ICU..Indian consulate’s utopia


If one stays away from India and is home sick, they do not have to bother booking a ticket to fly back to India, a trip to the ICU will suffice. I narrate one such ( of many ) experience on a visit to the Indian consulate in Hong Kong at Admirality.On my first visit to the office I noted that the crowd that waits outside the office is larger than the crowd inside. The line invariably snakes out of the offices , spilling outside into the hallways where an aged Gurkha mightily tries to control the vociferous crowd. On peering inside the office , I notice much to my dismay that there are only two open counters among the five. There are people sitting behind the closed counters of course, chatting away , sipping tea, cracking jokes and appearing very much at home. There is one counter which states ” information” and no body there to provide it. We try to shine light on ourselves about the process by asking misinformed visa applicants all around us. It is a good idea to carry the i-pod or a book to kill time whilst standing in the line here. There is no preference for the elderly or the handicapped and they go through the ordeal with a strife.

The open counter has a seated clerk with a smug look and expression worthy of King Solomon laced with the attitude of a Government paan chewing chaprassi. This one has refined himself, chews gum instead and ponders over each form for not less than twenty minutes. With his holier than thou attitude he decides to stamp the paper with the royal insignia. I can bet you he could have used that seal at least fifteen minutes earlier. He does not, he remains in his little world and day dreams away. He is nonchalant about the ever-growing line and the hapless impatient visitors who want to visit India after watching the pretty adverts on CNN / BBC showcasing India as incredible. First hand incredibility awaits the potential tourist when he steps into such consulate offices. The officer sips a hot cup of tea, with every slurp, the dark tea trickles down the side and delicately splashes on the desk in front of him which is heaped in a pile of forms and a few stained, empty tea cups. Colorful passport photos looking grim, happy, content, sad, mad peep out hopelessly wishing not to get stained by the tea sipping, slurping officer. Nine out of ten times when the potential visitor to India gets a “darshan” of this chap, the chap will command and demand for more forms, more certificates, more attestations, more letters, more invitations. The occasional lucky visa applicant lets out a shriek for passing the rigid appraisal in the first round, remember you have to rejoin the line at the very back to meet this officer again. So victory is sweet, cherished and the moment rejoiced by those who do not have to rejoin the line!Try asking the officer a question and he will look at you as if you are the biggest nincompoop in town. Try pushing your luck further and he will obligate you with an answer that borders on rudeness and scorn and there is a possibility you could be shouted down on. Like a meek, bleating lamb to be sacrificed we lay our papers at the officers mercy. And as if this saga is not enough another visit is mandatory to the hallowed place to collect the visa or a passport or any other revered thing. Oh, the second open counter is the cash counter where a lady cashier sits like Shakunthala waiting for Dushyanth. Influence and contacts work well here too without a doubt. If you know anybody who works in the consulate distantly or relatively, the consulate is a wonderful, civilized, seamless, efficient world. The crowd moves back for you and you get your “darshan” in front of the officer who will stamp your papers in a few seconds. Better still, you may get an invite into the chambers to have tea with your contact and a little chit chat too. Diplomacy at it’s best.

I do not recall ever entering an Indian consulate or embassy without sweat breaking on my brow. I prepare myself for the worst and I have never fallen short of the pre determined expectations. I have visited the revered Indian consulates in a few countries and it has never been a pleasant experience. One gratifying fact  in Hong Kong is that the consulate is located at the central business district area which is ideal, unlike in Melbourne where it located in the seedy suburb of Coburg. The last time I visited the Melbourne consulate, I missed the dim sign board which was hiding behind some over grown branches from neighboring trees . I drove around in circles for sometime until a considerate lady pointed the way up to the heavens, to the the first floor. Bordering the consulate office are regular houses and small shops where children create a ruckus and clothes are dried out in the Melbourne sun. The shoddy choice of place as per one erstwhile employee is because the Melbourne office is a centre for collection services only and a “proper” embassy exists in Sydney. Do we have different pictorial representations for different consular services that represent one country? The qualifying point being, if it is a collection centre it is okay for the consulate office to be located in a fish market or even a “souk”.

Does the visa process have to be complicated ? Is there a basic need to show case ourselves on foreign shores in a more dignified way? News has it that it is about to get worse and many more hapless victims will succumb to the royal chaprassi. The new rule places restrictions on ten year multiple entry visas where the tourist has to leave the country every six months and can re – enter only two months later. Thanks to Headley. A terrorist will get into the country and he needs no visa, he can smuggle himself in like the way he did on the night of 26/11. Even if this restriction was made before Headley’s frequenting visits, he can still plot and plan by following the travel norms for tourists. Can he not? Surely Headley is financially well off to be a frequent visitor and he will have his own way of communicating with his brothers during the two months he is away . This rule is going to hamper genuine tourists, people of Indian origin living abroad, frequenting business crowd and the likes. Tharoor has done the right thing by panning it on twitter but Krishna and Tharoor need to look long and hard within the existing systems and probably visit a few consulates worldwide for a reality check about all other consular aspects too.When I called the Indian embassy hot line number for a visa enquiry , the phone rings out after going on a merry ring around. I try the emergency number, what do you expect? No answer. Every other consulate I have visited has been pleasant, even the Indonesian one. I am sure even Somalia’s consulate would be so. UK, US, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore etc smile with efficiency. These consulates have an online application system and you can book in an appointment ( based on a daily quota system )to meet the officer to submit documents. The officers are helpful, friendly and assist you in every possible way. The appointment system is efficient and the waiting time is minimum. A simple step goes a long way even if each country has it’s own peculiarities and norms regarding visa applications. We do not have biometric visas implemented fully and it is still in it’s initial phases. Neither is there security screening before entering the consulates in some places. Logic tells me these are important but I wish they get implemented only after some efficiencies are introduced in consulates with careful time management. I hope the Indian consulates stop living in this seemingly “utopian” state.

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11 Responses to “ICU..Indian consulate’s utopia”

  1. If this is how we project our country on foreign shores, then it astonishes me as to how we still manage to attract tourists. Now that Mr. Shashi Tharoor, a known reformer and former international hand is a key player in the External Affairs Ministry, I hope things would change for the better.

  2. It really is a great disgrace for us to witness our men work so inefficiently that indirectly affects the development of this State.These corrupt people do no good for their country rather pull off any reverence that may be living in the hearts of foreigners.

    If such condition persists,no doubt tourism,forex,in India would languish due to demeanor of some day dreamers……..

  3. Anand Khare Says:

    Hi Shamz,

    It is a common experience at Indian High Comission around the world. My brother at US says that whenever he misses India too much, he always visits Indian High Commission for some work and the feeling subsides.

    Although my experience is little different. I never had any problems at Indian consulates . But sometimes I get very much disturbed when I travel to European destinations and arrive at their Intl airport. Their questioning and frisking becomes excessive and too disturbing that too just because I hold an Indian passport. More so, when we see that they were very polite to white skinned fellow just ahead of you.

    Anyways..we need to tolerate all this. Your analogy of ‘Shankuntala waiting for Dushyanta’ would be remembered by me for long ime.

    Anand

    • Anand – Yes, the US consulates are a story of their own. I do agree that holding an Indian passport becomes a reason too for further scrutiny at the EU, which is regrettable.

  4. Hi Sharmila,

    I am also a HK resident. Although, I do not hold an Indian passport,I have been to the Consulate few times to apply for a visa. I completely agree with you.Whatever you have written is a perfect clear picture.I do feel embarassed in front of foreigners lining up in front and behind me. I wish they were more civilised.
    I love your analogies.I had a good laugh.
    By the way,you write very well.
    Take care
    Jyoti

  5. Bingo! A very crystal clear picture has been portrayed here of Darn Indian Bureaucracy ! To hope for a better attitude from such shameless owlish defunct bureaucrat who has been thriving on taxpayers monies with 100% No Layoff guarantee for 0% efficiency Gov. policy. where by it should have been other way around to make things work.
    its a shame and more shameful is that nobody in Gov. or official lever care about it. they impose this way on ppl that this is how things work Take it or Leave it.
    BTW its a good idea to visit just consulate in case one misses India ! haha…… that saves lot of time,energy,money & disappointments instead. Visiting India is not really Fun. noway near Fun shall i say ! The moment you arrive Bombay Airport Q arise in your mind that where have i come? why did i come here and for what?? and that regret remains through out your trip rather it piles up so heavily on your mind & soul that it refrain you planning any further visit to India in future.Shall i salute frequent flyers to India !?? may be…..! may be not ! may be i shall bow down ! lol…

    • MonaLisa – Sometimes the bureaucracy that greets you at the airports do indeed act as a deterrent, but India is home and we forgive and forget. Sadly, this remains probably the only reason why improvements are never made. I guess the Govt is aware that no matter how they treat us, we will run back home. The heart is in India and nothing can change that but it is used against us as you rightly point out.

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