When things work despite all apprehensions and doubts, it is a very satisfying experience. More so, if it involves a government department.
Immense satisfaction was what my wife and I experienced when we decided to get our passports renewed last week. We were not looking forward to the experience and had put off the entire process for months. We had gone through the horror in 2008 when we had to jostle, fight and push to get our way inside the passport office. This time around with everything moving online the horror stories were only worse: "It takes forever to log on", "You have to get up at 5 in the morning and then keep trying" and "it is a nightmare" were just some of the comments that we heard.
But the experience was so smooth and hassle-free that one can't help but compliment the people behind the change. Early one Thursday morning we just went online and filled up the forms. Filling up the form is tedious because of the details that one needs to fill in, like which district were you born in. Now after close to five decades of our birth we of course had no idea.
After a few hits and misses we were finally able to load all the information on to the website. Technology for once was on our side! It also played a part in helping us pay the passport fee online.
And in a jiffy we had appointments for the next morning - both of us at the same time even though there was a gap of half an hour in filling up and uploading the two forms.
The biggest surprise however was still awaiting us. The visit to the passport office was a dream. We only saw one tout very half-heartedly offering his expertise. The staff inside the office was efficiency and politeness personified. Each one of them knew what had to be done and they did it without making the applicants feel as though they were being done a favour.
In fact, some of them even went out of their way to help the elderly and those with small children. What a change!
Yes, it did take an hour (even though the form helpfully tells you to keep aside two hours) but it was an experience that was well worth the effort. Digital photographs, digital signatures, incomplete forms filled and documents verified were all done with professional competence.
Five days later (two lost because of the weekend) we had our passports - and that too jumbo ones as we had requested. All along we could track where the passport was thanks to the email and also SMS service (available at an additional Rs 30).
There is no denying that technology is playing a significant role in this efficiency and professionalism. The Web site is quick and user friendly and helpful, but one should not take anything away from the people who have worked to get the process to this level - and what is more important, continue to do so every day.