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Sunday, August 17, 2008

India 2: Getting there ... "The Prequel"

(Well, if George Lucas can do it, so can I. Only, he claims to have had a plan, while I have to admit the truth: I just plain forgot to write about this in the excitement of coming home.) First, an apology is in order to those who may have been encouraged by my implying that the visa is, generally, easy to get and ventured forth themselves. No, I am not backing out of the earlier statement. It IS easy to 'get' the visa ... but I realize I should have been clearer about how complex it is to apply for one! First off, the old visa forms have changed but are still available through touts and the new breed of electronically-equipped munshis who sit near various key points (e.g., passport/visa offices). Don't go there! You'll get your form back from the embassy because it's the wrong form! Secondly, our neighbouring country - the well-known IT giant - does not provide visa forms electronically (online). Not for Pakistanis, anyway. Not even instructions on what other documentation we need to send with the forms, such as the official translation in English, notarized, of the applicant's NIC card. (Karachiites - this is best done at one of the desks near the Soddy Embassy. There may be other spots, but that's the one I know. Stand there, yourself, to get it done (unless your driver is literate enough), or you'll have errors on several lines, specially in terms of names being spelled wrong. They go by phonetics and believe in the entirely misunderstood concept of spelling proper nouns any which way.) Thirdly - and the most important matter. Throwing all progress to the wind, the Indian Embasy wants the forms typed. YES. You heard right. Not 'typed' as in the way some forms in the USA state, where "Type your name clearly" is accepted to imply that you need to write it clearly in block capitals. But "typed", as in through the use af a device some of you may be old enough to remember: A Typewriter!

This is the honest truth: A whole bunch of 6-7 year olds in one of Karachi's schools in Clifton could not recognize the above piece of equipment (an old Remington) I showed to them. I got comments from "It's a real old keyboard" to questions like "Where do you connect the Monitor?"
Unable to locate a typewriter and in order to save time, we (=Sabeen!) had to reconstruct all of it at a stationery shop, using a PC and CorelDraw!!! The air was blue with her cusses, causing some customers to ask if she was related to Ardeshir Cowasjee (a whole lot better than thinking she was Ardeshir, in drag) ... but, eventually, it was done in a jiffy (if you look at time from the point of view of Allah). Oh alright, it took ~3 hours! Don't tell me there are easier ways in which we could have tackled it at home, using basic IT gear. Let me explain. Scanning was made difficult by the fact that my home scanner does A4, max. And the forms are Legal Size. I know I can use Photoshop to join partial scans and then buy the right sized paper and print on both sides, using manual feed (the auto-trays in mine are also A4!). Actually, someone had kindly sent us a scanned form, but in a damned format that lost in translation across applications and operating systems. We printed all the sheets out. Photopcopied them and sent them off to hte courier services, only to be told that (well we should have seen that coming) that the front and back of the forms could not be on separate stapled sheets. So that part was rectified through a photocopier close to the courier service and the papers re-signed and sent off the next day. Whew. To end on a pleasant note: The visa fee is a very affordable Rs 15 only. Peanuts. 23 of them, to be specific. (That's how many I got for 15-bucks at the Lahore Airport recently.) (Postscript: I have discovered, now, when helping Nuzhat fill in her forms, that the guy who does the NIC thingy outside the Soddy Embassy, also types in Indian Visa forms and, in 2-3 iterations, gets everything right! I am hoping, of course, that by the time I head that way again the senior citizen's facilities will have been implemented and I will be able to get my visa on arrival. I just hope I am not expected to carry my own typewriter along.)

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Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

The wheels of bureaucracy still grind at the same pace as many years ago.

Hope some one from the Ministry of External Affairs reads this...

18 August, 2008 04:38

Blogger Vic said...

Actually, I look at this as a very encouraging, proactive, move, on the part of the border control authorities.

As travelers (ie my kind of passport-holder) know, the extent of automation on the Western side of the border is much higher. However, implementation is still only part complete.

To help speed up things, our chaps have created this learning tool, that, once implemented by software geniuses, should make a huge difference to billions of people around the globe, or at least on this flat-Earth part of it. Remember, with the departure of the typewriter, a huge hole has been left in the hearts of the billions on this side of the Digital Divide. Don't complain, don't be a part of the problem, be a part of the solution!

Yes! All you need to do is develop a typewriter emulator, that types in Courier 10 pt, broken and mis-leveled fonts, with typewriter line and character spacing, and emulates the uneven pressure of genuine keyboard strikes.

Now what could be a better example of cross-border trade and technology development sharing than that? Providing an incomparable opportunity to your young people to boldly (ie, double-strikes) go where no software developer has gone before, seriously cutting edge (paper-cuts excepted) technology.

I await your report of unparalleled success with baited breath. Don't only think of the plaudits and applause that will come your way, I urge you, rather think selflessly of the gains that will accrue to all. Nay, I pray you, think not even that they may make you President!

21 August, 2008 11:42


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