The PK Chronicles
Notes from inside a Bengaluru Passport Kendra.
By Sheila Kumar (Satire)
The whole process was now streamlined, they said. It was easy as cream pie, they said. Well, I’d like to meet them, I have some pithy things to say to them.
No, I’m not referring to Aamir Khan’s film-with-enigmatic title in the headline. Let that enigma stand for a while longer. I’m talking about a venerable Passport Kendra in Bengaluru, where I’d gone for the mere trifle of a passport reissue. The third reissue, mind you. Four hours later, I emerged a shattered and shaken woman.
It all started off so well, too. Be there at 2.40 pm, the slip I was given warned sternly. At 2.48, my papers were scrutinised, okayed and I was waved through to Section A. Section A was like the waiting area of a respectable clinic and had a Town Crier, a callow youth who called out our token numbers in a shrill voice. Somewhat superfluous, I thought initially, because a large screen flashed the numbers quite in the fashion of Derby results. Soon enough, I realised the Crier had his uses; every few minutes, there was a mass lunge for the door, whereupon he quickly assumed the role of bouncer and pushed people back. Once he cried out a number four times, to no visible reaction. He then walked up to a young woman and asked her, are you 221? Yes, she said in a tone of great surprise. The Crier sighed deeply, then gestured for her to go in. I admired his fortitude.
It was an interminable wait. I breathed in the BO that is the regulation bouquet of any Indian crowd, I watched a swaddled baby two rows ahead of me grow up a little, break out his first milk tooth and learn his first word (clue: it begins with p). I watched a man who was clearly pondering if he should try the `Jante ho main kaun hoon` line. (He decided against it, in the end). I watched a clan reunion take place, I watched two techies muse blankly over whatever it was that techies mused when away from their computers. I watched a girl watch the latest season of a Korean soap on her iPad. I watched a pair of bratty twins kick up a ruckus and pondered whether travel or two tight slaps were what they needed.
Then the Crier called for numbers from 200 to 201. I was 239 but behaved like a true Indian lemming and rushed up to him. No maydum, he said firmly. I noticed that all those who vanished into the maw of Section B never returned. Fifty minutes later, a thin voice called out my name. But the crier said no go, I had to wait for the number to flash. I was developing breathing trouble. A TV came on and showed ads for a room freshener, an Audi sedan and a water purifier in that order. People watched in listless fascination and of course, the Crier had to cry out the numbers repeatedly.
My number was flashed/called. Once inside Section B, I hastened to B3 where a Miss Sindhu shuffled through my papers, scanned my fingertips and then, clicked my passport photograph. I took a look at it and recoiled: the horror, oh the horror. Before I could plead for a second chance, she was asking me to sign inside the bracket and tut-tutting because, traumatised by the Gila monster I’d seen in the photo, I signed my signature outside the bracket.
As I got up, Miss Sindhu said I was to head to Section C for further verification. That was a wait of another forty minutes. I watched a PYT apply a fresh coat of lipstick and wanted to tell her with jaded cynicism that no matter what she did, the end result would be the same: she’d look like nothing on earth, leave along herself. I was also starting to form a decided opinion on the interiors of the PK, eggshell walls and gray furniture. There was a Crier in there too, and as time ticked inexorably on and we kept catching each other’s eye, a meaningful relationship looked set to develop.
By the time the Section C man met me, I had evolved to a higher plane, nearly giving the wrong name, staring confusedly when asked if there was any change of address. I was beginning to consider PK a home away from home, you see. Still in that daze, I stumbled back to the doorway, only to realise PK was like Hotel California…you can check out but you can never leave. (Mainly because the exit was at the other end.)
Once I got out, I inhaled the smell of rain-tipped air mixed with garbage and exhaust fumes, that special smell of Bangaluru. I was free. And I defiantly thought, whatever happens in the future, I would always have Number 239.