A wait in the Indian High Commission

I wonder why some countries need a visa to enter?

You join me in the Indian High Commission, in India Place in the Aldwych, where I’m folornly waiting for B14 to appear on the 1970s “deli counter” ticket display. We’re on A70 at the moment, and I’m reasonably confident that we’re going to get up to A99 before starting at B01.

A72 now. There’s a door over there with the notice above it saying “Overseas Citizenship of India Cell” which looks quite inviting. Inside that room is a machine selling crisps and snacks, another machine selling soft-drinks (probably the only unbranded one I’ve ever seen), and an absence of anything that could reasonably be expected to be a cell.

A77. The queue outside started at before 7.50 when I got here - and was probably a hundred long. Wait. It was 113 long when I joined it. I know this, since I have ticket B14. (And B15 and B16, since I’m getting some visas for some friends). The queue started with the question “Is this the queue for the visas?” which, while it works okay if you’ve a queue of ten, has the capacity to break down quite badly if you’ve 113 people in front of you. All it takes is one person to mis-hear (“Is the weather a bit nicer?”) and then we’re stuck in the wrong queue. Surprisingly, therefore, we weren’t.

A84. I was warned to get here early, and warned about the agents who appear with hundreds of passports all expecting a visa. There’s a man over there with five. But then, I’ve got three. So that’s okay then. He just must have more friends.

A87. In this day and age, queuing up for a visa is possibly one of the least constructive uses of time known to man. The Indian Tourist Board don’t mention this on their glossy advertising, do they? And, indeed, one wonders why not. After all, the ASA expects an awful lot of small print these days around advertising. It would seem that it makes sense to add some small print to their ads. “To see these elephants, £30 of visa is required, and queuing up for at least two hours is expected. Your holiday will be at risk if you do not obtain a visa.”

A89. On the staircase, there was a metal detector. Everyone, including me, bleeped as we went through. Nobody cared. Wonder why they bothered buying one?

A92. There’s an elegant Indian lady in front of me (not entirely sure why she needs a visa), with a bright purple sari on. The sari has golden print on it, adding a bit of glitter: until you look more closely and read ‘MADE IN JAPAN’. I won’t ask how that works.

A97. Every buzz of the deli-counter thing makes everyone look up. The room has four rows of uncomfortable plastic chairs, probably thirty chairs each row, but in spite of that, there are a growing amount of people having to stand on one side.

Ooh. B00. B01. We’re getting close now to B14, whereupon I have to give a man some money and my passport, then wait in another queue, over there, to get it back with something written in it, saying that I can, after all, go to India (for the International Radio Forum, gosh). Apparently, we’re not allowed to smoke, drink, or eat in this room: odd when the Cell includes a snack and drinks machine. Is it takeaway only, do you think?

B09 now. This Blackberry begins to hurt if you type non-stop into it for a bit. I could have done with a big keyboard, like the laptop I’ve got in my bag - d’oh.

B11. The man in front has just got out his Nokia “I look like a Blackberry but I’m not really” device. I wonder whether there have been any legal spats about that.

B12. Just noticed a ‘do not use mobile phones’ across the room. Oops.

B13. Wish me luck.

… later …

D48. Welcome back. So, here’s what’s happened so far. The man saw me at bay 3, and then pointed me to someone called a PRO who lived behind a big door marked ‘staff only’ who argued for a bit and then disappeared and then came back and then told me to wait outside bay 3 again which is where I’ve been for the last hour, which has been fun.

A number of interesting objections. First, my letter (printed out from a PDF at home onyo my cheap laser printer) is not really a letter, and therefore isn’t acceptable: he wants to see a fax. Naturally, this is the technological equivalent of a fax, but that might not be good enough. Curiously, one of my friends has a similar letter but printed out on his posh colour printer at work, and apparently that’s all okay, so it’s more a comment on the printing quality of my cheap Samsung laser printer on economy mode, I suspect.

Second, he decides that for another of my friends he wants to see a bank statement. She banks online, and therefore this bank statement would just be a print out from a website, which I bet won’t count anyway. But I’m hoping that her car-and-house insurance certificate will be okay - it’s a legal document, after all. (Who insures a car AND a house together, for heaven’s sake?)

D62. So there’s a long and un-explained wait. We can’t use mobile phones here, apparently, not that that is getting in the way of someone behind me having a long conversation about someone else who’s been a bit selfish. A typical quote: “I didn’t realise she’d be so long.”

D71. One of the interesting things in here is the smell: an exotic heady smell of indian spices and bored businessmen or tourists. It was quite fun earlier on.

D72. The deli-counter number-thing is made in Sweden, and I think it’s called a turnomatic. I had to stand underneath it when I got to go and wait for the other man through the door. On top of the turnomatic is a Heath-Robinson contraption of lightbulbs, marked ABCDE. This is, presumably, because it looks better if the deli-counter thing doesn’t say 472. It’s very dusty.

D79. Also here is a very nice LED screen. It flashes ‘Welcome to the High Commission of India’, then it scrolls off the screen, then it scrolls back on. I’m not entirely sure what useful purpose this serves.

D86. The man behind me is still on the phone. He sounds like a right miserable bastard. Currently he’s justifying his poor social skills on having lots of work. I’ve just turned round: he looks (and sounds, now I think about it) like a slightly more camp version of the one with the afro on the IT crowd. He’s got the glasses and everything. And bumfluff on his chin.

E02. The bulb behind ‘E’ doesn’t work. One person is now saying in a very loud voice that they don’t accept email as documentation: “but it’s the only documentation I have”. There’s probably a lot of interesting things that lead on from this and earlier observations: how we’ll function when proof-of-anything comes in an easily-forgeable email. But I’m not sure I can be bothered. But I’m feeling slightly brighter now, because man-from-the-IT-crowd has gone to get his passport, which I rather hope will be declined, because I don’t think India’s ready.

E14. There was a nice Aussie next to me. He’s a bit worried about going to India in the monsoon season, and thinks it might be wet. He’s actually going to Sri Lanka for his mate’s wedding, but he’s planning on a look around India too. He’s just been called.

E20. IT-crowd-man is now back behind me.

E20 (still). He’s gone again.

E22. My conversation with the man in bay 3 has stopped being verbal. Every so often I’ll catch his eye, and wave my arms in a “What’s going on?” type way. He shakes his head. I smile in a kind of resigned way. He doesn’t smile back. He’s a tall chap with a busy black moustache: he looks like Saddam Hussein might look if he was indian, which he’s not.

E67. The people in here are thinning. Both in terms of numbers and in terms of physical size. There was one American I was talking to earlier who had been here all of yesterday, too. Which doesn’t really fill me with hope. And I’ve a lunch appointment at 12.30. Which I will be late for.

Indian-Saddam in bay 3 occasionally ruffles his passports about a bit, to make me think that he’s got some more. He hasn’t, but it’s a fun game. It helps pass away the time. Before I pass away.

E84. I quite fancy getting a drink now, because I’ve a splitting headache, but the sign I am in front of is fairly explicit in saying ’no drinking’, and I’m not giving up now. I’ve been here too long for me to be thrown out for enjoying an ice-cold can of drink.

E86. Someone who hasn’t read the copious rules and regulations has tried paying with a card. Oops. Back of the queue for you.

E87. Stuart from Runcorn is sitting next to mem. I know this because he’s brought his big bag in with him, which gives his address. Burglars, if you want to go into Stuart’s house, I’ve got his full address here if you want it. (Not really.)

There’s a man over there with the same credit-card as I have. This is the layer of desperation I’ve reached. Gosh, he’s got one of those cards too. Now, has he had to choose that colour because he’s not paid very much, or has he chosen it because he finds gold cards a bit, well, vulgar?

E92. This place closes in five minutes, though I’m not very hopeful we’ll all finish on time. There’s a clock on the wall stuck on five-past four.

E97. There’s a poster on the wall promoting IT Fair 05. “See IT to believe it!”. It was in December last year. Also, four glued-on posters on the window promoting the India International Garment Fair, in January.

The thing’s been stuck on E97 for a while. One. Indian man is shouting at the officials.

There is a school of thought that you shouldn’t shout at people giving you a visa because they may well decline totally, and that would be a bad thing. There is another school of thought which says that if someone ends up telling you that you have to come back at 3 when you’ve been there since 7.30, you express total miscomprehension as to the delay at the top of your voice, so that a manager comes running very quickly to stop the commotion.

That’s possibly the only time I’ve been incredibly polite while shouting at someone.

And it turns out that the manager gave someone a bollocking (they’d been sitting on the passports for a few hours). And that they stayed late to deal with my passports. And so, at 1.15pm, I was able to leave with three passports, all with visas.

Which brings me back to the original point. Why do we need them?