At twenty past three, it's tending towards sunset: with snow on the ground, and a purplish tinge to the glass, it's grim but beautiful. Thank god for the East Coast Main Line, anyway. Free wifi for all the four hundred miles between Kings Cross and Edinburgh, this train doesn't stop till York, and I'm feeling relaxed for what seems the first time in weeks. I don't really know where to begin.
Maybe last night: when I stepped out of the Tube station, it was pitch black and and dark and late and miserable, and the man in front of me walked out into the clear air and said, sincerely, happily, for the whole world, "It's only fucking snowing!"
And it was. Not in a middle-of-city way, either; it came down in great extravagant whirls all night, gave me a terrible case of dandruff, and I couldn't sleep, so I watched it come down with a quiet sort of joy. It's beautiful. And the night and morning, with jacinthsong
feeding me and making soothing noises, were a lovely peaceful interlude in what really has been a very difficult week. For the first thing, my brain is fraying at the edges a bit and giving me unhappy sorts of symptoms; I'm nervy and on edge and a little afraid of everything, and tired in my bones all the time because I can't sleep.
But I got through the two mock exams, the usual grind of classes, and the feeling in my head that I wanted to go away somewhere and live in a box - a well-upholstered box, with sofas, but nevertheless, cardboard walls and no windows - and I bought Christmas presents, and all was well until this morning when I went to see the Indian High Commission about a routine consular matter.
(Basically, it goes like this. I am a British citizen with a standard adult ten-year passport. I am also an overseas Indian citizen, and I hold a (limited) Indian passport. The latter is only valid as an adjunct to the former, and as it happens, my Indian passport was issued before I got my current British passport. I haven't been to India in nearly three years, so it hasn't come up for a while, but now I need to make sure the British passport number referred to in the Indian passport is the number of my current British passport.
Does that follow? I hope it does. It was a very simple problem.)
So a while ago I called the Indian High Commission and tried to explain this problem to them. First they didn't answer their phone. Then they did answer their phone and they were rude. Then they transferred me to another department. Who were also rude. The phone tag involved in all of this took several days. Finally I got an answer out of them: if I brought both current passports and the expired one with me, they could fix it for me, same-day.
Okay, I said. Today, that's what I set out to do. I got there at nine in the morning, took a ticket, told the woman at the counter my problem, she gave me a form to fill out. I tried to get in, and they said, are you carrying a computer in your bag.
Yes, I said.
Take the battery out, they said. I took a deep breath and complied - my parents advised, before I came, just to do whatever arbitrary things they demand, it'll be easier - and stuffed the battery in my pocket. Went down to the big hall, queued up for half an hour, and got to the window. They said, this is the wrong form. You gave it to me, I said. It's the wrong form, they said. Fine, I said, give me the right one and I'll fill it in.
Oh, you can't do that, you have to print it off and bring it back to us. No, we can't do it for you. How, I said, you made me take the battery out of my computer and in any case it's not like I carry a printer on me. Not our problem, they said.
So off I went again, rang shimgray
, who by dint of being near a computer could tell me where the internet cafes were in the area. I walked a couple minutes to the nearest one, found their printer was broken. Walked twenty minutes to the next nearest one, paid £4.40 to print off three sheets of paper, walked back, took another token.
This time the queue was about an hour. Never mind, I thought, I'll read my book. I read my book. Time passed. I got to the window. They said, you need photocopies of your passports. I've got them here, I said, so the man went off to photocopy them. You need passport photos, he said. You didn't tell me that, I said. It's not on the form. Get passport photos, he said. I went out, paid £4 for them, and came back.
You need to pay the fee, he said, it's £18. I gave him a twenty-pound note. No, you need to pay exact change. Where am I going to get exact change for £18, I said. It's not like I can go to a cash machine for that much. He said, you should have been prepared, you stupid girl; you didn't even have the photocopies, everyone else here has them, you didn't even cut up the passport pictures for us, it's just you, you're stupid, you stupid, stupid girl.
Don't you dare abuse me, I said. Don't you dare take that tone with me.
He wasn't abusing you, said the woman behind me in the queue. It's all your fault.
Don't you start, I said, and the man slammed my papers down and said, I'm not doing it, you can get lost, I'm not doing your application, get out.
Give me my passport, I said after that. Give me my papers, give them to me now
. And I took them, and I walked out, and I went down to the river, and sat on a bench and cried and cried.
So I may not be going to India in January. I don't know. The jury is out on whether you can travel with the expired passport to prove that the Indian passport was legitimately issued; maybe, maybe not, I suppose I will have to find out. In the papers I grabbed off the desk, I have the paper that acknowledges my application was submitted, so possibly this will be done anyway, but not before January 22nd (it wasn't a same-day job; they lied) so I don't know.
In retrospect, I think I know why I was so upset; it's that I don't have to do this. I don't have to hold Indian citizenship. I hold it because I'm supposed to be proud of being Indian; I'm supposed to think Indian citizenship is a valuable and worthy thing to have. But the British High Commission in New Delhi is in Chanakyapuri, near my grandparents' house, and if I went there for help they would treat me with respect, and why, after all, bother being proud of a nation that can't give you any common courtesy, that is, let's face it, grimy, bureaucratic, misogynistic and full of fucking Indians.
(And I know, I know, all Indians aren't like this, I'm not like this. But I feel disgusted and embarrassed anyway.)
...and so on. The train is tilting pleasantly underneath me; I should finish my yuletide
, and pretty soon this week will be over.