DemosNews: The FRRO and the RamaKrishna Puram Small Market
The FRRO and the RamaKrishna Puram Small Market
By: NCW

Today was my third trip into the happy circus of Indian bureaucracy called the FRRO – Foreigner Regional Registration Office. This is the office that Indian officials have established to punish people for being foreign.

After two prior trips to this office (and Delhi Apartment Search Boot Camp, which has readied me for many of my new life's particular challenges) I knew how to handle myself today and managed to acquire my residency permit.

First let me explain: the FRRO is set up much like Kung-Fu for original Nintendo. Instead of levels, there are long lines to negotiate. Instead of bosses to slay at the end of each level, there are paper-pushers at the end of every line whose signature, stamp or stern no of approval you must win over with valiance and ninja skill. The object is clear: you need to move your way across the levels and beat the boss of that level without being killed and sent back to the start (which happened to me on Monday and Wednesday for not having some necessary documents). Along the journey, there are all sorts of opponents that are only defeated with the proper maneuvers.

So like I was saying, today I knew the drill (just like when you master the early levels of Kung-fu from having been killed in the later levels so many times).

The first line is the one that you have to beat in order to get a number that equates to your position in the second line. I immediately sauntered in and cut to the front of this line and starting shouting at the guy behind this desk. I threw in a little nudge to the Asian guy beside me, hip-checked an Arabian fellow who was front right, and reached completely over top the Indian woman with the British accent in front of me at the counter. I started waving my papers in the official's face with a made up story about why I needed a new number. Poof. Level one complete.

For the next line, the bum rush strategy does not work because you must win the favor of this official or risk being sent to all sorts of other lines that have no purpose whatsoever. I devised a strategy. I waited until the right moment and then asked a guy who had just been called (by a pointed finger and not an actual number calling) what his number was. He reported “19.” Excellent. I was 24 so this would be OK. The previous time I tried this I was 35 numbers away from first in line. I politely got the official to acknowledge the accuracy of the current number and even got the bonus points “24? OK, you come back in two hours.” This seemed like an awfully long time for 5 numbers but that was fine. I could leave and get some food.

I got some food outside at an Indian Pastry shop (these are amazing by the way) and still had 1:45 to kill. So I started to walk. I wandered through the maze of government buildings that cover most of this enclave of Delhi and made my way out onto the main road and towards a fruit market area. The fruit market made way to a furniture making area. This I loved. The furniture area is wide open and sunny. Most of the work takes place outside under the sun. 6 or 7 tin garages form a semi-circle and loosely define the area. Out in the open, guys were sawing, gluing, nailing etc. In each of the garages, which are dark and extremely cramped, there are all manner of stored materials and sleeping people.

I stopped for a nice chat with one of the sawyers (wow... thank you to spell check for that informative word suggestion). Of course, without any shred of common language, I learned very little. But we both had a nice time and it made me want to build some stuff.

So I continued beyond the furniture zone into a long alleyway of activity. This alleyway, like markets all over Delhi, has it all. The actual road/walkway is only about 8 feet wide on average and tall buildings are built on either side so it almost feels like you are in an enclosed arcade. All sorts of activity bubbles from alleyways like this one.

I perched up on a ledge and just watched this microcosm world for about 20 minutes. About every second a few people walk by, every ten seconds someone bicycles by, every 30 seconds a motorbike zips past swerving and honking and about every ten minutes a delivery mini-truck goes by. Animals are mixed in – dogs, pigeons, cats, and yes, of course, the occasional roaming cow. In front of one stall, a chapatti baker is pounding dough balls flat and reaching down into the tandoori to slap the flat dough onto the walls of the oven. Behind him, in the stall, an assistant kneads the dough and makes it into the balls. Behind him, an assistant’s assistant mixes ingredients to make the dough. Everything is going on in concert. It reminded me of the scene in “Beauty and the Beast” where all the animated pots and pans and furniture are working together to prepare a feast (“Be our guest, Be our Guest put our service to the test”).

People are carrying all matter of things. Boys are playing stick ball/cricket. Little girls seem to always be running errands for their mothers, carrying bags of sugar or an egg, etc.

As completely cliché as it sounds, there is a sublime choreography to a place like this. It makes you so conscious of shared space. Every person, machine and animal’s action causes some reaction. The delivery mini-trucks passing through are the best. Kind of like a interlude to the clamour of the alley. With three wheels and rough dimensions of a minivan, these delivery trucks are just about the same width as the alley itself. This means that as they move down the street, all other activity has to stop to let them pass. The guy making chapattis pushes the oven in a little, the stickball/cricket game pauses, loaded bicycles are wheeled into shops against the owner’s will. People stand with their backs to the wall. Then the little truck passes and behind it is a little procession of people trying to walk or drive or ride the same direction down the alley but unable to pass. Then once the truck has passed, life goes back to normal, the concert continues.

Anyway, back to the story: After a while, I navigated my way back to the FRRO to check the progress. I walked up to the counter and asked the official what number he was on.

“19.”

OK, so now we have a problem. My strategy wasn’t working. I interjected politely to get some guess about why the numbers had not moved since I left two hours prior. The response: “I already called you.” So we settled, and I sat down right in front of this counter and waited. I waited for a while, talked to some other expats about life in Delhi.

To make a long story short, I eventually got called and made it through level two. I eventually got to the front of line/level three also plenty of pleading, explaining and arguing along the way, (mostly with other foreigners who were still trying the bum rush strategy).

Boss three. This was the farthest I had ever made it in the process and I was feeling good (“will this be the day that I finally beat this game!?”). And then, just like that, he started stamping! Stamps for my passport, stamps for my visa, stamps on my letters, papers, photocopies, and just like that, a stamp on my residency booklet. He looked up at me. My heart was pounding. I thought I was finally done.

Him: “Now you must go to in charge.”
Me: “What? Am I done?”
Him: “No, go to in charge.”
Me: “who is ‘in charge’?”
Him: [with a pointed finger] “Sir.”

I swung around and sure enough in the far corner of this crowded room through all the mayhem and past the waiting area was a little bespectacled man sitting at a little desk all alone. Above his head a sign dangled from the ceiling: IN CHARGE.

I grabbed my papers, and slowly approached Mr. In Charge. After greetings, he looked me up and down, started to thumb through my papers. Then there was silence. He looked deep into my eyes. More silence. Somewhere the theme song from Unforgiven was playing in the background. More silence as the tumbleweed tumbled past. This was it, the final boss. I was ready to spring to fighting action at any slight indication. More staring, more silence. And then:

“OK.”

And with that, he handed me my little residency permit booklet. And placed my papers on top of a large stack of other papers on his desk.

I am now a resident of the Republic of India.

© 2021 NCW of DemosNews
THE DILLI: This is the blog of Noah Waxman, an American guy in Delhi (Dilli), India.

October 26, 2007 at 8:01am
DemosRating: 5
Hits: 1459

Genre: Away (Tales)
Type: Creative
Tags: bureaucracy, in, India

George Sullivan   I guess old India hasn't changed much between the Demos 'Red...
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