May 13, 2011

Pint Sized Mug Shots

Oh.. the little joys of living in India! How do I describe thee? 🙂 The topic de jour is passport sized photos. Is it me or is there an insane demand for passport sized photos in this country? In all my time of living in the US (a lengthy tenure), I must have taken perhaps a couple of sets. And they were only required when I applied for, well, my passport. In India, passport sized photos have very little to do with passports.

The clamor started the day I landed in Chennai almost a decade back. Checking account. Cell phone connection. Gas connection. Phone connection. Electricity. Home loans. Demat account. Auto drivers. Well, on the last part, I exaggerate. But, you get the point. Everybody and his brother in law wanted a piece of the action. At first, I naively did runs of  6 or 8 prints. Pretty soon, wisdom dawned and I upped the ante to packs of 20 to feed the insatiable appetite.

An aggravating aspect of this matter is that it is impossible to optimize production levels to exactly match demand. Complex algorithms and spreadsheet macros have failed miserably. Which means that you usually end up carrying inventory. Say you do a run of 20 prints. The way things play out, you end up giving 15 of these babies away. A small and odd number get left behind as unused stock. A few months later, you are applying for a permit to park where you work. The conversation with the security chap inevitably turns towards passport sized photos. You go home, rummage through your possessions and come up with nada. Another run of 20 prints is quickly ordered, and soon yet another small and odd quantity is misplaced. And the cycle goes on. It is quite likely that I have hundreds of these pint sized mug shots lying around, mysteriously hidden somewhere in the house.

An amusing aspect has to do with taking of the photos themselves. The rookies (of which I used to be one) tend to shower, shave and wear collared shirts from this misguided belief that these photos are actually looked at. As time goes by, wisdom dawns. Once, a guy who came to pick up a credit card application casually pocketed my photos with nary a glance. And, to add insult to injury, his pocket bulged with photos of other clients. Seeing my 2x2s being subject to step motherly treatment, I enquired as to how he planned to match the photos with the forms later. “Don’t worry, Sir” was the response. Veterans of this game have been known to enter photo studios and  exit in 30 seconds flat with photos in hand. Shave and shower are most definitely dispensed with. The maestros of this game, I suspect, are dispensing even with clothing of any kind.

Last but not the least, one has to touch on the quantities, not an insignificant line item which can dent the household budget. Statistical analysis suggests that the number demanded roughly correlates to the importance of the mission. Bank account app usually calls for two. Demat accounts could be more. Interestingly enough, a lot depends on the agent. Some are meek. You can push them to the edge and get away with it. “I have only two, they dont match and were taken when I turned six”. Others are defiant cowboys. “Sir, I need five or six”. “What the..? Why six?”. After intense nego, you can get some of these Quick Gun Murugans down to 3 or 4. Suspect they are compulsive-obsessive collectors. I can imagine the bragging in the back office “I got 12 out of a poor sod today”. I would also not rule out spot fixing and match fixing possibilities. Perhaps vast sums of money are being wagered on who can collect the most on a given day.

I’ve often dreamt of landing the Bharat Ratna. The highest honor in the land. To do the nation proud. I walk upto the President. And she says “Congratulations on being the first Indian Nobel prize winner in Physics. You have done the nation proud. That new fangled theory of yours that makes Einstein look like a  four year old totally rocks!” I nod and bow graciously, and stretch out the hand, eager to grasp the award. And that’s when she says “Not so fast, buster. I’ll need to see 25 passport sized photos first”. I usually wake up in a cold sweat.

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