When toddlers attack

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

That wasn't so bad - Leaving, Part II

As we jubilantly left the FRRO, I said to Adrián "that wasn't so bad."  And -- aside from the toilets -- it wasn't.  But as we headed towards the U.S. Embassy, I had the sinking realization that we'd left the girls' passports in the hotel room.  Gagan had specifically told me to bring them because they'd forgotten a stamp of some kind.  That meant that we had to drive all the way back to Svelte to get them, adding yet another leg to our spin around Delhi. 

A half-hour back to Svelte -- an hour there, eating, cooling down and changing the girls -- then back to the car.  A change in itinerary:  since the girls didn't have to go to the embassy, just their passports, we'd head to show them off at SCI, then go to the embassy, then back to the FRRO.  But first, a stop at Dunkin Doughnuts.  As an American export, doughnuts for me rank up there with Miley Cyrus, mouth grilles, and those animated, wall-mounted fish that sing.  In fact, I think they're kind of nasty.  Every time I eat one, its grease-infused ghost comes back to haunt me for the rest of the day with every belch.  Nasty.  But someone told us they were popular with SCI staff, so doughnuts we bought. 


We'd been told they were Bangladeshis.  We'd been told they were tribal people from Rajasthan.  While we never saw the crowds we've heard live on the streets of Mumbai, every overpass in Delhi seems to house its own street family.  The children head bravely into traffic, sometimes doing backflips and handstands, sometimes with tears streaming down their faces as they approach your car.  Once, we were approached by a couple with a limp child in their arms.  The mother held a medical bill up to the car window.  All an act?  No doubt, plus we had heard that any money collected is given directly over to a handler and the people dodging buses and tuk-tuks see next to none of it.  But we nevertheless quickly had grown tired of earning evil karma staring straight ahead pretending to ignore them, or making eye contact and shaking our heads as we smiled sadly.  So we bought a few bags of candy and some chocolate bars to hand out.  There was no way we could change their lives -- no way we could even give all the kids at one corner a full meal -- but we could give them something to make their day suck a little bit less.

But on our way to SCI, it quickly became clear that candy wasn't cutting it.  The first to approach the car was a little girl around nine years old.  She did a cartwheel between our car and a nearby truck.  We watched out of the corners of our eyes.  Then she walked over to the car and knocked on the window.  I rolled the window down just enough to hand her some candies.  She took them in her hand, looked at them a little disdainfully, raised her glance again, gestured that she still wanted money -- and then her eyes fell on the boxes of doughnuts in the front passenger seat.  She knocked on the window again and pointed at the doughnuts. 

"Give her one," said Adrián.  I did:  an eclair.  As we pulled away, we looked back and saw her heading away from traffic, back under the overpass, munching happily.

At the next stop, the first doughnut we handed through the window attracted a dozen more kids.  These were a bit more demanding: "Chocolate!  Chocolate!" insisted one as I tried to paw off a plain cruller on him.  We ended up passing a whole box through, warning them they had to share.  I don't know if they did. 

We showed up at SCI with a box and a half left.  A quick chat with Meg and Dr. Shivani, a meeting with Gourav to settle the final bill for the last of Clara's stay at Delhi Newborn, and we were done.  Vishal and Dr. Shivani walked us out to the car and waved as we drove away with the girls snoozing in their Cocoons on our laps... two and a half years of investigating, scrimping, saving and planning completed.


By this time, it was nearly 2:30 and Svelte, the FRRO and the embassy were all equidistant.  We'd been told to return to the FRRO at 3:00, and John said it was even better to get there by 2:00.  We decided to head directly there, feeling like incompentent, disorganized parents for subjecting the girls to yet another unecessary trip across Delhi.  Not that they knew the difference.

Adrián, Anan (our driver, who had replaced Satish after lunch) and the girls waited in the car, air conditioning blasting, as I headed back into the FRRO.  First stop:  the reception desk, where a pile of documents was waiting for me.  The man scribbled something at the top.  "Go to desk 10," he instructed me.

Desk 10 was behind a pillar.  A small crowd was already swarming around it.  After about five minutes, the man behind the desk -- who had been helping a European man with a ponytail and capri pants -- shouted "Everyone sit down!  I will call you according to your number!"  People sat.  I stood, clueless.  "I have a number?"  I asked. 

"Let me see your paper," he said.  "There, at the top.  You're after him," he said, indicating Capri pants man.

My turn came, he shuffled through my papers for about five minutes, then:  STAMP.  STAMP.  The girls' passports were, quite literally, good to go.

That was it.  No "where's the mother."  No "where's your wife."  Just a "go to the Cashier desk." 

A quick payment of INR 4360 (we'd brought cash... thanks John!), a final stop at the In-Charge Desk, and I walked out, the unused adrenaline in my body draining quickly, leaving me a little dazed and light-headed.  I half expected someone to come running after me telling me there'd been a mistake and that the girls were missing a crucial piece of documentation and we would have to drive across Delhi once again but -- oh!  So sorry -- that office is closed until tomorrow!  But no.  It was over.  I was done.  "That wasn't so bad," I said to myself as I walked back to the car.  "That was easy," I told Adrián as I got in.  We were finished with the big, bad FRRO.  Total time for the second visit, maybe 45 minutes.


  1. Oh I wish it was that easy for us Brits! How lovely handing out food, those poor children it must be tough to see. Good on you! Sr x

  2. glad you are continuing your'journey home' story.

  3. Like you, we've also been approached by groups of kids while waiting in our car at a red light. My heart goes out to them and others who live in the slums. It was nice of you the share the donuts and candies. I'm sure you gave them brief moments of happiness.
    I'm are glad that sharing our RFFO experience helped yours to be as smooth as possible. Thanks for posting our RFFO link so that other IPs might feel less worried working with the Indian government for their baby's exit VISA.
    Off topic here, but we frequently think of you and your family. Our circumstance and time together in India created a brotherhood with you. So, we hope our families will meet again.
    Our best to your family. Welcome home!