Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Indian Embassy visit

I had to visit the Indian embassy today, here in Washington DC. The Embassy here is on the embassy row on Massachusetts Ave, where there are a long line of embassies. Each in an impressive looking, but old building, with no parking at all. The Indian Embassy is one of the few that has parking, albeit not for visitors. But typical of oppurtunist everywhere, the visitors use all available spots for parking. By the way, Washington DC, is a very sad capital for a country like the US. Roads, parking, the city itself is left to rot, while the congress and the senate debate about everything else. Its a peculiar state of affairs, Washington DC is not a state, and the people who live in DC, pay taxes but do not have representation in the congress or senate.

Anyway, so i go in and take my number and wait. The officer (lady) at the counter had just finished calling out number 6 (my number is 22), and this guy comes up to the counter. Since he is standing not more than 2-3 feet from where i sit, i can hear the conversation clearly. Also because they have to talk thru' a glass window, people generally shout, even tho' it is not required. So this guy, Ram (for want of a name), wants to renew his passport. The website has a clear list of documents you need to bring when you come for such service. It usually is done the same day, or you may get it the next day.

Here is a snippet of their conversation, from where things get interesting:
lady: i need copies of your address proof
Ram: what can i give ? I have a driver's license
lady: yes, that is fine
Ram: he extends the drivers license
lady: i need a photocopy, to be filed with the application
Ram: where do i go for a photocopy (he is frustrated now !! )
lady: well, we dont have a photocopier here, but you can step outside and come back with all the paper work.
Ram: where can i go ? (his tone clearly angry)
Ram: hmph

I was thinking as this was going on. What would Ram have done, if he was standing in front of a window in the US Consulate. Or anywhere else ? Would he have used the same agressive tone, or expressed his frustration so ? Why is that we expect the people at the Indian Consulate to be extra nice, and allow us to take all the liberties. There were people in the hall, without copies of originals, without appliciation forms (acceptable situation), without photos (luckily there is photo machine, but then they want the change to feed this machine), come with checks/credit cards (when the website clearly says no personal checks or credit cards - some people were surprised that there was no ATM machine inside the consulate). I remember waiting for visa the UK Consulate in Chennai, to transit thru' London, a couple of years back, when an officer(british lady) was shouting at an old lady and husband, for standing up, out of turn. "Sit down, i said SIT DOWN", that too, in a huge open hall !! I guess we need to be treated the same here, then we may behave.

Also, there is the demand for service, 'I need the visa today'. There was this lady who showed up at the counter, with a passport that expired in 2001. She applied for another one, but lost that. She now needs a passport to travel in the next 3 weeks (ok atleast there is time). She wanted the passport like now !! Hello !!! What were doing all this while ? God know what visa status she is on ? I am assuming GC, thats why she was casual about her lost Indian passport. Apparently she knew about her lost passport in 2001 itself, but sat on her application till date, because she didnt need to go to India. Wah Wah, kya bath hai ?

I have visited this consulate many times, since i first moved to the area in 1994. I have never had one occassion, where i was treated shabbily, ignored, or arrogantly. The people provided me professional service, and infact, quite a few times, also held a smile for more than a second, to make the service even more personal. No i am not related, i am not a dimplomat, i am just a nobody like the millions out there. I have tried calling the phone system, and not gotten much info, a couple of times. But otherwise, i must say, i have never had a reason to complain. In fact, the officer, has always promised me, my wife or for my kid, same day service, when she has refused this for other people (basically for people with foriegn passports, i came to know later, that they need extra time to process those).

Just so you know. Ram came back, in about 10-15 minutes. So it didnt take him too long to find a place to make copies. And he went right up to the window, didnt have to take a new number (which is almost the case in most places), and she said his passport will be ready that evening. He couldnt come the same evening, so he will pick it up on Friday. So no, grudges held against him either. They see these kind of people day in and day out.

Like all servicemen and women, they do a thankless job. No one is happy or thankful when they do it right. But boy are people wild and mad, if these people ever screw-up.

Tags: india, embassy, staff, courtsey, indians

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