Cows. Crowds. Creepy men. Many people are under the impression that there’s little more to India that those three things. Frankly, I think that’s absolutely correct. No, no, I’m just kidding. Plenty of people here also entertain themselves by going to the bathroom in the middle of the street.
Yes, I’ve arrived in India. As most of you know by now, I got the call that I’d received a communications fellowship with a foundation for social entrepreneurship in southern India. This sounds much fancier than it actually is, but what it meant is that in less than three weeks, I went from job hunting to moving halfway across the world for a while. I’ve wanted to live and work in India for a while now, so this came at a great time. It’s unclear what work I’ll actually be doing, but I’m sure it’ll be frustrating, rewarding, exciting, and boring all at the same time. I’ll be living in Hubli, a small town of just 1 million people.
But hey, I’m living it up in India! I’ve got to say that with everything I’ve seen in photos, in addition to my experience in similarly crowded third-world countries, India is pretty much exactly what I expected. Beautiful colors, delicious food, spicy smells, and people who go out of their way to help. These said people may or may not ask if you’d mind getting involved in an arranged marriage with their son, but that’s not important right now. The most surprising thing about India, actually, has been the widespread use of printed English. While this doesn’t mean people can necessarily speak the language, it does make getting around, ordering food, and doing everything else a whole lot easier.
Back to the part about getting to India in less than three weeks. Heck, there’s nothing like having a good story to tell before the story has even begun. If you thought being me and getting a single tourist visa in just 2 ½ weeks might be challenging, you’re right. So imagine that the soonest available appointment with the NY consulate’s outsourcing company (yes, they even outsource themselves) is just a week before your flight? You’d be having nightmares too. So imagine my concern when I finally turned in my papers, only to be told that the tidbits I’d written in the visa’s extensive “What will you be doing there?” and “What is your profession?” sections led them to believe I was a journalist. I’d be denied, most likely, if I submitted the form as it was. “So I’ll be rejected as it is now?” “I can’t tell you that. But it looks like it wouldn’t go through.” “Okay, so what should I change?” “Ma’am, I can’t tell you what to change.” “What should I not include?” “I wouldn’t include the writing or photography, but I can’t tell you that.” “Uhhhhh…”
I hurried to fill out a whole new set of forms there, as I knew I had a shot clinic upstate I had to get to, and there was only one train left before I’d miss everything. I filled out an entirely new form, which is essentially just like getting back-to-back proctology exams, and tried to sound as generic as possible. I got back in line to pay more fees, and then got approved to stand in an even larger line. After waiting and waiting, I was told I could come the next day to pick it up, or perhaps Wednesday. Because I was upstate that week packing, my older brother, Timothy, went Tuesday. It wasn’t ready. On Wednesday, I saw online that they’d JUST turned it in to the consulate. Wednesday night, still no word, and no progress. Thursday, I wake up to two phone messages from a guy at the visa HQ, both saying my visa was denied. I called, nearly in tears, and was transferred from person to person, all denying the existence of the person who originally called me. Turns out the mystery fellow was actually saying my credit card was denied—another impossibility since a.) the charge was online, b.) four (4) employees checked that fact and said the payment was fine, and c.) I’ve never had a problem with my card. So that was a fun start. Multiple calls and hours were spent trying to find out if my visa was still en route to or from the consulate, and I was assured it was multiple times. Except that Thursday night, I also got a call from the visa outsourcing office saying my card didn’t go through. Was I a part of some giant scam? After much deliberation, I had to give a new card number to them, which they said would go through. My forms would be submitted in the morning. I had, quite literally, less than 8 hours to know if I would be able to go to India or not. No, I didn’t really sleep, because that night, the question arose: Had they canceled the other application? If not, which application had my passport? Would they know which to submit? Could a company be this incompetent?
The next Friday morning (the last possible day I could possibly get it, mind you, since my flight was scheduled for Monday morning at 9AM), after hours on hold and multiple calls to multiple offices, I was told everything was fine under both applications. Well, sir, did you realize that I’m just one person? That I should have only one application number? Ohhhhh that took a lot of brain power to figure out something wasn’t right, didn’t it? I was online tracking both passport applications numbers, and knew that by 4:30 (pickup time), I’d finally have an answer. Not so fast, though. I was told repeatedly that they’d have more info once I called back, but that never happened. Finally, an employee said it might come back in time. I asked him to, well, clarify that answer. He said he’d speak to his supervisor, then said that no, there was no chance it was going to come back in time. At this point I calmly yelled at him, telling him that his company screwed up, and demanding to speak with his supervisor. She looked through my file and said she’d get an actually answer from the consulate, and would send a guy to look for my passport. Was I praying at this point? Absolutely.
She called about 15 minutes later and said that my passport would be ready tonight if whoever had the receipt (Timothy) got there at 5:45, right before closing. Did I hear her right? They found it? She said yes, and gave me the confirmation code. It was the wrong one. She clarified it and said they would have the right one too. How kind.
That night, Timothy waited for my visa for 4 hours. At 9:45PM, he was the last one in the office, wondering how he a.) hadn’t killed himself, and b.) a company could manage to be so useless. He was the last person in line at the last minute, the last hour, and the last second possible on what the company told him was “the worst day we’ve ever had.” At 9:48PM I got his call (having not heard from him for an eternity), saying they’d looked up my alternate application number and had finally found it, approved. He was yelling, I was incredulous, my little brother was yelling, my mother was crying, and my dad was obliviously eating dinner. It was as if I had won the lottery. Couldn’t have cut it much closer than that, really. It’s not possible.
I started packed and left in about 36 hours. And now I’m here, thank the Lord. And Timothy. I’m pretty sure he won’t be visiting me in India after that. What a bro, right?
After flying up and over the north pole (no kidding), over Greenland, Russia, and China, I had a layover in Hong Kong and arrived in New Delhi. Great times, great times. But that’s for the next post, y’all! I’m just happy to be here, and really, am still getting over the traumatic times brought to you by my [your choice of expletives] NYC visa company.
Enjoy a few photos of Delhi, Punjab, and Santa Clause’s headquarters. Cheers!
1-This is India. 2-Flying over Greenland! 3-Russia. 4-Like the Smoky Mountains, but not…because it’s China. 5-Breakfast in Delhi! 6-Playing on a seesaw with my India pals. Don’t ask why. 7-Motorbike ride to the Metro. 8-Backyard trail, where the activity never ends. 9-Typical (and awesome). 10-Love it. Oh, India.