Thursday, July 26, 2012

Passport tales....

People started needing passports in India after the First World War. Before that you could simply  ride over some mountains and passes with a cavalry, or sail in via the Bay of Bengal or Arabian Sea and enter. It helped if you came with tributes etc for some powerful person. (These days people have still come in via the sea, and that too with guns ....)

The British , who then ruled India,  invented what was called a British Indian Passport.  May be that was to differentiate the colonies from the originals, but I like to think that they probably saw a distinct possibility of an Indian Indian passport happening in the future.    

I got mine first,   44 years ago. I didn't fill up a single form, I don't recall a fuss being made over photos (which were in Black and white, and were "developed" and not printed immediately). I was a minor, my folks applied , and I was the proud owner of a passport. An odd size hardbound booklet, much at variance with the many passports I saw when I went to the US for grad school at 19.

I acquired another passport after a name change post marriage, without much of a fuss anywhere. I didn't know the meaning of affidavit then, I hadn't ever done one, and life was simple. The passport size had changed, & softbinding was in fashion.

When my son was 2 years old, a family friend's daughter was doing a travel-tourism course, and needed to make some one's passport for practice. My folks thought the son was an ideal subject. Those were days when kids could be endorsed on the mother's passport. But we actually filled forms, took pictures (the son glaring with huge eyes at the strong studio lights) and sent it off to her.  The stuff was intercepted by my mother, who insisted, that the world needed better pictures of my son, given that so many countries would see them. Pictures were clicked again and sent, and he soon became the owner of a passport , which he used for 10 years, showing his 2 year-old-photo even when he was 10.

Life became more complicated after that.  There was a lot of what I called trust deficit everywhere. You needed to show two evidences of everything. Addresses, births, education certificates, and so on.  We once went to renew the children's passports (both under the age of 12) , and were made to come again and again because they said the stuff had gone for police clearance.  The kids were assumed to be crooks/thieves/embezzlers/murderers unless the police certified otherwise.  And you did this by standing in endless queues.

About ten years ago, the offices moved, and we went to get our own passports renewed. Computers had arrived and we had a bunch of sheets that gave us that day as a confirmed appointment.  For an office that opened at 10 am, we were there at 8 am, in the rain, and were faced with a huge queue that snaked around an immensely huge square building. Shuffling in puddles, watching tea vendors and idli vendors on bicycles circulating, we finally showed our papers to a guy, who observed the husband's silver grey hair and without reading the DOB, simply directed us to the senior citizens counter!   A couple of hours inside, avoiding leaking roofs, wiping wet seats, and ensuring  no one was breaking our queues, we returned. Then on the day of the famous 26th July 2005 monsoon deluge in Mumbai I got a call from the police to come show my documents at the local police chowky. Mind you, the passport office had seen these, but I needed to hotfoot it, in knee length puddles in potholes, and heavy rains, to have a constable glance through stuff and put tick marks. 20 days later , I received my passport in the mail.

Somewhere in between the intervening years (till now), the government came up with the idea of Passport Seva Kendras. Everyone became greatly computer literate, and you could now enter your details online, and get yourself an appointment.  The whole of Mumbai, did not need to congregate at one single office, and there was actually a branch nearer my residence.

 A family member, earlier a minor , now an adult, needed to have a passport reissued as it was about to expire, and we did all the online stuff and reached the place an hour earlier. No there weren't any snaking lines, or chaiwallas cycling around. Just about 50 folks ahead of you, who had the same appointment slot.  Much security checking, frisking , beepers et al, and the applicant only was allowed to go in.  There were various windows where your documents were scrutinized, and only those having everything 100% in order , were given a token number, and proceeded further . If you had something missing, you were sent back.

The family member was found wanting, something that was not clear from the requirements mentioned online. Your current application reference allowed you 3 days to come back. We dashed home , to collect the document, and back within the hour and gained priority entry.  This was at 11.30 am.

I sat outside on the garden sidewalk between Honda and a BMW,   to answer any help queries on the phone if required, while the family member went through the various modules inside. Biometric profiling, thumbprints, eyeball photos, and they even took your photos. (You didn't need to carry the physical photos). Whats more, they showed you your photo, and took another if you didn't like what you saw, and had eyes shut  etc. Then there was a payment counter, and something called a granting counter.

I learned many things which are not mentioned on the web page , and enumerate them here , so that folks may go in prepared. 

-- Take two xerox copies of every document you plan to submit.

-- Two other address proofs are required even if you submit your Ration Card as one.

--If you are born after 1989 , a birth certificate is required.

-- If you work for the government in a permanent job, a no objection certificate is required from your employer.   If you work for the government, and your job is temporary ,  ie time period based, then you need to provide, 2 originals of the no-objection certificates.

--If you have a valid visa in your about to expire passport, make 2 xerox copies of that too, and submit , and mention that to the passport staff.

--If you are a graduate , carry 2 copies of your degree and final year mark sheets.  There is something called emigration clearance , which is not required for graduates, and this helps them decide.

--Two copies of all pages in the old passport (besides the mandatory first 2 pages and last two pages), where any kind of "remark" entries can be made (whether there is any entry or not is immaterial).       

There is a photocopying machine available for use inside, at slightly enhanced rates, and also a fancy refreshment place , also with slightly more enhanced rates .

My family member came out, tired and hungry,  4 hours after going in, with an acknowledgement slip, and a cancelled and returned old passport. 

I came out from my place between the Honda and the BMW, with a sore back and painful knees. 

The passport came home , by speed post , in 14 days. And there was no checking by the police . 

I think things have improved.  This holds for the most general stuff like reissues of passports about to expire. I have friends who went in for reissue subsequent to change in status/name etc,  and  requirements for these folks are not very clearly mentioned online. 

There was a young couple with a one-month baby , who came for the baby's passport with all the relevant documents. They came earlier with the baby's photos, and were asked to return with the baby the next day. I met them after they had been in for the major part of the day, and had emerged finally and were waiting for a vehicle.  Yes, the baby was biometrically profiled, hand prints/fingerprints etc.  The baby was fast asleep , swathed in some light pink cotton wraps as the mother tried to shield it from the hot afternoon sun.

I didn't have the heart to ask her, if they profiled the eyeballs, and took the baby's photos, and possibly ended up rudely waking a baby,  sleeping peacefully in the air conditioned chaos inside.........

There must be a better way............... 


  1. Sigh! They need to spare sleeping babies atleast :(

  2. Hmmm....I can totally understand. Been there, done that, with my 3 month old son for an entire day...almost 8 yrs back.I have a long story to share, my husband is trying o get a passport for his grandma, staying in the U.S, calling friends, agents, police etc...they finished the police inquiry recently..donno when she will get the passport, then visa, then fly here...:(things were easy in olden days..

  3. Thank you for putting up the points its definitely going to help for getting passports...

    Getting a passport done in Bombay is like winning some kind of a battle...I actually regretted the fact that I changed my name after marriage...I was telling the husband that I would have been happier with my earlier last name, if I didnt have to go through the agony of getting the passport done!!

    But I heard the new Seva kendras are pretty good...

  4. Will have to go through the task of renewing passport soon. Hope to have a permanent address by then. I had been settled in Delhi with my father when I earlier applied for my passport. Things went fairly smoothly and my Delhi address is still what shows on it, in spite my shifting of cities.

    Saving your post for further reference. :-) Thank you!

  5. Having gone through a similar ringamarole myself, I can sympathise with you!

    The thing I found most fascinating was that my recently acquired 'Aadhaar' card is apparently valid proof of nothing at all!

    Yes, there certainly must be a better way......

  6. I better not say a word, I know first hand how the passport office works , after my dad passed away, I wanted to being my mum with me to uk, and it was such a drama to get it done .. Nothing would make the people see the plight. they were adamant on this and that and what not ..
    in the end i had to leave mum alone at home , till the passport came and then she came ...

    and this is inspite of paying a guy bribe


  7. I am not able to digest the way the baby went through the routine (!).

    But we are going to go through all these things for many years in the future.

  8. Pankaja's photo is beautiful! Little Goalie!