India, bless its heart, is a country that really does bureaucracy. Purchasing a train ticket can engender a psychotic breakdown. Stand in one mosh-pit line to identify the reservation you want, then another to secure the purchase. God help you if your train is sold out (it will be) and you need to take recourse to the Tatkal Scheme. (Scheme in Indian English doesn’t have a sinister connotation. Every government initiative is labeled a scheme, which I just love.).

Last week Jules and I are headed off to the remote north of Sikkim State. WiFi is nonexistent but 3G coverage is actually widely available and excellent. So before we left the capital, Gangtok, I set out on the daunting mission of securing a prepaid SIM card.

Consulting my hotel, I learned that I would need a copy of my passport, visa, border region permit and eight – yes, eight – passport style photographs. I would also need a signed letter of endorsement by a local resident, which thankfully the manager was willing to provide. I was trundled off in the care of the manager’s “boy,” who ushered me to a nearby, closet-like photocopy store. 30 minutes later I left with my stack of papers.

While we were working on copies, a sadu (mendicant) poked his head in to hawk a Nimbu-Mirchi Totka. These strings of chilies and a lemon are hung in shops all across India to ward of the evil eye. The shop keeper flipped the sadu a ten rupee note, then irreverently tossed his old Totka to the gutter. There’s something refreshing about the the non-sentimentality that marks a lot of religious observance here.

At the first Vodaphone dealer, the proprietor was engaged in a leisurely and lengthy argument with a friend. When I finally caught his attention, he told me that the proper type of SIM card was sold out. Three stores later I ended up across town at the SIM distributor. In stock!

Then the initial examination commenced. All copies of my documents were scrutinized (with a lot more care than the poor discarded Totka got, I might add). This was followed by a close examination of my passport. We discussed my Burmese and Chinese visas. Much gnashing of teeth was caused by the absence of a photo on my ten-year Indian visa, so we looked at my Chinese visa some more.

My reference was phoned. I can only assume he had a glowing report, or at least I passed.

Then we moved on to paperwork. What was my father’s name? What was my profession? Most maddening of all, what was my local cell phone number? My lengthy paper application was prepared with a solemnity appropriate for a major life event. One of my eight photos was appended to it in order for me to sign across the bottom.

Ultimately I got the SIM card.

All I want to say here is that we are all sometimes Indian cell phone bureaucrats in our own businesses. I used to make my poor prospective clients fill out an intake form that I purchased from the American Immigration Lawyers Association. It was mostly good, but included a number of irrelevant questions. Rather than think about what information I truly needed form prospective clients, I just lazily followed the more-is-better approach.   

More is not better. More is obnoxious.

Why in the world does Vodaphone need my photograph in order to give me a SIM? That is stupid. But the truth is we all probably have our own photo requirement buried somewhere in our business procedures. Find and destroy the photo requirement at your firm – your clients will thank you.

And as to north Sikkim, I’ll let it speak for itself: