Usually once you get your passport the biggest obstacle in one’s journey in the world is tackled. Or so we were given to believe. Till this bloody May, specifically the first week, I’d NO clue that my valid passport would give me quite bit of headache & problems. I received my dear friend Makeni’s letter inviting me over to Paris -tomeet her parents, spend time with the family & travel around France, like she had done in India way back in 2008. When she lived with my family & we travelled around… there began my problems.
While applying for the French visa the 1st rule disqualified me, right on the spot! Anyone with a passport having over 10 years validity is ineligible…is NOT permitted to apply. This was the FIRST time I ever encountered something so bizarre. That I had a valid, legal 20-years passport DISQUALIFIED me from getting a valid Schengen visa.
So there went my French dreams in one stroke. My 1st reaction was what the hell, what kind of a country am I born in? French have made these strict rules after the varied experiences they’ve faced. So have other western countries. The Visa page states lot many more rules, including getting the invitation letter attested from the mayor’s office in Paris.
Now my dear friend in Paris when she first came in 2008, she just asked me over the net, email whether her dates are suitable & will I host her. I said yes. That’s about it. She easily got a visa to travel to India. Not like the way we tourists are treated.
I still had 8 valid years on the old passport. It meant I had to return my old passport, apply for a new one & go through the whole rigmarole of applying for a new one, stand in queue, etc. I was definitely NOT prepared for it. But by not returning I’d be deprived of visiting Europe & we are not getting any younger. Hence I took the BIG step of going ahead for getting a new passport. My issue is in this country of billions, ONLY approximately 1 lakh passport holders with 20 years validity would be there. So the Govt of India could’ve sent public ads, notices, called us to return our passports, in a time-frame of 1 month & re-validate it for us. That’s how most foreign nations behave/make policies. NOT India, learn it all along…self-help it is!
I must say the process is lot more easy. Though one must ensure that the net speed & modem is fine. Once all well, go to the ministry of external affairs website & get onto the page for applying for a passport. Either new, re-issuing, etc. Now in that too there are a few glitches for the 20 year passport holders like me. They asked me for my reasons for re-issuing. And I had to enter – others & I specified my validity is 20 years. The developers of this software are TCS. The Govt of India has out-sourced the technical work to TCS.
The regional passport office has opened many new centres – 2 in suburbs, 1- BKC & 1 new one in Kamla Mills. It is state-of-the-art. It makes you feel proud of your country. All air-conditioned, well timed. Process is fast & within 45 minutes you are out with the final receipt telling you within exactly how many days you will get your passport.
There are restrooms, canteen, xerox machine. But we are just too over-populated. And Indian parents that have absolutely no manners. They permit their children to bang on the glass doors, yank the plants kept, parents who think asking their kids to NOT cry, shut up is being over-domineering. Else the process is all electronic & fine. The TCS staff is cool, young, learning & yet nice. We no longer need to carry photographs, they are taken there itself. Your whole application is shown, a run-through is done so that any last minute glitches can be tackled. A single token number that sees you till the end.
Once the information is finalised, all documents uploaded, your photo is taken. And finally your signature. Now for someone with such a long surname like ‘Kolhatkar’ it took me few times to cramp it in a tiny box. It was very irritating because I like free, uninhibited style of signing & here I had to write in a style which I can’t recognise anymore.
What a cut off from the first experience of getting a renewal or passport. My first passport was made way back in 1990, when I earned my official salary. My cousin had quietly told my mother that as I’d hand over my salary, to set aside money for my passport. He would then ensure to get it for me.
Now imagine I was a journalist, later took a break to pursue Masters in Social Work, worked as a media advocacy specialist & went into broadcast when satellite channels first came to India…so obviously was always paid poorly. Hence the question of going ‘abroad’ was never on top of my mind. In fact every single person from batch had gone abroad to study, many settled or simply married & migrated. I am too lazy to pin everything on 1 person, job or issue… So for the first 10 years I came a whisker close to going abroad but it didn’t materialise for whatever reasons. And it was time for renewal. Again there was NO question of NON-renewal, my cousin had sealed my fate. After the first renewal I have travelled…but sadly, it’s an Indian passport. Hence getting visa is never going to be easy…so although I’ve got a new passport, believe me getting Schengen visa is still a long way…