Anju Narayanan, an Indian living in London, writes about a heartwarming incident that happened at the Indian Embassy when she went to get her five-year-old daughter’s passport renewed.
It’s time to get my five-year-old’s Indian passport renewed. So off I go to the High Commission of India (HCI) in London with my kids in tow (a 5-year-old and a 15-month-old). As an Indian in the UK, I’ve always heard disappointing stories about this government office, so I brace myself for an eventful day.
I set forth with a very reliable pushchair (which pretty much works as a station wagon!), folders of important documents, passports, diapers, extra clothes, umbrellas for the unpredictable London weather, and packs of snacks to keep the tiny tots chomping and busy.
At the reception, I am gently reminded that one can only pay in cash in the office and I should make sure I have enough. Yes, yes, I earnestly nod.
The appointment is on the dot. Swift, brisk, and even polite as the lady tries with all her might to sweetly smile at my loud, agitated, 15-month-old baby.
“Hmm…including the self-addressed envelope, that will be £64,” she says.
I hand out my carefully calculated cash, which is £55. I rummage in my bag and take out another £7, silently cursing myself for not taking into account the postal fare. “Errrr….I am short of £2, let me just whiz out to the ATM,” I tell the lady. By now, my inner calm is slowly unravelling.
“Ma’am, we close in 15-minutes. You’ll have to hurry up and the nearest machine is a seven-minute walk,” she offers, almost apologetically.
“That’s fine, I’ll manage,” I say, sheepishly.
There is a gentleman nearby, another customer. “It’s only £2, let me pay that for you if you don’t mind?” he says. I am embarrassed, suddenly conscious, but also feeling very very grateful.
I accept his change, finish my passport work and tell him to please wait at the entrance after he is done so I can get back from the ATM and repay him. “It’s alright,” he smiles and waves it away.
I lug the kids and everything else back outside and ask the two embassy officials who are standing outside if there is another teller machine close by. “Why, ma’am, haven’t you been able to pay?” they ask.
I tell them I just have to return a couple of pounds to a kind gentleman inside.
“And you want to go all the way just to do that! Here, take this if you have to pay him back,” they say, offering me a couple of coins.
There is some kind of peaceful protest happening outside the embassy, with close to a hundred people from a religious group. There are plenty of cops around. It’s raining.
Amidst heavy winds, biting cold, and cranky kids…I begin to think, ‘No, I can’t borrow again!’ and start walking in the direction of the ATM. Suddenly the gentlemen loudly and almost demandingly call me back, and then kindly advise me not take the trouble. “Please ma’am. It’s only £2, paisa toh aata-jaata rahega. Here take these coins, pay the other guy. You don’t worry about returning it back to us now!”
I am so touched. If I refuse this, I have refused an act of kindness. I take the change and pay the other gentleman, come back outside, thank the two officials and finally take leave.
I keep walking and reach the Waterloo Bridge. The baby has finally fallen asleep in the pram; my five-year-old is excitedly watching the Thames and the city skyline. I turn back and I see the silhouette of India House. I am filled with pride, happiness and a lot of gratitude. Unknown people reaching out with kindness – they asked me not to bother paying them back, but I do know I have to pay it forward.
(Written by Anju Narayanan)