It was one of those hot summer days of July. After months of executive dysfunction and three applications later, I finally found myself waiting in line for the long-awaited E-passport appointment on D-Day.
Now if you remember the history of the D-Day (allied landings on French beaches during the second world war), good for you. Those who don't know about it, it is the history of cross-channel (English Channel) invasion of northern France by the allied forces against the Nazi Germany.
Except for a hope that everything will go according to the grand plan, there was nothing much to hold onto for the allied armada as the English channel, stretching from Britain to France, tends to be notorious for its rough seas and unpredictable weather.
When it comes to appointments at a passport office in Bangladesh, the experiences of average citizens often share common themes, if not being completely identical, marked by uncertainties and sheer unpredictability.
Regardless of how many identification papers you bring in to your appointment to prove you're the person you are claiming, the person sitting behind the desk at Room no 301 will always ask for more.
It was in the long queue of Room No 301, I met Fahim*, a man in his late 20s standing and panicking with a bazillion of identification papers in hands starting from NID card to even his student ID card from 5 years ago when he was a bachelor student.
Battle-ready and determined Fahim, however, soon came face-to-face with his worst nightmare. "Employee ID card anen nai? Employee ID card niye ashen (Why didn't you bring your employee ID? Please bring a copy of your employee ID)," said the man behind the desk.
Panicked, Fahim knew the implications of that all too well. He will have to start from the end of the line which -- by that time -- already snaked down from the third floor to the first. That marks the beginning of our very short-lived (Approximately 6 hours) friendship.
I told him I'd hold the line for him while he went and brought that copy.
By the time Fahim returned, I lost my own place in the line because of a paper which the man behind the desk thought would be more important than my existence.
My appointment at the office was at 9:30am. However, around 11am I found myself and my good friend Fahim making our way from the tail-end of the line to the guy behind the desk.
As we made our way, we made two more friends. One of them is Mohiuddin* bhai, also a gentleman in his late 20s, donning a smart formal outfit with a neatly folded suit in his grasp, all in anticipation of the occasion. This is not his first rodeo, by the way. He's here to renew his passport. And the man doesn't want his most crucial identification document to be marred with a less-than-flattering photograph, hence his formal attire.
Another is Saiful* bhai, a family man in his 40s. This is not his first time as well. The gentleman has a degree from overseas. Saiful bhai came with his wife and his daughters. Failing to manage the family package of e-passport appointments, Saiful bhai found himself amidst us -- in the long queue.
More like we found him, mediating a heated verbal exchange between a woman and a man. The composed and level-headed Saiful bhai soon joined us after failing in the third-party mediation attempt.
In the next four-and-half hours, the four of us went through all sorts of ups and downs. We rejoiced together when the Ansar official returned our papers to our safe hands, much to our surprise, without any objection.
In these hours, Saiful bhai, the captivating storyteller, shared with us how he had been unfairly judged at a government office by a public servant merely because he didn't own a house and resided at his in-laws' place.
We heard how Mohiuddin bhai ended up in this long queue just because he missed his previous appointment due to his haircut.
"I'd prefer not to have my passport photo with that haircut for the next ten years," he told us.This was technically my second rodeo at any government offices in the 25 years of my life. However, I was yet to experience the cruellest sentence in the history of humankind: "Bhai, Lunch er pore ashen (Come after lunch, please)."
This might not seem or sound so bad, but let me tell you, those lunches at government offices tend to take more than an hour at least.
The room we were assigned to after that not-so-brief episode with Room No 301 was Room No 403 on the fourth floor once more for the purpose of "document scanning."
As we approached the desk with our documents, the man decided to take off for lunch, leaving us hanging for the next hour.
In these short uncertain times, we relied upon each other. Mohiuddin bhai and Fahim bhai went for Juhr while we held the line. We went for little snacks while Fahim bhai held the line.
When finally I got out of room number 407 -- where the officials took my photograph and biometric for the passport -- it's already 4:30 in the afternoon.
As I made my way towards the exit, a sense of nostalgia swept over me. There, in the queue, I spotted my friends for what would be the last time, patiently waiting for their turn.
This might appear to be quite a lengthy reflection on what seems like an insignificant moment in life. However, even after two months, I find myself frequently thinking about them. Without those newfound friends, this day could have easily faded into obscurity, especially considering that many of the applicants were informed that their photographs and biometrics would be taken the day after the initial D-Day, which means another day at the rough sea of the English Channel.
These were the friends I had forged bonds with at one of the most unpredictable places on earth and during one of the most uncertain periods of my life: on my e-passport appointment day. The friends who held the queue for me. The friends we don't talk about enough.
*The names used in this article were changed keeping my friends' privacy in mind.
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