'Fashionably late' doesn't half define me because it doesn't have the punch of 'hopelessly incorrigible procrastinator'. Most people take punctuality seriously. They also care about expiry dates and late fees. Fortunately or otherwise, I've been untouched by these concepts. Until of course things begin to fall apart and I'm thrown into a stalemate situation. My mailbox, in case you're wondering, is perpetually filled with yellow envelopes that tell me it's my last chance to renew Vogue or some other life saving magazine or pay the library late fees before they send it to a collection agency.
One such day last month, I was reminded of the fact that my passport had expired months back and needed to be renewed pronto if I had to be a part of all the parties I'm throwing and the ones I've got guaranteed invites to in India this December. Several reminders from dad later, I showed up on the Indian consulate website last week and was basically shown the finger. I was assigned an interview date for December! An interview to get something I am entitled to by birth and that too, months later when I'm not even supposed to be around. Ha, I said to the web page and showed up at the embassy instead. I don't believe in GPS systems and I don't own an iPhone or Android so it may not be hard to visualize me driving on the crazy one way san fran streets looking for an address. I think it's virtually impossible to drive in the city and not break at least three rules at any given time. I ran a red light, got into a wrong one way street and drove in the bus lane, all accidentally of course. Luckily I spotted about a 100 fellow desis lurking outside a tiny door and that was my subtle clue.
I stood in the rather long queue as anxious faces waited for what seemed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. They perhaps waited for the gold studded door of heaven to open with immense shining light brightening everyone's faces as a beautiful angel would emerge and guide them into bliss. But instead of the gold studded door, it was a worn out wood one, instead of shining light, the sound of chaos and instead of a beautiful angel, a rude middle aged Indian officer. One applicant at a time, the officer dealt with incomplete forms, unfollowed instructions and blank faces that posed never ending questions. Some people who appeared to have shown up straight from work with a laptop were lead into a secret area to put away their belongings in a locker but from where I saw it, it looksed like a cleaned up garbage tank with a giant lock. Some who'd shown up with a family got snapped at for crowding the space. A gentleman who'd come with a toddler got it bad. "Why have you brought your kid. Where is your wife?" barked the officer and all the poor guy could mutter while lowering his eyes is "at work".
While I people watched and derived sadistic pleasure out of witnessing all the drama, I got what I deserved as well. "Madam, what does it say under the passport picture?" I shuddered at being suddenly caught and began looking under the picture. I wasn't too happy with the way the picture has turned out but that’s what you get for getting pictures at Costco. For lack of being responded to, Mr. rudeness personified lost his cool and yelled at what I guessed was at least a 100 decibels "Paste is paste in every language. Now go to the facility room at once, take the clip off and paste your picture." I turned around and started walking in the direction of the finger on his raised hand that reminded me of the Dr. Ambedkar statue in Mumbai and came across an ugly depressing room with a boring couch, a table and a stick of glue. Did he just say 'facility room'? "They treat people here like they do back in India. Like cats and dogs. I'm going to complain to the consulate general" came a hurt and angry voice from the boring couch. "Umm yea it's odd". "You just see I will complain. I'm serious". "Yes yes you must. And while you're at it, could you please ask them to not call this the facility room. It’s just misleading" I encouraged him as I pictured me pasting my picture on that form in a lovely powder room.
Soon I got done and walked out, and as I glanced at those waiting in the supremely long lines with restlessness, I couldn't help but feel a little relieved about the ordeal I had just got done with and a little smug about the one that awaited them. Phew.