Beer tastes better when you’ve earned it. After a tough but fun sports session, or on a Friday after a long week at work, that first beer is extra sweet because you know you deserve it. On the flip side of that is the sympathy beers. They don’t taste as good, but they dull the pain of loss or failure. Not in the drink-your-sorrows way, more of a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to lean on, even if you shouldn’t really need it. Tough week at work but it’s only Monday? Sorry, that’s a sympathy beer. Fight with the spouse when you know you’re wrong but too stubborn to admit? Sympathy beer. Let me tell you, the beer I’m drinking now is up there with the most sympathetic I’ve ever tasted.
Gather around friends, for this is not a drinking story, not yet anyway. Lend me your ears, and let me tell you a tale of our favourite government department. The one we love to hate. The FRRO! Boo, hiss. At this risk of being a one-trick pony-blog, here I am again.
My fieldwork has started, it’s going well. I’m on the verge of getting stuck into interviews based on all the observation I’ve been doing. The juicy stuff. But my nemesis, the FRRO had other plans. If you remember, I did suspect I’d have to fight another battle in this war. The warning drums sounded yesterday, “You need to go to town, they want to see you.” Ok, no problem, I’ll head in first thing tomorrow morning. Town is an hour away, plus I need to take all my documents.
“No. They want to see you now. The car’s here.”
Right. Ok. So off we went. Winding up, down, and around steep peaks and valleys blanketed in clouds and tea plantations, the drive was absolutely beautiful. When we reached town, the brightly-coloured houses terraced their way down the hill, smoke puffing from their chimneys. The smell of tea was heavy in the air, it’s roasting season. It really was an idyllic scene. But we accelerated straight through that, following the severe-looking signs that directed us to the “Police Superintendent”.
I idly wondered what an Indian police station was like. It’s not something you ever hope to see here – the inside of a police station, or a hospital, for that matter – but seeing as I was there on, hopefully, non-criminal matters, it would be quite interesting. We were escorted into a plain building with whitewashed walls and an air of superiority. No jail cells, just white tiles and white walls. We entered an office where a man behind a sad-looking desk flicked his wrist in our direction. Our local guides fell over themselves greeting him, “Good afternoon, sir. Thank you, sir.”
My fellow FRRO victim, an American who was completing her exit proceedings, nudged me to sit down. Without looking up, Lord Almighty of the Wonky Desk, called, “Passport.” I blinked, unsure as to who he was talking to but the American and our guides had sprung into action. He flicked through the paperwork and the passport, still not making eye contact.
“The date is wrong. When did you enter India?”
The American tripped over herself to explain but His Excellency held up his index finger.
“It’s a simple question.”
Crestfallen, the American answered with a specific date.
“You should have known better,” he had turned to our guide at this point.
Our guide murmured some apologies and some more “sirs”. The paperwork was thrust back towards him.
“Where is the transfer certificate? She is violating the terms of the visa without it.”
My turn, I guessed. I opened my mouth but our guide gave me a look that was both a warning and a plea not to get us all into trouble. And then we were shown out. It took all of five minutes.
“Wait, what just happened?”
We were suddenly back outside, and I was completely thrown. The American, who’d apparently had a very positive experience, was almost skipping.
“Yeah, he’s just like that. I had to get mine transferred from Delhi, hopefully they can do it without you having to go there.”
Uhh, ok. Then we got back in the car and drove back. For an hour.
Following our guides advice, I dutifully mailed the university who helped me register in Hyderabad in the first place. They came straight back, said they would do their best, but it’s a long weekend so they’d only get to it on Tuesday. Great. No problem!
Not great. Kind of a problem. The next day, I informed our guide of my emailings and he nodded, seemingly satisfied. Went up to work as per usual. But then there was a phone call. I heard my name. That is never good.
We had been summoned.
“Where is your transfer certificate?” the NGO woman-in-charge demanded.
I explained what I had told our guide, also her PA, that morning.
“We need it now.”
She’d just been on the phone to His Imperial Majesty, and Tuesday was Not Good Enough™. Ok, sorry, I can try to call them?
“No, you have to leave. Today.”
And that’s the story of how the FRRO got me kicked out of an entire district of India.
So here I sit, sipping my first beer (ok, technically now I’m up to the second) since I arrived weeks ago. Nothing has driven me to drink, nothing has distracted me from my work, until now. I’m in need of a sympathetic ear beer. At the risk of cliché, I’m sitting at an airport bar, drowning my sorrows and planning my next move. Going to Hyderabad might be a retreat, but I hope it’s going to be a strategically advantageous one. Tomorrow is a new day. The FRRO may have won this battle, but the war ain’t over yet.