Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Great Indian Passport Seva Tale- “Just a little more to go”

The frail, bespectacled 55-year old Tessamma was lighting a candle at the shrine of The Lady of Vailankanni, thanking the mother of God for her hand in getting the online appointment to visit the Passport Seva Kendra. Little did she know what lay ahead for her by the end of the day. Months after filling up the application forms, and uploading the scanned copies of the required documents online, luck has finally smiled on Tessmma. She finally got the ever-elusive online appointment to visit the PSK or Passport Seva Kendra to complete her application for a passport.

Thomachan, an ardent communist and atheist was waiting for his wife outside the shrine. As Tessamma finished her prayers, and stepped out of the shrine, Thomachan waved at her and pointed to his old HMT watch to remind her that the appointment is at 12 pm and she needs to hurry. In the hurry, Tessamma slipped on the stairs and fell on her knees. Thomachan rushed to the spot and pulled her up, and jokingly, he asked her, “Did the Mother of God trip you, Sweetheart?”

“Oh, Shut up, Thomachan...” she retorted, brushing off the dust and gravel from her saree. Forcing a smile, she said, “I am finally going to see our Son.” Thomachan’s gleeful smile faded when he thought about his only son who is rotting in a Saudi jail, awaiting his death sentence next week for something that he still believes he did not do. “My Son cannot do it!”, Thomachan swore under the breath. Ignoring the pangs inside, he forced a smile on his face, held his wife’s hand, and walked towards the nearest bus stop.

After an hour long wait, they finally got a bus. They reached the Passport Seva Kendra at 11 am, only to join a mile-long queue in the sun outside the office. “What an irresponsible Government!” Thomachan swore under his breath, grinding his teeth. Tessamma comforted him saying, “Just a little more to go…” After a grueling hour in the hot sun, they finally cleared the security check and entered the Passport office. A security officer came out of nowhere, and stopped the couple. “Only applicants allowed inside.” He snorted. Thomachan reluctantly let go of Tessamma’s hand and with a smile, he said, “You go in, I will wait outside.”

Tessamma pushed the door open, only to join another ridiculously long queue inside the office. The queue for document verification. Tessamma did not lose her heart. She comforted herself by saying, “Just a little more to go…” After waiting for two long hours, she finally reached the counter. Behind the counter sat a tiny woman in her 20’s sifting through the files before her. With a feeble voice, she asked Tessamma, “Birth certificate?” “Address proof?” “PAN Card?” After clearing all the documents, Tessamma was directed by the clerk to go to the clearance counter.

As Tessamma reached the clearance counter, a security officer asked her to get a token to enter. She, then reluctantly looked for the token counter. When she asked a clerk to direct her to the token counter, he pointed his finger towards a crowd of people hustling about for a token. After fighting through the crowd, Tessamma finally managed to get a token. Token number sixteen. With the token, she approached the security officer, who then directed her to the clearance counter. Thanking Mother Mary, she stepped into the less crowded clearance section, where only the luckiest of the day can afford to enter.

She looked at the clock on the wall. It read 5: 30 pm. Just another thirty minutes for the office to close. She calmed her nerves saying, “Just a little more to go… and I will soon see my son!” The clerk called out- “Token number 14!” She said to herself, “one more to go…” After number 14 left the counter heaving a sigh of relief, the clerk shut the counter! The clock struck 6! All the people in the queue left one by one grunting and swearing, but Tessamma stood there silently. She was too stunned to move. “Just a little more to go…” She felt a wave of grief rising in her chest. She collapsed on the floor, clutching her chest. With the light around her fading, she thought of Thomachan, all the love he showered, all the pain they shared. With a quiet cough, she left this unfair world. “Thomachan, Just a little more to go…I will meet our son!”

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