Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Indian Visas

Indian bureaucracy is second to none and I was first introduced to it back in 2002 when I applied for my first visa.  I was fresh of a plane from Mexico, suntanned and jet lagged, facing a 9 day turn around to get myself a flight, visa and bags repacked for 7 months in India.  I had been given some advice on which visa I should be applying for and an accompanying letter to support my application.  However the visa I was told to get, didn't appear to exist and the letter contradicted itself and didn't leave me with much confidence!
I headed to India House, just off The Strand to see what I could do.  I went to the ticket counter on the outside, was issued my ticket (think it was pink and a bit like a deli ticket) which meant I was to go upstairs to apply for my visa.  I remember a large room with dark wooden counters on two sides, somewhat reminiscent of an old fashioned Post Office and lots of seats. 
I waited my turn, my number was called and I approached the desk and handed over my passport and visa form.  Having got up early to get the train to London, my jet lagged fuggled brain wasn't thinking clearly.  I was answering the questions asked but not adding any additional information, I was thinking in straight lines.  My Mum sat in a chair behind me, could tell things weren't going well.  She had been watching everyone take their turn at the desk, observing the process and could tell something wasn't right.  She leapt to my side and said "have you given them the letter?"  "What letter?" said the lady behind the counter and I passed over the letter.  Apparently that changed everything and I was told to go into the waiting room.

The waiting room was off to the side, a smaller square room at the back of the building with a window overlooking a courtyard at the back where I was to wait until my name was called (no longer a number).  Looking out over the courtyard, things took a surreal turn - my mother announced "I've been here before".  Apparently, in the 60s she had attended a Traction Rally Annual Dinner on The Strand with my father.  This courtyard had seemed a good place to park until they returned to their car in the early hours to find it had been blocked in.  They were left with no choice but to knock on the door and ask for someone to move the car...  the story goes that the door was opened by an Indian man in his pyjamas wearing a turban who was none too impressed.

I had images in my mind that my mother would be recognised some 40 years later and my application turned down but to my surprise, my name was called and I had been granted a visa that did not exist!

Today it is slightly different.  The visa process has been outsourced to an agency and so it is easier to apply on line.  There were some slightly confusing questions, especially for Little Owl but once I had worked out that her education status was "below matriculation" and I entered her occupation as "other" and specified "child" it was then just a case of plugging away at it.  To support Little Owl's application, Papa Owl and I had to write a letter to the High Commissioner of India to give our consent for her trip to India.  For my application I had to check with my parents where they were both born as well as with Papa Owl.  I also had to list the countries I had visited in the last 10 years... but the box wasn't big enough!

All that was left to do was to get our photos taken -

put it in the post and keep our fingers crossed that our passports will be returned before the Christmas postal rush!

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