Jul 5, 2013

From Pillar to Post—Part 2

Picking up where I left off the last time . . . So Marathi-fluent Rucha came down to Bombay, and we made a trip to the University. Unfortunately by then, in moving house, Rucha had lost her receipt, which put us in a bit of a predicament. We waited in the usual line, and she explained the story of losing the receipt. Since I had mine, we were allowed to go in. Back again on the first floor, Rucha started off in Marathi, which got us a predictably good reception. We were told to wait as the “Madam” who could help us had not yet arrived. We ensured we got there well past 10 am, almost 11 am, which is standard government office timing. The room being cluttered with desks and even fewer employees, we waited in the middle of everything. We waited for at least 20 minutes before the clerk who initially told us to wait got fed up with us being in the way.

He got out the register, the same one I saw on my previous visit. Our names were still there, the page had apparently stayed intact, unlike the register itself. Again, we were told we had to go back to the college. And again, I recited the saga that the college told me. And again, we waited.

Finally, “Madam” arrived. She too brought out the register and told us the same story, and we repeated our story again. . . NO, THE COLLEGE DOES NOT HAVE IT! (How hard is it to understand that one statement?!) She couldn’t figure out the problem and told us that we would have to speak to “Sir” who she couldn’t disturb, and she told us to come back another time. At that point, we were tired, hot, and annoyed. So we went away, saying we would come back another day.

However, on the way down, we vented to each other about the sheer absurdness of this bureaucracy. What did she mean “Sir” couldn’t be disturbed? Why not? Was he asleep in bed? Was it 3 am in the morning?

We had had enough! We went back to the “Madam” and demanded to see “Sir.” If she couldn’t disturb him, we could. We had a right, especially since we were students of the University and had come during office hours.

Sir, whose name was Mr. Jadhav, came to Room 1 to see these supposedly insolent girls who had demanded to see him. Realizing we were prepared to have it out, he appeared to be quite affable. He patiently asked questions, trying to figure out where the problem lay. We recited our story; he took a look at the register and concluded the source of the problem.

It turned out our certificates were not signed. FIVE years after we graduated, we had no signature on the certificates. The University evidently prints certificates only if they have been applied for. After we had applied for ours, the Vice Chancellor of the University resigned (or was likely thrown out), and so our certificates, while “ready,” were not signed.

Mr. Jadhav then told us not to worry, that he would get it resolved, and we would have our certificates in a couple of months. Being apprehensive of such assurances, we recited the ordeal we had been through and didn’t trust that it would be resolved this time. He took our names, numbers, and addresses, and told us he would personally look into it, giving us his desk landline number in case there should be another hitch.

We went away rather pleased with ourselves for being more aggressive, for we had never before asserted ourselves so vigorously at any government institution. Our fear of being thrown out and denied what we had come for almost always deterred us from demanding what, only naturally, seemed due to us. In the end, we did get our certificates, not 2 months later as he assured us we would, but about 7 months later. In total, we waited for more than 24 months to see those certificates. A bribe may have helped move things along; however, that’s not what we wanted to do.

There are several points of contention that this experience highlighted for me. One, what happens to a student who doesn’t live in this city and needs a certificate? Does he or she have to spend thousands of rupees making regular trips for two years to follow up? Two, how does one battle this bureaucratic attitude our institutions perpetuate, the attitude of “not disturbing Sirs”? Three, in a city like Bombay, where for generations, languages have merged with each another to form new languages, why should Marathi be treated as the city’s exclusive ticket to getting things done?

I believe that the more we question the Government and its institutions, the better our chances are of change. As for me, I’m not certain why I just didn’t give up, especially since I have never looked at the certificate after having opened the envelope when it first arrived. I know for certain that having Rucha for company in this ordeal helped see it through. In the end, I suppose I wanted to know if government institutions work if people persist and do not to back down in the face of bureaucracy. In this case, it did.

Jun 28, 2013

From Pillar to Post—Part 1

The University of Mumbai (UOM) is one of the oldest universities in India. And like a well-established institution of the 1800s, it functions pretty much in that age-old fashion.

Let me take you through one of my experiences at the 100-acre spread in Kalina.

I completed both my graduate and postgraduate degrees through the UOM. On finishing my B.Com., and needing the Convocation Certificate for the “emigration not required” stamp on my passport, I applied for it. One very long line, a few hours of waiting at the gate, filling in some forms, and paying the fees, and I had officially applied for the certificate. A few months later, around the stipulated time, I received the document officiating me into the world of graduates. Minimal amount of trouble compared to what my postgraduate certificate had in store for me.

When I finished my Masters in Social Work (MSW), I had no particular use for the convocation certificate. And so, I did not apply for it immediately. Over time, however, I did think that it may come in handy some day and finally three years after having passed the exams, I decided to apply for the MSW Convocation Certificate. Now, such tasks should never be done alone, and therefore, my friend, Rucha, and I applied together.

Together we journeyed to Kalina, together we found the examination center, and together we filled the forms and paid the late fee and courier fee to have the certificates posted to us. Now the only thing left to do was wait. And waited we did . . . for TWO years!

In those two years, much transpired—I changed two jobs, and Rucha got married, moved to the U.S., and completed her GRE and TOEFL . . . and yet, we were still waiting for the certificates to arrive.

Our first trip to the Kalina campus was in August. Well, August 9, 2009 to be precise—I have the receipt to prove it. This is when we got the preliminary work done.

When in January, 2010, the certificates had not shown up at either of our houses, I made another trip to the examination center. This time, I went alone. In my horrible Hindi and even worse Marathi, I made my way through the office building, politely asking person after person about how I get a certificate for which I had applied.

I went from the ground floor to the first floor and then to room after room. At the end of this two-hour, perspiring ordeal, I was told to come back in August, 2010, at which point I would get the certificate. I didn’t argue nor did I question what I was told, I was simply too tired. I nodded saying thank you, and I would be back for the document.

Months passed, August arrived, and I was back at the center, going through the same routine. However, this time it was a bit different. I was told that there was a new rule in the University—all students who applied for their convocation certificates in 2009 or after that would have to collect them from their colleges. And so, another trip to be made, only this time to my college at Marine Lines.

Another few weeks passed before I could get time off from work to make this trip. I reached the college office only to be told “My dear, you have it wrong! The certificates we issue are only for those students who have completed their degrees in 2009. Your certificate will be with the University!” This, of course, warranted another trip to the University because to confirm this over the phone would be next to impossible.

By this time, I had lost hope. There I was, waltzing from one office to another, being told several stories, conversing in a horrible mix of Hindi, Marathi, and English, trying to get one document that said I had successfully completed this exam!

Another few months passed before I gathered the will to face the University once more. It followed much the same routine—I told them that the college had only those certificates of students who had finished in 2009 and not before that. I got a long “hmmm,” one nod, and a contemplative roll of the eyes, and then I was told to wait.

Now, if you have ever been to the Mumbai University Examination Center, you will know that there is no place to wait in room A1 on the first floor. There are desks, stacks of dog-eared papers and files, and people screaming at more people. Nonetheless, I found myself standing with my back against a table waiting. Much time passed until the lady who told me to wait realized that I would not leave without an answer. So, she sent a clerk to pull out the file with the names of students enrolled in the MSW programme.

You should know that in the whole of the UOM, there is only one college that offers the MSW course; so there are no more than 50 to 60 students who complete their degrees each year. Yet, finding such a file proved to be challenging.

30 mins later, the clerk came back with a gigantic threadbare file, with papers falling out. On opening it, I found many of the names familiar, college mates who were my seniors, some who were my juniors. And then, I found not just my name in there but also Rucha’s. Finally, our names show up somewhere!

The clerk then scribbled a number on my receipt, and said in a dictating voice, “Take to Madam.” Presumably, this was the same madam I had been dealing with the past months. On showing her the number she said, “Come back in two months, we will have it for you.” Of course, by then, I knew what that meant. I had decided that the next time I came back, I would come back with reinforcements—Marathi-fluent Rucha.

Apr 24, 2011

A Sri Lankan Train Ride

A couple of friends and I made a trip to the Pearl Island of Sri Lanka last week. We stayed in Unawatuna, a beach in Galle about 116 kms from Colombo. On the way to Unawatuna, we drove down to the South Coast. However, on the way back, we decided to take the train.

While the train was rather rickety, the sights and scenery throughout were breathtaking. For the most part of the ride, the sea was in full view. At a few points I could see the waves lashing up against the tracks. All of this—the sea, the breeze, the sights—made the crowd and the heat so much more bearable.

A few tips—to get the best seat, which is the window seat of course, get in quick (these trains get pretty crowded). The train travels North from Galle to Colombo, so the best seats are on the left side of the train. The windows are large and completely open without grills. So hang onto your stuff!

Galle to Colombo

Nov 6, 2010

Fireworks at the Queen’s Necklace


Even Obama’s visit can’t stop a Bombayite from enjoying Diwali and Marine Drive knows this like no other place in South Bombay. Security maybe tight in SOBO and the police might be out in hundreds. But Diwali is Diwali at the Queen’s Necklace, and no Obama is going to stop people from enjoying themselves.

I didn’t know about Diwali at Marine Drive, until yesterday when Alex and I went over to the well-known stretch to watch scores of adults and little kids come out to light a gazillion fireworks. It seems like every year the fireworks market throws up something new. The fuljaris and fountains and chakras are classics, but the rockets have been modified along with the bigger ones that light up the sky with a thousand rays and sparkles.

Marine Drive is a definite to-do on Diwali, something I shall try to make a yearly event!

Nov 4, 2010

Crack crackety crack!

7am! I’m awake and groggy. The crackers have started, the sun is streaming through my flimsy curtains. It’s Friday and it’s a holiday! One of the few joys of working in India, you get more holidays here than in any other country. The entrance to Leela Business Park

Diwali again, and love is in the air. It’s been Diwali here this whole week. People are in a nicer disposition. They even look nicer, cleaner, and so well groomed. The women have been wearing the bestest of the bestest sarees and some men have even shaved. Public transport is oozing with people in a good mood; this having made this whole past week so unusually pleasant. Even last evening’s sudden downpour didn’t hamper the festive spirit.

Regardless of religion, Diwali is probably the only time of year when everyone looks happier. Serial lights hanging from every surface actually lightens up the night, the diyas look beautiful, and the rangolis add that splash of colour to an otherwise boring, routine life.

Randomly taken The weather as well has started changing; it has gotten cooler, making those long commutes a little easier, especially if you happen to travel a couple of hours each day to work. Getting off a crowded bus and walking doesn’t get you thinking ‘oofff’! iPod on LOUD, wind blowing, traffic noise drowned out, it’s actually a pleasant walk. SV Road, Irla

For me, the best part of the season is the city’s streets. The lights really do make me happier, there is something beautiful about them. Even the loud garish ones don’t seem too bad. And have you ever noticed how the serial lights on disco mode strung from the shadiest shops and bars make you want to bob your head and tap feet? Haven’t done that ever? Take a walk down your market street or the main road, and experience this once-in-a year joy.

The Kohinoor Building on Andheri-Kurla road  Happy Diwali People!

Of lights and sounds…

I was playing around with my iPod today and thought about recording the stretch from Andheri-Kurla road to the West. To all you Bombayites living elsewhere, here’s a piece of your city at Diwali…

…and here’s another