England Called: बहुत कठिन थी डगर, मगर…

Table of contents for London-Newcastle-London

  1. England Called: बहुत कठिन थी डगर, मगर…
  2. Actually Landing at London and Luggage-less Evenings at Newcastle
  3. Whiffing past London

Disclaimer: The story in this post has nothing to with any real persons, places, procedures and events and any resemblance thereto is purely coincidental.

It all started one fine day, precisely about 3 months ago, when I got information about my name making rounds for a possible foreign trip. So far I have been totally a domestic Ghumakkar who has not had any visions of a ‘foreign’ trip. So having a passport was never felt a necessity and my various identity cards, with a wide variety of addresses, ages and looks have been able to get me green at all the domestic check points so far.

Even after a few of my peers made official foreign trips, I never saw any possibility of myself doing that and shrugged off any suggestions for getting my passport ready with flair. Contrary to popular notions, most genuinely profitable government set ups are stingy about expenses on foreign travel, meaning these are not at all common. That is why, one of my peers had to go out of his way to get his US visa in time for a meeting. Things people do, just for a company sponsored foreign trip! I, would never do that. I believed official trip had to come with a Visa, Ticket and hotel booking.

Eye
London Eyes You

Anyway, finally on 12th December 2009, I officially got that I was going to be part of a team visiting UK for a three day meeting to be held one month later at Newcastle upon Tyne. Now I had to scramble! It was happening. I had to get a passport ready in no time to get visa in time, what with the intervening Christmas and New Year holidays. I needed following documents to get my passport under Tatkal:
1. All my educational certificates in original
2. NOC from my employer (which also doubles up as an identity certificate)
3. A verification Certificate from a GM of any Public Sector Undertaking (my office usually has about five)
4. 3 photos, (though, only one was used on the form, and one was needed at the time of police verification)
5. Photocopies of all the sundry identity cards and my telephone bill for address proof.

I was told that getting a Tatkal passport is easy these days, but did not know much of the Ghaziabad Passport office under whose jurisdiction my case falls.

All other things were to be arranged locally, except for those at number 1 above. I had kept all my originals in safety of my Home in Lucknow. Fortunately parents were scheduled to visit on 16th December. I immediately cabled them requesting to pre-pone their visit and come charging ASAP. Poor souls were here on 14th . On 15th, I made a sort of record, by getting the big bunch of documents along with the filled up passport form ready, for which my colleagues at HR are to be thanked. I even got my photographs for UK visa (minding the 4.5×3.5 size, light background and locations and proportions) done.

As per the garnered intelligence, me and my brother reached the Ghaziabad Passport office at quarter to 7 on 16th, even before sweeping was over. Many others, who looked potential candidates for foreign travel, were there and their chit chat was scary – “I am coming from Agra for third time just to deposit the form, as every time the clerk asks for some document that I am not carrying. This time I even brought my neighbours’ documents, why take chance…?”

At Eight, the guard, who had acquired a potent aura by then, brought the register in which we were to enter our names and then we would be called for depositing the forms in that sequence. It looked quite systematic and civilized. So far so good, I said. My number came and Bingo I was through in the first go – my documents were Okay-ed and put in the binder. Then I deposited the fee which was Rs.2500 for Tatkal and also paid a courtesy visit to the Dy passport officer, who informed that he had made it a point that all the Tatkal passports get dispatched by the third day even if the stipulated period is 1-7 days. I was on cloud nine. At this rate I would get my passport by 21st December!

In the office the accompanying colleagues were ready and waiting for the call for visa. All of us had to send our passport numbers for the invitation letter from the host office. I told them to go ahead and proceed with their formalities and that my passport number will be forwarded after I get the number from the passport office.

I must thank the passport office, that contrary to the prevailing perception, my passport was delivered well ahead of the Christmas holidays on 23rd and I could get passport number on 22nd after making a few of visits to the office. As Christmas holidays had started from 24th, my appointment for visa at the VFS office was fixed for 29th Dec, just after the Christmas. Even though I was a bit unsure, everybody including my official travel agent assured me that I would get my Visa well in time to depart on the noon of 12th Jan.

I went to the VFS office at Nehru place, again with a big bunch of supporting documents like my salary slips for last six months, IT returns for past three years, bank statement, invitation letter and of course the sponsorship letter from my employer. Despite having a time slot allotted, everyone was made to stand in a queue, what with the escalated security situations. It was colder than anticipated and the highrise building of the Trade Tower was breezy. Nonetheless, the deposition of form went off smoothly.

Here they do not conduct any interview but only take thumb impressions and photographs and the application form with documents is collected and forwarded to the UK High commission for further processing. A UK mobile brand was promoting its connection, but the lady behind me in queue, familiar with UK, informed me that those were costly and one can purchase local Sim cards from the London airport itself. Some Sane advice that (wait for part two). The lady at counter told me and also it was written at many places that it takes minimum 15 days to issue a visa if the passport does not have any prior endorsements. Was it always true?

New Year came, fist week passed by fast. I did some itsy-bitsy shopping too. Reports from UK had that it was very cold and good winter-wear would be a must. The leather jackets at the otherwise cheap Sreeleathers were at 4500. I tried a leather jacket and was looking like Rajni. Was tempted to, but eventually bought three heavy synthetic jackets (one turned out to be the uniform of some Korean shipping company, with fur hood and all) from the footpath at Plaza for 900 bucks, against the advice of SPV. That none was used, is another story. In the meantime, kept on preparations for the pilgrimage in the offing after this short UK trip.

Also kept checking the on-line visa tracking and always got the response Your application has been forwarded to the embassy”. On Monday, the 4th of Jan, I rang the number of embassy help line, to which I could get through only after 50 tries. They informed that my file is under normal process and I should enquire on Wednesday the 6th. I thought this to be a signal that the visa will be approved by then! Daydreams!

sunny says again
A Day of Dreams

I requested my inviters to correspond with the embassy to let me in, in time. They asked me the address and e-mail addresses of embassy. Eventually they sent an e-mail to the BHC, requesting for an expeditious issue of visa for Mr. Rajeev Tivari. On Friday I decided that without my own lordship visiting the BHC, nothing will happen. So off I drove to the BHC, where a group of people, apparently from Punjab were camping outside. The office was fortified and guards were also doubling up as the reception desk.

In response to all the queries they offer a slip which has the helpline numbers (which had I already tried) of the BHC and an e-mail address. I sent an e-mail to that address telling them that my visit is very important, and also that I did not want to lose this chance to see Her Majesty, I mean Her Majesty’s land. I got a three page auto reply in which, there was also a line which went like, “If this is regarding priority for a case within the stipulated period (15 working days from date of receipt of application), it will not be entertained”. So kind.

But एडी चोटी का जोर लगाना था. Sometimes, rather most of time, one starts a fight and fights till the end despite knowing from the beginning that there is no bounty at the end. On Saturday, I went to my office, drafted a cool letter on behalf of my Unit head and got it faxed, along with all previous correspondence from the inviters to embassy, to a couple of numbers of BHC.

Monday morning, i.e. 11th Jan, came. The status was still the same that my application had been forwarded to the Embassy. I was directed to hand over the letter personally at the BHC. Just in case. Now it had become a personal challenge. Went to the CEO office, spoke to some very senior officials, who assured that they will take up the matter officially and directed me to some specific offices by India Gate.

I had also been in touch with a friend Gunjan in London, who was guiding me about some possibilities of taking help from some specialized travel agents. I did not want to complicate the official matters, even if it meant losing the tour. Incidentally, it was not a very good time to visit UK. Flight schedules had been haywire due to extreme cold conditions. I even hinted to my colleagues about postponing the meeting for a couple of days.

Dejected and tired after the rounds I made during the day, I was coming back to my office, when, at about 7:30pm, I got a call from my travel agent that my visa was ready for collection. I had not checked the status after 5:00pm. I was expecting this somehow, somewhere, though. Was yet to book the tickets, get for-ex from office and medical and travel insurance done. Moreover, passport was to be delivered only after 12 noon the next day. So there was no way I could have caught my original flight at 12:30 hrs the next day. Discussed in office and it was decided that I will catch a night flight of Tuesday (Morning of Wednesday the 13th). It was momentous BA 142 scheduled to depart at 3:30 of 13th Jan.

On my way to home I purchased a heavy Woodland jacket. The time I was supposed to do some necessary shopping was spent in chasing (necessarily/unnecessarily ,can’t really say) my visa. Next day in the office, collected all the documents, including passport, tickets, insurance certificate, directions and by 11:00pm of 12th Jan, had two suitcases ready. One, bigger, was packed with lot of eatables (sweets, gazak, chikkis of haldiram, nuts), suit, undergarments, clothes, thermal wear, and the other smaller one for cabin had sweaters, toiletries including deodorant, Cameras and accessories and documents. Raring to go on my first foreign trip. Was going to be leaving alone on a jet plane with little leg and elbow room, thankfully, though, had managed an aisle seat by web chek-in.
[Contd.]

22 Comments

  • tiger says:

    Right this is a great start to your very eventful trip. Second snap here is absolutely snappy.

    waiting for more.

  • nh24 says:

    Thank you sir, I will try my best to live up to expectations.

    Regards

  • nandanjha says:

    Embassies and Visa-processes are probably a handful of government setups (all countries I guess) where they make the whole thing interesting, with a lot of drama, suspense and ensuring that it remains so mystical that you can never discount a boring mundane job of someone who just needs to either put a stamp or reject it, often on gut (instinct, whatever).

    I had a similar experience and its an old story which I have told multiple times, mostly when I am under a particular influence. I was young and stupid and I treated the man-at-window, you had to queue yourself and sort of go through a standing interview as someone who is doing his job. Though I was trained to not speak too much, stick to the rehearsed text and act dumb and talk foolish, I ensured that I do not lose my first chance of impressing the white and the result was that I was marked for another interview. I was warned that going for 2nd interview is definite death and being macho I was (entirely out of my own figment of imagination), I could not refuse the offer and gladly accepted it.

    Damn.

    In 2nd interview, there are this very senior two people who start with bullying you

    – yeah yeah, we know that you are going for a s/w work and not hardware…..

    – we do not understand that how your organization thinks that you are the right person to do this at such an young age, shouldn’t they be sending someone senior (what they actually meant was that how the hell did you manage to convince your organization with such a shabby face, broken English and no panache to visit the land of ‘Her Majesty’.

    Anyway I guess, my stupidity of being brash and straight probably worked and I found myself at Trafalgar.

    Waiting in queue at the busy IGI airport. Can’t wait more to be in London again.

  • nh24 says:

    Nandan, Thankfully, despite all attempts to gain an audience, i was not granted any interview. I was wondering for a business visa, with govt organisation sponsoring, why it was taking all that long!

    I thought, with all that effort I could have bargained a resident visa! I liked England, especially Newcastle.

    Wait, before I even land at London. It is snowing there (and entire Europe) on 13th Jan.

  • Smita says:

    It took a paper assurance to buy a woodland jacket, finally! Well, that’s a response you’d get from a woman anyway.

    But passport office have come a long way, and delightfully so. Husband got his passport renewed from the Gzb office within a month, no tatkal. I got mine renewed from Delhi within 3 days, tatkal. Though ofcourse, my marital status had changed from the earlier one, and thanks to some ‘expert’ advise, I did not change it – as it may take longer. The passport officer caught it – “what, you haven’t put your husband’s name???”, “Does he know about it?”, “WHAT, you haven’t even changed your surname???”, “baki aapki marzi hai, hum to salaah de sakte hain…”. Thank you.

    Great narration, as always. Let me go to Part II.

  • RT,

    Great Narration. You have well understood the nerves of all Indian foreign travellers. Joy of travelling outside India esp in so called developed nation evaporates with so much of mental stress.

    Well, very interesting first para in Smita’s comment. Women don’t do so! Is this a reason that why they are so secretive about any such possibility :-)

  • RT says:

    Smita, apologies for the late reply. Thank you so much for compliments. Smita, I leave it for you to reply to Manish’s second para:)

    I know, passport making process has come a long way. What i did not mention (in fact I left quite a bit unmentioned about passport process) that now one can fix an online appointment and avoid the waiting time at the office for depositing the forms.

    Jab miya beewi razi to kya karega kazi…

  • RT says:

    Manish, apologies fo the late reply.

    You said it. Especially if the itinerary is so tight that there is hardly any time to do some exploration of the places. But one thing comes out that, India is still a long long way to go if it wants to come nearer to ‘that’ kind of infrastructure development. Heathrow is humongous and one can spend a day or two just browsing the place (it would be more pleasant if it were not to wait for delayed baggage). The inter-terminal transport, intra-airport area transport etc are so systematic and hasslefree. Though, I saw the new international airport at Delhi with about close to 30 aerobridges being installed, with the terminal in the shape of a triagle, meaning less intra terminal travel.

    Thanks for the compliments.

    I have requested Smita to reply to your second para :)

  • Smita says:

    Sorry guys, I am unable to decipher Manish’s question… actually I am confused… thoda vistaar mein poochhiye…

  • RT says:

    Smita, I got company :) I could not decipher either. Now, before you conclude that you got company too, there is kakar katar in either. No, don’t start pulling your hair.

    I am sure you would have got that it was not by choice that I took so long to post reply to you guys comments;) Neither was it a choice to leave two guests to fend themselves:))) Now we need a joint decryptofication.

    This IPL season is full of bouncers!

  • :-) Woh comment hi kya jo samjh mein aa jaye.

    Well to be frank, my learnings till date tells me that if your comment is not understood, its better not to elaborate on it. Most probably you are travelling on the wrong road. Second thing never say anything in public forum that shows your sexist attitude. So the best thing for me is to keep quiet or else I have to eat my own words.

    Well, all above good words are for intelligent people, but I was never one. So I decided to move ahead, taking the risk of elaborating it ;-). Moreover yesterday I learnt that once Winston Churchill commented that he often had to “eat his words” and always found them rather delicious.

    Well, what RT did was something most of the guys will do (buying woodland jacket only after paper assurance). Smita’s comment made me wonder how a woman will behave, will she buy the Jacket as soon as she will come to know about a possibility of a travel and a need arising because of it.

    Well, I wondered that if women do so, then it will be a loss of face once trip is cancelled. So I thought that the only natural way to avoid it all is to keep on doing all necessary purchases remaining mum about the cause for the purchases and hence disclosing the possibility of travel very late or not at all till you land in England:-)

    After elaborating the comment, I am ready to eat my words. I hope I will have same opinion as of Churchill’s about how it tastes :-)

    • smitadhall says:

      Here’s some salt and pepper and ungarlicised tabasco to eat your words with :-)

      But on a serious note, what would a woman do? She would buy a jacket from Woodland, from Nike, one from Shoppers Stop, one from W, a couple from Sarojini Nagar and Janpath and be ready for the trip. In case the Visa down’t happen, she still won’t feel bad because she has all the clothes to keep anyway.

      Boys, want another helping ;-)

  • RT says:

    :-) Please don’t keep quiet. Your words are delicious not only to you but to all the readers. I am sure you will never know the taste of your own words :)

    Women usually do not like if you do all the ‘shopping’ for a ‘foreign’ trip by yourself unceremoniously :)

    • smitadhall says:

      RT, pl read my comment to Manish above.

      And yes! yes! women HATE LOATHE ABHORE it if you shop for a ‘foreign’ trip all by yourselves. I mean, come on, you’re going abroad and will shop without our consent any way – so why would a man take away the thrills of shopping that’s right on the platter.

  • Nandan says:

    All of you are great at ‘conversations’.

  • amita says:

    RT,

    Why do you need a cover, man? Or is this you recently acquired pen names?

    You write fabulous stuff and I wish I could as well write about my current NZ trip. Private companies are much better in all the travel management stuff. Passports, visa, flight tickets all are taken care by office travel agent. Instead of me chasing, they kept chasing me. Same, my colleagues in NZ did all the arrangements for me.
    One tip for all indians vegeteranians travelling abroad, look for a service appts near a super market and cook yourself. Nothing tastes better than own cooked food.

    C ya.

    • RT says:

      Amita, thanks a lot for teh compliments. Is there really any cover? Those who need to know, know ‘initially’, those who don’t, don’t, but can with a little effort. Ye parda to bas nigaah ka hai jee…

      And yes, i guess teh travel arrangements and tie ups have more to do with teh level of the touring staff and nature of tour. I would have left my passport and Visa to office and at teh end of teh day woudl have received a ‘better luck’ for teh proverbial but non-existent next time. Somewhere, my indifference to foreign travel gave way to a reslove to make teh best of teh opportunity in hand.

      Talking of pure governement offices, there passport-visa is much quick, without any need of runnign around.

      You have a lot of stuff to report from your NZ trip, if your FB photostream is anything to go by. Lookign forward to your maiden entry here.

  • RT says:

    No, it is natural. probably left index finger is prompter than right middle. But I hate qwerty and love T9. I am shocked to see that we are still hanging on to this qwerty. The sadist layout is being promoted like the best thing to have happened by johny-come-latelies of mobile industry. I mean how can a qwerty be better than a t9 equipped 12 key pad! I can write treatise on handiness of T9. but some other time.

    I wish someday some laptop will be promoted with a tagline like…”now with T9″.

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