Renewing the FiveYears Visa that enables me to keep living in India, so as to be able also to keep living in Auroville.
Already by itself the renewal of the Visa is quite something, but this time it was compounded by the fact that my Passport too was going to expire, and needed to be renewed as well, before the Visa could be renewed.
So I started the whole process about two months ago, without any enthusiasm I must admit, but with a resignation so yogically great that I myself was impressed by it. It did please me to see how much true ‘samata’ had grown within me over the five years I didn’t have to worry about my Visa. And it did please me too that I had all by myself noticed that both my Passport and my Visa were going to expire together, and that I had to start doing something about it.
Taking a deep breath, and all the old official papers, passports and identity cards of all kinds that had piled up in the special envelope I had kept for that purpose since my arrival in India on August 2, 1972, I headed first to the French Consulate, luckily located right down there in Pondy – a mere fifteen minutes away if you are motorized.
Exceptionally I was: another Aurovilian lady, French like me but younger and more dynamic by temperament. was generously giving me a lift and accompanying me so as to help me with her own experience of the place and of the process.
Her presence no doubt facilitated things for me that first time, and eased the anxiety I tend to feel when entering a new space I am not familiar with: she knew already all the tricks, how to get the queue ticket, where to go, where to sit, where to go next when my ticket number came up, she had warned me already about what the clerk there would tell me I had to do; as she had foretold we ended up at a certain photo studio in the more commercial area of Pondy, to get new photos of myself, done according to the recent new norms decided by the French Government. She had warned me that these new norms were terrible: no ear rings, the hair behind the ears, nothing on your hair that hid any part of your face – and no smile.
At first I couldn’t believe it could be that bad, but it all came true, and even worse: I never saw the picture before it was blown up to show the face only over the entire photo. I was horrified when I saw the result: I looked haggard and as lively as a corpse. Such a sight upset me deeply.
When back at home for the day, I was overjoyed to discover among my pile of old items, in a forgotten small envelope from another studio, some previous photos of me on which I still looked more alive. I resolved secretly to give those ones to the clerk at our next visit. Jokingly I told my friend about my intention. She sternly remarked that these older photos wouldn’t do, as the face wasn’t blown up as was now mandatory.
She was right: next time we went, the clerk didn’t accept my preferred photos.
I could still have insisted on my will to refuse looking like a corpse on my future new Passport – but that insistence would have meant going out again to the studio for another try according to the new norms; I didn’t want to inflict a repeat of the previous time on my devoted driver, who had been proven right once again.
Something in me gave up; my eyes filling with tears, I finally handed over the “corpse” photos to the clerk, who found them “very good” (I could have strangled him) and went on with his job as if everything was fine. I felt as cheerful as if I had just consented to my own death sentence.
I had also to stand up in front of a strange open frame and give my finger-prints, from both hands. I couldn’t help but think: “My goodness, are French Consulates turning into Police-Stations nowadays?!…” But I said nothing of course.
After paying the fee and bringing the receipt, we were done for that day. I would have to come again on my own (my friend would have gone to France by then) when the new Passport would be ready and I would be contacted on the phone by the clerk: ‘Around the 20th’, he said.
We go back home. End of First Phase.
Having in the meantime forgotten all about it, on the 14th April when the phone rang and a male voice spoke to me in French, asking me about my name, at first I didn’t understand who it was, but then quickly figured it out.
The very next day I went and picked up my new Passport, careful not to open it so that I wouldn’t see that awful photo in it.
The next round was to happen in Auroville’s Town Hall, in our own offices and, in the next building, that of the “Auroville Foundation”, the Indian legal entity created specially to represent Auroville legally.
More forms to sign, more “corpse” photos to reluctantly give out for future use on documents about me in each office…
The approval from the Auroville Foundation, duly signed, came in the normal delays, , a few days only.
Everything needed next got sent online by the Aurovilians sitting in our own offices to the place in Pondy all the “foreigners” here quickly come to know the name of: the “RRO”.
That means the “Regional Registration Office”, and it has recently moved to a completely different area of Pondy.
But of course our Auroville Taxi Companies know it all already, and I was safely led there on the day fixed for my appointment with the RRO.
A full morning at first sitting there, and a few days later only, a phone call from there announces the good news to me, that my request for another Five Years Visa has been granted.
I must next pay the fees through what they call a DDO, something you do through a Bank, using a special DDO Form. Having no money of my own and no Bank Account, I never go even to the Bank Branch located within the area of Auroville. I had been told it opened only at 10 am, which would be too late; but the Auroville Taxi Company knows better, and tells me the Bank opens already at 8 am!… I jump in the taxi they immediately send, and I rush to the Bank. With the kind help of every single clerk there, I manage at last to fill up the form properly, pay the money and get the needed DDO paper to give to the RRO… where my Taxi of course takes me again next. After only a little bit of waiting there, it’s my turn, I give the DDO and everything else they need, and they tell me I must come back after 4.30 pm, “It will be ready”.
This gives me a few hours to have my lunch and do some of my normal work at home, and then I am back in my taxi a third time towards the RRO, my heart beating a little with the excitement of approaching the ‘Finish” line…
Some sitting patiently again up there with the few other persons who also have been asked to come back in the afternoon; by then I am so deeply interiorized into my own inner silence, I realize finally how quickly and almost easily it actually all went. I at last feel and see the helping hand of the Divine behind everything that has happened in this Second Phase of this usually dreaded process. I feel the Divine Presence all around me like a Protective Bubble. How wonderful. I have to make an effort to hide my bliss.
Moments later, I am given my Passport, open on the page where my new Five Years Visa nearly shines, so beautiful it is. I get also a big full page in color, the magnificent document itself that confirms it.
I warmly thank the clerk giving me those treasures, and go sit again on my chair for a few minutes more, putting away neatly and carefully everything in the right folder inside my bag.
And then, gleefully, refraining from jumping and shouting with joy, I stand up and go, my precious bag hanging nicely on my shoulder, downstairs towards my Taxi and my dear Auroville. Thank you, India!
So I have great news for everyone:
Even in the midst of the Bureaucratic World, yes, deep down in this Utmost Fallacy that is by its very essence (or rather, absence of essence) the Administrative Kingdom of Paperwork, you still can find the Divine, all smiles, hiding behind the human face of every clerk, every higher up sitting behind their desks in every office… Halleluiah!!!