Thursday, 29 September 2011

FRRO YOU!

The  time has come for me to reach far into the depths of my inner

sanctum and try to pull out the strength I need to make that trip

to the hell hole we all know as the FRRO.

Just the thought of entering those doors, ascending those stairs

and waiting behind those ropes until the clock strikes nine fills me

with a primal fear. 

 The sign on the wall says: “Do not stand beneath the ceiling” and

I know that once again I am about to enter the Graham Green-

esque world, the parallel universe that is the Foreigners

Registration Office with its surreal twists and turns. Even the extra

‘R’ in FRRO is there to confuse and torment me. I can’t even say

FRRO without sounding like a pathetic, stuttering dog.

The trick is to stay calm despite the nest of vipers squirming in the
pit of my stomach. I have in my hands umpteen copies of umpteen
documents but I know this will not be enough. Past experience has
taught me that if I have ten copies of a document, they will
require 11. Past experience has taught me that after a patient 15
minute wait to use the Xerox machine, someone will announce
the machine is broken: “Come back in some time.”
The dilemma is;  do I wait in the hope that the machine will
magically start up again,  just as magically as it broke down, or do I
go into the street and wait in a long line for use of another Xerox
machine – all the while painfully aware that the clock is ticking
and they will soon close for their two hour lunch meaning I will
have to return the next day and possibly the next and the next...

The very first time I darkened the doors of this ramshackle hell
hole I was an ignorant fool. I thought we’d just waltz in with our
British passports, get them stamped and then mooch off to Colaba
for a lovely lunch.  

No, that first time I had to be helped down the stairs by a
bemused European backpacker (whose handkerchief I still have)
as I cried “but I don’t understand” to the porcine official in the
regulation navy sari who made me wait for four hours before
telling me I had the wrong documents, without giving away what
documents I would need.

The next time I went, I took the kids as instructed and they sat in
their uniforms, again for four hours, before I was told I didn’t
actually need to bring them. You can bet your bottom dollar that
if I hadn’t brought them, they would have insisted on habeas
corpus.   On that particular occasion I broke the mouse on the
computer in frustration and stood up and screamed like the
Edvard Munch character as I failed, repeatedly, to register us

online.  A Japanese lady put her hands over her ears and began to

rock back and forth. Grown men wept. We were like the wretched

souls of Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. In hell!

That afternoon I was informed that I would have to come back the
next day with rupees converted from however many dollars it was
for our visas. That night, I took the conversion rate from the Bank
of India website and withdrew the exact amount in rupees. The
next day I stood in line with my rupees in a dirty, brown envelope

and when I handed them over, was told I was 500 rupees short.
“Whaatttt!!!”
I  Googled the rate and shoved the iphone under her nose.  
“We use the Thomas Cook rate,” she said.
“Arrrrggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, but it’s the Bank of India!”
“Either give me the correct money or stand aside.”
“Arrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”
So that was the last straw. I handed over the extra money and fell
back into the plastic sofa, defeated, a shadow of my former self.

All anybody wants to do is to get into the chamber beyond the
ante-chamber because then there is hope. The queuing system,
which, on the face of it, looks as easy as taking a ticket in a Clarkes
shoe shop, is actually based on chaos theory and is impossible to
fathom. People just shuffle silently towards the door, pointing
their toe forward a little if it looks like someone else is going to
push in.

It was not until the third or fourth visit that we began to notice
that some people had agents. The people who appeared calm,
those who were not crying, had representation. I marched up to
one of them and demanded his card and since then, dear reader,
the experience has become a little less fraught.
We now go along with the agent, feeling like children in the
presence of an appropriate adult. We pay him an absolute fortune

and he does the necessary while I sit in a chair  like the Jack

Nicholson character in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” after

he’s had the lobotomy. Silent and defeated.

I am tempted to go in this time wearing my Anna Hazare T-shirt

and white topi but I don’t want to make it harder for myself.  Let’s

just hope the ceiling doesn’t come down on the lot of them!

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