Stranger in a Strange Land
Tales of a Year Abroad

The Land of Tomorrows...

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We have been here for nearly three weeks now, and still no apartment. Clarification: we have an apartment--a glorious three bed/three bath apartment complete with a fully functional kitchen (one that includes a brand new "freeze" (aka fridge) and a microwave that grills) as well as an expansive veranda-style porch complete with hinchko (aka a porch swing)--we just can't move into it.

India is not, as Suketu Metha (author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found) wrote, the land of no. Rather, India is the land of tomorrows that is, in turn, driven by maybes, come back tomorrows, hurry up and waits, and I thinks. This loose interpretation of timeliness, this idea that there is always a tomorrow (followed by another tomorrow, and another, and another ad nauseum), drives all aspects of daily life--especially the badeshi"s (foreigner) life. To accomplish anything--renting an apartment, procuring a cellphone, establishing internet--one must have a photo ID (a passport suffices), a photo, and various letters and forms proclaiming your intent, status, and/or place of residence in addition to forms... copious amounts of forms. The ultimate goal of all of this hoop jumping day after day, is an official piece of paper, often on which one's name is mis-spelled, proclaiming and legitimizing one's status within India through the brilliant use of stamps. That's right, it all comes down to a one inch by one inch blot of ink haphazardly smashed into the corner of some "official" document. 


As a bedeshi living within the borders of Gujarat, Steve is required to register with the local police within fourteen days of our arrival. This is a process, our new found friend Lindsey assures us, that can (and probably will) take up to five days: Steve has exactly four. Lindsey provides explicit directions--bring copies of your passport, photos, letter from the school, Fulbright, and a few other random tidbits; don't bother with the local police headquarters, go directly to the city police headquarters. This sounds, to me, as thought it is a solid plan.

However, this is not to be. Mr. Shah, thus far our benevolent benefactor, is convinced that all of this can be accomplished at the local police and thus, Steve and I set off via rickshaw to Satellite Road area to speak to a cop who, in turn, doesn't speak Gujarati (as Steve does) but rather Hindi (which neither of us does). With some help from friendly individuals ('cause everyone loves a spectacle in India, and really, the white bedeshi and their ineptness are the most intriguing of spectacles!), we are able to ascertain that indeed, as foretold by Lindsey, Steve is not able to register at the local police but rather must appear at the City Police Headquarters at precisely 11 a.m. the following day with documents in hand.

The next day, documents in hand and Mr. Shah in tow, we head over to the headquarters. We are uber prepared--we are set to rock and roll, to become an official part of this crazy place called Gujarat. 


We pass through the metal detector and through the front door, walk up the necessary flights of stairs and into a room in which the ceiling fans ineptly push around the hot, humid air. Signs by the door indicate persons of Pakistani origin must go left to register, all other foreigners to the right. A  row of hospital green metal desks line a narrow room. Bundles of bug-eaten papers are stacked on shelves; closer inspection proves what I suspect, this haphazard mess suffices as a filing system. A city worker, some police appointed clerk, rifles through Steve's papers, and tells him it "is not possible" (Metha got that part right) and to come back tomorrow with correct items. These items include: a COLOR copy of his passport, SIX vs. the FOUR required photos (this is two more than the directions indicate), an application filled out--not photocopied, not carbon copied, but HAND written--in quadruplicate, an extract of the passport (which is the same information located on the color photocopy as well as the four copies of the application), a letter of endorsement from Gujarat College stating intent to study (incidentally, Steve already possessed a letter from his adviser that stated this information, but for some reason it was insufficient), a letter of affiliation from the university, a letter from Mr. Shah saying that we lived at his house, a copy of Mr. Shah's light bill to confirm his light bill (aka electricity bill), and a letter from the Fulbright President in India stating (yet once again) who Steve is and the purpose of his year long stay in India.  The clerk informs us that only with this information can he register; once this information is obtained please return that afternoon between three and five p.m.

I am convinced the f*ckers have made up, on the spot, half of these requirements simply because Steve is too prepared and thus, inadvertently, challenged India Time. We dared to be prepared enough so as not to necessitate a tomorrow, but rather a right now. We have hurried, only to be told to wait.

Frustrated, irritated, and frazzled, we decide to make India wait; we do not return that evening, rather we wait until the next day. This, in our eyes, is a small victory, a middle finger of sorts to the establishment even though, in reality, we realize the establishment could care less. 


That night, due to something I ate or some germ that's been working its way through my system, I am sick--gut clenching, flu symptoms sick. I am hot, and feverish, and can't stand the smell of food as it makes my stomach violently heave and lurch towards the closest escape hatch. I lay on our borrowed bed, in our guest accommodations in the basement, wishing desperately for my own bed in my own space. It has, at this point, been a week since we found that space; a week since Mr. Shah showed Steve the perfect apartment and began what seemed to be simple renovations--cleaning the pigeon poop off the balconies, re-wiring the electricity, purchasing a few items such as a freeze, couch, bed, and "geezers" (aka hot water geysers) for the bathroom. This is something that does not seem like a massive undertaking, and we are assured it won't take long to complete. At that moment, sweating out whatever has invaded my body, a week seems like an excessively long time and I long for the tomorrow when we move in.
 

The next day, refreshed from a fourteen hour sleep in which I seemed to have sweated out whatever ailed me, we head to the headquarters yet once again. This time, we come armed. We come with more than the required papers--lengthy documents written in verbose English phrases. We use their own tactic: if you can't win, overwhelm with official looking documents.

This time when we hike up the stairs and into the small, hot room and wait in the lengthy line with the other foreigners, we are surprisingly successful. The clerk looks at the massive amount of paperwork, starts to read some document and immediately hands back to Steve to give to the OTHER clerk to sign and give back to the initial clerk. With no further scrutiny, we are instructed to come back February 5th for the official (presumably stamped, 'cause India loves it some stamps!) permit.

Now that we're "legal," if we could only move from the guest room in the basement to our own place. Perhaps tomorrow...










4 comments:

I think I could manage the bureaucracy it is the gut wrenching that would get to me. I am glad your stomach has now returned to its proper place (as opposed to somewhere in the vicinity of the balcony with the pigeons). Has it really been three weeks?!


Sweet Mary Mother of God!

You are a far more patient person than I. I would have screamed and boarded a plane for home lol.


Hope you are feeling well and that you have moved into your place. Good Luck! -Sarah Bower


India in a nutshell... You nailed it! I'm so happy to find your blog, Tina- and look forward to reading through your adventures, and your deep understanding of this very complicated land :)


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The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Alladin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterday's bear date with the modering antiquities for the rest of nations-the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.
- Mark Twain

In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything, but possessed by nothing.
- Appolonius Tyanaeus

If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.
-Romain Rolland