When it’s me, things never go the routine way, do they?
On Diwali morning, as I reached the joyful city of Kolkata, unlike the last time, I took a taxi straightaway. It’s not that I didn’t want to walk this time too – my visa interview was scheduled only for next day morning after all. It was just that, unlike the last time, I didn’t want to start walking from the airport again.
The taxi took me to the nearest metro station – Dumdum. It’s funny that even though the airport also is in Dumum, the taxi ride took about twenty minutes. Dumdum definitely isn’t a small place.
Kolkata metro works smoothly and of course it’s cheap. A quick Google-maps search, earlier in the morning had revealed that Maidanwas the metro-station closest to the UK-Visa-Application Centre. Maidan also happened to be midway between Howrah and Dumdum. I had to be at Howrah by 2 PM to receive my parents but there was plenty of time before that. It was only 10:30 when I boarded the metro at Dumum. I had a ticket for Maidan. It’s another thing that I never reached there.
Just before Maidan, the train stopped at a station that went by the name of Park Street. The name was too enchanting for me to ignore. In fact, I found the name so enchanting that I decided to check out the place. I can always go to Maidan later – I told myself. As the automatic door of the metro flung open at Park Street, I jumped off.
Although the sun was moderately bright, the air was cool and this meant that walking was a lovely thing to do. Also, Park Street lived up to its name – British architecture, broad footpath, cheerful people and bookshops – it had everything that a street named Park Street should have. After a coffee in a CCD I started browsing books at Oxford. And guess which book I picked? Complete Travel Guide to London – or something of that name. 🙂
Let me rush through the boring parts now: after random walking, finally took a bus for Howrah > Booked a room there > Received parents at Howrah station > took them to the hotel > and finally had my Passport in my hands. Alright, now it’s time for the thrill.
For a Visa (at least for a UK Visa), you need to prove that you have enough money to go to the destination country, live there and return. To prove this, you are usually supposed to submit your tax returns, salary statements and the like. Now it’s been only four months since I’ve started working, right? I have never filed a tax return and the sum total of the salary-statements (July-Sept) wasn’t adequate enough to convince anyone that I could support myself in a nine days trip to London. This was precisely why, in my application form, I made it very clear that my company was sponsoring my trip – and the purpose of the trip was to attend the World Travel Market in London, for my company. Now this particular statement needed a document to support it, and this document, ladies and gentlemen, I did not have in hard-copy when I was having coffee at CCD or when I was browsing books at Oxford or when I was sitting with my parents in the hotel room. I also did not have a photograph with a mandatory white background (the ones that I had, all had the background blue).
It was Diwali, I was in a good mood, eating sweets that ma had got from home and I was sure that there was plenty of time to get a new photograph clicked. Oh so wrong I was.
Dad decided to visit his best friend who lives in Kolkata. It was 3 in the afternoon when we left the hotel but we could reach dad’s friend place only by 6 in the evening. The sound of bursting crackers was gradually accelerating and the urgency to get a photo clicked and a print-out taken started dawning upon me. I took uncle’s bike and with uncle’s son sitting behind me – as my guide, I ventured out. The aim was to first find someone who could shoot and print a digital photograph. Gosh, most of the shops were closed! I drove here and I drove there. Diwali in Kolkata is more about Kali-pooja than plain simple Diwali. Businessmen prefer keeping their shops closed. From this street to that, that road to this, this market to that, that corner to this – the search continued. By the time it was eight in the night, a photograph in an off-white background had finally been secured but a cyber-café cum printer shop that was not closed, was yet to be found. In fact, I could never find a shop where I could take a print-out. I gave up. The fate of my Visa was hanging in air.
The appointment next day was scheduled for 8:45 in the morning and I didn’t expect any shop to open that early. What was I to do? From nowhere came a great idea. I called up my colleague in Hyderabad who did not have net access and asked her to pass her e-mail id and password to my brother in Bangalore who had access to internet. Bro then went to her inbox and downloaded a file that had the required format for the document. I then dictated the letter that had to be typed after which he emailed the same to another friend of his in Hyderabad who was luckily in office even at 8:45 PM – and where he had access to three important things in life – internet, printer and a Fax machine. This friend of bro took a print out of the letter. In the mean time I was able to find a Fax shop where finally I received the needed letter as a Fax! Phew! It’s surprising how things get done sometimes.
My parents and myself decided to crash off at uncle’s place – it was too tiresome to go back to our Hotel in Howrah. Next day, by 8:25 AM, the three of us were at the Visa office. I had assured my parents that the process wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes and that after I was done, we could all go back to the hotel and then I could see them off (their return train was at 2 PM). Oh so wrong I was!
‘This photograph won’t do’, said the officer in the Visa office. The background was off-white, not white and more important than that, the photographer had screwed up the size – it was smaller than needed. Before I could start crying then and there, and before ma could rush inside to hug me and wipe my tears, to my good luck, I was told that the Visa-office had an in-house photographer. Phew! Now when I look back, I must say that this sound of ‘phew’ had slipped out rather early. There were more troubles lined up. Of course.
The officer took a good look at the demand-draft and made it clear – the draft wasn’t acceptable! It was in favour of British High Commission when it should have actually been in favour of British Deputy High Commision. Goodness! I was so sure that what I had got written on the draft was what I had checked on the website but it was too late and too pointless to argue beyond a point. To my good luck again, there was provision to pay cash. But I guess, you can’t be lucky twice. I immediately realized that I simply didn’t have enough cash – Rs. 5,900 – neither in wallet nor in my account that I could withdraw from ATM. Even dad was carrying little money (are you listening you cool guys who love wearing those black t-shirts that say – my dad is an ATM ?).
I was on the verge to panic – but good sense prevailed and mind figured out a way, yet again.
I called up my bro and asked him to call up my best-buddy Tiwari who was the enjoying Diwali at home in Bhopal so that my brother could transfer money online from Tiwari’s account to my account (Tiwari is the only person in this world who I know knows how online banking works). By the time I found a SBI ATM, this task had been achieved and soon I was back to the Visa-office with hard cash. And then came the third and the final blow.
I was given a small sticky yellow paper with a name and a phone number inscribed on it. The officer told that it was the contact of the person who sits in my company’s Kolkata office. The officer wanted me to call him up and ask him to confirm that my company was indeed sponsoring my trip. The officer told me that for such Visa-applications, there was a specific document that my company issued and since I didn’t have that, this confirmation was necessary. This was the end of the day. After hours of phone calls and coordinating between several people in my company I realized that there was too much of a communication gap. It was stupid of me to fill the form myself, set up an appointment myself and appear all of a sudden in Kolkata. I should have delegated this work to those who know how to get things done.
In the meanwhile parents had to leave – I told them I would take care and would stay longer in Kolkata if need be. I had left that London book in the Hotel itself, so parents took it with them with a promise to courier it to me once they reached home. I roamed around on streets of Kolkata generally, and made good use of my phone for the rest of the day, trying to delegate the work finally and in the evening I got myself booked a flight to Chennai.
New Visa appointment is in Chennai at 11 AM tomorrow. The headache to ensure that the application is complete is on the Chennai travel-desk team of my company. And right now as I have almost finish this long post, I am seated on 11F in the Indian Airlines flight. I already know that I am straightaway going to rush to the insti-library to publish this post and then sit back in the CCD, trying to catch up with insti-fellas.
IITM, I am back. Yes, just for a night, but here I am. 🙂 By the time this post would be up the status would be – 9 more days to go – and hence the post title. Do I really need more thrills? 🙂