|Ahh, the beginning of a new school year
in Mumbai can mean only one thing: it is time to return to the FRRO (which
rhymes with "hoe" and means "Foreigner
Regional Registration Office") to get our little blue books stamped.
More of an inconvenience than anything else, the trip usually means missing at least a half day of work and sitting in Bombay traffic for over an hour each.
But, on the plus side, there are things to see here you won't come across anywhere else...
Passing a bit further through the slum, we passed up these women standing in front of one of the ramshackle 'homes.' I have no way of knowing for sure, but to my mind's eye they seem to be four generations of a family, all caught in a living situation that - to most westerners - would be unfathomable. The oldest one was the most intriguing to me, from the grizzled tattoos on her one arm to the baby in the other. I wonder what tales her life has seen...
the FRRO, however, despite the grandeur of the surroundings, this sign
- prohibiting spitting inside a building - reminded us that we were
still in India.
The actual paperwork ordeal is hysterical in some ways, maddening in others: the first stop is a long line at a table, where you sign into a large book and get a token signifying your place in line. You then proceed into an anteroom, where you fill out all your detail on a computer - state of the art!! But then, when your token number appears on an electronic board, you take print outs of the computer information into another room.
There, you hand glue passport sized pictures on the printouts, while a lady painstakingly copies by hand everything you just put into the computer into a ledger. Everyone whose papers are being processed must sign them in front of her - hence the need for the entire family to go down to the office. She then writes out a receipt for the registration costs, and you go back out into the anteroom to wait to pay a different lady (you can also buy hot tea or lukewarm pop from her). This cashier (again) writes your information into another book (what happens with the original electronic information, which would save tons of time but also cost a few jobs, is anyone's guess), and then takes your money, and then writes out a receipt. With this in hand, you go back into the other room and wait for your lady (who is by now working with someone else) to be free so you can hand her the receipt.
Then it is back into the waiting room, where you sit and wait (and watch cricket if you are lucky and the tv is on and working and not showing a Bollywood film from 1963). After she has finished whatever paperwork remains, and hand written your proper information into you foreigner's booklet, and stamped it innumerable times, and had her supervisor (a man, of course) scribble his signature across the stamps, then you get it back and you are good to go.
Whew. After a full afternoon of all that bureaucratic action, a quick trip to the Golden Arches right around the corner sounds like a good idea. Just remember - the chicken patty sandwich doubles as a good McNugget, the "Maharaja Mac" is a processed slab of chicken and veggies - not very good, and the Happy Meals do NOT come with fries. Bon appetit!