Sunday, November 05, 2006

GETTING GONE, AGAIN ... or Practical Civics 101

"Oh, Madame … that is not being my responsibility," a cultured voice in the Embassy of India Public Relations section said. And, "You must be talking directly to the person responsible," and "There is an order, here, Madame. Please to be calling the correct number."

"Order?" The Indian bureaucracy has swallowed my passport whole, and this woman is talking about order? "Calling the correct number?" This from the country that has given us the call center?

Getting a status report on my travel documents had seemed a simple, practical process and a good antidote to the mind-numbing task of researching candidates and issues on the November ’06 ballot. So far, though, calls to the four numbers assigned to the Indian Consulate had gone unanswered and produced no voice mail alternatives. There were other official Indian numbers, though, and they did answer. Not that it did me any good.

...providing a lesson in the evils of entrenched bureaucracy...

Hours passed, providing a lesson in the evils of entrenched bureaucracy, and an ode to the joys of being able to "vote the bastards" out once every two to six years. Our county bureaucracy began to look pretty good.

Along the way, Alex Thomas came into my life. "The Indians never answer their phones," this employee of American enterprise, specifically a travel documents expediter, said.

"And, it’s not likely that we can find it. Our people are only allowed to ask at the walk-in counter. Your passport was mailed in. Consular officers in the mail-in section never respond to the walk-ins, and, they definitely don’t answer the telephone."

Peter the Great would've been proud ...

"Would you like to repeat that?" My ear felt like a snail had crawled inside, sowing swirling confusion. Indian bureaucracy being the ultimate in a concept driven to the extreme, though, the message was clear. Peter the Great of Russia, the father of the modern bureaucracy, would have been proud of his southern brothers.

Six weeks had passed since the Embassy of India received my visa request. The calendar now read late October. Snow fell on Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains. The sun shone in Washington, D.C. A travel itinerary said: departure 11 November to Cairo … then, Dubai, New Delhi, Darjeeling, Bhutan, Sikkim, Bali, New Delhi, Jaipur, New Delhi, Cody. Easy for it to say. But no normal person with a tourist passport (presuming they do have one) goes anywhere without visas.

"Consider your passport lost," Alex Thomas said, "Just start over. Eventually, this year … next year, it’ll arrive in the mail, but it’s not likely to happen before you’re due to leave."

... thanks to a depleted checkbook ...

Three days later, thanks to a vastly depleted checkbook and hours spent filling out documents, news came that the U.S. Passport Office had issued me a new passport and the Embassy of Egypt had given it a visa. Okay. We’re back where we started. But the dreaded lair of the entrenched bureaucrat--the Indian consulate--still waited, the dragons of procedure and regulation and limitation lurking, waiting to feast on another delicious meal of fresh passport.

Will the skies of United carry this passenger east? Who knows, but if Northwest College ever needs a lecturer for Practical Civics 101, they should call me. Those who take the class will be told: read the above and answer one question: Compare and contrast the virtues of: a. entrenched bureaucracy; b. elected bureaucracy; c. private enterprise.

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