Dear Mr Shashi Tharoor,
As the Minister of State of External Affairs of India, I really appreciate the way you try so hard to stay in touch with your constituency via twitter. In the last two days, you have kept a tireless hourly reporting schedule from Bogota of your activities and all the wise thoughts to cross your mind.
On Monday, the moment you got off at the Bogota airport, you immediately informed us that your bags had arrived and a jetlag was looming over you (2:46pm); but keeping that wretched jetlag at bay, at 5:18pm you directed us to a media report on your tricky diplomatic successes at Barcelona, which you had just left behind; at 5:26pm, you retweeted a tweet about India’s blind, urging people to donate their eyes; four minutes later, you retweeted a message giving your respects to Martin Luther King; we had to wait only another six minutes before you popped up again to pay your respects to Jyoti Basu; two minutes later you reiterated your pain at his sad demise (just in case anyone was in doubts about your emotions); the next two tweets were dedicated to Haiti; and you ended your day retweeting congratulations sent you by two of your grateful and ardent supporters on your achievements in Barcelona.
The next day again, you kept us informed about your thoughts on organ donations, Indian cricket greats, you successful meetings and other achievements in Bogota, Indian investment opportunities in Columbia, Bogota’s beauty and the lack of Indian tourists there, and Kerala’s backwater houseboats through tweets and retweets.
Now if only that the High Commissions of India around the world, which are under your direct jurisdiction, shared your enthusiasm to tirelessly serve us Indians to the best of their capabilities.
All I wanted to do was get more pages for my passport. The website of HCI in London, unlike your tweeting self, didn’t believe in details so had no information for people whose passport pages had run out. The telephone helpline for passport inquiries didn’t follow your ethos of remaining in touch with the Indian base either, because instead of reaching a human being I met at automated voice that directed me back to the unhelpful website. There was a general inquiry number listed on the website – both for office and after hours – but no one cared to pick up that phone line.
Feeling helpless, I took a chance and filled up the passport renewal form and arrived at the HCI. After standing in line for hours, I was informed at the counter that I needed photocopies of my husband’s passport, of our marriage certificate, and proof of change of address as well. My protests that these requirements were not mentioned on the website were met with careless shrugs.
On my second visit, I was pushed off to a counter that handles people without token numbers. After 20 minutes of being crushed by men from all sides who didn’t believe in queuing or giving women the right of way, I decided that my 5’2” self I didn’t stand a chance of reaching the main counter and called it quits.
On my third visit, I finally managed to reach the counter armed with all documents – but the lady at the counter who believed in service with a snort still managed to find a reason to shout at me and throw my papers and money carelessly on the counter before grudgingly accepting my application.
What worried me was that as a well educated, English-speaking Indian who is aware of her rights, I was getting HCI’s crème de la crème treatment. There were others, old men and women who could only speak Hindi or Punjabi and didn’t understand electronic forms and tricky paperwork, who were being carelessly and rudely shovelled from one counter to the other by your representatives at the HCI.
Why is it Mr Tharoor, that while you are busy putting India on the world map and giving yourself up to the service of your Indian constituency, your ministry’s footmen are busy making Indians feel helpless, angry, frustrated and keen to give up their Indian passports?
So while you are in Bogota today, I would suggest taking a break from your tweeting schedule and visit the HCI there to see whether it has the manners, infrastructure and the willingness to serve and help the Indian tourists that you wish to see more of in the country. Your ardent tweeting followers, including me, will with live with the loss for a day or two, I am sure.