Passport Crisis

In the last couple of months, I went through a lot of problems concerning my passport. I have written down every detail of my trouble just to get this document. Below is the article I wrote to send it in the media. Thanks to my friend Vidya Ranade from Pune Mirror who took up this issue and got it published today, Aug 25, 2009. Here is the link Getting Passport re-issued was an agonising Task

Article in Pune Mirror Aug 25, 2009

Article in Pune Mirror Aug 25, 2009

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My Article

Why should getting any document that shows our identity become so complex and annoying? Not only I wasted time, but my energy, money and came home with a doubt of ever receiving my passport! What I shall write ahead of me is not for me but for all the people who go through this awful process of acquiring a passport – a small identification of being an Indian to travel abroad.

It all started with the necessity to re-issue my passport which is going to be expiring in Dec 2009. Since I had to get it done this year and had some time at hand, I thought I should apply it a little beforehand. I got the reference of an agent from my friend and decided to do through them. As per the requirements, I was asked to produce several documents in original form and their copies. After I submitted my documents, I was quite at ease and assumed that the agent would take responsibility of my passport process. I was also told that I would get a call from the Police Department for some identity verification within 8 days. I somehow knew that it would be certainly more than 8 days as living in India, not a single procedure moves at an expected pace. I waited for nearly 20 days and a little later than that, a woman comes to my door and hands in the passport to me. I was quite surprised to receive my passport within a month without the police verification. She asked me several questions and refused to leave. I was a bit confused and assumed she wanted to some reward, as it is very often said, for delivering my document. I did not pay heed to her hungry eyes and asked her to leave. I opened my passport and saw a stamp stating Emigration Check Required (ECR)! Now according to their procedure graduates do not need this stamp and I am not only a graduate but have acquired my Masters Degree too! I should have got a stamp stating Emigration Check Not Required! This was my problem number one; the second began soon after that! I called my agent to deal with the issue and he too did not pay heed to my problem and simply asked me to do it on my own. I was annoyed because I’d already paid up and was wondering why I appointed an agent when I ultimately have to go and wait in lines for the procedure. Anyway, what had to be done was unavoidable and I decided to keep calm and follow the procedure.

The next day, I got a call at 8am in the morning from the Shastri Nagar Police Station to visit them in order to get my verification done. I was not instructed about the procedural formality despite asking about the same. As per the instructions, I went there to find out that they needed 3 photographs of me along with PAN card as my identification. I realised that I would obviously have to make a second appearance as my Driver’s Licence, which happens to be another official government document, was not accepted as adequate proof of identification. I was asked to come at 6pm the very same day. With a lot of adjustment at work I went back to the Police Station sharp at 6pm to find out that the senior officer was not available before whom I had to make my appearance. Well I was asked to come back again at 10am the next day! I took the phone number of one of the officer in charge and called him before leaving the next morning. Thankfully he told me not to come since the senior officer was again not available. I was surprised to get a call later that evening from a constable in charge to come to the Police Station at 6pm, with less than an hour to spare, the very same day. Finally, on that day, I got my verification done within 10-15 minutes after spending so much time travelling back and forth.

This was the end of the third problem and could not forget about the ECR issue that needed to be resolved. I was calm and prepared for the next step towards getting my passport in order. I decided to be before time in case of the usual waiting in line and government delays and routine. I believed it to be a very simple and straightforward procedure to get this changed since the error had occurred from their side. I went to the Passport Office at Senapati Bapat Road, Pune with all the necessary documents to get my passport corrected. I stood in line for nearly 45 minutes even though I was there before 10am which is the commencing time of the office. By the time I reached the entrance of the office, some officer told me to fill out a form. I did not have glue with me when I approached the counter. I agree I was negligent in this case but none of the procedures were clear to me in the first place. When I stood in line to submit my form albeit without the photo, the officer across made a very obnoxious gesture for me to go away and threw the papers at me. I was offended but did not react and turned back to do the needful. I walked out of the office and asked a person where I would get my photo glued to the form. I was told that the shop nearby charged Rs. 2/- to use their glue. Isn’t that unbelievable? It wasn’t about giving Rs.2/-. It was about going through so much stress and torture at every step just to get a simple passport! After I came back to re-submit my papers and asked the officer when I would get my passport, he barked by saying that how was he supposed to know. I asked him his name which he refused to disclose and asked me to leave again gesturing obnoxiously. I was furious by then and made it clear that we should be treated respectfully and do not deserve to be screamed at. He was not only talking with me disrespectfully but to all the people who were standing in line with me. I got my receipt and walked out deciding to go to the press and media vowing to bring the procedure into public eye. The question here is, was it my fault that I got an error of ECR on my passport? I am spending time, effort and money in fixing a problem for which I should not have been bothered and on top of it, ill-treated. I am not sure how the system works but as an individual and a citizen of this country, I have the right to get my document done with no hassle unless there is some serious concern from my side.

This is not just for me but for all the people who have gone through these issues and will go through them for the next innumerable years. This nuisance as I should call it should be put across to the masses. As I said earlier, we as citizens just demand basic rights, simple and straightforward, which in fact are complicated and without a solution!

Passport Crisis

Passport Crisis

Lush Greens of the Monsoons – Pawankhind – India

I just got back from my trip to Pawankhind, a place quite untouched yet, and unbelievably green in the monsoons. The place is beautiful and worth a visit in the rainy season. Its about a 5 hours drive from my city, Pune. I couldn’t help but write about it in my blog because never in my life have I seen velvet-like greenery, so lush and so captivating that it seems so unreal. Every hill, tree, grass, and a square inch of land has various shades of rich green. Of course, it comes with a whole bunch of leeches and other insects but its worth the sight. I don’t want to write much, I would rather have you see pictures of what I am talking about……hope you all agree with me!

The lush greenery

The lush greenery

Another random picture captured on our way

Another random picture captured on our way

The above first picture is one of our drives through the mountains of the Western Ghats separating the Konkan region from the Deccan plateau. We waited every 10 feet to breathe in the stunning view of the verdant landscape.

Aerial View of the Pawankhind Dam Waterfall

Aerial View of the Dam Waterfall at Pawankhind

We got this magnificient view of the waterfall from our resort.

View of the Waterfall at Pawankhind

View of the Waterfall at Pawankhind

The waterfall in the picture is vigorous and enchanting. It was worth a view!

The Forest of Pawankhind

The Forest of Pawankhind

What surprised me was the dense jungles of this area. I had not imagined such a dense forest exist in the middle of Maharashtra! I know my state has a whole lot of jungles, but this was way more dense with tons of leeches, red ants and insects that I have never seen in my life!

A Beetle

A Beetle

While in Pawankhind, we hiked down to a place called Pawankhind (khind means pass) known after the heroic deed of Bajiprabhu Deshpande. This small pass (truly speaking, it is hardly a pass!) through which Bajiprabhu Deshpande, one of the Sardars or lieutenants of the famous Maratha king – Shivaji lead his troops and fought a rear guard battle in order to help Shivaji escape from Panhala Fort (fort close to Kolhapur). He was the hero who sacrificed his life for his king and country. This place is steep with an astounding view of a waterfall.

Pawankhind is a small pass where Bajipraphu Deshpande fought a war for the popular Maratha King - Shivaji

Pawankhind is a small pass through which Bajipraphu took his troop and fought a war for the popular Maratha King - Shivaji

We decided to hike through the fringes of the forest. Since we weren’t very equiped and the forest was full of wild life, we decided to explore the areas around the lake. Thats where saw a small swampy area adjoining the lake. After taking a deeper look, we realised that its actually a patch of quicksand. This was my first experience or view of how quicksand looks. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go too close it due to the heavy, weedy and thick vegetation.

The quicksand in the fringes of the jungle

The quicksand in the fringes of the jungle

The two pictures below are just somethings that I found very cool and different while we were walking through the jungles.

Shell with a fern growing inside

Shell with a fern growing inside

Raindrops caught in the web

Raindrops caught in the web

Below are some panaromic pictures of the rish green landscape, forest, lake and waterfall!

The lush green landscape of the area

The lush green landscape of the area

Panaromic view of the backwaters of Pawankhind dam alongside the dense jungle

Panaromic view of the backwaters of dam alongside the dense jungle

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The Cuisine & People of Peru

Map shows Iquitos, Cuzco, Ica (Nazca), Lima

Map shows Iquitos, Cuzco, Ica (Nazca), Lima

I had always heard a lot of stories of the exotic Americas and when I got a chance to visit one, it was almost like a dream come true. This exotic location that I travelled to was Peru or the land of the Incas, a beautiful country with so much natural beauty and tradition. Their cuisine and people really fascinated me… I think it was the colours, deeds, display and simplicity.

Despite the influence of European colonialism, much of the native South American cuisine remains a mystery. Moreover, I can define it as a marriage between European and South American gastronomies. Peru demonstrates the interrelation brilliantly where the native ingredients are mixed with the Spanish, Arabic, African and Oriental influences. The typical ingredients of the Incas are potatoes, tomatoes, corn, peppers and aji (pronounced like arhi) a typical hot chilli, corn, rice and beans.

Our journey started after we landed in Lima, the beautiful capital city of Peru along with Pacific Ocean. The city had its touch of modern influence on it and hence did not see the crudeness and life of the actual Peru. I saw a lot of its striking colours and display of the gastronomy in the smaller towns of Nazca, Aguas Calientes or for that matter in Iquitos in the Amazon. On our way to the impressive ruins of the Machu Picchu, we stopped at a small town of Aguas Calientes. It was a small town in the middle of the gigantic Andean mountains with the most fascinating colours and displays in foodstuff. Being an artist who is influenced by colours this place was a paradise or me. Before starting our journey to the grand Machu Picchu, we decided to buy some fruit for our long day. While strolling through the markets, we saw several fruit stalls loaded with variety of fruits flaunting their freshness and colours. The fruits were arranged so creatively with all their colours matching against one another that I wanted to have them all. We often see this in India too in different fashion, maybe on carts or in juice bars, etc, but this was more fascinating since all vendors had them displayed in their own style and pattern and unique in their own way.

Roadside fruit stall - Aguas Calientes

Roadside fruit stall - Aguas Calientes

Chicken is not the most staple diet in Peru but what caught my eye in Nazca was something strange. I am not sure what the local had in her mind but whatever it was, it was surely funny and memorable. We were sitting in a small roadside shack and sipping the Chicha Morada, a drink extracted from purple corn, when I spotted this lady. She was carrying a beautiful, healthy rooster in a shawl tied around her shoulders. They both seemed happy and comfortable in their own place. The rooster sat comfortably in the pouch of her shawl while she walked elegantly, feeding him the corn and cheese she munched on. It was such a hilarious sight to see them both so much at ease with the arrangement.

Lady carrying a healthy rooster

Lady carrying a healthy rooster

maíz y el queso fresco - Corn and fresh Cheese

maíz y el queso fresco - Corn and fresh Cheese

Chicha Morada made from purple corn & Chicha de Jora made from white corn

Chicha Morada made from purple corn & Chicha de Jora made from white corn

As we travelled across from the coast to the Andes and then to the jungles of the Amazon, we had some other experiences which seemed fun, daring and nostalgic. As soon as we landed in Iquitos, a city on the borders of the Amazon, we saw some amazing similarities between India and this part of the country. All over the place people kept staring at us. We had no idea why, until we walked down the markets of Iquitos. We were so surprised to see Bollywood posters and cds all over the place. Perhaps not too many Indians travel to this side of the world because people asked us questions about our country and its culture, cuisine, clothing, etc. Not only that, we also saw bikes and autorickshaws just like we see here, in our country. It was so amazing to see a part of us half a globe away! This was one side of the Amazon; the other one was more adventurous. On the streets of Iquitos, we saw a guy skewing one of their delicacies, orange and black fuzzy caterpillars. They were alive and kept in basket. People seemed to savour its taste and texture. Bipin also decided to try one and thought it was crunchy on the outside and gooey in the inside. Right next to the caterpiller shack was a guy selling coconut water, just the way we see it in India! I have travelled to so many places but Peru was the only place where the coconut water was sold in its traditional way instead of bottles. It was the nostalgia that made us drink the fresh water of the coconuts, two each. That whole day was spent talking in our brief Spanish to people, understanding their way of life, tasting different dishes like the Yuca potatoes, alligators, caterpillars, etc. So much like India and such a distance away, it’s remarkable how similar and dissimilar we are!

Delicacy of the Amazon

Delicacy of the Amazon

Motorcycle seen very commonly in India

Motorcycle seen very commonly in India

Taste of Indian Heritage

Everybody talks about India and its heritage, culture, etc. Even though we talk about it, we tend to ignore the character of all the little things that make this country so versatile. I think I am a part of this negligence but things changed a bit when I visited this place called Choki Dhani in Pune. This place takes you back to who we are and how we have changed through the years. It is a fantastic combination of entertainment hand in hand with reminder our skill and tradition, long lost and forgotten.

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It all started with a fanfare of the traditional dhols and a folk dance from Rajasthan. Just the grand welcome made such a difference to the entire visit to this place. I loved the beats of the traditional drums; they did make the audience move. Not only that, the rhythm got so many people on toes which ended up being a huge parade of dance and music! That was the very moment I realised how much of our own art is lost and hardly valued. I did make up my mind to see, study and observe each and every form of art and understand much more than what we actually see.

After the grand greeting we went to see the puppet show. I’ve always loved the vibrant colours of the puppets. They sure look charming with their string moves in their little theatre. While talking to one of the performers, he added that puppetry started off as a custom to ward off evil and to bring rain and prosperity in the lives of villagers. The play was based on the story of Amar Singh Rathore narrated by the members of the show. The performers produce sharp, trembling and shrilling sounds as a part of the dialogues of the play. Though I’ve seen this so many times, this time was different because I did not watch it for entertainment but as an art, so creative! I also came to realise that puppetry must also be an expensive form of art or entertainment. My curiosity did make me ask the puppeteer about the elements involved in the process of the show. He started off with a long list which in no doubt surprised me to the core. The art involves drawings, paintings, wood carving, carpentry, plaster cast making, clay modelling, costume designing, story, script writing, dramatization, song and music composition. It surely was beyond imagination!

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Our next halt was an astounding performance of a rope walk done by a boy not more than 13 years of age. He was an antic entertainer who performed on the beats of the dholak. It was stunning to see the little boy balance, sleep, jump, sway and do all sorts of antics of the one inch rope. Later after the show, he said he came from a small village in Rajasthan where most of the people have ropewalk as their profession. He also said that for generations they have been performing and hardly remembers anybody who had not mastered the art of rope balancing. He got the maximum tip and appreciation from a lot of people. He certainly did steal the show. It was so unfortunate to see this art almost completely lost in time.

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Followed by the rope acrobats, we entered a small theatre where a group of women presented the Bhavai dance. In this dance the veiled women move to the beats with nine brass pitchers over their head. They also have unusual skills like balancing and dancing at the edge of a sword or glass. It is so fascinating to see colourful dance which looks even more graceful due to its spectacular attire and dazzling ornaments.

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And hence the evening of unusual events continued with mehendi and tattoo, followed by the chudi wala where he made lacquer bangles in the colours and size we wanted. The potter also stole the show by letting us make miniature pots. The whole evening was a blend of art and crafts, special and interesting in its own way. By the time we finished visiting all the affairs, it was time to have dinner. Our day ended with a sumptuous Rajasthani food of dal bhati, kheer, bjre ki roti with lasan chutni and a wide range of sweets. I wish I could write more and more about that evening but I will leave it to some other time. For now, the rope walk, dance and puppet show really impressed me above the rest, hoping to remember this day that opened my eyes to something so age old and prized.