Friday, July 25, 2014

Breezing through Passport Office!

Remember the time you went to the Regional Passport office  to renew an old Passport or to get a new one?  You had to stand in a long queue for hours, often jostling and fighting your way to the counter, only to be told that you had not filled up your application form correctly or you had forgotten to bring some document or the other.

Inside the hall where counters were located there used to be total confusion with no place for anyone to sit. Add to this, inadequate number of fans and visitors had to sweat it out for a couple of hours. It used to be especially tough on old and infirm people and a nightmare for everyone.  Invariably you had to visit the passport office a couple of times before you managed to get your passport.

I am happy to tell you that all that seems to have  changed. At least in Chennai! Today the whole procedure has been streamlined so well that you can apply for  renewal of your Passport or a new one; online. You not only get instant acknowledgement, but also have a choice of three Centres where you can get an interview appointment. Senior citizens don`t even need an appointment. They can visit one of the three Centres in Chennai between 9 and 10 am on any working day. I did not believe the travel agent who helped me with the application formalities (since I am computer semi-literate!) that for senior citizens like me, the procedure would take less than 30 minutes. I had still gone prepared to wait for a couple of hours armed with a bottle of water, biscuits and some reading material. I was surprised to find a stall selling snacks and drinks inside the hall (However, there was no opportunity for me to even open the magazine I was carrying!).

When I reached Saligramam, the location I had chosen, I was impressed with the new double-storied building with a professional security service manning the flow of people. I was directed to an enquiry counter for senior citizens.  After checking my documents, the assistant gave me a token and asked me to go to the first floor and wait in the assigned hall for my name to be called.  The fully air-conditioned hall with false ceiling and sleek looking stainless steel chairs with provision for seating more than 100 people at a time looked as impressive as the exterior of the building.  Though there were more than 100 people already seated in the hall, I was surprised that my name was called even before I could take my seat in the hall.  I was directed to a particular counter in another air-conditioned hall with more than 50 counters, fully equipped with a camera and a finger print machine-all manned by trained assistants.

The whole process of checking my application, clicking my photo, finger printing and collecting the fees took five minutes and the efficient assistant at the counter told me to wait in the adjacent hall for a final interview with an executive of the Regional Passport Office.  Even here, as a senior citizen, I was given preference and called immediately to a counter.  The executive concerned asked me some routine questions and told me that my passport would reach my house by courier within two weeks.  I was out of the passport office within 20 minutes of entering it.  I could not believe it!

Throughout my brief stay I was made to feel like a VIP. And that too without the help of any middlemen, who have been completely eliminated thanks to the new system. It was a great  feeling!

I was told that even for the general public which comes in larger numbers every day the time taken is less than 2 hours, but the important thing is that the waiting is made pleasant and comfortable, unlike the earlier days!

Later, I found out that the whole new system has been designed by TCS, the number one software giant of the country who have not only created the complete software for the project but are also providing trained man power to handle all the technical formalities.  The government agents only have to satisfy themselves that the candidate is a genuine applicant. An excellent example of Public/Private sector partnership!

With the use of technology the government has already made life easier for tech savvy people who can now book tickets for rail and many other services online, eliminating the need for middlemen.

Technology, while making life easy for the general public should also help the government to get rid of the rampant corruption, if only it has the political will.  I think our new tech savvy PM has that Will. Let us hope we Will really see “Achhe Din” under the “Modi Sarkar”!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hold All

A couple of years ago I was sitting on a bench at Gaya station waiting for a train to Kanpur.  The station was crowded with thousands of passengers.  Suddenly the sight of a coolie carrying a heavy load on his head caught my attention.  Not because of the load but because of the unusual site of the Hold All he was carrying on top of a suit case on his head.  The ubiquitous  Hold All! Remember  the one which used to be an important  baggage that our parents and grand parents carried with them when they embarked on any long distance travel by train. Now almost extinct thanks to the invasion of the trolleys and strolleys.

I distinctly remember the Hold All because we had one at home which was packed to the brim  whenever we traveled to Madras from Bombay every three years. Not so much on a holiday to see places but to visit old relatives. 

A few days before the date of travel my mother would take it out of the loft, dust it, clean it and keep it ready for packing.

The things the Hold All could hold was really amazing.  It was a kind of bed spread made of Khaki coloured canvas 6 ft. long and 3 ft. wide which had provision for tucking the pillows or anything else that the passenger thought fit, on both ends.  In the centre of the oblong unit, were flaps  on either side which could be wrapped around the dresses and other materials including the bed sheets needed for daily use, so that they don’t spill out of the baggage.  Anything that could not be accommodated in the steel trunk, which was also another mandatory travel baggage, would go into the Hold All.

There were pouches of varying sizes  to hold   knick knacks & items like tooth paste, tooth brush, soap etc.

When my father  felt that the Hold All had already accommodated the maximum possible items, he would make an announcement that he was now ready to roll up the Hold All and ask my mother if she has forgotten anything.  Having got the clearance from her he would embark on rolling it up.

The task of rolling up the Hold All and tying it with a leather belt with buckles was a strenuous job which needed considerable muscle power and skill.  Because, while my father  managed to roll up the Hold All to a shape with great difficulty, it will unroll involuntarily, when he relaxed his hold even slightly to insert one end of the belt into the buckle. It is at this point the children would be called to lend a helping hand .  Their job was to hold on to the Hold All to prevent it from  unrolling, while  he went to work on the belt and the buckle.

When everything was nicely packed and ready for transport, my father would beam  with pride and pat himself  for having done a good job. But his joy would be short lived as a sheepish call from my mother that she had forgotten some item meant  for the Hold All would make my father almost go into fits. After screaming at my mother for her forgetfulness, he would reluctantly unpack and repack the Hold All, all over again.   Fortunately his children were more than willing to help because for them it was a fun activity.

I remember the Hold All had a leather handle attached to it on one end, used for lifting it and placing it on the head of the coolie.  We children would take turns to try and lift the hold all which was so heavy that instead of the baggage getting lifted, we would fall over it.  For us it seemed like some kind of a game.

Carrying it from home to the station and bargaining with the coolie at the station for taking it to the compartment etc. was an ordeal by itself.  Once we were settled inside the compartment and the train started my father would unroll the Hold All on our reserved seats- the hold all will transform itself into a bed spread through out the journey.  Remember those were the days when the Railways did not provide bed spreads or pillows!
The Hold All was indeed a multi- tasking companion during the long journey from Bombay to Madras!

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