Now I love India …………… however, today (well, maybe past few days) have been well… lets see.. ?
A foreigner in Bhopal I must legally register my presence at a police station. I go to a “Bitten Market” station and twice men spend 20 minutes reading my documents (each on different floors) telling me finally I must go to Sharpura Station. Next day I cycle there – the same thing the second person even ringing my business associate. Come back tomorrow with a letter with your address. …..
Meanwhile …. next day I go to another station that will remain nameless, with a friend from Switzerland (who has the wrong VISA!!) but he has with him a friend who knows a general. (Well I think hes a general. His uniform has three stripes. ) All is done in twenty minutes….
I return to sharpura station and am told the persons I met last night have no authority and had simply wasted my time. Again my business associate is rung. Now I am told I must go to the old city to get a special form and return with it.
3 stations. 4 trips. No approval. Yet someone else’s incorrect paperwork was passed over.Its no wonder foreign tourists don’t do the right thing. Its easier not too.
I am asked to sign a form.
“Do you have a letter from the High Commission?”
“No. They don’t give letters You give them letters and they stamp your VISA”
I must get a form signed and return again.
“S. P. Office”
But before I slip into a foolish diatribe about “stupid policies”, lets say I would learn more about myself and of Indian politeness …….
Part 2 riding the old city
I am reminded of my recent – and ongoing – struggle to obtain a simple form registering my presence here in India. There have been some remarkably helpful police officers in my case, but the power play patronising power play of some simply wanting to put you in your place. The use of shame is everywhere- I see it when for example my ‘landlady’ was falsely accused of improper behavior because she rented to a foreigner. Of course there are equally the wonderful stories as well. Once sure of me, most are extremely helpful. In shahpura, along with my business partner who helped soot the language barrier, we were even offered chai
But I am getting ahead of myself …….
Delayed I am off on my cycle to the Old City, along Jali road past DB Mall, Arera Hills, up through the government area, the Birla Temple.
I am directed the wrong way by someone who misunderstands me: it’s understandable, he thinks I mean SP I Bank not the police Special Services Branch.
Back along besides the lake I am again on course, twice stoping at a police station to confirm I am on track. (A big man on a child’s bike however did raise a question from one officer). Another writes the address in note pad sheet for me:
Soon the rabbit warren of streets is packed. I have left my ride too late and peak hour is approaching. As I dodge some white Ambassadors squeezing through traffic, I keep note of other routes the SR-3 Gulhomar yes, that’s near home. SR-6 Patel Nagar? I don’t know.
I best get on the main road before dark as I . Mean while checking the bus route numbers for future reference at the same time rehearsing lessons from Hindipod101:
You say “maaf kiijiye (excuse me) add the destination followed by “jatii hai?””
“Maaf kiijye, Old City jaati hai” The subject “this bus” is implied.
“Old City ko kiTnii Der hai? How long does it take to get to the Old City?”
The follows a quick stop at the rather famous Rahu Tea Stall for chai and pakhora.
I return home, only to be lectured about the poor safety of the Muslim Old City. There is security everywhere.
“Don’t even go to the old city – only if you are with khan bhai. They won’t hurt you with one of their own.”
Why were they suddenly worried about going places they wanted me to visit? The Old City is a rabbit warren and could easily haven pick pockets but as I explained to Deepak (and he agreed) treat people with kindness and you will be treated in kind. Mostly India’s hospitality to honoured guests takes priority.
Its too risky, don’t ride at dusk or nigh – at least not far. I had been told the exact opposite advice by Advity earlier, when she complained I was to housebound and unadventurous.
I did not realize she was concerned about the next day’s Republic Day celebrations. Still, previously they had sent me to Independence Day festivities alone, and without the paperwork I am suddenly required after three years of living here.
Part 3 by bus
Khan Bai said to take the bus from Trilanga. He lives in the Old City, a regular at the Taj-ul-Masjid, the largest mosque in Asia. Unfortunately, Khan bai was wrong. The Trilanga bus is the SR3, but no worries. The driver left me off at nearby New market directing me across the chowk to the next stop as the bus turns right. I need the TR1 that runs closer to my home.
Learning the bus route helps me navigate the city. Tilak Nagar, Ishwar Nagar, 11 number, Paras City, Habibganj Sation, BJP Bhawan, Sargam Talkies, Board Office, Vyapam, 1250 Hospital, Prakash Taran Pushkar, New Market, Roshanpura,Polytechnic, Kamla Park, then as we enter the Old City Moti Masjid, Peer Gate, Royal Market, … yes Finally the Collectorate, the old building where the police head quarters resides.
An officer asks. Another walks out.
“Which office? “Shahpura?” He nods approval.
“You must register it here”
He points to the stairwell I already recognised, but was glad for the confirmation I was right.
After a long discussion it seems I must return to shahpura with a letter to be signed and returned.
When I mention this is the fifth station I have visited, I am given the phone to talk to an inspector. He is trying to be helpful but with his accent and the loud buzzing of people in the room I can barely decipher his very good but quiet English. There is a lot of noise.
He explains the procedure. And after revisiting Shahpura I must return another day.
… and the lesson? Saying “yes” (haan or ji haan) need not mean agree. Even when spoken with deep nods of veneration.
They mean “Yes. I am listening.”
It seems that when I thought people were telling me “Yes. You are doing it right” they meant “Yes, I am listening.”
Now why cant they simply say “No”? It’ impolite. My dear Indian friends please tell me politely “Yes. (I am listening)” but I beg you please add ” No. you must do it this way.”
The “Tr1 purple” from Chirayu hospital to Abruti Eco – an estate not far from me.
Return to Trilanga by bus. It seems my bus stop is called Vishwar Nagar, although there is a Sivoy nearby. Is this the Savoi Complex that flashes up on the board?
But I didn’t know that. There are no signs naming the area.
He is confused. (I was wrong trianga s close but anoter route
I list nearby names : 12 number? Bawadia Kalan’
“Twenty ….” a car roars past.
Part 3 finally
I recognise kamla park, the Moti masjid and the Iqbal museum. If I turn left I it takes me past Raju’s tea stall, GPO Yamada Hospital. At Koh-Gaza Thand crushing through overpass construction.
There had been two return trips, each on bus TR1 there seems two routes or companies with subtle differences.
TR1 purple seems its destination is Curayu Hospital and TR1 says the Baragh Bus Stand . Tr1 purple called my stop “SB Office “ the other called it the “Collectorate” (although the electric signal in the second bus repeated suggesting there may be an error), but SP office is in the old Collectorate building. Approaching Bitten market with sign “Next stop 10.5 number bus stop”. Some bus stops have now named suburbs,, so there are additional “half stops” along the way.
I return upstairs to a flaking water stained plaster walls bone white tie floor and black wire bench seats. There is an unmistakable smell of phenyl. Dark cobwebs had from the ceiling musty and water stained.
Once you are known India is easier and helpful. It is finding out what you need is the challenge.
I sense gesture from behind is in my direction and after a woman leaves a younger man asks me to sit down. I am intrigued. Except for the band-aid across the middle of his chin he could be Will Smith, they look so much alike!, and the strange delays do have a Men in Black feel about them.
I an an alien in a foreign land.
Then a third man in blue suit plonks down besides him talking for 2 or 3 minute again I wait in silence. .
The young man plays with his mobile eventually asking for my passport.
I give him the copy and then eventually pass him the original.
“You from Australia?” He seems to stare at the details. How many time can he read the numbers what is he checking for?
He slowly reads each page . full of entry stamps for India. I have travelled nowhere else.
“Where else have I stayed?”
There is no attempt to speed up.
Then he makes a call. Then checks my VISA.
I need a letter from the company .
“I gave that to the Indian High Commisiion. That’s is what you need to get a VISA.”
It is all a new process. This is more complicated than getting the Indian VISA in Brisbane.
“”But there is no address.”
I point “That IS the address” pointing to the business letter head. He reads it again. Clearly few people come here to be correctly registered and there are a lot of foreigners (clearly unregistered) here.
By this time I am frustrated. I tell his superior “I do the right thing and you muck me around. “ I tell him I watched a man have a form photocopied and letter written in twenty minutes at anther station. That man had the wrong VISA. I resist the urge to suggest the other station may have been paid for a fake form.
However I am also impressed. Cleary Deepak Nayak is very conscientious. He knows his job although the rules have recently changed. Apparently I am the first to be processed by the new Online registration system.
The world is increasingly computerised, but affron and jute bags hold files on a water warped long shelf behind him.
I send copies from my lap top across the officers gmail account which he then prints out. I also email my passport photo for th new computerised residency certificate.
As Deepak goes out of his way the new computerised process needing documents I have never needed before, a casual man in white collared kameez approaches.
“Australia country? Mel Gibson … Kylie Miyonge ..” (Kylie Minogue would probably disapprove his mispronunciation). I am reminded of a “Say G’Day to Australia” poster advertising oversees study near home.
Returning i am invited to sit when i return a superior immediately calls Deepak to my attention, who after struggling to find my forms piled in a metal cabinet, has me sign fir them and then surprisingly instructs me to “Go and get a file”
“Shops. “ pointing over his shoulder presumably to the stores across the main road. I must replace the used stationary that holds my details.
I return with two files, its finally done.
I walk the old city
“One vote one note”
What does that mean? There is increasing publicity for citizens to exercise their franchise in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. I realise later the slogan was used by the BJP Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, during his third successful run at Madhya Pradesh top job.
I have returned to Bhopal from Australia many times since. Now known the process is now relatively painless, although I still feel to time consuming.
Reflecting I noticed how I had been watched, especially at Shahpura when I was asked to wait, as officers stood on parade in the evening. During one of my my early stops at Shahpura station I was asked to wait wit no explanation. The kindly paternalistic officer continued working for ten minutes. He then asked me to leave. Why?
I wondered later if it were an assessment of my character. It is true that at first I was frustrated by the endless contradictions. A system built pre internet required the watchful eye of officers over local community.
I remember that Emperor Akbar considered Westerners uncivilised – and with good reason. Unaware of the protocols of courtesy, in 1608 Queen Elizabeth incorrectly ordered his titles and, to make things worse, misspelled Akbars name, calling him a laxative. Perhaps my restlessness appeared as challenging. Also, the confusion of procedure meant I (and others) did not know all the papers required.
By the fifth top I was angry, I may have appeared reckless and irresponsible. I have learned when your skin colour or accent differs from the majority you are scrutinised more. The pattern exists world over. You stand out. If you make a mistake it is noticed more.
If Gandhi was right,, we all have a fundamental dignity where there is no place for shame or humiliation. However, in a people where large populations can be excited to mob action, knowing the character of a foreigner has its uses.
Now I have since learned the lesson of quiet reflection. When the endless delays get to me in India I stop, look inward. Ask my body where I am feeling tense and relax.
Om Shanti Shanti Om