The Initial Shock (or ‘Indian Bureaucracy At A Glance’):
Having been asked to leave India, I was then denied exit from India at the point of my flight out of Mumbai.
I was denied exit because my visa had expired and I had no registration certificate or exit permit.
My visa had expired because my repeated requests for extension over the previous two years had disappeared into the black hole of the Home Ministry in Delhi, never to be seen or heard from again.
I had no registration certificate because months earlier it had been lost somewhere between Varkala police station and the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for Thiruvananthapuram Rural.
I had no exit permit because when I visited the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer for the final time, and I asked him if there was anything else I needed to do, he said, “No.”
The Next Steps (or ‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me’):
Standing outside the stony-faced immigration officer’s office at the airport, I called the FRRO for Thiruvananthapuram Rural to see if he could do anything. “Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?” he demanded. It was he who told me a month or so earlier that I had to leave. “You should have called my office. Now you must come back to Kerala.”
A few calls to the incredibly helpful New Zealand Consulate, plus a morning at the Mumbai FRRO, revealed that it wasn’t possible to get an exit permit from there and that I was indeed required to return to Kerala.
I spent the next two nights on a train travelling a windy 2000-kilometre route back to Kerala. As soon as I arrived, I took a rickshaw to the Thiruvananthapuram Rural FRRO where the officer assured me my exit permit would be ready within three days. Which meant I’d be in Mumbai on an overnight train in five, and winging my way back to New Zealand in six – all going to plan.
That pretty much brings us up to date.
The Emotions Involved (or ‘Fugue’):
Over the course of the extra days in Mumbai, the journey back to Kerala, and sitting here in an absent friend’s bare house in Varkala, fluctuating emotions have been the status quo.
There’s been crushing disappointment, largely at not being able to see my family after two and a half years without (though it now appears that I will).
There’s been confusion at having prepared to go back to New Zealand and be a New Zealander again (instead of a saip or a white man or an outsider) but instead needing to switch back into the foreigner mode I was quite ready to leave behind for a while.
There’s been pragmatism, largely influenced by my wonderful Mumbai hosts, when confronted with this difficult set of circumstances.
And there have been warm fuzzies from the kind words offered by folks on Twitter and Facebook, and support from my dearly missed family.
Above all, since leaving the airport I’ve felt a constant sense of displacement, of unreality, like this shouldn’t be happening right now. I barely remember sleeping and I eat and drink mindlessly. All the marionette strings have been cut.
The Responsibility (or ‘An Existential Crisis’):
It’s all mine.
It would be very easy to blame my sorry state of affairs on others, namely the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and the FRRO for Thiruvananthapuram Rural, but the reality is that it was my trip home, not anybody else’s. I needed to double- and triple-check every last detail to make sure I would be able to get on that plane.
I cannot reasonably expect the servants of an ineffective (at times impenetrable) system to hold my hand through any procedures. That system’s attitude towards the majority of individuals, including small fry foreigners like me, is not one of disdain but one of supreme indifference. It simply does not share your plans, hopes and dreams. You have to make your own, and you have to make them happen.
Basically, I am an adult, and that means I have the power and responsibility to push my life in whatever direction I wish.
The Outcome (or ‘Book’s Closed?’):
Finances drained. Lessons learned. Life priorities re-established. When it’s all over, I’ll look back and see the whole painful saga as the final wake-up call India tried to give me.
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