I asked. “Tomorrow, 4pm” he said. “Is there any way to expedite the process?” I queried. “Tomorrow, at 4pm” he said much more slowly, as though I were retarded.
Okay, so I wasn’t going to be able to leave Dubai early. But on the positive side, if I had tried to return to Delhi on the 13th as I had originally planned, I would have been delayed even longer and would have missed my flight back to the United States.
I returned to the Consulate at 2pm the next day, January 12th. After being bounced from one office to the next, I was standing in front of the man who had my passport. “Is my re-entry visa ready, sir?” I asked. He picked it up from his desk and held it in front of me. “It will be ready at 4pm.” he said, and then went back to stamping papers. Seriously, these guys love stamps.
I returned at 4pm. The man at the window looked surprised to see me. “Room 105!” he barked. In room 105, another man I had dealt with also seemed surprised to see me. He looked at the clock, which said 4:05pm. Then he looked at me. “Receipt?” he asked. Unfortunately, I had not kept the receipt for the Dh30. This was apparently A Problem. “No receipt? No receipt?!?” He gestured for me to wait, then left the room for 5 minutes.
When he came back he explained that I would have to write a letter stating that I did not have the receipt, stating the receipt number and my passport number, sign and date it, and give it to him. “Sir, I do not have either my receipt number, since I lost it, or my passport number, since you have it.” He looked as though he had never experienced a bigger pain in the ass than I, and quickly wrote down both the receipt number and my passport number on a piece of paper.
I went out into the hall and wrote the letter, but the official refused to take it. He told me to sit and wait for another official who was not at his desk. I sat and waited. It was 4:20pm. The office closed at 4:30.
The Missing Official appeared at 4:28 and seemed surprised to see me waiting for him. I told him that the Other Official had told me to wait for him. They yelled over the partition at one another for a while in Hindi. I heard the ‘receipt’ several times. Then the Missing Official (now present) stood up, looked at the Other Official, gestured towards me, and said in English “Give it to him.”
I was given my passport, which now had a new full-paged stamp that read:
“No Objection granted to return to
India before 11-Mar-2011 . Registration
required with FRRO within 14 days of arrival.”
Consulate General of India
He explained to me that I would need to register with the Foreign Regional Registration Office when I got to India. “Even if I’ll only be there for one day?” I asked. “Yes, you will need to register.”
I flew to India on the 6:30am flight on 13 January, and found my way to the guesthouse that Dan was using. 1 Dan was off interviewing potential hires at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), so I decided to get the ‘foreign registration’ thing out of the way.
I tried to anticipate what the registration office would ask for, and used the guest house computer to print out my British Air departure itinerary, and also had them make several copies of my passport. They also warned me that I may need to pay ‘baksheesh’ (a bribe) to get my registration. I said that I didn’t think that was a good idea, and they seemed moved (but saddened) by my idealism. They called me a car, and I was off to the FRRO office, which thankfully was only about 5km away. As we drove off, one of the staff ran alongside the car, leaning into my open window, telling me “I have a friend who is a guard. I will meet with him tonight and plead on your behalf!”
The FRRO office was a confusing mass of people. Outside the building were rows of chairs containing resigned-looking people who sat waiting, though it wasn’t clear why. Since nothing seemed to be happening outside, I went into the building and made my way to a large hall with even more chairs and more resigned, waiting people. This hall also had 10 windows. Each staffed window had a mass of people pressed up against it, all vying for the clerk’s attention.
Thankfully there was a reception desk, and I queued up to speak with the man there. While I waited, people kept wedging themselves in front of me. I would tap them on the shoulder and give them a meaningful look, and they would acquiesce and line up behind me.
The man said that to register I would have to provide a ‘C Form’ from the hotel, fill out two different forms, make 2 copies of one of the forms, and provide four passport photos. Since I didn’t have any of that, it was back to my waiting driver and back to the hotel, where I assembled the necessary paperwork. I already had a packet of extra passport photos. 2
Then back to the F.R.R.O. Unfortunately, the reception desk wasn’t staffed. As I looked around, I noticed that though the room was full of people, none of the desks or windows were staffed. I turned towards a large and helpful-looking person.
“Namaste. Do you know where everyone is?”
“Dude, they’re all at lunch. They’ll be back in about ten minutes. Hang loose.”
The large and helpful-looking person spoke like a valley boy, and in fact it turns out that he was an Afghani from Sacramento. And how was he finding India? “First time, man, and I’ll probably never be back. Too much hassle, but the weed is good. But seriously, dude, you need to come to Kabul, that place rocks. The Taliban don’t really bother Americans much, and the party scene is extreme.”
After about ten minutes the staff reappeared as predicted, seeming to materialize at their desks with stamps in hand. I was sitting on the receptionist’s desk to ensure my position as first in line. (Despite this, people leaned across the desk in front of me trying to get the receptionists attention. A tap on the shoulder and a reproachful look sent them to the back of the line.)
The receptionist looked at my papers, handed me extra copies that weren’t required, stapled the remaining papers together, told me to add passport photos here, here, here, and here, and then handed the stack back to me. “Window 5” he said, dismissing me.
I went to Window 5, which amazingly was the only window without a mass of people pressing to be served. There a weary-looking middle-aged woman looked over my paperwork. Alternating between making notes on my forms and typing things into her computer, she spent the next ten minutes working on my submission. There was much rubber-stamping. Eventually she handed it back to me and gestured across the room. There sat another desk with a sign saying “Inbound”.
I queued up for the desk. There were several people ahead of me, but people still tried to push their way directly to the front of the line. Each time I tapped them firmly on the shoulder, and gestured with my thumb to the back of the line. Each time they looked surprised to find that there was already a line at the desk, and joined the queue. It’s like what I’ve learned of driving in Delhi… “The only thing that matters is what is ahead of you. What is to the sides or to the back does not matter.” If you manage to make it to the desk, then what is behind or to your side doesn’t exist.
When I got to the front of the line ten minutes later, the woman took my papers. She stamped them a few more times, put the majority of the papers onto a large pile on her desk, and then handed me one sheet. “You must give this to immigration when you leave India” she said.
When I got back to our guest house, they were astounded that I had been registered in only one day. I was repeatedly asked by the staff how much baksheesh I had paid. When I told them ‘none’, they looked even more astounded.
So here is the end-result of my quest, the document that will allow me to reluctantly leave India:
Ararya Haveli Bed & Breakfast,
Hauz Khas Enclave, New Delhi
+91 11 41759268.
Mini-review: very nice, quiet, in a posh private enclave. Comfortable rooms & charming staff.↩
When traveling, always have a few extra passport photos. You may not need them, but they can be very handy on those occasions where you do.↩