The Indian government remains the Indian government, no matter which part of the world you approach it from.
The pages in my Indian passport, which is no where close to expiry, are over. The website of the High Commission of India in the UK says I must apply for a new passport.
So far so good.
But the form to fill gives me only three options to apply for a passport: if I am applying for the first time, if my passport has expired, or if I am applying for a duplicate passport. I fall into none of the categories.
So I look up the website for helpline numbers. There is a general enquiry number, a passport enquiries number, and impressively, an after-hours number. All carry the country code to India and turn out to be invalid. I figure that they must have by mistake skype addressed the numbers to India, when they meant to do it to the UK. So I call the general enquiry number using the UK country code. The pre recorded voice informs me that I have definitely reached the HCI but no one actually bothers to pick up the phone number on the first two tries. On my third try, someone picks up the phone and bangs it down loudly. I get the message.
So I try the passport enquiry number. Only to be told by a pre recorded message that I should look up the website for details. There is no "talk to a human being" option available on the inquiry line. So why is it an inquiry line at all?
In desperation, I call the after-hours number. There isn't even a pre recorded message this time confirming whether I've reached the HCI or outer Mongolia. The number rings four times and then I am told that as no one's picking up the number and no voice mail service is available, good luck and good night!
I am left with no option but to do just fill the form to the best of my knowledge, and then keep my fingers crossed when I jostle my way through the HCI tomorrow.
When I was at the High Commission of India office in London earlier, I met a girl who had been living in the UK with her Scottish husband for the last nine years. In a year, she would be eligible for a UK passport. In the meantime, her Indian passport had expired. But it had taken her three months to bother to apply for a new passport. "Who will deal with all this?", she had remarked distastefully looking around at the noisy, overcrowded HCI office at Aldwych. As a recent migrant to the UK, I had immediately felt defensive of India and its miseries, and had thought - Geez, what a snob?
But now, as I feel frustration mount up in me, I can almost sympathise with her. Really, who wants to deal with the HCI. Not me!