LAHORE: I do not recall a single experience when I went to a government office and did not come back hating the bureaucracy that is our hallmark. One particular experience to the passport office, however, was perhaps the worst. I applied for a passport during the first week of Ramazan at the Garden Town branch in Lahore. I will not go into details about how that day was one of the worst days of my life. At the end, I was told that I could collect my passport on August 18. I was, however, also told that it may take longer than that.
I asked if there was a way to check on the phone, through a helpline or something like it, to see if my passport was ready and to avoid making a wasted trip, I was told that no such facility existed. The only way was to come to the passport office and wait in a long line again to see if the passport was ready.
After waiting a sufficient period of time — on August 30, 12 days after the due date of August 18 had passed — I went to collect my passport. When I got there, I was told that the passport was not ready because of “delays in Islamabad”. When I inquired as to when I should come back, the reply was that I could try again next week. I asked what if the passport wasn’t ready by next week and my visit is again wasted. To this, the official at the window said: “Umeed par duniya qaaem hai”.
For some family reasons, I needed the passport urgently so I asked if there is someone I could talk to about my case. I was made to meet a particular gentleman who sat in a large, mostly empty room with a table and a computer. He pointed towards the office of a female employee who I was told could actually track my case. It was around 10:30am and this female employee had yet to come to work. I stood there, staring at a big lock outside her door.
A man, however, quickly came to my rescue and guided me towards another office. This gentleman’s name was Iqbal Shahid and he sat in a room full of people with various requests and pleas. When my turn came, he was quick to shut me up, saying that he first needed to attend to others for whom something could actually be done. When my turn came again, he informed me that this office is only in charge of collecting data and that it was not responsible for the delays, nor could it do anything about it. When I told him about my particular emergency, the only words of comfort that he had for me was that there were others worse off than me, as if that would reduce my inconvenience.
Mr Shahid added that if I wanted to pursue my case further, I can take it up with the head office in Islamabad. For that, I was told I can again stand in yet another line to get the number of the head office. Why he could not just give me the number himself still eludes me. So off I went, to stand in yet another line and finally when my turn came, I asked the two people sitting there for the head office’s number upon which one of them immediately said that he did not have it. The other did not even bother replying. The end result of all of this was that I returned home, empty-handed, with no passport, hating the passport office’s bureaucracy.
I can only hope that in my next visit to the passport office, I actually get my travel document — which, just to remind readers, was due on August 18!
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2012.