Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Visas and Other stories - Part 2

Anyway we managed to plan the trip to the embassy in Delhi. We went by the Rajdhani and reached Delhi the next day at a convenient time in the morning. The immediate requirement was to find a hotel. Just outside the station a Sardar rickshaw wallah agreed to take us to a good and cheap hotel. We decided to accept his offer though we were vary he would just take us round and round and charge one hell of a lot at the end. Thankfully he didnt do anything of that sort and took us to a good and cheap hotel as he had promised. Of course the definition of cheap and good both can differ widely, but it was OK for our requirements.

That day we had to report to the french cultural centre at 3 in the afternoon and submit our applications. The actual visa issuance would only be on Wednesday i.e. 2 days thence. We reached the embassy well before the appointed time and found to our surprise a huge crowd of students already there. They were all evidently from MDI Gurgaon. I started looking for Archana who soon came out and handed over forms to be filled. Tirthankar (who I havent yet mentioned, but had a scholarship from the French embassy) presented his special case. She asked him to fill out the forms anyway and wait. Then we all waited so that Archana could verify all the documents. During this time we chatted with the MDI people some of whom were coming to EDHEC. The document verification with Archana went smoothly since I had all the documents perfectly in order. Then followed another long period of wait in various rooms of the embassy as there was supposed to be some interview by French officials. This happened almost at the very end for me but went fairly smoothly, with them joking about concentrating on my studies and not ogling at the babes on the French Riviera beaches. I thought that was it, we neednt worry anymore. All we had to do was collect the visas on Wednesday. I couldnt have been more wrong.

In the evening I met up with Nisha's cousin Indra and her husband KP who lived in Delhi. They came to pick me up at the hotel and we went out for dinner. They took me to this great Italian place which I think was called Flavors. The food was amazing and their company even more so. They invited me to stay over at their place. I just had one objection which was that i didnt have any night clothes with me. This problem being solved by KP offering his clothes i readily accepted. That is where i made the mistake. No, no, I really liked their company, so it wasnt that I regretted going with them. The problem was that I didnt have my asthma medicine with me at that time. And as is prone to happen to me in a new city, I had a mild asthma attack in the middle of the night. Now the thing with these mild attacks is that they stay mild if treated with medicines nice and early. Since I didnt have my medicine with me, it soon became unbearable. I had to wake up KP in the middle of the night so that we could go out and get a medicine. I felt really bad doing that, but there was nothing that I could do.

In the morning, KP dropped me to a place close to the hotel and I proceeded to spend the day holed up in the room. Tirthankar had not returned from his night out with an old friend and it was too hot to venture roam outside.

The next day was going to be packed. We had the embassy appointment in the morning and then had to catch a plane back to Cal at 5:15 in the evening. In the morning we got up nice and early and landed up in front of the embassy well in time. The cultural centre where we had been to the earlier day was on Aurangzeb road while the embassy itself was on Shantipath, Chanakyapuri. Both were very elite localities, but the embassy location as well as premises were definitely more initimidating. As at the other place there was a big crowd of MDI people at the embassy. In addition there were many other people also waiting for the embassy to open its gates. The embassy on its part was taking its own sweet time to open the gates.
Finally the gates of heaven opened to let St. Peter do the security check and finally let us in. When we reached the waiting room we were amazed to see the number of people packed in> Really, there was no place to sit and what with about 20-25 young students (MDI-IIMC) it was not the diginified embassy waiting room I had imagined. We thought the embassy has its work cut out today with so many people piled in together. The embassy as we soon found out had no such notions.

After a short while a man came in and asked how many people were from Delhi and who were from outside. We immediately raised our hands and said we had come all the way from Calcutta.
He took our names along with a few other people and said that given the heavy rush of people, the embassy would not be able to process so many applications in one day. And hence some people would be asked to come back the next week!! Just like that he was asking people to leave if they could, otherwise anyway he would have the unpleasant task of asking them to leave. We waited for him to come back and announce that we could stay since we had come all the way from Cal. He came back in some time and annouced a list of people who could stay back. The list did not have our names!! We were absolutely shell-shocked. How could they just ask us to go back after we had spent tonnes of time in planning this trip and after we had been given an appointment by the cultural centre!! Of course it was no use discussing the shittiness of the French embassy management between ourselves. One good thing was they had not yet kicked us out of the place. We sat hoping to work this out somehow, pleading, begging or doing whatever we could to get a visa today. Along with us sat all the MDI people, and I remember thinking why the hell couldnt they leave, they were in Delhi itself. Obviously if the place emptied we would have a better chance of pleading our case. We tried reasoning with the man who had come in earlier, but he said there was nothing he could do.

We were getting increasingly desperate as the time ticked by. Tirthankar had a secret ace up his sleeve - his french embassy scholarship. That was enough to get the man in the counter to listen to him. And amazingly he came back and said that he didnt neednt bother for a visa. He will get it straighth just like that!! He neednt even pay the visa processing fees. He then told the counter guy that he needed the visa very quick since we were leaving back the same day. He replied that the normal procedure is that the visas are collected on Friday - i.e day after tomo!! We couldnt have he said as a special case we it could be collected today at 4. There was nothing more he could do. I asked TT to immediately thrust my papers in front of him and say that we are together.

I managed to explain our problem and he agreed to take in the papers for submission. (an aside - he thought that even I had the scholarship and hence didnt take any fees from me too...which i later went and clarified and paid up). l. I was expecting a long wait for the interview call (yes, there was another interview) but it surprisingly happened very quickly. So there I was sitting in front of another Frenchman speaking poor English. It was a fairly standard interview and at the end he asked me if I had any questions. I told him my particular problem and he gave the line about normal procedure again. I made a pleading face, so he said that he will give the visa on the same day and we could collect it at 4. He said is that alright or is there any other problem. I said infact there was. He gave me a look of 'now what??' I told him that we had a plane to catch at 5 and obviously 4 was running it a bit to close. He gave me a look of exasperation but said he will ask the printing department to keep the visas ready so that we could collect them as soon as they returned from lunch, which was around 3. I thanked him for the help and then TT and I sat down for the long wait. We were just chatting up with the MDI people recounting the whole story when the embassy official suddenyl came out looking for me and TT. He then handed over both the passports with the required visas stamped on them!!

We left the embassy feeling really high. So high that we spent the next 2 hours roaming around Humayun's tomb and almost missed the flight back home :-)


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