Disclaimer: This post is not about bangles or fairs or secret passageways. It’s not about about how much I love my work (which I do!) or the things I adore about India. It’s about how hard it can be sometimes to live here. Some of these difficulties have to do with starting life in a new country in general—and would apply whether I were in India or Belgium. Other difficulties are delightfully (read: attempt at sarcasm) and uniquely Indian.
To be honest, these first few weeks here have been really hard. Somehow this has been the case despite all of my planning and the immense generosity of both friends and strangers. I won’t go into too much detail on the stressors because frankly I don’t have the energy right now to endure the relive it. What I’ll say (and what won’t come as a surprise to those of you who know this country) is that India is just as bureaucratic, complicated, and corrupt as you might think.
Today’s stress had to do with registering at the Khar (local) police station in Mumbai. This registration is required within your first 14 days of arrival. They require much documentation and I had all of it, but when I went yesterday they weren’t satisfied with my proof of residence. You see, I’m currently staying at a friend’s while I look for a more permanent place. I had brought along a copy of her lease as well as signed letters from both her and her landlord asserting that I had both of their permission to stay here. Even though this seems perfectly clear and reasonable to me, the police insisted that I needed to have a formal stamped and fingerprinted legalese agreement with the landlord. So, I left, paid my landlord’s contract developer 1,000 rupees to process such an agreement overnight, and went back to the police station today with the agreement and an Indian friend in tow. Shockingly, they rejected my application again.
After my Indian friend pleaded with the police in Hindi for 20 minutes, they agreed to accept a new agreement that said that I was staying at the landlord’s house (even though we all knew that this wasn’t the case). When we went to get the landlord’s permission and signature for such an agreement, however, he refused. If the police came to his house and saw that I wasn’t staying there, he explained, he could get into serious legal trouble.
Even though I totally understood the landlord’s perspective, this was devastating news. Not only had my registration failed at the local level, this failure would result in my not being able to complete the crucial FRRO registration within the same required time period.
What was I supposed to do? I don’t understand what people in my position (who come to work for NGOs, etc. and have to set up everything ourselves) are supposed to do. The FRRO requirements were built largely for foreigners who come to India to work for major corporations. These corporations take care of everything, and upon arrival, the foreigners have a fancy residence, a car and driver, admission at the country’s top private schools for their kids, and on top of all this, “hardship pay” (which means that not only are they getting to live on their huge U.S. salary in a place where things cost half as much, they are getting a bonus too). For them, completing registration within 14 days of arrival is a piece of cake.
I take full responsibility for having chosen the route I did. I knew that this position would require me to hustle, buck up, and do things for myself. The frustrating thing is that I have done this to the best of my ability, and it somehow hasn’t been good enough.
The hardest part of today was when my Indian friend said to me, “you know if you had just come and talked to the landlord first, none of this would have happened.” I wanted to punch him. There is no way I could have known to do that. My friend whose place I am staying at had told me she had talked to the landlord and told him that I would be using the letter for police verification (he denies this – who knows…) When I had asked her if I should talk to him, myself, she had said not to. What could have possibly made me think that I should go talk to him anyway?
There is little that is more frustrating to me than when my best isn’t good enough. When I have done everything in my power to be proactive and responsible, and still somehow end up in trouble and as a burden to other people.
I will be okay (don’t worry!). They’re not going to deport me. The worst that can happen is that after signing a lease, I will have to take a short trip out of the country (perhaps to visit my friend Alex in Taiwan!) and come back to register. The least that will happen is they will charge me a fine for registering late. In the midst of all of this I have to remember to take a mental step back and try not to get overwhelmed. I was strong enough to get here. I am strong enough to stay. And on top of this, I have the support of many, many wonderful people. This sustains me more than you know!