Thursday, December 22, 2005

I have been itching to write this for a long time. Let us see...Almost twenty days now. Now I have the time...And I will do the same...

Dec 2nd at 7.00am I was already in an auto to the American Consulate at Gemini Circle in Chennai...It was not raining hard yet but the drizzle was maintained at a steady pace. The streets were wet in some places and others were slightly flooded. After five and half years I was going to stand once again in line to get my Visa. Nothing had changed, still the same rude cops outside abusing the auto drivers dropping off more visa seekers.

The rain slowly picked up pace. I was standing with all my important documents in my hand inside a plastic cover (as are the regulations of the Consulate) hoping that the rain wont get to them before I enter the building. Then the passport check and then more wait before the door...Then the security check before you pay your money to the most useless courier service in the world (TTS Visas). I call them useless for many reasons but one of it being their attitude. They are rude, arrogant, and totally useless in terms of directing people around the mess that happens inside, they act as if they are doing us a favor...And then you stand in another line to pay for the Services the consulate renders.

So let us recount, first line outside the Consulate, show your passport and another line before entering the building, security check a third line, the fourth one at the courier payment, and a fifth at the Consulate payment line. Five so far...It does not end here...

There is a short guy with thick mustache inside the Consulate. He walks up and down trying to organize people to send them to the least crowded line for submitting our precious documents. This gentleman walks up and down talking to everyone standing in line as if they are below him, as if they do not understand the few lines of English he speaks. He is angry all the time, frustrated and refers to almost everyone (of all ages) as "aei." In case you did not know Tamil, is a very rude form of addressing a person. But the rudeness doesn't end here.

When you finally stand in the line to submit your papers you are not advised in any place (either on the website or on the walls of the consulate) a preferred way of organizing your papers to make work easy for the recipient. And guess what the lady behind the counter is frustrated and throws her attitude at you. She literally threw the papers of the girl before me through the small hole on her countertops...It was very frustrating to see. She almost shoved me away but thanks to Thameem I had everything organized by tabs.

So after line number six you are asked to sit till your name is called for finger printing which is line number seven. The short arrogant man again makes an appearance and discusses with his attitude-possessed colleagues to see how they can handle the crowd at whom they all sneer. They shove and push us more through more lines. The finger printing is followed by a longer wait for your token numbers to be called (by now you are merely a number). You get a first hand experience to see everyone's interview process unfold right in front of your eyes. Some are happy, some walk out sad but the expression on the face of the Consulate Officers remains the same, Angry.

Then when your number comes you are filled with mixed emotions, if you get your visa it is fine, if you do not then you are embarrassed among 100 people watching you. You don't know these people but by the end of the ordeal you begin to feel either sad/happy for everyone. Anyways the gentleman who took my Visa petition was nice. The only problem was I knew more about my visa regulations than he did. When the whole ordeal is over no one (including the visa officers) tell you if you have received your visa or not. Either you have to ask them twice or if you are too busy packing all your documents the next thing you know you are out of the counter. Then you decide to ask one of 'crowd directors' walking up and down trying to organize people and see what it means to have given away your passport to the Consulate Officer. The answer you get is "Ya, go home, you will get your visa in mail." It is hilarious to see these people throw an attitude as if they have just issued my visa.

So you go through seven standing lines, one sitting line, and the final standing line before you are shoved away in a haste. A total of nine lines in a span of three-four hours and most of the time standing.

The reason I took time to write this is because a lot of things upset me in this process. For a first timer they are too busy worrying about getting their visa that they overlook all the things that bothered me because I was standing there after 5.5 years for a second time. I was used to many of the good old American ways...Like Privacy, being treated courteously (at least most of the times), patience, less bureaucracy, and so on.

From the very beginning of my tour inside the Embassy my psyche was affected by the fact that I am made to stand outside in pouring rain with no shelter. This could have been altered to help people seeking their visa over the last few years. Granted Chennai does not receive too much rain but who cares a shelter can protect people from sun. Why should we be made to stand outside and get ourselves and our documents wet and appear shabby for an interview?? Something to think about in terms of treating people right? At least a little eh? For God's sake we were in the American Consulate...I am sure they can afford a stylish shelter.

The appointment system is all hocus pocus. My appointment was at 8.15am but I saw the Consulate Office only at 10.45am. Wonder why??? Was it Indian standard time? Or did my entry time into the Consulate coicinde with 50 others are let inside?

Why are people so rude? Indians being rude to their own kind? Only in India can you see such subservient system where you treat your own kind badly and the rest above the world. Getting shoved, yelled at, shown attitude to all sits badly on a person who is already tensed about his future. People must be considerate about the delicate mental state most of them will be in while inside the consulate.

Privacy is another issue. You get lauded or axed all inside the same hall where hundred others are waiting. Is it fair to embarrass people like this? Divulge personal information in front of everybody? I know the gentleman before me transferred to two schools, did a half-assed PHD during the recession and is now working in Dallas. Poor guy, I saw the Consulate officer riddling his credentials. Did that gentleman have to go through the trouble in public? I guess not.

The lines are never ending...I hope they could all be more organized and that people would get less confused. Jump from one line to another and no one attempting to reply politely you are lost in the ocean of people all with an either confused or bored look on their face. After so much bureaucracy one is very tired when they finally reach the interview stage.

The above is not a result of my frustration but result of my observation of the way people applying for visa in Chennai Consulateare being treated. Granted we are a third world country but we are also a fast developing country and the developed world needs us either as much as we need them or more. We are not being hired at such an alarming rate for no reason, most of us are talented and hardworking (more work less pay). Then why treat us the way they do? Shouldn't the American Consulate set an example for treating its non-immigrants with dignity? Shouldn't the people working for the Consulate treat their fellow Indians with courtesy and a smile?

I know we have a long way to go when it comes to development but India has always been known for its Hospitality so let it show everywhere!

Thanks
Anu

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