Angappa Naicken Street a Gateway to Getaway
“Your application for passport is incomplete,” said the clerk at the Passport Office.
“How come, I have submitted all the required documents,” Juggernaut was sweating and anxious.
“No, I don’t see ‘No Objection Certificate’ from your employer.”
“I did submit through the travel agent.”
“I don’t see, we could not review your application further until you submit ‘No Objection Certificate. ’“Next,” shouted the clerk.
Juggernaut was literally begging the man to reconsider his application as he was ejected from the office.
Standing outside the office were hundreds of people milling around in hot sun; scores in a line to enter the office, lots of others just standing or walking around, all in pursuit to get passport. In early seventies, the government made it hard for regular folks to get a passport, a socialist philosophy of ‘Collective Karma.’
Out of luck, nobody to get help from, in a City few hundred miles from home, with no knowledge of local language where the locals insist on talking in their language, Juggernaut found himself in a dilemma; getting another original certificate in-time from bureaucracy was next to impossible and abandon any efforts to get passport means losing a great opportunity to take up a fellowship. Juggernaut decided that he shall get the passport by hook or crook. He started looking for a crook to help him out in this endeavor.
“You know somebody to help me to get passport?” asked Juggernaut addressing a man in a local garb appeared not saintly to say the least but then there was no game plan to go further.
“You need passport?”
“Yes, I need passport.” Juggernaut moved closer to the man.
“You come with me,” said the man walking fast making his way pushing people towards the road and climbed into an auto-rickshaw (motorized rickshaw) signaling Juggernaut to jump in with him and spoke with the rickshaw driver in his language.
The rickshaw took off like a rocket, moving at high speed maneuvering the traffic as if it was racing against other vehicles. Juggernaut, confused and disoriented looked sideways to see whether he can recognize landmarks on the route to return to his motel safe. The rugged looking stranger was quiet all along; the rickshaw suddenly entered the “Parry’s Corner,’ a landmark in the City comparable to “Time Square” in New York, Juggernaut identified quickly and felt calm for a moment. Then, the rickshaw made a sharp turn into ‘Angappa Naicken Street’ a narrow and winding road appeared more like a warehouse district. Many small trucks and other transportation vehicles were double parked leaving no space at all; nevertheless, the rickshaw driver found room to drive through and suddenly stopped in front of a small white washed building as if he knows exactly where to stop. The stranger got out and paid the rickshaw driver and signaled Juggernaut to follow him into the small unassuming building with a sign board that read “Kutty Travels.”
Dumfounded Juggernaut followed the stranger into the building that opened into a small court yard enclosed on all four sides with three floors of rooms like a motel. Some people were squatting on the floor along the edge of the court yard and other standing on different floors as if everybody was waiting to see something to happen soon in the center of the court yard.
“You go inside that room,” said the man with his hand stretched to show the direction of the room and disappeared into the crowd.
Juggernaut looked around suspiciously and slowly entered the room. A dark, heavy set man with greasy hair was sitting on a posh upholstered chair that looks more like a king’s throne. Juggernaut introduced himself and asked if he could get a passport without ‘No Objection Certificate’. “You talk to my son, he will be here anytime, you can wait outside,” said the man without paying any attention at all, he hardly looked at Juggernaut.
Juggernaut came out of the room slowly into the court yard still a busy place with people hanging around. From their garb, it was evident that most of them were from an area in Deep South known for migrant workers.
Juggernaut looked around to see a receptionist or some sort sitting behind a small desk with few phones. Juggernaut approached her to find out when the son of the business owner would turn up here. “You mean Thomas?” she said. From her accent, Juggernaut realized that she is a person of Anglo-Indian mixed race descent.
“Is Thomas is the son of the old person in the office?” inquired Juggernaut.
“Yes, Thomas is the son and he will be here sometime soon.”
“Do you know exactly when?”
“No, he will come any time, no exact time,” the slender light skinned woman looks more like a school girl though an adult.
“I am Rose, you were not from this area,” Rose quickly figure it out.
“No, somebody near the passport office brought me here to get help in obtaining passport,” Juggernaut was still in his thoughts.
“I am sure you get help,’ Rose was kind and friendly.
“Who are all these men here?” inquired Juggernaut.
“They are like you, came here to get passport.”
“Do they live here?”
“Yes, see all those rooms on different floors, they live here until they get passport.”
“How long it takes to get one,”
“Its all dependents, for some it takes few weeks and for others longer than that,” replied Rose; matter of fact away.
“You mean weeks?” Juggernaut appeared worried.
“Or even months,” Rose wide opened her dark eyes.
“I need to get mine in few days.”
“Well, talk to Thomas when he comes,” Rose was not convincing.
Juggernaut was really worried now after talking to Rose, on other hand, he was happy to found Rose, the only person to talk to in the alien crowd.
“You wait outside on the street to catch Thomas otherwise once he enters the court yard you can’t catch him,” Rose gave a helpful tip.
Juggernaut went out to the street and looked around see a small rundown coffee house on opposite side of the street. Juggernaut paid for a cup of coffee; the porcelain cup looked suspicious but the coffee was hot, sweet and strong. It was very hot outside, so was the coffee, but Juggernaut felt better with each sip.
Then all of a sudden with big thunderous noise came a large black motorbike to stop in front of the building. A fellow with dark shades on the bike with engine still running looked around as if he is a person of great importance. Juggernaut rushed to him before he got out and introduced himself quickly.
“I need to get a passport to travel?”
“Where you are going?”
“Port of Spain.”
“Which port in Spain?”
“Port of Spain is a City in the Caribbean.”
“Never heard,” said Thomas and revved the engine playfully to stir up loud noise while Juggernaut was explaining that Port of Spain is the Capitol of Trinidad, an Island in the Southern most Caribbean.
Thomas was brash with a look of arrogance. He was wearing fancy clothes, gaudy gold rings and thick gold chains hanging around his neck. With thick dark mustache and well built body, he looked more like a villain in Indian movies. He placed the bike on the stand and walked quickly towards the court yard with a leather bag and Juggernaut followed him quickly to catch up.
As soon as Thomas entered the court yard, people came running and surrounded him as if he was distributing food to a very hungry crowd.
Thomas removed few passports from a large messenger leather bag and shouted few names. A handful of people from the crowd rushed towards him to get close to him. Those people appeared ecstatic with joy as if they were chosen for facilitation. The others dispersed away slowly looking dejected.
Juggernaut decided to come back next day to meet Thomas and provide him with more information since he was busy with the chosen few making some transactions.
Juggernaut was staying in a motel few miles from the Central Railway Station and some distance from the travel agency place. In the beginning, he travelled on auto rickshaw to the travel agency; after few days he took public transportation to the travel agency. After a week, he started walking to save money and kill time. It became a routine to visit the travel agency around 2 PM, chat with Rose and wait outside drinking hot coffee for Thomas to arrive on his fancy motor bike only to be told to come next day.
One week has already passed, Juggernaut was really worried, and he was running out of money.
“You are going where to do what?” Thomas inquired one day.
“To do Ph. D.,”
“I don’t know what it is, but let me tell you, I can send you to a place where you can more money than you never imagined in your life,” said Thomas laughing loudly.
“Where?” Juggernaut appeared puzzled.
“The same place, I am sending all those men waiting here to go,” “none of them have education like you, but I bet them going to make more money working in the Middle East,” Thomas was still laughing.
Juggernaut for the first time learned where the crowd in waiting was heading. He was not sure whether he was doing the right thing to go for a higher degree; “perhaps with my education I can make more money in Middle East,” thought Juggernaut. But again, he was not sure. He decided to wait for his passport to go to the West Indies.
“If you want your passport you need to meet Thomas everyday to remind him how bad you need your passport, otherwise you will stuck here for weeks or even months,” Rose was kind to Juggernaut. Juggernaut developed a good rapport with Rose, talking about his familiarity with Anglo-Indian community back in his home town hundreds of miles away. Rose appeared happy to talk to Juggernaut in English rather than in local language with others residing in the building.
After visiting every day for over two weeks, “Thomas got out of his bike and signaled Juggernaut to follow him into the court yard. Juggernaut followed him. “You got lucky today,” said Thomas pulling a passport from the leather bag.
“You got my passport?” screamed Juggernaut.
“Somehow I managed to get your passport without the certificate,” Thomas was holding the passport in his hand high in the air as if he was teasing a child with a candy.
“Thank you, Thank you,” Juggernaut was overwhelmed and Rose got up from her chair looking happy for Juggernaut.
“This is a genuine passport not a fake, you know,” Thomas was boasting how hard to get passport without proper documentation.
“Juggernaut was holding his passport and looking hard at the details inside to make sure his name was spelled correctly and the photo was his for real.”
“Well, it costs you 500 rupees, because you don’t have the proper documentation.”
“At the beginning you said it costs around 250 rupees.”
“May be, but it took lot of work to convince the Regional Passport Officer to get your passport,” “I can send you to Middle East with a guarantee job offer for more money,” Thomas was smiling.
Juggernaut looked at Rose and saw shaking her head sideways in subtle manner. Juggernaut got the hint; “No thanks, I decided to go to the West Indies,” Juggernaut paid the amount in full to take full control of his passport from Thomas.
Juggernaut was happy to get out of the building for the last time with passport in his hand which appeared elusive for more than two weeks. Rose was very helpful. Going to the West Indies almost 4 decades ago was a great experience but going to Middle East to work in oil fiends in early seventies could have been a smart thing to do. Whenever, Juggernaut looks at his old Indian passport, the rigmarole he went through to get it particularly to deal with the brash and arrogant Thomas comes to his mind.