This spring, I made another attempt of renewing my licence at the transport management office in Ekantakuna. Prior to this, I had made an attempt early this year to get a new licence. After devoting three days and nearly 12 hours every day, the verdict came to a dark end when I stepped my foot while circling the number eight.
I had only gone round the first circle of the number when my foot decided to have a life of its own, and killed my dream of being a licence holder in an instant. That day hundreds of candidates were turned away. A few selective candidates who passed the test left with a joyful relief. The bystanders continued on cheering as more candidates moved forward to take their turn. The timeframe of retrial attempts since the verdict has expired for me, and it’s a start of a new process all over again.
The visit I made to the transport management office took place last month around half-past-nine in the morning. The road that leads to the office, as anyone who frequents that route knows, is one of the city’s most dust-polluted areas. The dust flies with the movement of vehicles and covers one in dust powder. Even when the vehicles are stationary, the dust still persists. This is how I made my entry to the office premises.
As I approached the building, I could somehow tell what kind of day it was going to be. The morning sun was out and even though it was only 9:30 am, the sun was piercingly hot and its heat penetrated and burned my naked arms.
A thick line of two wheelers filled the parking lot. The vendors, who probably started their day in the early hours of the morning, were scattered amidst the scooters and motorbikes. Their services to the visitors seemed crucial and systematic. Then there were the refreshment providers.
Interacting with these vendors, I realised how well versed they were in the matters of acquiring licences. Then a familiar sight of tea provider roaming around with their thermos greeted me. During my last visit, I had drunk a cup of tea from one of them, and on a cold winter day the hot tea had tasted wonderful. Leaving these scenes behind, I continued to walk toward the main building. The path that led to the office premises contained layers of construction debris and I made my way to the main building jumping over the junk.
The office I wanted to see had not arrived, so I took a spot by the stairs as I waited for him. After some time had elapsed, I approached the man’s office. The licences were all neatly placed in boxes in cataloguing system as I would discover later. I tried to make my query as quick as possible as the staff worked his way of arrnaging the boxes and opening the window.
As soon as the window was open, I realised it was too late. The horde of people who had been waiting to collect their licence swarmed into the room. Their outstretched hands holding the sheet with their personal details and verification poured in through the metals bars. It was an overwhemling sight to see a single staff trying to tackle two sides of the windows all by himself.
My immediate response was to offer him a hand, which he accepted with out hesitation. After a quick explanation of the arrangement and order of the licence system, I took on the role of a licence distributor.
I spent the next few hours collecting the licence sheets, locating licences, and distributing them. Some papers had errors and the officer handled such documents. During the hours, some were returned empty handed as their licence was not ready. They all carried a dejected expression as some had come from outside the valley to collect their licence.
Amid the hectic job of handling scores of people at a time, there was not a moment of respite inside the office. Instead, the hands and movement gained speed trying to serve as many as possible. A little later another staff joined in to distribute the licences. Even with his professional expertise, the queue couldn’t be served a whole. At one point I heard some angry noises at one of the windows. One person, obviously frustrated, was cursing and swearing at the staff. People inside the office casually ignored the scene and explained that it was not unusual to encounter this kind of attitude. They added that one learns to ignore such behaviour with time as people get tired of swearing and stop after some time.
I wasn’t very convinced by the idea, but I didn’t comment either. As the day progressed, I decided that I needed to speed up my own query and make an exit. I approached the staffs when it started to get a little quiet and asked them about the processes relating to my expired licence, which hadn’t been renewed for a few years. The staffs answered my questions in the best manner. They informed me that there are new transport management branch offices scattered around in the city, which I was aware of, but the number of applicants making rounds in these offices remained the same.
As I was leaving the office, several things seemed clearer to me. Firstly, the public perception that staffers at the office are inefficient is false. During my time as the licence distributor, I realized that the number of staffs to handle such huge crowd of service seekers is insufficient. It is not that they are incompetent, they are understaffed. Perhaps they are also caught in the system as much as we are, but for me to see the unseen effort on the other side of the window was not a wasted day.
Binti is involved in the field of archiving and promotion of herbal products.