Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'Oh These Indians, I Tell You!'

Yesterday, I spent the whole day in London - at the Indian High Commission to be precise...

The Job: Getting a notarised copy of a Power of Attorney Document.

The Intent:  Dilution of autonomy over my financial affairs so that my parents can make my life more easier than what they have already made by also taking over my financial mess and straightening it for me in my absence...

Getting a two minute job done just took an entire day...and thats thanks to a very sluggish bureaucratic procedure and a massive congregation of Indians - making the India House's Consular Affairs office look like a Kumbh mela pandhal.

By the time my train arrived at London Victoria and I tunnelled my way through to Covent Garden by the tube, the clock had struck 10.30...And then, there I was, in Central London, a little lost child with my heavy backpack ( my backpack even when not packed is heavy and does a credible job of making me look like I have the burden of the world on my shoulders)- trying to figure out where exactly I was standing (in general) and the way to India House(in particular)...Google Maps had given me precise directions, including the minutes that it should take me from the station - when I was still not where I should be at the said time, I decided to ask for directions...After all, if I could read a map, I'd have some sense of direction to where my life was headed!!!

That's where I stumbled on 

Revelation 1: It does not matter how long you have lived in London, ask anyone on the street who looks self-assured and you can see the rapid change in him into a confused, blubbering soul - who first attempts to make the GPS on his mobile phone work to help him locate himself, then fishes out his London map from the leather attache and when all fails, looks at you blankly and says, Well..this is Aldwych..the India House must be somewhere nearby....

Well, thanks buster, I thought to myself, as I scrambled like the White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, worried about making it to the High Commission in time to get my dirty deed notarised...

Revelation 2: Just because you are in London, don't expect the Indian embassy to look regal and royal, like how you tend to glamorise India when not there...The location is 'very tony' like the Brits call it, and it's bang behind the stately and palatial Australia House- where you can see a lot of comfortble sofas and cozy cushions through the tall glass windows - the India House is all stone too, with different enclosures for 'Private Visitors', a 'Main Entrane' and the entry to the 'Cattle Shed' as I will henceforth call the Office for Consular Affairs, PIO and other similar abbreviations...but that's where the difference between the Western World and Third World kicks in...

Revelation 3: A cattle shed is what a cattle shed does...The lines for a token to enter the hallowed cattledom was five men deep and nearly a kilometre long, just that it was organised to look like a wriggly serpent...Near one of the outer windows, by which the queue snaked, you notice copious amounts of plastic waste - supermarket bags, discarded foil wraps of potato chips, sandwich bags- and even tabloids...truly Indian, isnt it - especially when there was a pristine looking trash can, barely used just about 50 steps away....

Revelation 4: No two Indians can stand next to each other without one thinking that the other is trying to get a better deal out of a rotten situation - so there is fierce distrust of anyone's motive to chat the other up..

Revelation 5: Never trust an Indian to follow the rules of the queue, not try to coax someone two rounds ahead of him to pick up a token for him too...and brazenly cut across all the stupid cattle assembled there and make a beeline for the token counter as if his Dad set India House up...

Revelation 6: 4 and 5 are self-explanatory, 6 is where the Gujjus decide to make snide comments about the Punju couple standing ahead of them and the Sardars deciding to share some jokes across two rounds to someone they just nodded a greeting too...In effect, utter pandemonium in about 10 languages and already small camps emerging within a group waiting for a small piece of chit that tells them they are the 85th person to want similar service on the same day..

Revelation 7: The UK-born Indian will treat the entire experience of standing in a queue waiting for his turn to be a fate worse than being sentenced to life term in Guantanamo Bay and will proceed to make a nuisance of himself by talking in his 'Oh-so-unbearable Northern (read York and beyond) Twat' accent to his buddy- who's making him 'jealous' by bragging about his second beer by noon...

Revelation 8: The woman at the token counter couldn't care two hoots if you missed the 12 oclock deadline by 1/10th of a second, she will still look at you sourly as if you were the fishbone the cat dropped on her priced carpet...and fling a badly torn and printed token at you and expect you to whimper with gratitude

Revelation 9: At no point of time, will anyone tell you what is expected to be done. It's a Blind Man's Bluff...You can wait in the queue for 3 hours before you get to the end where you speak to some low minion of the Ministry who thinks he's the Ambassador's Private the way he also takes particular sadistic thrill in rubbing your nose in something you overlooked...and double pleasure in making you run two blocks to get one photocopied document..

Revelation 10: No place in India or abroad, with Indians in the vicinity can be a disciplined, smoothly functioning place....There will be loud shouts, fierce arguments and rude shove and jolts as people move towards their token call...If you are polite, you are considered 'retarded'.

Final Revelation 11: The India House was exactly two building away from where the London Dork sent me on a wild goose chase for the only mistake I committed - ask him for directions!!!!

Needless to say, my experience at the Indian High Commission was less than Sterling!! And I so empathised with the British woman in the line behind me who had 'ambitions to help her company do business in India'. She didn't know that it would require three visits to the High Commission, and all she prayed as she waited to collect her signed documents, after spending a whole day to get it signed was that she didn't ever have to return...

The magical Indian experience, tasted abroad is just as sweet!!!


  1. We smirk at outsiders when they pass comments on India, its lack of discipline and the utter chaos. But I guess, they say it as they see it! I wonder why our country and its ppl find this secret pleasure in doing their bit to make life miserable. Getting it easy is not something the Indians are privileged to...We stand in queues to cast our votes and we remain just there (in queues) to get the many services from those we voted into power. Sigh...

  2. Thank you, Deepthy, for describing the reasons why, despite the worst efforts by our IMF and World Bank chamchas, Manmohan Singh & Co., there are few chances that Indians can improve.

    I am happy that you have seen through the facade of progress that Indians abroad try to project. My three years during 1990-93 taught me more or less what you are saying 20 years later: "No two Indians (anywhere in the world) can stand next to each other without one thinking that the other is trying to get a better deal out of a rotten situation -- so there is fierce distrust of anyone's motive to chat the other up ..."

    Just this revelation is worth it. Thank you, Deepthy. Now, will the other chamcha in MEA, Tharoor, tweet about this cattle-shed in his own backyard?

    Peace and love,
    - Joe.

  3. एक निवेदन...

    कृपया विचारों के आदान-प्रदान में सहयोग बनाए रखें...

    आपके लेख हमारे लिए महत्वपूर्ण हैं....

    कृपया अपने लेख हमें पर भेजें...

    हम आपके आभारी रहेंगे.....


  4. Hmm must say i got my passport renewed, permanent address changed,and name spelling corrected, in total 30 min. spread over 5 days. as in i went and submitted stuff on a Monday and got everything done by Friday - each time spending no more than 30 mins at the embassy...but then that is Singapore efficiency for you.

  5. It's interesting you know, and as you've said before, some of our blog posts and our recalled experiences tend to mirror each others.

    I think I went to India House once, many years ago, and that was enough for me. Thereafter I employed an agency to do my work for me - and if you drop me a line I'll give you their details. Everything you say is how I recall it but even so, the mess that is India House on the Strand is nothing compared to the hoops that we non-Indians have to go through when we have to register as a foreigner in India. I don't think that Indians coming to Britain have to register do they? In India though, if you are on an employment visa, or if you come from certain hotspots like Pakistan, you have to register at the Foreigners' Registration Office.

    I've blogged about this myself so I won't waste your space here now. However, it's a messy and always dreaded experience as far as I'm concerned. I've got it down to to three visits now but it's never pleasant, albeit the system has improved slightly since I first arrived in India.

    Look on the bright side, anyway. It's given you good subject matter for your blog.

  6. @ sree: I think we tend to think with our hearts and less with our heads, coz if we were to calculate the time lost to chaos and fights over the little sneaky ways to save time, we would in fact be spending less time in queues than otherwise...Its the unnecessary stoppages in smooth flow of people that cause frustration more than the queues itself...

    @Joe: I'm never one to talk British in UK and cuss the Indians, but seriously, I just realised how much more easier it is to be well-mannered and courteous and just believe in human goodness...:)

  7. @magiceye: Welcome to my blog and must say, I loved the photographs of Mumbai on yours. Shall keep coming back for more lovely pictures.

  8. @gyanban: Welcome to my blog and I agree with you that the discipline in everything that you see happening in Singapore kind of makes you wonder how you make naturally shabby Asians - especially the Indians behave so well...

    @Paul: I was also thinking to myself as I stewed in the queue for over 3 hours about how I have enough tales for atleast a couple of blog posts..:)

  9. a great post as usual...I miss the other skin but it did take ages to load...nice one this.
    What ever our faults...loud, indisciplined, unable to stand queues...still we are a mixed bag of surprises...never a boring moment!

  10. I remember having read about a parallel human race in the newspapers today. There have been speculations about a Hobbit-like race too (with brains the size of grapes). And if the darned anthropologists took the Indians a bit more seriously, they'd be none the poorer by establishing the evolution of yet another hominid branch, Homo-shameless-treacherestous. Time, they took note.

  11. nalini: thanks a ton, i also found the other skin very lovely but really painful to load and add links and other widgets to. I have started putting some old links in the pages, whenever you get time do browse through. I'd love to hear what you think of my old posts..:)

    Pandeyji: ( that reference is with utmost reverence and not tongue in cheek at all!) I love the anthropological twist...i might use it sometime, and i promise to lay the due credit at your doorstep...:)

  12. Loved Revelation 5, I guess Indians can never understand the need to follow the rules of the queue and revelation 8 too, late to office and early to leave makes an Indian office perfectly functioning...

  13. OMG...I was going to write up a post on this very topic. A friend of mine was there and has narrated the same things you have written about. I think you guys were there on the same day.

    Loved your post.How long have you been in the UK? I am based in Lancaster.Thanks for dropping in at my blog :)

  14. Hey Lazy Pineapple, nice to see your comment here..I have been in the UK for over six months now...Am in Beachy Brighton...:) Quirky British make for great posts, but no one can beat the cantankerous Indians..I miss home and then count my blessings here the ebb and flow of tide..:)

  15. Your post rings very true and the events described occur all the time.

    #9 is classic bureaucracy.

    Loved your post. Keep writing!

  16. Thanks Giri, Keep reading...:)

  17. I love the picture of the telephones.kool. Very well written.. Keep it up !! :)

  18. Ahh yes....the magical Indian experience. Truth be told, we Indians carry about our attitudes no matter where we go. Not exactly proud of the way we represent ourselves abroad. Been with my "compatriots" in Russia for six years, and I succeed in making more non desi friends than desi ones.
    Ur blog is real cool btw.......will be back for more of ur write ups!!!

  19. Nice post and so true. My experience at the Indian embassy in the US was similar. I also was pushed by a 'gentleman' waiting for his turn...I was first in the line and he was second.

  20. Thanks Vyazz and Anonymous. I now have enough complaints against 'videshi' Indians to write a sequel to this...:)