3. Visas, Staples, Glue and an Angel (29 July 2004)

The Assistant Police Commissioner

This is the person who HOLDS YOUR LIFE IN HIS HANDS when you first come to India.  All foreigners with visas permitting them to stay for more than 180 days must register, within 14 days of arrival, at the Police Commissioner’s Office, which is conveniently located in one of the busiest and most congested areas of central Bangalore.  The building itself is a beautiful architectural splendour.  The entrance is a long courtyard with a exotic trees and potted plants.  I was lulled me into a false sense of peace and calm.  This, until we entered the “single-window” office (which has 6 separate windows) where our first stop was before two kindly looking men whose job it is to ensure that everyone has the necessary documents for registration before going to the registration window (I will call them the triage guys).  Everything went downhill from there.

The false sense of peace and calm I had upon entering was shaken as the triage guys told us that we have the wrong visa type.  Not knowing what type of visa we actually had, or what type of visa we actually needed, this was a big surprise. 

When we received our visas in Oslo, we were thrilled, since it was not at all apparent that we would get them, and we had spent days showing them off to our friends and family in Norway because they are so beautiful…colourful and cheery.  Of course, it never occurred to us to check the visa type, since the visas were issued by the Embassy of India in Oslo which, we assumed, had some kind of link to India itself.

What we failed to realise was that the Indian visa was like the entrance to the Police Commissioner’s Office…behind it’s beauty lurked a maze of bureaucratic entanglement that even Kafka would not have understood.

For those of you dying of the suspense, we both were given visa type “B”s which are business visas.  The triage guys agreed that Hans Einar should have a visa type “E” which is an employment visa.  And my visa type should be “X” for multiple entry only (I didn’t think the triage guys would appreciate any humourful musings on having an x-rated visa so I remained silent).

The triage guys informed us that we would need to see the Assistant Police Commissioner (the APC) himself and we were duly ushered to the WAITING ROOM.  The WAITING ROOM is a scary place.  It was full of people…waiting.  The first thing I did was to look for a machine which would hand me a number (for example 79) which would be called after the person holding the number 78 had finished.  There was, of course, no such number machine.  Instead, our NCA colleague (I will call her our NCA angel) said a few words to the guy sitting outside the APCs office and we were asked to kindly be seated.  Within a few minutes, we were ushered into the APCs office…where the APC was still dealing with the person holding the imaginary number that preceded our imaginary number (I will call him Number 78).  Number 78 was being summarily dismissed with a wave to the APCs hand and told to come back on Monday.  Then it was our turn.

Our NCA angel explained our predicament to the APC.  He listened carefully, nodded his head in understanding, agreed with the triage guys that we had the wrong type of visa and said that he would need to see a copy of Hans Einar’s work contract in order to make a final decision on his visa.  There was no doubt that I should have an x-rated visa.

The next day, we drove back to the Police Commissioner’s office, still conveniently located in one of the busiest and most congested areas of central Bangalore.  We marched directly to the triage guys, without taking in the beauty of the entrance.  The triage guys seemed happy enough to see us and looked through Hans Einar’s work contract with appropriate seriousness.  They then told us that they would be able to issue us resident’s permits if the Embassy of India in Oslo sent the APC a fax correcting our visa type.  We were then asked to deliver the work contract to the APC who, when we showed up in the WAITING ROOM, was not there.  Our NCA angel found out that he was, in fact, not at work that day (this, on the day he had told Number 78 to return).  I bet Number 78 didn’t get past the triage guys…

Back at the office, we planned our next move.  The NCA office in Bangalore would phone the NCA office in Oslo, who would then contact the Embassy of India in Oslo and ask the person who issued our visas to send a fax to the Police Commissioner’s Office.  Seemed straightforward and I, at least, felt smug in our efficient planning and clear thinking.

At this juncture, I will introduce a word I seem to use often these days:  “oops”.  Oops, that I was smug in our efficient planning and clear thinking.  Oops, that I assumed it could all be taken care of quickly and with relatively little hassle.  Oops, we are in India.

It turns out that the guy who issued our visas at the Embassy of India in Oslo was happy to send a fax to the Police Commissioner in Bangalore…as long as the Police Commissioner in Bangalore sent him a fax requesting that he send a fax.  OOPS…

I will be a bit sketchy about the third visit to the Police Commissioner’s Office, since I had decided that the best thing I could do to be supportive to my husband was to not go with him.  I decided that my creative energies would be better utilised staying in our hotel playing online backgammon with my mother and sister.

What I learned about that third day at the Police Commissioner’s Office was that (1) the WAITING ROOM is accurately named and (2) we were invited back for a fourth visit at which my presence was requested.

Our fourth visit was a learning experience.  We learned that when an official form in India is marked “affix photo here” the affixing agent must be glue (no staples).  We learned that there is a glue store amazingly close to the Police Commissioner’s office.  We learned that when the APC makes a handwritten note on my registration application, the same handwritten note must also appear on Hans Einar’s application…and that this should be done in two separate trips to the APCs office.

Our fourth visit was semi-successful.  We both got registered.  We will both receive resident’s permits, but for 15 days only, during which time we have to get our visa types changed by the Embassy of India in Oslo.

I won’t go in to detail about how, when we finally made it to the registration window, the glue had seeped through two copies of the forms with my computer-printed photos affixed, removing the ink from the photos themselves and leaving a reverse impression of my face on the back side of the forms.  OOPS…

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