” The party will be deported at 10am tomorrow” the man says to me. I am dumbstruck. The ‘party’ in question is my six-year-old daughter. The man delivering this astonishing statement is the inspector in charge of the Foreigners Registration Office in Gurgaon, Haryana. My mind is already in panic mode, ‘can he really do that?’ I’m wondering. Gathering my fleeing wits I look him straight in the eye and say, “you know she is six years old. How can you deport her? Her father and I are Indian citizens and we live here in Gurgaon. Where will you deport her to?”. Contemptuously he turns her passport over and looks at the cover. “Back to the America” he says. I feel like I’m in some absurd movie, the kind that manifests in frenzied dreams. This guy is for real though, he’s ushering me out of his office with a lazy wave of his hand.
I know I can’t leave yet. This issue needs to be resolved. My poor unsuspecting daughter is in school, so I have some time to negotiate. I need to be resourceful. This little flunky is not going to defeat me, I tell myself. I look at him again though by this time his face is making me nauseous. I decide to grovel (you see, with the Indian bureaucracy making yourself into the littlest person you can, gives them a greater sense of importance). The look he gives me is pure contempt. “You allowed her visa to expire. Her visa has a non- renewal clause. She has to go. Now you go, lot of people waiting to see me” he says in his puffed up way. I won’t leave, I say, you owe me an explanation at least. “Then sit there in the corner till I take care of important business” he says, with the manner of a man who has no intention of listening to any plea.
As he deals with someone more ‘important’, I slip out into the corridor to call my husband. My panic is in full bloom now. When he answers his phone, I burst into a high-speed description of what just went down. “They will deport her tomorrow” I tell him, articulating the dread word. “Don’t be ridiculous” Naresh says to me, as if I was the one setting down that plan of action. Now I’m good and mad, at Naresh. “Get yourself down here now and talk to this cop” I say. Let him handle things for a change, I think and see how difficult these things really are. Then Naresh comes up with the single most horrifying thing I can think of. “He’s just jerking your chain. Just give him Rs.500 and everything’ll be fine”. You should have heard me screech at him. People up and down the corridor were turning to take a look. “Are you crazy? You want me to offer a bribe to a cop in a police station? Get here now you crazy man”. I kid you not, he laughed! According to him this happened all the time in cop stations in India, that all the inspector wanted was a small bribe. “Anyway, I’m walking into a meeting right now, can’t come there. Take care of it will you” he said as he hung up. Not even in the throes of labour pains have I wanted to strangle this man so badly and I came pretty close then.
So much for help from that quarter. I don’t think he even realized how serious the situation was. Well it looked like it was up to me. I straightened my shoulders and went back in to tackle the beast once more. I slipped back into the metal chair in the corner waiting for a lull in his business. He paid me no mind at all. I was ready for battle now. Arguments with Naresh inevitably help me straighten things out in my mind. I was willing to sit in his office all day, all week if necessary. I’d ask a friend to collect Aditi from school in the afternoon. And so I waited. It was a good hour before he stood up. Going for a coffee and cigarette break, no doubt. “Sir” I said, “please look over the papers again. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given me the necessary clearance. All you need to do is stamp the visa”. He gave me a speaking look, ‘dumb cow’, it said. He stepped out, to return about half an hour later chattering on his cellphone.
I will spare you the details. The same sort of thing as before went on for another three hours at least, with me approaching him every half hour or so and him shaking his head and giving me that look again. Ok so I am a dumb cow but I will not offer him a bribe. This is personal now. This is Delhi (or at least the National Capital Region) and people get away with murder here. What had I done that was so wrong that my daughter’s security was being threatened? This was how it happened. My mom fell ill and I rushed to Mangalore at about the time I should have applied for a visa renewal for Aditi. When I returned after several weeks, I realized the mistake and went to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. I waited for ages and finally got the necessary paperwork in hand before heading to the Police Superintendent’s office in Gurgaon, where Aditi was already registered as a resident foreigner. All the man needed to do was stamp the visa on her passport. instead he was playing games with me.
My brain is ticking furiously. I’m wondering which of my uncles to call asking them to reach out and get me some help. If my father had been alive, this would have been resolved in minutes I thought. Suddenly I had a brain wave of sorts. The inspector was sitting at his desk, fiddling with some papers. All his important work was apparently done for the moment. I picked up my phone and dialled a number. He was watching me with great interest, as one watches a lizard on the wall creeping towards an insect. I called my friend Shirin. Her father, father-in-law and brother-in-law were or had been in very senior positions in the police force, albeit in the distant state of West Bengal. Their batchmates and friends were senior officers all over the country. Mind you, I was not looking for direct involvement but I had an idea for subterfuge that just might work on this reptilian inspector.
He listened in shamelessly to the most bizarre phone conversation I’ve ever had with a friend. I ask Shirin if their friend Mr. ____ was still SSP in Gurgaon. “He’s gone” the inspector says, as if unaware he’s eavesdropping. “What the hell are you on about” Shirin is saying in my ear. “Is your friend Mr. _______ still with the Delhi police” I ask her. He has perked up considerably by now. “Is something wrong Nuthan? If you need help I can call my friend DCP _______ in the Delhi police’ she says. I repeat the name. He is sitting ramrod straight now, I can see out of the corner of my eye. I can hear the wheels in his head turning. “She’s not such a dumb cow, she knows people“. I zip through some more ‘important’ names and hang up telling Shirin I’ll call her later. When I hang up, he stands up. I know I’ve pressed the appropriate buttons now. Every lowly flunky in the Indian bureaucracy reacts the same way to the names of higher-ups. “I’m going to do you a favour and talk to my ACP” he says in a phony magnanimous tone and walks out. He’s back in ten minutes flat. “Here’s what you will do” he says, sounding remarkably like Sister Carissima, my High School headmistress. “Write a letter saying you were at fault in not renewing the visa on time. Write that your child is only six and cannot be deported when her parents live here. Write that you will apply for a Person of Indian Origin card immediately”. He pushed a sheet of paper and a pen across his desk and asked me to come up to the desk to write. I felt like I was in primary school again, writing imposition, as the nuns liked to call it. It was a moment’s work to have it done. He took the signed letter and went to see whoever was in charge in that alphabet soup of officialdom. He came back, picked up Aditi’s passport and stamped the visa and residence permit as required. He handed me the passport and said I could go now. I thanked him politely and left that godforsaken office after what seemed like days but in reality was about five hours.
I was exultant. He blinked, he blinked! My daughter would not be deported and I had stared down the cold-blooded monster. How on earth was I going to explain all this to Shirin? I knew she’d understand. I called Naresh to tell him I had the visa. It had been at least four hours since our earlier conversation. “I knew you’d do it” he says coolly. I swear I could strangle this man, but that’s another story.