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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Snake in a box!

Karnataka's state snake
is a cobra!
My blogging has been slacking as I have been traveling but I am back with some juicy things.    My one year in India is nearly up and we had the task of filing for a employment visa extension this week.    For those of you that have traveled to India or have experienced the Foreign Registration Regional Office (FRRO) first hand- you know the pain.    India loves paper copies of everything and not just one copy but duplicate, triplicate, reminders, passport sized photos in duplicate neatly stacked and stapled - one pack per applicant.   So the two day story begins...

Here is the list of what you need to get the visa extended:
1. Police Verification - make sure we are good standing foreign nationals and that we really do have an accommodation of our own and are not squatters etc...
2. Marriage License
3. Birth certificates for all
4. Bonafide certificates for the kids enrollment - again making sure they are going to school and not causing problems
5. Letter of employment
6. Guarantee if my employment ends, my employer would take care of my exit
7. Tax Return for India
8. Housing Lease and a copy of the ID card of the landlord
9.And the list goes on

Fortunately we have an excellent vendor that helps assemble papers, stand in line and direct you at the various stages.    However we have no control on when the police are available or in the station.   So our day begins, arriving early (10:30 am) hoping the inspector will be able accompany us home and sign our papers.   Our bad luck, after about 30 minutes of waiting in the lobby which consists of one bench barely wide enough for my back end...the "receptionist" tells us the inspectors are all at court.   The kids are happy to leave but Doug and I know that this is just the beginning of a VERY long day.   Our visa processing "handler" translates for us in Kannada (local language) that the inspectors should return by 6pm.   McDonald's fills our disappointment, value meals and soft serve ice creams for all.    

Several hours later our handler calls and says, "can you come now?"   We leave the kids at home, load in the car and set off to the Whitefield police station.   Doug and I are somehow expecting the inspector is waiting for us but our handler waves us off and we wait in the's dusk and warm, windows down mosquitoes in.   Our driver, Javeed, starts to walk around the parking lot which is filling with those coming off their day shift, those coming on, people on smoke breaks and the normal chaos of chai-wallahs (tea sellers) and others with police issues.   Doug was buried in his book, but I could barely sit still.   Each person that pulled up, i would motion to Javeed "is that the inspector?"  No...then the excitement began.  Two cars of agitated Indians pulled up.   Lots of arms waving, each person holding a conversation on their mobile and with the inspector simultaneously.    Javeed was right in the mix, looking like a member of the plaintiffs or crowd control.   Immediately, they all pile back in their cars and the inspector on the back of a 2 wheeler.   Quick translation, property dispute and the inspectors are going to check it out.    Little known to us, Javeed was reminding the inspector that we are foreigners and it's rude to keep us waiting in our car for hours.   Also, we are the same foreigners who were here in November filing a police complaint against our maid for the loss of my jewelry.   Finally 1 hour and 50 minutes later, our handler calls us in the office.  Back on the skinny bench, I have learned to make eye contact if you want service - then you cannot be ignored.    The lead inspector has our file, signing away he eyeballs us over and continues his property dispute dealings.    Like most things, one verification is not enough, we are handed our papers and pushed to the next desk.    I am still waiting for the time we need to go back to our house, but the second inspector says "I know you.  I went to your house."  We nod in agreement.   Two quick signatures and we are on our way home.   I think that is the first time I can say I was happy to have been to the police station once before ...

Day 2 - arriving at 8:30 am at the FRRO.   No queue, our handler has strategically placed himself in front of the crack in the gate to hold our spot.   About 30 other foreigners blob together waiting for the crack in the gate to expand and hoping to position themselves a shoulder ahead to get inside.   Scanning the crowd, I see another American (sneakers, dockers and some sort of REI sports shirt) he has the same sense of bewilderment Doug and I are feeling.    A few Europeans, many students from Africa and several Korean businessmen and their families.   Kids are tired, cranky standing in the muddy street with the street dogs circling with one parent nearby and the other in the blob protecting their spot in whatever line will form inside.   As the gate opens I hold onto the telephone book of papers needed for the visa and assert my best India Becky attitude.   I make it 8th in line.  Practically jumping in the lamp of a plus sized Kenyan woman - Doug is in shock.   I give him the be quiet and hang back look while holding my spot.   And this is just to get a number to be processed.  The real fun starts once you get out of the parking lot come waiting room and into the offices.

After about five verifications that our data was in order and signatures, stamps, we are told one hour.   Do we give up the seats we have managed to secure in the overcrowded processing area for a potty break and get some coffee?  Will it really be an hour?  Will the kids kill each other? Or have we annoyed the rest of the foreigners?  We opt for coffee and a trip to the bank to get the demand draft to pay for the visas.   Back promptly one hour later, paying at one counter, rendering our visas at another we wait.   I have decided to stand behind the only chair at counter 3 eyeing the clerk.   Each time he lifts his head he cannot avoid my glaze and nod of my head as if to say, "anything yet?"   He is a nice guy, repeatedly saying "few minutes madam."   Eventually, it's noon - we have been approved another year.   Now we can get lunch.  Back out the street, our handler checks our papers and we wait by the car for him to get a copy.  

Now just to share, our vehicle has clear windows and as a family of blonds most passersby peer inside.  Additionally we are magnet for street vendors, women with babies and many others attempting to earn a few rupees.   That day a lady and her baby approached the car.   As she motioned to her mouth asking for food, she pushed a basked toward us.  Doug gave her the normal go away had movement, the lid came off the basket and I recognized the word "snake."   Not even 30 seconds later a cobra uncoiled, fanned it's head and flicked it's forked tongue at us.   I freaked, Doug tried to roll up the windows of the parked car and Javeed quickly jumped out to save the day.  I wasn't sure if the snake was to scare us or entertain us, but either way she left without any tip.

Never say never in India.