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I’ve just arrived at my hotel in Bhubaneshwar in Orissa, after a few days spent investigating the feasibility of introducing solar lighting products to our customers there. I thought I would catch up on my posts with an overview of the monolithic obstacle to enjoying a fruitful, extended stay in Hyderabad. This post is a bit light on analysis and context, as it’s been a long week. I’ll plan on adding more detail when I get back to Hyderabad.

While the US INS is decidedly less welcoming when it comes to bringing qualified workers into the US, the Indian government presents few obstacles in applying for a work visa. In fact, in a rather ironic twist, the Indian government has chosen to outsource the provision of visa applications through a group called Travisa. I always included their offices in a walking tour of NYC. Mainly because the office was next door to my apartment, but also because few tourist stops offer such a taste of irony.

The real challenge lurks at the begnin sounding “Foreigner’s Registration Office” (FRO) at the Hyderabad Police Commissioner’s offices.  I was steeled for this experience by many of my friends who spent between three and five days trying to navigate the forty feet between the assistant commissioner’s office and the FRO waiting room. People have literally broken down in the waiting room due to the mental anguish of attempting to comprehend the absurdity of the system. I saw a couple recently arrived from England welling up in tears as their son bounced off the wall after the first five hours passed.

And so, I decided to entertain myself by finishing an account, Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, of the more colorful personalities of Bombay. When that provded insufficient to tide me over during the six-hour wait, I took to using my blackberry as my method of blogging my FRO odyessey. The whole experience was a study in the creation of work to justify jobs to create more paperwork, and so the wheel of life turns.

Here are the blackboards that list all of the documents you need (I had a stack of 75 pages of paper, with duplicates of duplicated forms).

A few things happened that I wouldn’t have expected. I never thought I would be presented with this option on an application form, though I’ve seen other optional fields that have left me queasy, in the past. Play “Guess which field”:

 

This TV stand seemed like some sort of premise for a Jeff Foxworthy joke.

The live blackberry blog (with photos inserted afterwards):
35min to get there after we ask 12 different people where the Police Comissioner’s office building is.
Check-in, pat down, lounging guards. Get into the FRO by 10am. People come out early to sign us in. Welcome surprise. Call names at 10:30 (on schedule), I scramble for copies. Get there as number 3 and get in by 10:45am, 15min of document perusal. Passport checked 5 people. Documents looked at by 3. Younger folks are better dressed, more helpful and energetic, after twenty years I suspect this will have changed.

The third stage of registrant evaluation and quiet dismissal occurs slowly under the dim lighting of the musty office hall, with sheaves of gradually yellowing paper towering above you, like autumnal leaves gradually decaying. Older men are rotund, gruff, never smiling.

The senior application inspector is a colorless man who is busily harassing a newly arrived Sudanese refugee with broken English and Western clothes. “Why do you come here? You speak no English. So many don’t have jobs already. What will you do?” The man suffers these verbal thrusts with the placid countenance of someone who clearly has suffered worse aggression at the hands of officials throughout his flight to Hyderabad. After executing a proper thwacking the big saheeb, the senior inspector, reclines, pleased with himself, and accepts the Sudanese man’s application. Who knows what bureaucratic hoops he will have to dive through yet to allow himself to struggle to eke something out here. They are only allowing him a 6-month visa, so this is a semi-annual humiliation.

Of the thirty or so supplicants with whom I wait, 20 are Sudanese, the women veiled, and the men displaying too much respect for the Hyderabadi fashion sense – garishly patterened, rough cotton shirts, dark bootcut pants. With the women, there is an elegant grace, matched with a more assertive public character than I have seen with Indian Muslim women, though I know my exposure to both groups has been minimal.

Sitting in front of me: two chinese students, a couple americans, and two young women. Behind me, students, likely, with a fondness for 7up and the occasional flurries of animated discussion, which in the US usually covers the trio of pressing topics on shopping, boys, or gossip.

 

The waiting room exhibits some of the universals of bureaucratic interior design – discolored tile floors, narrow rows of utilitarian seating, the lazy whirl of fans. thoug these surely fail to provide much comfort when the full weight of the hot and humid monsoon season bears down.

A young English (I could tell before they spoke) couple enters – husband is some sort of consultant, given his computer back; the wife wears the psuedo locale clothing of a frequent international traveler and the token hena tattooes of someone recently returned from an Indian vacation destination or an inclusive wedding, who hops from city to city. The son seems content to seek dad’s attention, while asking probing questions about his father’s open laptop, entranced by the blue screen. His shirt reads, “Look handsome, young man.” This is a rather surprising exhortation to have on one’s shirt, given that those types of shirts usually project something more assured. In the US, I would expect it to read, “Trust Funder” or “Beauty Queen” or “Juicy” or “Your relative lack of wealth makes me uncomfortable, so I wear rhinestone studded clothing and massive watches.”  I am fascinated with the idea of growing up in India. I can’t really imagine how that would shape my perspective. I’m excited for this child. I wonder how he will internalize it. For the time being, he seems intent on exiting the waiting room, even if the barred window is the only escape route.

 

FRO 08/21/08 Stats:
55 people arrive to register. This is just for Day 1 of the process.

Number of staff: 14
Min docs per peson: 43 pages (mine was 75). Avg: ~60 pages.
Total pages generated for one day of applications – 60 * 55 – 3,300.

Avg hours spent per applicant for their first day – 7. Total time spent by applicants today – 7 * 55 – 385 hours.

Applicants per staffer – 3.9.
Applicantions processed per hour of staff time – .56.

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