Atanu Dey On India's Development

A Letter from America

Hi from the Big Apple. Brilliant day outside with snow from yesterday’s blizzard blanketing the city. I am visiting with my friend Reuben who lives on 116th and Broadway (Columbia U.)

I have been wandering around the world for the past couple of weeks. Which partly explains why I have been neglecting this blog. Then there is the acute case of writer’s block that I am suffering from. It is with some trepidation that I am pushing against that block. So here goes nothing.

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My journey began on the 16th of February when I left Mumbai for New Delhi. After a bunch of notable meetings, I headed south to Nagpur, my home town. A few days there and then I went to Bangalore. It had been donkey’s years since I had last been there. Things had changed. It was the center of India’s information technology storm. The city appeared to have hit puberty and grown big overnight and was too big for its boots. I had been warned about the vehicular exhaust pollution but it was still a shock to be actually immersed in it in the city center. In any event, I had a bunch of good meetings and visited with my friends. I arrived back in Mumbai on the evening of the 28th.

This one is turning out to be a real web log: an account of where I have been. Boring stuff but I think this will get me out of the fear of writing.

Anyway, the next day, March 1st, I had a bit of bureaucracy to take care of. I had overstayed my 180-day visitor’s visa by a few days and it appeared that I will not be allowed to leave India without having my visa extended. So off I went to the Foreigner Registration section at the Mumbai Police Commissioner’s office. It took about 3 hours to pay a penalty of $30 and get a piece of paper that extended by visa by a few days.

It had been a long time since my last encounter with the Indian government bureaucracy. I had to fill in a few forms, wait for a long time to meet with the appropriate official and witness first-hand antiquated processes which appeared to serve no apparent purpose other than to employ people and fill numerous registers with handwritten notes. The main official I met was courteous and helpful. Why had I overstayed? Circumstances I could not avoid, I replied. He filled in a few forms, walked over to various parts of the office where he pulled out other various registers and wrote in them. Then he went to another part of the office and brought with him a rubber stamp and stamped one of the registers. Went back to put away the rubber stamp and then moved the register to another part of the office.

After about 15 minutes of this, he finally declared that I will have to pay a penalty of $30. I reached for my wallet. No, he said. I had to go to another section and pay the fine and then I have to bring him back a receipt and we will continue with the process. So off I went and waited for about 20 minutes at the other section. When my turn came, the man filled in three different registers with the same details that had already been entered several times in various registers earlier: name, date of birth, father’s name, passport number, etc. In each case he would carefully pick up carbon papers, carefully insert them in to the registers, then enter things in triplicate. Another 15 minutes and I was all done with paying my fine and getting a receipt. Back to the other guy. He now gave me a piece of paper which extended my stay till March 2nd. And then he got up and went to another part of his office, found a rubber stamp, and stamped my passport with it. I was about to thank him profusely when he said, “Please collect your passport after 6 PM.”

He explained that they only take in the cases between 10 AM and 2 PM, and after processing, returned the passport in the evening. Could I please have my case expedited? Well, since you are leaving in less than a day, perhaps an exception could be made, he said. He handed me the passport and I left.

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Information technology tools are great for handling information. Computers are useful things for pretty much any application which deal with information processing, storage, and retrieval. At that Foreign Registration office, I am sure that a bit of IT hardware and software would not be out of place. But it would of little utility unless the processes that run in that office are rationalized. The need for rational processes is greater than the need for hardware. Buying hardware is easy; rationalizing processes is hard.

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Later that night (early morning of 2nd March, actually), I took an Air France flight from Mumbai to New York’s JFK via Paris. Same awful Air France food. Why do they serve icy-cold hard rolls with the food? In any event, I met my friend Courtenay in Paris during my 5 hour layover and had lunch with her. It was snowing and cold in Paris, the coldest March they have had in 30 years.

OK, writer’s block cleared. I guess from now on, I will be writing regularly. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

  • Navin

    Hi Atanu,

    Yes, weather has been awful here in Europe oflate. In London where I live now, I have never seen snow / blizzards in mid march before.

    Good that you had a safe trip and back to best with blogging.

    This too is to ward off the writer’s itch :-)

    Cheers
    Navin

  • Venkat Ramanan

    Good to read your blog after a small interval! I came in daily and saw the same heading (The Space Cadet Fixation) and reminded myself that you were travelling. Whatever it may be, please chase away writer’s block. :) . Have great days ahead!
    -Venkat

  • http://www.timworstall.com Tim Worstall

    Sounds like the bureaucracy is just as bad as all the stories say. Then again, my adventures with hte American INS are not much better. I once asked for a 30 day extention to stay in the US, posted in all the forms and the cheque. The response came 180 days later, stating no. I’d been in and out of the country three times by then, making the extention itself moot.

  • Rick

    Your description of form filling in these Governemnt offices makes it much more clear that no bjective is being achieved – retrieval of any information from these multiple registers is near impossible task! Only objective achieved is that so many people get employment!