Section 129 is still standing in line
“Wait over there for your Visa to be signed and presented. Don’t go anywhere, you will have to return tomorrow if you miss this. Your number will be called out. Collect it then and only then. Check it; mistakes cannot be corrected.”
Feeling as if he was a prisoner of war, Vernon marvelled at the intelligence gathering powers of Indian bureaucracy. Obviously they knew about his every sin since childhood and this was the payback. A pound of flesh for Pune.
He joined the cautiously-optimistic queue gathered around the door he had first entered and for the first thirty minutes he was entertained by the checkout assistant’s indecipherable pronunciation of numbers, his aggressive abuse of anybody who stood in the wrong place or came at the wrong moment and his running commentary, in what might be a blend of Hindi and Urdu, denigrating the dregs of humanity he had to nanny. When his number appeared to be close he was ready in the starting block to sprint forward and collect his prize. ‘Zee-rore Eeet Treee’.
Aha 083. Vernon stepped forward and time seemed to drag its heels. With the boom-in-a-barrel acoustics familiar to a drowning man he reached out for his passport. He actually touched it. As he did so the assistant cried with horror. “Oh goodness me no. I cannot let you have that no. Too bad. No.”
The assistant promptly withdrew his passport and carried on dispensing justice to his other unworthy clients. When Vernon remonstrated he shook his head as if to dissuade a persistent fly saying, “No, no Mr. Cannot have. Look it is not being signed. Please to be waiting there, there, there.”
The assistant pointed with hair-splitting precision to an exact spot at the corner of his counter, as if he had checked these coordinates minutely, and Vernon waited tensely, like a coiled spring. And …waited. He could see the administration staff drinking tea and milling about apparently aimlessly. After forty minutes had elapsed he noted that the department closed business for the day in quarter of an hour. “Please”, he said to his unlikely ally, who had checked on his colleagues twice already, “I have a long drive home. Please can you get this signed?”
When the passport finally arrived Vernon accepted it meekly, the fight knocked out of him. You had to admit it. The British having invented bureaucracy seemed to have left it behind in India like volatile unspent nuclear fuel. Vernon now knew that the path to Nirvana led through purgatory.
The rest of the novel can be found on The Novel page. Check it out.