it takes all sorts

It’s a sad thing.

It was not an unusual type of telephone enquiry for a room at the BnB. An Indian woman travelling with her ten-year-old son required a room for the following day and for a total of four nights.

We did have a room so I offered to send details to her email address so she would know what to expect. It’s our usual practice. She explained that she would be unable to read the email [1] but she’d seen us on the net so knew what to expect. She followed up by sending a text with her name, she was a Doctor [2]

 

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the empty bedroom

 

Next morning I received a phone call from her with some urgency and concern. Could I recommend the best hospital in Mysore? She’d had an accident in her car and her son was injured. They were in a country area, quite a way from Mysore. She’d dealt with his immediate needs and where they now were didn’t have the facilities to treat her son’s condition. It sounded more serious than I first thought. They would need to transfer to Mysore. I recommended the Columbia Asia Hospital.

Beyond that, it was unclear, it seemed like she was now separated from her car, it was I assumed, badly damaged.

Of course, I was shocked and concerned and willing to help wherever I could.

A little later she telephoned again. She had contacted the Mysore hospital and was making arrangements for the transfer. It was all a little hurried and she was understandably panicky and not always making a lot of sense. [3] Someone had kindly covered the bill but she needed some help, to pay him back. Her money, cards etc were left in the car or taken by someone. Her mother was to call me from North India to explain things.

Her Mum was understandably concerned and was planning to get down here from Assam. That would be no easy task. She’d been unable to pay the guy who had helped out by paying the bills, could I help?

There was a bank strike where she was and didn’t have all the details of his branch (the IFSC No) so it wasn’t possible to do a transfer via the internet. It could, however, be paid into a branch of his bank. Of course, I’d be willing to help, she’d transfer 1 lakh to my account and from it I’d pay 40,000 Rs [4] cash into this guy’s account  and the rest would be available for her daughter to use for the hospital bills etc here in Mysore. All I had to do was send my bank details, for some reason she couldn’t retrieve them via my suggestion of an Email [5] so I’d send them via text/sms. Not a problem.

Her daughter calls to give me an update. She’s so apologetic for putting me through this and having to ask for my help. She’s contacted Doctor xx  in Columbia Asia  and they need to get her son there to see the neurologist. Getting the money quickly is critical, so they can get away.

This was clearly a middle-class professional family with exceptionally good English but one of the problems, beyond the obvious concern for her son, was not knowing the local language and being in a relatively rural area.

I receive a text from Mum, as sent from her bank [6], the cash had been transferred.

Mum calls again. The money has left her bank but it might take a couple of hours to reach my bank.

I reflect. It’s no problem for me to sort out, I’m always happy to help wherever I can, I have cash here or money in the Bank, I don’t have to wait for it to come through, I can zip over there on the scooter in no time at all.

This is all quite urgent.

Hang on a minute, though.

I have a niggling doubt.

Is this a con? I don’t want to think it is and I most definitely don’t want to let them down if it’s legitimate. They are in a potentially difficult and maybe life threatening situation.

I think it’s important that we do help people, particularly if they are in distress. It’s only human and to me an important value.

But, there were a few aspects that didn’t ring true (I’ve numbered some of them above) and if it was a scam, it was clever and sophisticated or am I just gullible? I discussed it with Chris and Eliza who are staying at the BnB. Initially, I still felt it was likely to be legitimate  but the more I thought about it, the more the doubts grew.

I easily found the missing Bank (IFSC) reference number and texted to pass it on and suggested that the Mum could send the money direct to his account. If she sent me her bank details I could send back what wasn’t required here in Mysore. I was calling her bluff!

It’s now the evening and its all gone quiet. Thankfully I held off and my doubts were confirmed. There’s been no further contact and the money hasn’t appeared in the bank.

At this distance, it might seem to you that it should have been obvious. It wasn’t then but to me it does seem so now. In many ways, it was cleverly done. But the fraudsters must get results otherwise they wouldn’t try it on.

So there it is, it takes all sorts and I think it is a sad thing.

 

three weeks later

It’s now been over three weeks, since our last visit to the Regional Passport Office (RPO), and the Houston incident, the letter was sent to the headteacher, she replied confirming the TC was legitimate and to sent a letter back to the RPO within three days. Spot on.

Then a vacuum, we’re lost in Space….what’s holding it up now?

I call them, on average, every two days. I get the standard answers, it’s being dealt with, it will be approved by the end of the day, the officer has it…. blah blah blah

I send emails and a fax, then I give you, me and Manjula a rest,

I’m back on the case today.

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[If you’re getting confused about timings, think what it’s like for us, we’re now ‘Back to the Future’ So real time and bloglet time creeps closer together]

 

 

Houston there’s a problem

BUT we’re not aiming for the moon. We just want a passport for a ‘Passage from India’ is that too much to ask for?

 

We now know what this statement on the acknowledgement letter means..

Documents Verified with originals, however, confirmation from issuing authority is required.

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No one told us at the time, of course, the officer just said (ie lied) we could have the passport and get Police verification afterwards BUT we now realise there’s a problem with the TC

prepare for re-entry

I telephoned the office and we are called back to the main Regional Passport Office in Bangalore.

 

To make this happen, we have to go all the way back to Bangalore, that means, book a taxi, three hours on the road, and a further hour through the treacly traffic jams, an eight hour round trip, a relatively short queue to get our number and interview time, then come back four hours later for another queue to see an officer. Unfortunately the location isn’t good and any interesting place or attraction is too far to go, so we enjoy a late breakfast and chill out in a local park.

It seems that The Babu (civil servant), on our first visit, (she had a bit of a rant) was not impressed that Manjula didn’t answer questions quickly enough and didn’t know her proper school name. In the Civil Service World it indicated that she might not be legitimate. In another world it might show that she was only seven at the time, have hardly ever attended the school and that she was a woman from a poor background who’s had crap schooling.

How did she not know the name of the school? It seems that it’s known, by the local children, as the name of the slum area: Bamboo Bazaar. Manjula, who attended there when age seven (35 years ago) didn’t know the proper name of the school. Bugger.

That’s raised the Babu’s suspicions or at least provided an excuse for a right old runaround.

Because of this they require  her TC (transfer certificate from school,which serves as her proof of date of birth) verified by the headteacher. More uncertainty and delay.

So they plan to write to the headteacher to verify the TC is correct.

I’m not at all sure why we needed to be here in Bangalore for all this… So we do try get useful and help it along a bit…. and get the letter sent fast!

We provide another two copies of the TC. On top of the ones we’ve already provided. They are scanned on the first floor.

Back to ground floor, officer signs chit that acknowledges papers scanned in.

Up, to second floor to trigger the formal letter to go to headteacher.

Back to ground floor for something or other.

Back to second floor, God knows why.

One more trip down and then up. They promise to get the letter off tomorrow. (we’ve become part of the team so we wander in and out of the office up on floor 2) That’s why we did all these ups and downs, we’re running out of time to get the passport and apply for visa for the BIG trip.

I now have a new worry: Manjula’s Disappointment if it doesn’t work out. How has this become so bloody difficult?

 

 

but how easy is it to manage Manjula?

“come on, you’re supposed to be an experienced manager from across the sectors, a consultant and trainer, known for his adaptability (?) and ability to communicate, and now with some great insights into India and with almost forty years experience.. ”

” Yes but…..”

well here was the first attempt, a Job Description on a whiteboard.

 

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How difficult can it be, to employ a maid?

I’d only been here a few weeks (it was six years ago) and I asked my friend Cary and his wife if they knew of someone looking for a job.

I was was called round to their house to meet Manjula. She seemed quiet, even timid and perhaps she was a little worried about meeting me and the prospect of working for a foreigner. She’d brought a friend with her who seemed to know her stuff. After the simplest of introductions. (We didn’t speak each other’s language.) We went round to my house.

I was looking for a maid. Yes a maid. My two sons (who were in their twenties and back in the UK) were not impressed. “You’re seriously going to have a servant!”

we’re a very liberal, left wing family so even the idea of having a cleaner back in England was a bit of a stretch.  A maid? Quite another matter. I explained as best I could, that it’s different here. It’s about giving employment and I’d be a good employer. They weren’t convinced.

I just wanted someone for a couple of hours a day. To do some cleaning, clothes washing and cooking.

so we arrived at my home.

They  ladies were not impressed. The place was sparsely furnished, not unlike a trad Indian home. So that’s not a problem. But horror upon horrors. There was little equipment in the kitchen and THERE WAS NO ELECTRIC GRINDER. I had just this……

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I promised to get an electric one!

By the next day it was bought and installed in the kitchen. Kudos and Brownie points or what?

Hang on a minute! What have I done? I’ve set the pattern

so, on reflection, it was pretty easy to employ a maid (it’s maybe not so easy now) BUT how do I get her to understand what I want her to do?

I’m sick of seeing the Passport service home page

and the message… “application being reviewed by the Regional Passport office” which is a completely useless update.

So we’re all going to have a break and not do the passport blog thing over the weekend.

I can hear the sighs of relief and hip hip hoorays reverberating around the Facebook and blog world…. 😉

To bring it, nearly up to date (blog time is like winter time as its a bit behind) so far, we’ve:

  • revised and amended Manjula’s ID ( Aadhar card) so it is now correct and consistent,
  • visited the Bank manager for documents  to prove her address,
  • obtained the TC (transfer certificate from her school)
  • applied and received a PAN (tax card) card,
  • sworn an affidavit with the advocate,
  • submitted the online application and documents,
  • attended the Bangalore office to actually submit the application itself and for Manjula to be interviewed,
  • met the police,
  • neighbours signed forms and verification report gone from Police to Regional Passport Office.

phew……

It’s cost thousands of Rupees, endless meetings, hours on the internet and in traffic and a ton more grey hairs

and I’ve learned a LOT

but there is the risk of it taking over and lethargy air got there first, so let’s have a nice relaxing weekend and a cycle trip with Simon in the morning

passport service, a deserved award winner?

I must congratulate the passport service on gaining triple ISO certification and its various digital awards.

In my view, and I say this as a sometime consultant who has reviewed services and systems in the Government, not-for-profit and corporate worlds, a system and service is best judged on how well it performs when everything doesn’t go smoothly or according to some abstract plan. It should perform even better when it doesn’t go to plan. It’s essential that a citizen’s service such as this can be properly accessed by all sectors of the community including the poorest, least able and uneducated. Only then should it be considered a success and have met its objectives.

It’s critical that individuals operating the system should be able to spot problems and resolve them, with flexibility and an absolute focus on serving the recipient.

OK, rant over but it’s hard to convey how powerless this makes one feel because as you’ve probably guessed, I don’t think the service has performed well.

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