Friday, April 13, 2012

Visa's are EVIL!!!

So the adventures continue. We've got a trip planned and trips of this sort need visas. Now visa applications like anything else associated with governments of any sort, involve a substantial amount of waiting around. Sometimes in badly ventilated and rather aromatic locales. 

Well the adventure here started when we decided not to use a travel agent. A crucial decision as was later discovered. So we filled in the forms and got all our documents. My husband went over and submitted them. After a couple of hours and a lot of general standing around doing nothing useful at all, he finally reached the hallowed window of the oracle... i.e. the VFS employee in charge of checking applications. He went through everything and told my hapless hubby "You need 6 sets of the documents, not one, you have to get original bank statements, you have to write your name in your mother tongue and you have to write a letter to the consulate as well. Handwritten may be declined so a printed version is better." As one cannot come out with printed copies of letters at the drop of a hat, hubby headed back. We put together the new and improved version of our visa application that night and the next morn I sallied forth.

Got out of the cab and the first thing I see is a line of travel agents standing outside the compound wall, a good solid distance from the VFS outlet. I thought to myself, maybe I ought to double check... just in case you know? So I waltzed into the VFS center only to be summarily informed that they opened at 9am and that until then I could go line up with the rest of the applicants outside the compound. It was a quarter to 9 at that time. A few more travel agents joined me, some tried to jump the line, but the dirty looks I was sending their way and the presence of a 6 and a half foot pissed off Australian in front of me nipped that idea in the bud.  At 2 minutes to 9 a minor riot of sorts erupted among the travel agents, all of whom firmly believed that they had something better to do with their time other than standing around in the hot sun. They surged forth. To protect our places in line, the pissed off Australian and I grimly followed. One would think that faced with our mighty wrath, the VFS types would have backed down, opened the door and begun processing us.... but no! Damn door stayed closed! Added to that there was this mentally deficient pigeon on the awning that would make periodic raids on a piece of rope that was hanging from the opposite end of the awning. It was like a weird form of musical chairs with the pigeon leaving his perch, attacking the rope, the rope not breaking and the pigeon coming back to his perch. This was happening every 40 seconds or so.... What was my main fear? Obviously the damn thing crapping on my head! What the heck else to pigeons do? They're as dim as gold fish.

So anyway, we finally went in once the clock struck 9. I discovered that because I had 6 applications I was in the bulk segment with the travel agents. Oh hell! I went in and there was no signage at all. I mean other than numbers on the desk and an electronic ticker above the one working counter (that was handling individual applications) there was nothing! Zip, squat, bupkiss, nada! So I began interrogating the travel agents around me and then the lone VFS employee at the counter. Apparently someone would come along at another counter. More waiting... finally the counter was occupied and I was dealt with! Unfortunately, this time the VFS chick said that originals of the tickets were needed, not printouts. What the F***???????? Why the hell don't you people put that on the website? And who the hell uses original tickets anymore? Get with the times!!!!! After some discussion it turned out that I could take the offending printouts and get them stamped at the respective airline office. Did I know where the office was? Hell no! Did she know where it was? She thought so, but she thought wrong. 

Fortunately for me I called my worse half and had him check for the airline office address. He got it and I went there. Mind you, I had to go from the VFS office, to a photocopying place (surprisingly enough there aren't that many in Nariman Point) get some other offending statements photocopied, then get a cab to go to the Taj (where the airline office was, NOT I might add at CST Station as the VFS chick informed me) find the damn office, find someone to stamp my tickets, get out, find a cab that would take me back and make it back to the VFS center before 11am. Surprisingly enough, despite cranky cabbies, hidden photocopying joints and the internal maze of the Taj, I managed to get it all done and be back at the VFS center with time to spare! Super impressive if I do say so myself!

I found a seat in the now packed center and gave the VFS chick my Bruno stare. Bruno was our dog. Whenever he wanted something badly enough he would give you this fixed stare like he was trying really hard to telepathically communicate his needs to you, the slightly slow human who needed all the encouragement a patient dog could manage. So, getting back to VFS, there I was giving her my Bruno stare, she finished with the current duffer and then signaled me over. Ignoring the dirty looks of the other duffers around I went. Unlike them I'd been there since a quarter to frikkin nine. Everything was now in order and I was to come the next day to pick up the passports. At this point you'd think, Well that's it. But no! Like one of those tele shopping ads, " There's more!"

The next day, I sauntered forth with the visa fees burning a hole in my pocket. Stood in a line, the demented pigeon wasn't in evidence that day, got frisked, got my token, found a seat, pulled out my book and started reading. You're probably thinking, OK, things should be smooth now, just pick it up and done. But such was not the case. The place was packed, mostly travel agents once again. They really have the inside track on these things. They know all the tricks and the systems involved while the rest of us mere mortals keep doddering around trying to work our way through the seemingly unsolvable maze. So after cross checking the in's and out's of said system with a few of the knowledgeable sorts sitting next to me, I waited. The counter was at 64 and I was 77. Then suddenly it stopped moving. Blank looks were exchanged. People began to get a little antsy. The guy making his payment (you need to pay at one counter and then armed with the proof of your payment go to another counter and collect your passport) was still sitting at the counter looking lost. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how well behaved those guys were. It may have had something to do with the fact that it was a really hot day and the waiting room was air conditioned, but even though more people kept coming in, and no new passports were handed out, no one made too loud a fuss. Nothing above muted whispers and the occasional grumble. Even the guy who'd just made his payment and was so close and yet so far from getting his passport!

15 minutes after this inaction, another employee walks out of the sanctum sanctorum and announces that the servers are down and that Indian IT team was in talks with the IT team of the concerned country and that they were trying to get the situation resolved as soon as possible, but that it would take a while. So anyone with anything else to do, please keep your tokens and shove off. Finish off your other stuff and come back by 6 in the evening. (I have tampered with the text just a little bit there, but that was the essence of what was said). I had nothing better to do so I stayed put. Two Thai girls who couldn't quite understand what was going on, asked me for a clarification and we got talking. The fellow on my left (Chinese blood but Indian citizenship and Indian accent) helped out by translating into Manadrin exactly what was happening. Needless to say, we all got to talking. There were some interesting views there. The Thai girls were studying in Pune and had been terrified when they first saw the paan stains on the buildings around them. They thought it was the blood left behind from multiple murders. The guy - Tony - and I had a really interesting discussion about different countries visa requirements, how foolish some of them are and how completely frustrating Dubai immigration can be. Apparently when he went there, they refused to believe that a Chinaman could possible have an Indian passport. Apparently he was vociferously interrogated by a battery of officials before he and his baggage were thoroughly searched. Apparently they were convinced he was a spy and merely wanted him to clear up the question of which country he was spying for. He was in fact in the gemstone business and has since sworn off Dubai and Arabs in general. 

In the middle of a discussion that was getting really interesting (we had moved on to particulars of China,  Chinese, the quality of government officials and the IQ level of a person going by the name 'Mr. Lee' who apparently sat in the sanctum sanctorum and was in Tony's opinion - a complete and total idiot), another employee walked out of that mysterious door and walked purposefully to the cash counter. Apparently after more than 3 hours they decided that they could do this manually. Yes because collecting cash, issuing a receipt and returning a bunch of passports, is so complicated that only the latest technology can be trusted to manage it. So he started and obviously no one knew what was going on because the idiot was talking into his chin. Well it all got sorted and just as things were starting to chug along, voila! the servers were up and running again! Some more time was wasted shifting from manual to online and things finally got a move on. Fortunately my turn came around, I paid, got the passports, checked them and everything was fine. Whew! Enough adventure for the week.

I tell you solemnly, I have never had to work so hard for a visa! This trip better be worth the bother. Lines, demented pigeons, a dash across the city, failed servers, cross country co-ordination of IT teams (I can just imagine how that went....given that it took over 3 hours to sort out it must have been a doozy)... whew... I needed a spot of RnR just to get over the prep for a period of RnR. Sometimes work is a quite restful by comparison.


Mum said...

Loved the last line. That's a classic.

Swati said...

Nice read..All the best for the rest of adventure :)

Orgho said...

What timing! I'm supposed to go for my passport renewal in a week or so...just the encouragement I needed! :p