I wanted to hop over to India for a while, and of course I would need a visa for that, so I send someone to get me a form which I fill. It is all quite straight forward, all you need is your passport and photocopies of your NID. So I take the documents and head over to the embassy at 9.30, expecting to get there early and get out by 10.30 or so, like I have done previously. But when I do get there, what do I find but a queue tens of metres long. It starts at the entrance, curves down to the end of the building, curves back up past the building and almost spills over on the the road. And I am at the very end of this queue. Adding to bad temper is the fact that application time closes at 11:00 a.m. How is the queue going to reach the entrance in one and a half hours? I wanted to leave and try again tomorrow, but thought that I would stick it out for a while, since i came all the way here anyway.
The sun is blazing hot, and I start sweating in places I never thought I could sweat. The Indian security guards are as rude as usual, but the Sri Lankan policemen seem to have some mercy on us. They do their level best to get everyone inside the building as fast as possible. Miraculously they pack us in, and I get into the building by 10.30, leave my phone at the counter and step into the ‘inner court’ and find a queue that was frankly larger than the queue I just survived. The sun is as hot, and forms are used in lieu of umbrellas for the less fortunate like myself. Old ladies are seated under plants and under anything else that offers shade as well as protection from a certain crow who seemed intent on bombing one of us.
The sun is hot, every one is thirsty and tired and all there is, is a small garden tap which the more adventurous men drink from. And in addition to everything else, there is a man with a large belly who finds it necessary to stand as close to me as he can, and if i move, he tries to creep into my place. *sigh* The line snakes its way through the trees, under a small shed, and finally at about 12.30 I make it into the building. A short climb up the stairs and then to the counters where I can sit down at last, and where thankfully there is air conditioning. I sit and wait for my number to be called so that i can pay the visa fees, when at ten minutes to 1:00, they break off for lunch with no one at the counters! Over 50 people are left waiting inside the building, with more waiting outside. There is not even a water dispenser and we are all parched.
I try every method i know, to pass the time. I started writing down random words and then making as many words as I can using the letters from the word i chose. Then I simply zoned out until the counter people came back at 2:00. I managed to finish and get out of the building at 2.45, cursing everything in sight. And of course I have got to come back at 4.30 to collect the visa. I figure that since most of the people have to come back the next that there wont be a queue in the evening. And yes, you guessed it, I was wrong. There was another queue at 4.30, and though it was half the size of the one in the morning, we only had from 4.30 to 5.15 to get inside the building. Thanks to the policemen, (they will remain in my prayers) I make it inside by 5.05, and spend the next 20 minutes in the second queue. It went fairly fast, (if you can call 20 minutes fast) and I am back at the counters-of-hell.
I always wondered why Sri Lankans crowd counters as if it might suddenly pick up its skirts and run away. I was not disappointed this time either. Everyone stood as close to the counters as was physically possible and anyone on the outside has to wade in through the mass of sweaty flesh when their numbers are called. After 80% of the people had received their passports they finally give me mine, and I am out by 6:00. I have never had to struggle so much to get a visa.. Ever.. Even the Sri Lankan Commission in Chennai is more polite. Even the passport office in Punchi-Borella is easier. I went in for a passport extension, fill out one form, hand it over to one of the several controllers for a signature, pay at one of the six counters and I am done. I go to one of the several canteens in the building itself, have a plate of fried rice for lunch with a fruit salad and ice cream for desert, go back and sit for 40 mins and wait for my passport. I sit and watch the amusing short man behind the counter (he repeats everything in English and Sinhalese plus a whole lot of things he does not need to say) dispense passports, I get mine and leave, all within 2 hours.
And because I got so tired trying to get my visa, I also catch a bluuddy cold. What a lovely day..