So, Meru Cabs sucks. Got it.
Complaint Number Two: I am not even going to start on the idiocy that is the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). It is the bane of the expat. India has this ludicrous law that requires foreigners to register with the police, ostensibly so that they can be tracked / monitored. OK, I get it at a certain level – you’re coming here on a visa, we want to make sure you don’t overstay your visa or commit visa fraud. Monitoring of such things is required, and expected. Happens in the US as well, I’m sure.
But the process – as my friend Niti called it, the “babu-dom” – of it all is maddening. First, I registered with the FRRO in Hyderabad. Took a full day. But it was done.
Then I moved to Mumbai.
So listen to this. I had to FLY TO HYDERABAD and report to the FRRO, in person, to request a transfer of my registration to Mumbai. You should have done this before moving, you might say. Ah yes, that’s true. Except I need proof of address (i.e., a lease) in Mumbai in order to request the transfer. In short: not possible.
Fine, I went to Hyderabad for the day, reported to the FRRO with documents in hand (and lots of passport sized photographs) and obtained my transfer stamp.
Waste of a day: check. Got my transfer stamp: check.
Then, I had to go to the Mumbai FRRO office, known colloquially to expatriates in Mumbai as “the seventh circle of hell.” In this office, a cadre of inefficient babu-bureaucrats carry on a paper-only process of registering hapless foreigners, requesting additional documents that you don’t have or can’t get, and generally making things difficult.
First of all, in the home country of Wipro and Infosys, you would think that such an office would be paperless, or at least computerized, by this point. But no. Paperwork rules. And as for process, I blame the British. You damn limeys instituted the worst bureaucratic processes in your colonies, and your legacy lives on. I hope you come and visit India often, and are equally stymied by the descendants of your Raj-era colonial processes. Serves you right. That and your food sucks. Really, British food: suckage. (Exception: scones.)
Anyway, I brought my paperwork to the office. I gave them what they needed. But no – they needed some additional document, sent from the Hyderabad FRRO, in order to extend my visa to allow me to go back to the US (where, by the way, I will have to re-apply for a new visa. What’s up with 1-year employment visas?! Too short).
Grrr. So I was told to come back, to obtain a request letter that I could then get to Hyderabad, so as to speed up the process for Hyderabad sending the document in question to Mumbai so that I would be able to extend my visa. Stupid, but OK. I’ll play along.
So on Friday, I called the FRRO office, and was told that the letter was ready. So Ravi, our amazing office guy, undertook the 1-hour train trip to the FRRO to pick up the document. I said I’d go myself, but was talked out of it by people I work with.
4 hours later, Ravi returned, empty handed. But the letter was ready, right?
I called the FRRO office to see what happened.
Rob: Hello, I called earlier and was told that the letter is ready.
FRRO: Yes yes, letter is ready.
Rob (confused): OK, well Ravi came to pick it up and was told that it was not possible.
FRRO: No, letter is ready, but I do not have the letter.
Rob (really confused): Wait, why don’t you have the letter? You told me it was ready, right?
FRRO: Yes yes, letter is ready. But your file is with another man. When I get the file back, I will give you the letter. But not today.
Rob (livid): So you’re telling me that I asked my colleague to go all the way downtown to get the letter, on YOUR assurance that the letter was ready and could be picked up, and you’re telling me that this was never possible in the first place?
FRRO: No no. Letter IS ready. Come on Monday and pick it up.
You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding.
Welcome to babu-dom.