The trip that was scheduled to be 9 days long, but destined to be 19 days long was the one that I will not forget very soon in my life. For the last about one year since I’ve been outside of India, it’s always been exciting for me to visit India. People who know me, know how passionate I am about being in India and living a pure Punjabi lifestyle. But destiny has written something else for me.
Anyways, coming straight to the point, my journey to India this time was also as exciting for me as it always had been. I wanted to have as much fun as I could. Visiting Delhi gives me the opportunity to meet up with my most beloved cousin, my brother and my girlfriend (What more can you ask for?) But this time was different. It was an official visit and I was supposed to fly back to Dubai on 8th May. I attended the trainings, had loads of fun at Naukuchiatal on the Out-Bound Training part and made many new friends during the journey. But when I reached airport on 8th to catch my flight back to Dubai, I was not allowed to board the flight. Why? Just like that. The Sardar flight official didn’t like my face, I think. 😉
Actually, the thing was that I didn’t have something called ECNR (Emigration Check Not Required) stamp on my passport. For those who don’t know, you need to have this stamp on your passport if you want to travel on Employment Visa, especially to the Middle East. Even after having travelled abroad for three times in last one year, I wasn’t aware about this and nobody even asked me about that. So, obviously I didn’t know. Now, when I was just about to fly, I was being made aware of my passport requirements. I looked up and down, left and right and wondered what I could do. I couldn’t afford to lose my job just because of this stupid stamp, though that was a very far-fetched thought running in my mind. I called up everyone I knew to check if the ECNR stamp was really so important and so powerful that it can stop me from travelling abroad on employment visa and bringing more foreign currency into the country. Everyone had the same answer – I don’t know. I was asked to head back to the hotel, because in any case it was a Saturday and Indian passport officers have chosen not to work on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, though the flights take off even on those days and people like me could face passport issues on public holidays as well.
And the amazing part was that I couldn’t get this stamp done from anywhere else than the place where my passport was issued from which happens to be Amritsar in my case. That was going to be another dreadful experience that I never thought about. I decided to travel home (Faridkot) the same day, pick up my address proof and other certificate copies and leave for Amritsar, early in the morning (4:00 am is too early). My plan was to get the stamping done and the catch the early morning flight (2:40 am is too late to be called too early) to Dubai. But as I said, that was not my fate. After standing in long queue for almost an hour outside the office, in scorching heat of Amritsar, I was allowed to enter the office where again there was a long queue and amazingly, the counter had not yet started working, though it was way past 9:00 am. There I realized for the first time, why people didn’t want to have Indian Passports at all, or even if they had the bad luck to have one, why didn’t they want to get it renewed and instead chose to be citizens of some other country.
Finally, after two and a half hours, when I got to see the face of the person behind the counter, she turned down my application saying that she needs original 10th std. certificate to verify my Date of Birth. I was perplexed by her statement. All through these years, I was told that Passport is the ultimate proof of my identity. Nothing held above this proof. And now this aunty, in her early 50s, was telling me that 10th standard certificate was more authentic than the passport. I tried explaining it to her, showed her my original Employment Visa and my original appointment letter as a Business Consultant (which certainly can’t be given to a person who isn’t 10th standard pass) but my arguments fell on deaf ears. The worst part was that all my original certificates were kept in Dubai and there was no way that I could get them before 3-4 days. But due to pressure by the people standing behind me, I had to leave the queue – sad, disheartened and worried. I reached everyone I could – PA to Passport Officer, Relationship Manager, agents – everyone, but of no use.
In that state of mind, I decided to come back to Delhi and try some other options. I called in the scanned copies of my Income Tax Returns, passbook pages etc etc. I travelled overnight sitting straight on the last seat of PRTC bus, couldn’t sleep for the whole night and reached Gurgaon office early in the morning. The travel desk at my company told me the next day that they’d talked to some agent and he’ll guide me to get a PoE (Protector of Emigrants) stamp which is a temporary provision if you want to fly abroad. And I was happy that this could be done from Delhi itself, because, I don’t know why, I believed that the Delhi Passport Office would be in better condition than Amritsar. After all, Delhi is a metropolitan city and is the capital of our country. So, I went to the PoE office in Jaisalmer House, Man Singh Road, armed with all the copies of my documents, original visa and original appointment letter. But still, fate had something else written for me. PoE office told me that they needed original appointment letter attested by the Indian Embassy in Dubai. And he specifically mentioned that a “fax will not do, we need it in original.” I was angry and worried at the same time. I called up my Dubai office and they asked me to wait till the next day when they’d go and confirm it from Indian Embassy in Dubai. As the luck had it, the India Embassy needed original Employment Visa to attest the appointment letter and the process would’ve taken 4-5 working days which meant I’d b stuck in India for atleast one and a half more weeks. So, it was a complete deadlock.
Finally, it was agreed that my office drawer in Dubai would be broken, my certificates would be taken out and couriered and I’d get the ECNR done from Amritsar. And there I was – on next Saturday (exactly one week later), in the same train, traversing the same route to Faridkot, getting up again early in the morning on Monday with a hope to get things done, standing in the same queue at Amritsar Passport Office. But this time, they didn’t have an excuse to reject my application. But what made me even angrier was that the person on the counter didn’t even look at the certificate carefully. He just glanced over it and that’s it. I was too exhausted to react to this. Now, I was happy that I’ll get the stamped passport by evening and will catch the morning flight to Dubai. But…
But the tickets on Air India Express (only flight from Amritsar to Dubai) had to be booked atleast 24 hours before flying which I did not, because I didn’t trust Indian bureaucracy and wasn’t sure whether the stamping will be done or not. So, when one govt system finally worked, the other had me in its jaws. Anyways, I again took the same PRTC bus back to Delhi, got my tickets done for next day on the same Jet Airways flight that I was supposed to catch 10 days back. And I finally reached Dubai. Safely.
The trip, with so much of turns and twists and new discoveries, will be afresh in my memory for long long time. I’m worried now about getting my passport renewed from the same authorities, though there’s still 5 years to go.