Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Visas and other stories - Part 3

This is the 3rd and final part of visas and other stories. The French visa was now safely in our hands. The words which gave our visa the status of a Short Stay Schengen were so nice to look at!

But a lot of other thing needed to be sorted out. An apartment to stay in Nice, our plane tickets, Eurail passes and of course the British visa. A totally unexpected obstacle to our trip turned out to be IIM Calcutta!!!

Firstly the apartment. Nice is the capital of the French Riviera and hence the place is almost as expensive as Paris. Hence we were fairly scared about finding a good apartment. We were expecting some help from the EDHEC authorities, but the help was minimal. Their suggested list of places either turned out to be fully booked or too expensive. As it was this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Since we were not getting any official help we decided to search on the internet. It was a tedious affair...check dozens of sites, a hundred apartments, post notices on boards, reply to posts, haggle (whatever little you can over mail) come to naught most of the time. It was then Chirag (I think it was he who came up with the link and I did most of the correspondence) who brought out a gem of a house. The rent was very steep, but the off season rates were reasonable and we hoped to get the off season rates which actually began in mid-October (for a very good reason as we realized later). As it turned out the landlady Kathy offered the apartment for the a rate lesser than the off season one for the whole of the stay!!! The rent was 700 euro per month (as against 700 euro for one week which was the regular rate). The electricity and gas charges and a 500 euro deposit were to be paid by us. There was also a one month advance. Therein lay the sting in the tail, but on the whole it was a reasonable offer especially if the apartment turned out anywhere like the pictures posted on the net.

We paid the one month advance thru wire transfer and got an email as proof (all this was done before the French visa). Just as we were getting relaxed, bad news started pelting us left right and centre. First the travel agent dropped a bomb on us saying that we failed to make our provisional booking permanent and hence it had lapsed. This meant we had to hunt for another booking and that too definitely more expensive. All this while I was co-ordinating with Jayant Uncle trying to get all the necessary documents in place for the British visa. This included a sponsorship letter from him. He assured that it would be enough to get a visa though he reiterated that we should be very careful when it came to applying for visas as a cancelled visa could prove very harmful. He later explained why we were so paranoid about this when we met him in London. Things were irksome, but nothing that seemed to derail our trip.

That was until the last day of the term. On this day we were given a final day 'pep' talk by our celebrated Chairman of the PGP Program. He had a special love for the STEP program. He took it as an integral part of his job description to make the lives of the 'STEP' children as miserable as possible. His pep talk included such gems as "I know some of you will go abroad and win Best Student awards from the institutes there. But I dont think that is anything great" Then realizing that it sounded ridiculous, even by his standards, he changed tack and said "After all you are all brilliant students, you have to win such awards. It will only be a competition between IIMCians". Anyway all this is was just the appetizer for the heartburn that he was soon to give us. Us, here meaing the three EDHEC students in particular.

Now, there is this rule in the STEProgram that we must not take courses in the partner institutes that we have already coeverd in IIMC. Perfectly reasonable I would say. But the problem is that if rigorously applied nobody would ever be able to go on exchange. And all the partner are after all approved by IIMC. But the biggest issue was in implementing this rule. In their supreme disdain for the STEP program the IIMC STEP committee decided that they could not be bothered with approving courses as early as possible, preferably before the courses actually started. So you would have people enrolling for courses and then finding out that their course was infact rejected by the committee. Which meant not only taking your name off that course but also to hunt for another one in the middle of the term. How they expected the partner intitutes to accomodate such demands only they know, especially as they didnt budge an inch when it came to academic issues at IIMC.

Now this was of course an issue which affected all the STEP students. What we had to do was take the axe and hit it on our own leg (yeah i know the Hindi original sounds much better :-) )
What we did was we told him (our PGp chairman) that we thought one or two of our courses might have some clashes, and it was impossible for us to change them later so could he please authorize them earlier. To our shock, his straight faced response to our request was "If you think that there might be a clash and you cannot change courses later, you shouldnt take any risk, it would be better if you dont go". After being struck dumb for a couple of seconds, we recovered our voice and said that it wasnt that serious and it wasnt necessary to get approval immediately. We thought if we didnt push it, we could try and handle the situation as and when it came up. But we had not considered our little (yeah, little) friend's sadistic capabilities. Instead of allowing us to peacefully apply for the UK visa as we wanted to and just go home, he called us up on our cell phones and asked to come and meet him. TT did that while I went and applied for the UK visa. The UK visa also gave some problems but nothing compared to what this guy had in store for us. TT's meeting with chmn, PGP happened entirely in Bengali for good effect. Not that it helped. He asked us to get the subjects approved from a competent faculty. The faculty in question was Ashok Banerjee, a hard but a fair man was the opinion about him. Just when we had begun evaluating our chances of meeting up with Ash Ban and softening him up for our cause, the little guy dropped his next sadistic masterpiece. He said that we were absolutely forbidden from talkling to Ash Ban privately. We could if we wanted accompany when he himself met Ash Ban!!! A twisted genius!!

That was not the lowest he could drop to though. He did the worst thing he could do - tried to get us to squeal on other people who were going thru course trouble. Anyway, as it happened one of our courses was rejected by Ash Ban, accompanied by obvious undisguised gloating by our friend. At that point we had only two options. One was fight for another course from the EDHEC people or in a worst case scenario do another course in the 6th term. It was not entirely clear whether it was allowed by the rules, but we didnt want to test them at tht point.

In between all this, other things happened all of which combined were enough to fry my brains. After our course was rejected and left us fairly sad (only TT and I were there, CHirag was happily oblivious in the Himalayas!!) and when even TT had gone back home (he lives in Cal) I wrote a mail to Kathy, the landlady. After some time I got a mail saying that she was very sorry but the owners of the apartment had acted without informing her and some other people had taken the apartment. After emitting a scream which kind of mixed all my feelings in one outburst, i started writing back. what about our 700 euro advance??? what about the confirmatory mail??? what the @%^$@^$%# everything???? And as i sent that mail the network also pulled a fast one on me by breaking down at that very moment. mail server not working. Aaaaarggghghgahgahgahgahgah. how i spent a night filled with rage, anguish and an utter hopelessness only i would know. In the morning i didnt call up TT to tell him the good news as it wouldnt have made any difference. I was already evaluating various alternatives at that point and i am happy to say that even in that zappped state of mind I could think of many viable options. I had to collect the visas from the visa centre and i was going to meet him there. I waited till we had the visa stamped passports in our hands and in that happier state of mind pricked his bubble. He, like me was absolutely shell shocked for some time and then recovered and we both started laughing. Somebody up there was going out his way to make things difficult for us!!

Back in campus we were relieved to find that the network was working again and hurried to the room to check what Kathy had replied to my caustic mail. There were multiple mails from her. The first one at the top was asking whether I had the contact information for my other friends. I was confused to say the least. Reading down i saw some words to the effect, it was mistake, the mail was meant for other people. Hopes rising i checked the last mail, and there it said sorry, the mail was meant for other people (MDI people infact) and our apartment was safely waiting for us!!!! maaaannnn, the relief that swept all over was unbelievable. 2 things going right in a row hadnt happened for a long long time! It was as if the tide had turned !! The tide brought more good cheer in some time - EDHEC had agreed to give us a research paper in lieu of the cancelled subject. This was after a really soppy, pleading, crying, emotional blackmail filled mail sent by me to Caroline, the coordinator. I am really proud of it. :-)


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