I wasn’t about to complain when I learned that I’ll be going back to India. I was about to make plans. Leave a few days early, enjoy the great hospitality of good friends, work remotely, make time for some sightseeing and, most important, experience India as I love, less like a tourist. Delhi seemed a perfect fit for the job.
Given the struggle of few of my colleagues to get an Indian visa, I was happy with the foresight of getting a multiple-entry year visa on my first trip 6 months earlier.
What do you do when you realize that your multiple entry one-year visa is actually only a 6-months one? What do you do when on April 30th you realize, holding a ticket for a May 2nd departure that your dear Indian visa expired on April 21st?
You sit down. The urge to bang your head against the wall, scream, and chant “why didn’t I check it when booking the trip a couple of weeks ago?” is stronger than you could imagine. F&S words run through your mind, solving nothing. An on-line visit to travisa doesn’t help. Non-US passports are treated slower and are not entitled to the 24-hour visa processing, reserved for US citizens only. I should have known better, smarter. Last time, I was told that getting an Indian visa will take me 3 weeks in the US; a week in Israel. Do I dare try? Is it worth is?
I go to bed with my self-directed anger, without packing a thing.
Five hours later, Julie and I with deep fried necks are well done. Not without some takeaways of course.
I still can’t decide what I’m going to do about the trip, visa embarrassment… at least I didn’t find out at the airport.
Each country has its own off the rules culture. In the US, process wins, even when absurd and inefficient. In China, if you know how to ask and what to say, you may find flexibility. Guanxi helps. In Israel, one learns that if you have a case that you feel strongly about, you should try talking your way to making an exception. Compassion helps; friends too.
But I’m in the US, very much wanting to go to India, and with no connections to use. I guess the Israeli thing of going to the airport and hoping to talk my way through the passage to India is not an option. It’s late in the evening when I call to cancel the morning flight, the ride to the airport and the pick-up in Delhi. Then I go upstairs, submit an online application for an Indian visa, book an appointment and go to sleep.
9:30 Monday morning. I’m @ the doors of Travisa office in San Fran and sent away. My appointment is for 10:20, and I’m so happy to have made it early, hoping this means that I get in early. Wrong. Their idea of appointment is that it is the time in which you are permitted to JOIN the line inside. Until then, you are not even allowed into the building. “Come back at 10:10 and I’ll let you in” says the guard that looks like a club selector. “OK, thanks. Where can I get a good coffee around here?” I ask the guy that can’t smile. “You can get the best coffee in the city around the corner.” He gives me directions to the Blue Bottle Coffee which is 4 minutes away.
40 something minutes and a good latte later, I’m allowed to join the line. And guess what, muscle guy doubles as visa application’s inspector. My papers are all in order, no compassion to my “look at this ticket; I was supposed to be boarding my flight just about now.” Next, submitting the application. I try again. The gal behind the counter empathizes. She asks if she could get a copy of the ticket, so I hand it over. Her supervisor is not too impressed. “It’s minimum five days. But it’s not a busy time now, so foreign passports are returned in 5 days.” [which explains why it was 3-weeks in October – the weather was right! No sane person should go to India when temperatures rise above 40C°] “Is there a way to rush it maybe? I know it’s my own stupidity and you owe me nothing, but maybe there’s something you could do, please?”
“So when should I expect it back?”
“In a week.”
“A week means this Friday or Monday?” I try to gauge my chances.
Meanwhile, I overhear one explaining the rest of the process. Once your visa is approved, you get an email inviting you to pick up your passport between 4:30 and 6. No, they don’t care if it takes you 3 hours to get here. Check your email is the laconic answer.
This opens a week of torturous “refresh” clicks on the status page. useless.
Current as of 05/05/2011 3:04pm PST
|05/02/2011 1:19am||India visa application completed online|
|05/02/2011 10:51am||Passport & supporting documents received by Travisa Outsourcing, payment processed|
|05/02/2011 11:13am||Documents prepared to go to Consulate|
|05/02/2011 11:25am||Documents dispatched from Travisa Outsourcing to Consulate|
|05/02/2011 11:44am||Documents received by Consulate|
|05/05/2011 2:00pm||Pending approval of the Government of India|
On Thursday, thinking positive, I reserve a Friday night flight to Hyderabad.
Friday. Should I pack or should I wait? At 4:30 I’m ready to give up and forget about India. If I hit “refresh” once more I’ll puke.
5:25 PM. Ding. An email tells me:
“Dear yael wagner,
Travisa Outsourcing has received your passport back from the Indian Consulate. We have verified the visa is processed correctly. You may come in and pickup your passport with the Indian visa between 4:30pm – 6:00pm…”
F-words run though my mind. Eran is in Israel, a quick phone call tells me that Ant is in San Diego. Who else do I know that may be able to help and save the trip?
I call Jacob and ask for half an hour of his life, if he can spare it. NOW. He is on his way out for dinner. “What’s the problem?” I explain. “Let me call you right back.”
Ring-ring. “what’s the address?”. I scan and email the barcode required to claim the passport back. Mobile had never been so useful.
5:50 PM – “I’m in line” says the SMS.
6:45 PM – SMS “got it.”
It takes EIGHT phone calls to the travel [read – trouble] desk. I was put through the travel centers in UK, India and what sounded like South-Africa, plus multiple dead-ends, before I got to talk to the American desk. There’s exactly one travel option if I want to make it on time to JavaOne and take good care of my POD. I take it.
Email car service for a pick up.
Drive to the city to pick up passport and be speechless trying to thank Jacob.
00:22. It’s past midnight and I can’t make myself pack. 2 hours of sleep allow me 2:20 hours to pack.
Saturday, 4:46 AM. I sit in the car. We are on our way to the airport.