Janice her two kids, J and I were in DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Pathological multi-tasker that I am, I decided to swing by the Indian Embassy to get some passport stuff done while I was in town so the trip would be "productive" and as well as fun. I must have been hallucinating.
We walked the kids from Dupont Circle to the Embassy ignoring their protests. Five or six blocks on a windy morning, the walk was not very fun. Upon arriving there, I found that I was in queue behind sixty people to even drop off the paperwork. The magic window of opportunity would be over in an hour. The woman behind the counter was highly disgruntled and screamed at me when I had the temerity to ask her a question. It seemed her life's purpose was to embarrass the heck out of any customer who so much as dared to walk up to her. Groveling worked a lot better as one old gentleman was proving by example.
I stood there considering my options. We could sit around for the next hour and still miss by a whisker with sixty people ahead of me in the queue. Also, Madame at the counter had taken a very dim view of me even before I had been granted audience with her to review my application. Chances were that she would find something terribly wrong with it and ask me to return with corrections the next day.
It has been four years since I was last in India but that is a poor excuse for being taken by surprise by Madame's MO. She was merely being herself, i.e. a disgruntled government employee vested with powers completely out of proportion to her salary. While returning to Dupont Circle, I thought about how easy it is to get used to a well ordered life even after spending most of my life in India.
It got me thinking about the popular stereotypes about NRIs who return to India and act like they never belonged there. If I were back home, dealing with something like this, would I have felt any different, accepted it as the way things are meant to be and not whined about it. As I recall, whining was allowed - we all did that but we did not expect better or different. To express surprise or righteous indignation would be considered very odd. I think I did a little of both that morning and felt rather silly for doing so.
Yet in a perverse way, for a little while I was home again among well known things grown somewhat unfamiliar with time and distance. It felt like coming out of the wardrobe in the Narnia Chronciles when I stepped out on the street and into America once again. India had disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.