What do the Bangalore police and SIM cards have in common?

On my first day in India what I wanted to do most of all was get a SIM card for my phone. I know it sounds disgustingly western of me, but I feel disabled without the use of my phone.

When I bought a SIM card in Cambodia, the transaction was simple. I handed over cash, and they installed the SIM card. India is proving to be a much more difficult candidate for phone usage, as demonstrated by the wild goose chase I was sent on today to unsuccessfully purchase a SIM card.

I first found the AirTel shop. Easy enough. But I was turned away because I needed identification and travel documents to purchase the card. Ok, fine. I walk the ten minutes back to my hostel, retrieve my passport, and walk back through the wild traffic and meandering chickens and cows.

Back at Airtel, I triumphantly present my passport. “No” they say. “You need proof that you’re staying in India. “Ok” I say. “Here’s my India employment visa.” Clearly this is evidence that I’m legally staying in India. But it is simply not good enough. I must have proof of address, and better yet, why not get a letter from the police commissioner?

I walk down the bustling streets, stopping every few minutes to ask strangers where the police station is. You don’t know how strange it is to be a young, clearly foreign woman, asking strangers on the street where the nearest police station is. The looks are priceless.

At the police station I’m met with more confusion. The police spoke very little English, and speaking no Indian languages myself, the conversation got a little muddled to say the least. I know in my heart of hearts that they truly wanted to help, and the first step was to make it clear to me that the police station was not the correct place to purchase a SIM card.

I finally got my intentions through to them, and in an eerie repeat of the AirTel store, they stated that they simply needed proof that I was staying in India and all would be well. Swallowing my exasperation, I explained that that was why I was there and showed them my employment visa. They conferred and agreed, just as the AirTel employees had, that my government issued proof of legal stay in India was just not good enough. They could not write me a letter.

Probably the best thing about this whole ordeal was when the police called the sweet, motherly woman who owns the hostel I was staying at. I believe they were trying to ascertain that I did indeed have a place to stay in Bangalore but they somehow failed to convey that to the woman. I was passed a phone with a maternally worried Indian woman on the other end, who I had to assure that, no I was not in trouble and insist that the reason I was at the Bangalore police station was because I was just trying to get a SIM card.

The lovely, concerned woman in question.

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