Today I see the end of my PIO card application, finally. The entire story, which lingered at the back of my mind for over a year and a half, is finally behind me – over and done with, for good!

It might be a tedious read, but I have decided to post a full chronological entry about my PIO card application, because really, Indian bureaucracy is bureaucraZy

December 2012: After a lot of phone calling and internet researching, Kishan and I go to Delhi and attempt to deposit my first file at the PIO card application office of the Ministry of Home Affairs. After going through my file the officer informs me that all my documents are complete, but that I can’t apply for the PIO card at this stage because I have a student visa. I need to be on an entry (X) visa (accompanying spouse) to apply for a PIO! After a few attempts during the following months we give up trying to convert my visa from student to X status, and we decide that we will try to apply in Paris when we go to Europe in 2013.

June 2013: We go to the Indian embassy in Paris with a new PIO card application pack, to find out that we can’t apply from France because we are resident in India. At least we manage to get my name endorsed in Kishan’s passport within a day…

3 September 2013: I send my third PIO application file (including a demand draft of 15,000 rupees – valid for three months) to the Foreign Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in Delhi by speed post.

13 September 2013: I receive the copy of a letter addressed to the Varanasi FRO (Foreigners Registration Office), written by the senior officer of the Foreign Division of the MHA, Mr R. In this letter Mr R. asks the Varanasi FRO to send them a report about me.

20 January 2014: After over four months I haven’t had any news about my application (despite my vain phone calls to the MHA), so Kishan and I go on a 12-hour train journey to go to Delhi and visit the MHA in person. We find out that the PIO card application office has been closed to the public! The receptionist says we are supposed to contact them by phone (hahaha!) The only thing we can do now is write a letter and hand it in to the man at the mail counter behind us, and he will dispatch it to the PIO card office. My face drops but I write a letter, the mail-man stamps it, I make a photocopy of the stamped letter and off we go…

5 February 2014: I receive the photocopy of a new letter by Mr R. addressed to the Varanasi FRO. In this letter Mr R. reiterates to the Varanasi FRO officer that he should send a report about me to the MHA!!! This means I went to Delhi to find out that the Varanasi FRO officer had just not been doing his work for over four months!!!

6 February: I phone the Varanasi FRO to ask the officer if he has received the letter by Mr R. He says he has received nothing (!)

7 February: I go to the Varanasi FRO to show the copy of Mr R’s letter to the officer in charge. Before I sit down he takes out the original of the letter onto his desk. This means he was lying to me on the phone, because he was expecting me! He tells me that he did some address checks about me by coming to my area of town and looking/asking people around if they knew me. (NB: he knows very well who I am because I have been registering with him every year for the past four years, and he always recognises my Hindi-speaking voice on the phone!) He even tells me that he came to my house and my landlord (who is a well-known politician so it has to be the right man) had told him that I didn’t live here. Hmmm….. I ask him what to do now? He says I have to get a computerised C-form (i.e. address proof) from my landlord, and a letter from my violin teacher confirming that I have been learning violin with him since 2008.

7 February evening: I ask my landlord if anyone from the Varanasi FRO came a few months ago to ask about me. He says no-one came…

10 February: I go back to the Varanasi FRO with a letter from my violin teacher and the computerised C-Form. By the way, computerised C-forms (foreign registration forms) are a newly implemented procedure which I didn’t know about. I had to help my landlord on his computer to register his house as a guesthouse and then fill in the form for him… I beg the officer to send the documents to the Delhi MHA as soon as possible. He says he will do it within 3 days.

14 February: I phone the Varanasi FRO officer to ask him if he sent my documents to the MHA. He says he did.

A few days later: I realise that my first 15,000 rupee demand draft (of which I have kept a photocopy) was valid for only three months and so it has expired. I collapse wondering what to do – because Indian officers won’t work if there is no money involved, now will they? And of course I need the original back to get the money back from the bank! I try to phone and email the MHA but I don’t get any consistent information from anyone.

28 February: I write a letter addressed to Mr R. in the MHA (since he is in charge of my file and supposedly he will know what I’m talking about, right?) explaining that my demand draft is expired, and asking what to do.

8 March: Following a friend’s advice I send a new letter to Mr R. with a new demand draft. (My friend said that will probably speed up the application process and somehow I believe her…) I also phone the MHA to inform them that I have sent a new demand draft. The Varanasi FRO officer has given me two phone numbers for the PIO card office of the MHA. Tel no. 1 gets through to a receptionist (I presume but really I don’t know) and is relatively easy to get through. Tel no. 2 with an extension number goes through Mr R. or his colleague. That number is just impossible: you have to dial the extension number at least 10 times and you’re lucky if you get through to someone… Most of the time they just hung up on you before even answering. I spend time, money and energy mostly to no avail…

Many days during the month of March: I manage to speak to the same officer of Tel no. 1. He tells me not to worry, my expired demand draft will be sent to me with my PIO card. Another time he tells me that my PIO card is ready and will be sent on Monday. Another time he tells me that it is ready but it is awaiting signature by the big officer. After a few days I start wondering if the officer from Tel no.1 talks rubbish and knows anything, so I decide to phone Tel no.2 again and again. After maaaaaany attempts (miracle!) I do get through to someone who tells me he will look at my file and “please phone back in 30 minutes”. “Pleeeeeeeease don’t hang up!” I think to myself. It’s so bloody hard to get through to someone… Sigh. A few attempts later I manage to speak to Mr R. himself (miracle!), who tells me that at this stage the MHA has only decided to grant me a PIO card!!! I am stunned. This means the first guy from Tel no.1 has been lying to me for days, just to make me happy and to get rid of my phone calls. I decide I will never try to phone Tel no.1 ever again!!!

25 March: I receive the photocopy of a letter by Mr R. sent to the Delhi FRRO (Foreigner Regional Registration Office) which says that they have decided to grant me a PIO card. Mr R. has sent this letter to the FRRO along with all my application documents, including… the old, expired bank draft (aaaaaaargh!!!) and he requests them to proceed with my application. OK. At least, this piece of information is real. But he has sent them my old demand draft!

26 March: I get the Delhi FRRO’s number from the Varanasi FRO and phone them. Miracle! That one is really easy to get through, and the guy on the phone is really nice and helpful! After checking my reference number and my address (which means it’s all real information, yay!) he exclaims: “Have you not received my letter!? I sent you your old demand draft back! Please send me a new one and I will proceed with your application.” AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaargh!!!! But “I did send a new bank draft to the MHA a month ago!” I tell him. “Oh oh… you should have sent it to me, you made a mistake.” he replies. Cursing my friend for her advise, I learn an important lesson: don’t ever try to speed up a bureaucratic procedure in India…

A few minutes later: After maaaaaaaany trials I manage to speak to Mr R. of the MHA and I ask him he has received the second demand draft which I sent on 8 March. “I never received any bank draft” he answer. “But I checked the parcel number, it reached Delhi on 13 March!” I reply. Blah blah blah. He says he will look for it and send to the FRRO of Delhi.

29 March: I get the letter from the Delhi FRRO with my expired demand draft! Horray! The following day I go back to the bank and manage to get my 15,000 rupees back.

After a few days: It’s just impossible to get Mr R. to do anything, it seems. He hardly listens to me on the phone, and clearly he has not even tried to find my demand draft. So I go back to the bank, get a third demand draft for 15,000 rupees and send it the FRRO…

Five days later: I phone the Delhi FRRO. The guy has received my demand draft, and my PIO card application will take about 20 to 25 days. Aaaaaaaaaaah…….. Sigh of relief. I have nothing to do, he will send me the PIO card to my address in Varanasi (he double-checks my address and is really nice). He will send me back my demand draft no.2 in case Mr R. sends it to him in the meantime… Sigh. At least the application is well on its way (for real!) now. The last issue is that I may lose the money from Demand Draft no.2, but at least I will get the PIO card… By the way, my current visa expires on 18 June 2014…

In April: I spend much time trying to get through to Mr R. again, to ask him to find and send me my bank draft no. 2. He doesn’t listen to me properly. Kishan tries to phone him too but he doesn’t listen to him properly either. One time, Mr R. even shouts at me on the phone telling me he has work to do, and then hangs up on me. I give up.

Early May: Still not received anything. I phone the Delhi FRRO to ask him where my PIO card is at. He says it will take another 20 days.

End of May: I phone the Delhi FRRO again. My PIO card is ready and awaiting signature by the big officer. “Don’t worry, you will get it soon.” – “My visa is expiring on 18 June” I remind the officer. “Don’t worry dear, you no longer need a visa now.”

14 June: I finally receive my PIO card in the post, just four days before the expiry date of my visa and nine and a half months after the start of my application!!!

Hurrah! Okay, but there’s still a lost demand draft to retrieve and I will certainly not give up! Kishan and I are planning to go to Delhi in July anyway, so we shall pay a visit to the Ministry of Home Affairs then…

A few days before leaving for Delhi, mid July: I try to phone the MHA 7 times, dialling the extension number 10 to 15 times every time and the line dies every time. I waste over 50 rupees of phone credit in the process and give up trying to even speak to someone.

21 July 2014: In Delhi, I prepare a letter to hand in to the mail-man at the counter of the Ministry of Home Affairs along with photocopies of all relevant letters and of course a photocopy of the demand draft. In case we’re not allowed to meet anyone in charge I’ll hand them the whole lot and we’ll see how long it takes for them to find my demand draft… Kishan and I reach the Ministry of Home Affairs. At a first counter Kishan explains the whole story to the receptionist. The receptionist is attentive and sends us to the mail-man at the other counter. Kishan explains the whole story to the mail-man. Mail-man says something to the receptionist and we go back to the receptionist. Receptionist and his colleague listen to my story again, check out my documents. They’re quite helpful actually. I have hope. Then Receptionist hands a phone to Kishan and tells him to dial the extension number – the same one I used to dial fifteen times to get through to anyone when I was lucky. After two seconds Kishan speaks to someone in Mr R.’s office on that phone and tells the whole story again. After five minutes the receptionist hands us a special receipt allowing us to go upstairs to the Foreigners Division of the MHA. Hurrah!

The MHA building is super sleek and modern and clean; we check our bags at security, ask our way to various people in the corridors. Finally we reach the right office, with “Mr R.”s name written on the door… I wonder what he looks like! There are quite a few desks and people in this office. One man who sits doing absolutely nothing in front of his computer looks at our receipt and tells us to sit down at the back of the room. We wait fifteen minutes. No-one speaks to us, we wonder if they know what we’re here for. Then the lazy man tells us that the person we have to see is coming soon, we have to wait. After five minutes a very small and skinny man with an angular face comes into the office. He asks us what we want. Kishan tells our story. Skinny-man opens a cupboard and within one minute he takes my file out to look into it. Then he goes to another desk, and less than five minutes later he comes back to us with my demand draft and the letter I had sent with it! “Is that the right letter?” he asks. “Yes!” I exclaim! He doesn’t say anything else. I don’t know who the skinny man is, I have no idea if he was Mr R.. But Within five minutes he has found my demand draft, which means that Mr R. was bluntly lying to me on the phone when he said he had not received my demand draft back in March. It would obviously had taken him no effort and no time to find and send my draft to the FRRO or to myself.

Anyhow. I had my demand draft in my hands and I was very happy and relieved when I left the Ministry of Home Affairs, because my 15,000 were not lost – sigh.

And with it the story of my PIO card application ends, finally!

[Later edit: I didn’t know, when I wrote this, that a few months later the PIO card would be replaced by the OCI card and I would have to apply for an OCI card in lieu of my PIO card… Another story, coming soon!]