Monthly Archives: September 2008

Return to the FRO

We moved from our service apartment to Palm Meadows in July. Our FRO permit lists our address as the service apartment, as that was our address for the first weeks in India. This has caused endless bureaucratic hassles as every petty public official has fixated on the diverging addresses like someone scratching at a sore bug bite. Usually this requires us to produce the lease to the house in Palm Meadows, as well as a letter from Daniela’s office stating that they rented the apartment for us. Frankly, I’m surprised that nobody insisted on that latter being notarized yet, but surely it is only a matter of time.

I was dreading the return trip to the FRO, even more so after my recent trip to the US. Two weeks ago, we probated my father’s will and testament. Essentially, this means the legal process of settling his estate so that the government now accepts the new status. The Ocean County Surrogate Court clerk who walked us through the process was nice, relaxed, competent, efficient, helpful and a host of other positive adjectives that Indian bureaucrats that I have run across have not been. Oh and I did not need to bribe her to do her job.

After that pleasant experience, I was dreading the return to the FRO. We had been informed by the consultants that at least one of us had to be there in person, so we could not simply let the consultants do it and bring us the updated permits. I was certain that they would fixate on some completely irrelevant factor, as the RTO had with my wife’s employment status and our marital status for my driver’s license. There is always something that is not on the official requirements list that they demand anyway. I’m not completely sure why this happens, but I suspect that it is either to show who is in power, to set the terms of the bribe required to get them to process it, or both.

Last Friday at noon was my appointment with fate. I showed up precisely at 12PM and met the consultant who had processed my FRO permit in the first place. He was actually on time. He had all of the paperwork required for the change of address for both my FRO permit and Daniela’s; copious stacks each containing a copy our our lease, that lovely little “we rented the house for this family” letter from SAP, the old permits, DNA samples, etc. Then he asked me something:

Where is your wife?

At the office, why?

She is a different nationality than you and also needs to be here.

I decided to try it anyway. After all, India is a very conservative country and I might just be able to take the “she is my wife so of course I can sign for her” approach if challenged. I signed my name where hers should have been on the topmost form of her stack, took both over to the big man and handed the stacks of paper to him.

He signed both without even bothering to look through them.

That was it. I handed the forms back to the consultant so he could continue and I was done. No demands that she show up and sign for herself. No strange requests for notarized copies of marriage licenses, academic credentials or proofs that I paid the cable TV bill. Nothing! It was completely painless and lasted all of 15 seconds.

I’m stunned.

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Back – Part II

Continued from part I

So the afternoon after my holdup in JFK, I headed back up to New York. It was a beautiful, clear, warm, early autumn afternoon. A day like that two weeks later in the year would be called Indian summer. I wonder how much confusion this causes for Indians from the subcontinent that Americas also use the term “Indian” to mean “the aboriginal people of the Americas”. The 360 view from the Verrazano Bridge of Manhattan, Brooklyn, New York Harbor and the Raritan Bay all the way out to Sandy Hook and Atlantic Highlands was magnificent, as was the drive along the Shore Parkway. Check in and clearing security in JFK was smooth. The flight left on time and the fancy on-demand video system in the Delta Airlines 777 had more things to watch that I had the time to in the 15 hours it took to go from New York to Mumbai.

Then I arrived in India.

The international arrival hall in Mumbai’s international airport has a similar quant, run down feel as the old Bangalore airport. I could not figure out where I needed to go. The Delta agent in New York told me that I would have to check in again with Air India in Mumbai and that he could not give me boarding passes for the entire route. So I ignored the sign reading something to the effect of “domestic connections” and walked out the exit. I asked a policeman with a rifle where I had to go to check in with Air India. He directed me to go out the exit and around the corner. As I started out, a man in a white button down shirt with a security card hanging from his neck asked me where my destination was.

Oh you need to go to the domestic airport. That is a 20 minute drive from here. You’ll need a taxi. Come I will take you to one.

Great I thought. This airport employee can direct me to the taxi stand. But if it was a 20 minute drive, then why were there no shuttle busses? I asked about the fare. As I only had 200 Rupees in my wallet, I wanted to have a metered fare and wanted to avoid the unmated Taxi rip-off.

Oh the driver has a fare card that he can show you.

He then took me PAST the taxi stand and a non-descript Tata Sumo (a small SUV that is ubiquitous here) pulled up.

He will take you.

I climbed into the back seat. The man that I had thought was an airport employee then climbed into the front passenger seat. After driving out the airport exit, the driver handed me the fare card… 1950 Rupees, plus a 30% after dark surcharge. I had a heart attack. That was $60. They nicely rounded the two thousand plus 30% to 2500. I was angry, but I was also committed. What was I going to do? Get out onto the streets of Mumbai, not knowing where I was or how to get back to the airport?

As we drove through the city, I was thinking over how I had been scammed already. I hate this having to be constantly on guard. Were they even going to take me to the airport, or would there be another “fee” after they have driven me around. They nicely took me to a cash machine. The “airport employee” stood outside the cash machine’s kiosk. Behind me in line were two Americans. They were young, physically fit men with short, military style haircuts; not the usual middle aged yuppie types on business trips, or the hippie types doing the Goa or ashram thing.

Hey, isn’t that our taxi driver from last night?

Yeah. He scammed us. Shall we kick his ass?

They were actually debating beating the “airport employee” up. Apparently, they decided against it. As I turned to leave, one of them asked me

How much is he charging you? Two thousand?

2500

You are being robbed. That trip should cost no more than 200.

I know, I replied grumpily.

Well, the same thing happened to us. Live and learn.

They actually took me to the airport without further trying to rob me, big surprise. Later, while googling around, I discovered that the domestic and international airports share a runway and are in effect different terminals of the same airport. There is also a shuttle bus that should cost 50 Rupees.

If I ever see these guys again, I’m going to kick their asses.

Back – Part I

I’m back in India.

Getting here was an adventure. It seems that I picked the wrong day to fly home and the wrong route for that matter. When I booked the flights last month, I was not picky about routes. I wanted something, anything that could get me to the US right away. The desperate can’t be picky and we ended up with the flight itinerary from hell. Going to New Jersey was by way of Dubai, Atlanta and Philly. Did you know that the fastest route from Dubai to Atlanta takes you north of the Arctic circle and over Greenland? Dani and the kids came back two weeks ago. I tried to leave on Monday.

Tried

The plan was to take a commuter plane from Philly to New York, then on to Paris and Bangalore. Since there was a big get together going on at the UN with 120 world leaders flying in and at the same time someone had paperweights that looked like WWII era grenades in his checked luggage, there was a bit of chaos at JFK. So they held us on the ground in Philly for two hours before letting us take the 20 minute flight to New York. Interestingly, by the time that the evening transatlantic flights were ready to leave, everything was back on schedule and I managed to miss my connection by 15 minutes. Delta rebooked me for a flight the next day. I did not need to collect my checked suitcase. That would be rerouted along with me.

So I rented a car and drove back to my mom’s place in New Jersey.

To be continued…