This is the second chapter in the story of my first trip to India in 2014. Start here to follow the story from the beginning. At this point in the story, I have had to cancel my original flights because my Indian visa wasn’t ready in time. Except that it actually was ready in time, but I wasn’t told that it was until too late, and the company holding my application has not mailed it back to me despite me pre-paying for a FedEx overnight return service. I am now trying to figure out the fastest way to get my passport and visa and fly out to India to be with Mónica before her vacation time there runs out.
I’m fleshing out the details for Plan E. (Pick up the visa in New York on Monday and fly out from there, getting me to Chennai Wednesday morning, in the middle of Mónica’s vacation.) The most important contingency to control for is that I need to make sure that CKGS doesn’t suddenly decide to mail my visa to me while I’m in transit to go there and pick it up. That would be the worst. I figure the safest way to do this is to get to their office right when they open on Monday. Packages are probably only sent at the end of the business day, but I don’t want to take any chances. I’m already fed up with the whole fiasco so far and don’t want anything else to go wrong. There are no flights from Portland that will get me to New York at an appropriate time, so I’m going to need to drive. Adding two weeks of parking my truck in New York is a cost I’m willing to eat to not miss any more of Mónica’s vacation than I already am.
I call CKGS early and get a recording saying their office is closed. Then I send a polite email to two different customer service addresses at CKGS quickly recapping the situation, stating how unhappy I am with their handling of everything, and telling them that I will pick up the visa in person on Monday, so please do not mail it out. I think my plan is solid and I tell Mónica that unless something else goes wrong, I should get there early on Wednesday. Wednesday night is the peak of the Diwali celebrations and she says we’re invited to have dinner with some friends there if I’m up for it. Of course I will be. It sounds like a perfect start to my visit.
I’m starting to realize how exhausted from stress I am at this point. I do yoga periodically throughout the day. I get some groceries and eat well. There’s a Tango Milonga in Portland tonight that I wasn’t expecting to be in town for. I know some good friends will be there so I pull myself together enough to go out and dance, which feels good, even though I have to explain to everybody why I’m there and not in India. I get home and go to bed well after 1:00.
I wake up early for having been up so late. Tonight I will have to start driving to New York. I do some work and spend most of the day taking care of errands, cleaning up my place, and repacking my bags, getting everything ready to leave. I call FedEx just to make sure nothing was sent out to me Saturday. Of course there’s nothing, but it doesn’t hurt to check. I leave myself about two hours to take a nap before driving the 6-7 hours to New York, but I don’t actually fall asleep. I’m too wired, so I just get up and leave a little early. It’s not like I’ve never pulled a driving all-nighter before.
Driving overnight to New York, jamming to Mahler and Yes, I notice a shooting star in the sky ahead just south of Boston. I make a silent wish to the first thing that comes to mind. It’s a happy image of something in the future. My next thought is that maybe I should have wished for something more directly related to my visa and travels to India. Oh well, I am confident in Plan E.
The traffic near JFK airport is ridiculous in the early morning when I get close. From the time I cross the bridge into Queens, it takes me about two hours to cover the last 10 miles and park at the economy parking lot. I leave my bags in the truck. I will come back for them after I have my visa. From there, it’s a sky train ride to the terminal, another sky train ride to Jamaica Station, then a subway to Penn Station in Manhattan, then about an 8 block walk down to the CKGS office. I’m just a little behind schedule due to the traffic. I should be getting there less than half an hour after they open.
Even though I’ve only been to New York a handful of times, walking through Manhattan is starting to feel oddly familiar. The noise and the hurry of people and the smells . . . It’s a beautiful Fall day, and it feels like I know what I’m doing.
I find the building where CKGS is located without any problem. There is a group of Indian people outside waiting to get in. A security guard is asking questions and letting people in one at a time. The line outside is to get to the long line inside the lobby, where people wait to be allowed upstairs to get in an even longer line outside the actual office. At the end of this line, someone checks that you have the appropriate documents ready before letting you into the line to take a number and wait inside the giant BMV-style waiting room, where the numbers are being called. The whole process is like a scene from a strange Indian version of Brazil.
It takes me about an hour and of half of standing in lines to get to the part where they want to check my documents. I tell them that I’m here to pick up my visa. They say that visa pick-ups are at 15:00. Come back in 5 hours.
Apparently they’re not kidding. OK. I choose not to get upset. Instead, I tell them that before I leave, it’s very important that I make sure my application isn’t mailed out to my home before I come back to pick it up, since I need to fly out today. This strikes somebody as a reasonable request and a guy steps from behind the counter to take my visa application receipt into a back room to check for me. I sit down and wait.
All this time I’ve been calling CKGS and waiting on hold to always end up speaking to the same guy was giving me the impression that it was a tiny room somewhere with one phone and a lone guy handling everything. Instead, this place where I am now sitting is a mad house. There are probably 300 Indian people in the room where I am sitting, and all seem to be having problems at least as bad as mine. Just being in this sea of bureaucratic suffering and despair is exhausting. Then again, some of that may have to do with the fact that I drove for 8 hours last night instead of sleeping.
After an hour of sitting, the helpful guy comes out and tells me that my application has already been mailed to me.
I ask him when. He says it was sent on Saturday.
Exhaustion and despair are hitting me in waves. So many things are going through my head. Of course they never notified me when it was shipped. And somehow FedEx dropped the ball, too. Now there’s no way I can leave on Monday, and on top of that, I have another long drive back to Maine to look forward to. I’m trying to form Plan F and simultaneously asking myself what lesson I should be learning from this experience. I don’t know the answer to that.
The helpful guy asks me if everything’s OK. All I say is, “That’s bad news.” He says he’s sorry and I tell him it’s not his fault before I take the FedEx tracking printout from him and turn to leave. I hope it’s not his fault. I don’t ask if his name is Mandeep. His English is way too good for that to be the case anyway.
When applying for an Indian visa, don’t believe anything that CKGS tells you.
Walk back to Penn Station. Subway back to Jamaica Station. I’m trying to get online to tell Mónica that my planned arrival date has changed yet again, but all that goes out is a sad face before I lose connection. Another hour goes by before I’m back in the terminal at JFK and I can get online again. Mónica and I Skype for a while. I’m laughing to keep from crying. The situation has gone from just being a mess to being like a Greek tragedy. Mónica shows me the Ganesh figure that she got today to help with the obstacles of my journey. I mention the shooting star I saw and how instead of wishing for a better resolution to my visa fiasco, I made a wish thinking of something bigger and further away. She smiles and tells me that I’m awesome.
I hang up and take the train back to the truck. I haven’t had anything to eat or drink since Sunday evening in Maine and it’s now about 14:00 on Monday. I eat an avocado and some sardines and drive the 7 hours back to Maine. I appreciate that I have a truck that lets me drive all the way to New York and back without needing to stop for fuel.
I see the package on the porch as soon as I pull in to my driveway. My passport and visa are all in order. I get online to book some flights. The soonest I can leave New York for Chennai is 12:25 tomorrow, which would get me to see Mónica late Wednesday night. Let’s see if I can do that. I really don’t want to have to drive back to New York, but I consider it. Luckily, I instead find a flight from Portland to New York that leaves at 6:00 in the morning. Perfect. Well, it doesn’t give me much time to sleep, but it’ll work. It’s already close to 23:00 and I’ve been awake for almost 40 hours. I call and book a taxi to pick me up at 3:00. I want to give myself a lot of margin for error by calling the taxi early because I’ve been burned twice before by cars that never actually showed up after I booked them. I want to still make it to the airport in time if that happens again. The plan is all set.
Plan F: Fly from Portland to New York at 6:00 on Tuesday the 21st, then from New York to Chennai at 12:25. I’ve booked my return flight from Chennai to New York for 4:50 on 2014-11-03. This plan gives me 10 full days plus a couple nights with Mónica. She will be working half of this time, so I will get some work done remotely, too, allowing me to not have to burn that much vacation time from work.
I go to bed and set two separate alarms for about 3 hours from now. I have the sunrise alarm clock that will turn on the light in my bedroom, too. I haven’t eaten anything today except an avocado and some sardines at 14:00 in New York, but after being awake for as long as I have, I decide that sleep is more important than food and go to bed without dinner. I finally have my passport and visa and the flights are booked. Everything is all set. I’m going to see Mónica soon.