This was a long day, and really introduced me into the Indian way of living. If there is one thing that you need in bucket loads, that is PATIENCE. I have just finished reading a good book, ‘Be Like Water’, where the message of the book is just to go with the flow. Living in India, this simple principle is a necessity.
We are told via Michelle’s school that our shipment of personal belongs had arrived at the dock and must be picked up. Because Michelle was working, I was the lucky one to be able to go to the dock and pick up all our stuff. It’s not the first time that I have been involved in collecting goods from sea transport; the first being when we returned from New Zealand. This experience wasn’t pleasant and I remember all the paperwork that was involved. Judging by my experience collecting goods coming from New Zealand to the UK, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy or quick experience. I also knew that being here in India, I would be safe in thinking that this could be a lot more difficult.
Mr Ramesh was the person employed by Michelle’s school to help all the expats with all these settling in processes. A small guy, smaller than me, (in fact I almost feel tall in his company). That is something that I am not used at all, it almost feels uncomfortable being taller than someone. Mr Ramesh means well, but it seems that he is cutting himself short, if you pardon the pun, and is given so many jobs to do that not one job gets done properly or on time.
I wait at the hotel where I am told Mr Ramesh will come with a driver and they will drive me to the port, to sort out all the paperwork. I am told the journey to the port will take 1 and a half hours. Anyway, true to form Mr. Ramesh was supposed to pick me up at 9.00am, but doesn’t show until nearly 11.00. I am thinking this is a day I can write of, without too much excitement. I sit in the back of the car, the driver and Mr Ramesh in the front. We exchange a greeting, and I ask how long it will take to get to the dock, and how long will the whole process take. He replies hour and half to get there, and all day doing the paperwork. Great.
We leave Old Mumbai over the bridge and enter Navi Mumbai, the traffic is moving, so I sit back and relax. Mr Ramesh phone is ringing every 2 minutes, and he seems to be really over-worked, a very busy man. I write my diary, thinking the road is at least a good one and the traffic is moving. I was soon to find out that I was wrong.
The driver leaves the main road, stops the car and asks many people for the direction to the dock. I am thinking surely Mr Ramesh has been here before, he says he has but he can’t remember the way. Soon we are off road, the tarmac has completely disappeared and the roads are made of red clay. I am thinking ‘how can this be the way to the dock?’ I am reassured that this is the way by Mr. Ramesh. The pot holes are massive; the road really is not a road, but just a track.
‘How can this road be the way to the docks’ I enquire?
‘You see sir, this is the road, all the trucks, and container lorries have worn it out,’ Mr Ramesh replies.
I look about me and he is right. All I can see are massive trucks and transporter vehicles. In fact, there are not many cars other than us that are around. The road is so bumpy, I am thrown around in the back of the car like a rag doll. It reminded me of travelling in South America, in particular, when you have approach a border. There is usually a piece of land that no country really owns, separating two countries next to each other. Because no one country take responsibility for the land, the road between the borders becomes nearly un-drivable, especially in countries where there is a lot of rain. This land is sometimes referred to as ‘no man’s land’.
But, I am thinking this is a major link to one of Indian largest ports, and is used every day. It does suffer from the rain, like now in the monsoon season, but it is not a road that no one owns. I am thinking there is no excuse for the rood to be in such a bad way. Mr Ramesh says every year the road is rebuilt, but because of the size of the trucks and transporters, teamed up with the massive amount of rain, they simply erode away. And every year it is the same -they are rebuilt and eroded away. For whatever reason, the journey isn’t a good one. The traffic is just about moving, and I am thinking that I can’t wait for the journey to finish.
Anyway, the journey took 2 and a half hours. The car pulled up and Mr. Ramesh goes walking around outside a building. He is looking for our agent, who the school employed to do all the paperwork, so that my shipment can be released. I wait in the back of the car, the driver speaks no English so we both sit in silence. After about 20 minutes Mr Ramesh returns to the car, telling me, ‘the agent is here, come.’
I introduce myself to the agent and after signing a paper entry book, we are allowed through some iron bars into a large area.
‘’Is this the port, where I check that all my shipment has arrived?’ I ask.
‘Yes, but first we have to do all the paperwork’ the agent tells me.
‘How long will that take?’
‘Who knows a few hours, maybe all day.’
So we entered into the office, I am asked to give the agent Michelle’s passport. Michelle’s passport carries all the power, she is the one with the working visa.
The agent takes over and I am told to take a seat; it’s a good job I had come prepared and I read. After 10 minutes, the agent and one of the customer officers comes and see me, asking if I have Michelle’s old passport. I say no, even though I remember now it did say bring your old passport with you. Why they need that is beyond thinking about. I am then told to sit and wait again. I talk to another guy, who seems to be in the same situation as me. We talk, he is moving back to India from the UK, to be with his sick father. He tells me he has brought all his furniture from the UK, a whole four bedroom house full of furniture. It make our little personal effects seem very small. I asked him if he has been here before and explains that he has. He then says it is not quick here; expect to be waiting around for hours.
Another two hours go by, and I am still reading, Mr Ramesh, comes to see me every 30 minutes to check, I am still alive and I haven’t died of boredom.
Finally after waiting in this building for nearly 2 and half hours, the agent and the customs officer come and say that my shipment is ready for me to check over.
I am armed with my receipt that details all the items that I have sent to India. I will need to check that they are all there, and the customs officer will need to check to see what items I have brought over from the UK, making sure they are all legally allowed to enter India. By this stage of travelling and waiting all day, I am wishing that we had not bothered shipping any items at all!
I am then told some items have duty on them and I will be further charged. I am not sure this is true but if it isn’t a lot of money then I will just keep quiet, to quicken the process and hopeful get out of here.
We are walked down to a massive warehouse where there are people’s individual shipments all spaced out on their own piece of floor space. I see the Indian guy that I had been talking to earlier and the amount of stuff that he had would take a lot of checking. I looked at my stuff; it’s been so long since we packed it all away to come to India, I had forgotten what we had taken. It wasn’t that much stuff, 10 boxes: few clothes and some books. Most of the stuff was for the boys: books, trumpets, tennis rackets and snooker cues.
The agent comes over after another 30 minute wait, and says the officer will be here soon. I look around the warehouse, next to my small shipment is a massive shipment from Iran, mountains of cashew nuts. I am thinking that that lot most be worth thousands of pounds.
The officer and the agent final come over, with another guy carrying a knife. It is his job using the knife to cut open the packaging and look inside at my goods. Later after inspection it is his job to seal the packaging back to what it was like, ready to be transported to our home. This in itself could be a problem because we were still living in the hotel, so once all the goods have been checked, everything was going to be transported to Michelle’s school.
The customer officer looks inside, ask if I have anything electrical and I don’t, so no duty there. He then sees I have some kitchen and cooking utensils, he shakes his head.
‘Sir, you will have to pay duty on them.’
‘Ok’ I say, thinking it shouldn’t be much on a cheese grater and few knives.
He then says what are all these boxes full of, I explain that my wife and I are teachers, most of the boxes are books or games for two children. He looks in one and says ok.
He is about to walk off, and I am thinking shouldn’t be long now, and only duty to pay on the cheese grater, and he looks once more, at my itinerary.
‘What this?’ he says, ‘a table. That is furniture and that will have duty to be paid’
I look at the itinerary and then at my good. I don’t remember shipping any furniture over here, I am thinking. Then I realise it’s the children’s 5 and half foot snooker table.
I tell him ‘that is not furniture, sir, that is a game, it is a snooker table.’
‘It is still a table, and a table is furniture, therefore duty to be paid’
I think about arguing my point further, and the agent then steps into my defence, I was wondering what I had paid him for, so far.
‘It is a children’s game, not furniture’ he repeats.
The customer office just shakes his head, looks at the guy with the knife and walks off. Then the guy with the knife puts down the knife and goes for the tape, and starts to repack my goods.
‘Well, that’s it I guess’ I say, thinking this could have been worse.
‘No,’ the agent says, ‘that’s the first stage.’
What else needs to be done? They have checked my stuff, stung me on my cheese grater and turned my snooker table into a dining table’
‘No, sir, the Chief Customs Officer will need to check.’
I look to the heavens, take a deep breath and decide to walk around the warehouse. This situation was totally out of my hands and getting frustrated and angry wasn’t going to make the process any quicker.
After further hour, an important looking guy turns up in a suit. That must be the chief, I quicken my walk nearly into a run, and stand next to my shipment. I stand to attention, just like a guy in the army would stand by his bed waiting for all his equipment to be checked. Arms to my sides, no smiling, just hoping the chief will come to me, check my stuff and I can get out of here.
He walks up to me, and shakes my hand. The agent gives him the itinerary and Michelle’s passport. Then he asks the same question as the first customs officer. He then shouts, and just like magic, the man with a knife appears, just like Mr. Ben from nowhere. He waits for the cutting-open service to be repeated again. The chief looks at my itinerary and the guy goes to work, cutting the tape he has just taped up an hour ago.
‘Table, (Snooker, not dining) kitchen utensils, (cheese grater and knives) are liable for duty’ he says.
‘Ok’ I say. Thinking we must be done now.
The man with the knife then goes about his work and tapes the boxes back together for the second time.
I walk out of the warehouse, Mr Ramesh is waiting, right I say back home.
‘No sir, more paperwork, but nearly there’
‘How long will this take?’ I say. My patience being tested like never before.
‘Just need to sign it off’, the agent says.
We walk back to the office and I am expecting to sign a piece of paper and then we are on our way back. I am told to sit where I was sitting before for nearly 3 hours reading. I sit for ten minutes and I can’t take it any longer. I go in search for the agent. I find him, I almost feeling like pinning him to the wall.
‘What’s the problem, now?’ I say.
‘The Chief has gone to lunch’
What, its nearly 6 o’clock, and why should that matter?
‘Sir, he has your wife’s passport, and we can’t disturb him’
Please, I am thinking this could be another introduction into a great country that we have decided to live in. I talk to the Indian guy, who is also waiting for the chief to finish his lunch. We both smile, knowing there is nothing we can do to change the situation.
One hour later Michelle’s passport is returned, I thank the agent and leave the building. It has taken all day to check my shipment here, and then I realise that I still have a two hour journey home on that bad road.
I sit in the back of Mr Ramesh’s car, ready to leave this place behind me. Just as we pull away from the costumers building, I look up. I see that like anything these days, this particular service, which would have once been done by government officials, is now contracted out. I look to see the name of the contractors that I had just spend the last 6 hours with.
And there in front of me…..they are called ‘SPEEDY’…….
I can only laugh.