I am sure many of you have watched the movie – “ Pati, Patni aur Woh” ! Literally translated it means husband, wife and “the other” ( could be man or woman I guess). Now imagine a situation where the “ Woh” gets a status upgrade to “Patni”. How would you describe her feelings? Elated, thrilled, relieved?
As the person to whom this happened, I would it was all of this plus a feeling of amusement because the “upgrade” came a week before our seventeenth marriage anniversary! Ahh! For those of you who are thinking “ No wonder she wrote a post titled Three is a crowd” let me prick your bubble! The reason was a bureaucratic error that we did not realize had happened until about a year ago. It is a very interesting story and can rival a middling TV serial in terms of the originality of plot!
The main protagonist of this interesting story is the Ministry of External Affairs. I will not call them the villain because that would be trivializing their contribution to the plot. Mr. Salman Khurshid’s ministry is the central actor with the requisite shades of grey. My Pati Dev ( husband) is .....ummm... the comedian? An absent minded(hassled) guy who has more important matters to think about in this world than verifying whether the name entered in the column “Spouse” is that of his father’s or his wife’s !
Now let us use the flashback mode of Indian films and travel back in time to 2003. Mr. Absent Minded Prof (henceforth to be referred to as AMP) was going about his work in his routine manner until he was asked by his boss one day to get ready to go abroad for an important meeting. A typical Taurean who dislikes any kind of sudden changes to his schedule, he was thrown off balance by this request. Matters became worse when he discovered that his passport was to expire about a month later. And you know how very helpful our fellow Indians can be? They frightened him with stories about being denied a visa on a passport that was near expiry. Meanwhile things got a little more complicated when his mother fell down and had to rushed to the hospital for an emergency hip replacement surgery. So here was our AMP rushing between office, home and hospital. He also realized that now he did not have the complete time or attention of his very own “personal secretary” (aka WIFE) to help him with the passport issue. So he decided to delegate the job of passport renewal to a travel agent. The deed was done and the visit completed. Life came back to normal with occasional shake ups as more foreign trips flung themselves unannounced on poor Mr. AMP.
Then in 2012 I decided to renew my passport and also apply for my daughter’s. As part of the procedure I took both mine and AMP’s with me to the Regional Passport Office. It was only when I submitted the documents that it was pointed out to me that may be I was not the wife. “What”!! I asked (exclaimed) the counter clerk. She showed me the name listed against the column “Spouse”. I tried to explain that this was an error-a man cannot marry his own father ! But then representatives of the MoEA are rather lacking in imagination and so all I could do was submit my own application and take the other passport away to demand of Mr. AMP how did this “incestuous” situation come about! The poor guy as you can imagine was flabbergasted! He almost started behaving as if I was accusing him of being a bigamist!
We then started working on getting the problem “fixed”. The web site of the MoEA is rather unclear about such matters ( told you they lack in imagination!). We went from pillar to post and meanwhile this “offending” passport which had delegated me to the “Woh” status expired. Now that was in a way a relief because we could now apply for a fresh passport providing all the details required to establish the fact that I was the “WIFE” !
After a lot of effort we got an interview date ( I did not realize that one had to be glued to the computer screen with finger on the mouse at a particular time of the day). It took more time to explain to Mr. AMP that unfortunately the interview date could not be at our choosing – we had to take the first date and time that the system offered. So, grumbling a lot he agreed to take the afternoon off and go for the interview while I left for Coimbatore on official work!
Well, the man was given all details of the documents that he had to take. But did he remember them? He did, except that he forgot one important document – MY PASSPORT! So he could not go beyond the A counter ( or was that the Z counter?). The person scrutinizing the documents apparently felt that the marriage certificate was not enough to prove I was the wife. He wanted to be sure that we resided at the same location!
The next time I decided to take no chances. Fortunately for us we were able to get an interview date the very next week. We decided to consult with a friend who had recently renewed his passport as also that of his wife’s and son’s. We were sure that he was the right person to consult given his unique status as a man who was married earlier and has two children through his previous marriage and one through his current one. He is also older ,closer to AMP in age and given his life experiences can deal with him with more patience. He told us to go prepared with some additional documents – a recent photograph in which we were both there together and also be ready to get an affidavit from a notary if required.
As we got the documents together, I added for good measure, our wedding invitation and my father-in-law’s death certificate ( last being a master stroke)! This time AMP took the whole day off and I accompanied him for moral support. Unfortunately, the guard at the entrance of the Passport Seva Kendra did not recognize the need for me to be with him. So I was left standing outside texting my beloved every ten minutes until he texted back “ DON’T TEXT me! It is distracting. I will TEXT you “ ! So there I was gazing at my phone for a while until I decided that I would have to either go home or do something to occupy myself there. The going home option did not seem right because remember I had those wedding photos, wedding invites etc which might be required at short notice? I had also located a Notary’s office nearby and I knew if required I might have to get an affidavit done and send it across to AMP inside. I sat there on somebody’s compound wall watching all the people getting in and out of the Passport Seva Kendra. Ladies with newly delivered babies ( I should have got my baby a passport along with her birth certificate!), old couples, burqa clad lovelies and political types…! I also started a conversation with a couple of others who were similarly waiting. Unfortunately they were all men and so I could not ask them to accompany me to the coffee shop across the road! Soon, I found that I was like the “boy on the burning deck” as two hours passed, then three ! Three and a half hours later I got a text that said- “Photo taken and fee paid”. I was now getting ready to go but did he come out? NO! The wives of my three male companions sailed out one by one. The last one had gone one hour after my Patidev. She told me that if he did not come back in another fifteen minutes we would have to come the next day! I was just planning to scroll on to the passport.gov on my phone to verify what she was saying, when I saw him coming down the steps looking harassed and every bit the AMP! “ What “ ? I asked. “Over” he replied. Looking at the receipt I realized that Dad’s death certificate, our marriage certificate and my passport were the only documents that was required to prove who I was! He did not have to pay any penalty fee either ( “ There was a nice Asst passport officer –a Malayalee lady who waived it for me” he said with a grin)
A week later, we received a call from a policeman who wanted to come for “verification”. I wondered what he wanted to verify –whether it was the address or my residence there as the wife! Whatever, before I could change out of my uniform of frayed track pants and T shirt, our friend from the home ministry had arrived. As a matter of common courtesy I offered him some tea. He declined. Water? He declined that too! Meanwhile I was hoping the husband would emerge from the shower. I mean what sort of conversation can one have with an honest cop? After about six attempts from me at hammering the bathroom door down he emerged and ran out to meet the police man in equally disreputable pair of shorts and a T shirt. The cop gave us both the “once over” and then asked if we had received the passport. I shook my head. He took the husband’s signature on a document and also his thumb print. After he left I asked my AMP- “What was that document you signed?” And guess what he said? “ I don’t know”!!! Really…..! He could have easily signed a document admitting to having committed some local robberies!
And thereafter began my love affair with Mr. Salman Khurshid as I started “tracking” the passport status online. I saw Salman Sahab’s photo about three times a day for three days until I was convinced that he was probably the most handsome politician among the present lot. He was also very much on TV thanks to the Chinese antics in Ladakh. So he drew me like a magnet on to the other screen too! I began comparing him to his predecessor..! I seriously think I was developing a crush on him. Ofcourse, crushes have their life time. Mine ended on the evening of the 2nd of May when I saw the message “You passport XXX has been dispatched by speed post”. I bid goodbye to Mr. Salman Khurshid and started looking out for the post man.
The poor guy never realized that a woman was waiting at the other end of the door when he rang the bell the next morning! “Passport kondu vandurkingla” was my opening line. He nodded and wanted to meet the passport holder. After about ten minutes of discussions he agreed to give me the passport provided I could furnish my photo id that proved that I was the WIFE and also my husband’s photo ID that proved he resided there. And then with trembling hands I opened to the page that had the family details. And sure enough against the column Name of the Spouse was MEERA SUNDARARAJAN!!!
( An experience that might seem funny but is not! I urge all of you to please review information that you provide in your passport application. The Passport Seva system is really professional and state of the art. It keeps out the touts who used to rule the roost. However I wish it would be easier to get a passport submission appointment! One cannot just keep refreshing the page on the site waiting to “click” or “pounce” the moment the clock strikes. And lastly I think it would be better if the MoEA can be clearer on their website about the documentation required for submission of an application. As of now it is only the affidavits that they mention clearly)