“Don’t you ever invite any tourists in your country, you understand?” said my NRI cousin, Vinod, over the telephone conversation during his long distance call “I am never coming back to your country. You want our money, you want foreign company investments and you want to see your country flourish, but your country does not even have any proper system of working.”
Being a resident of India and my sincere love for my India was completely crushed under the weight of his wrath. It was very embarrassing for me. My NRI cousin was happy to break off his ties with his motherland. Bad experiences have bad results.
One month ago, I was in Poona, spending quality time with my family and friends. My cousin, Vinod, had come down with his family to spend some time with us in India. His tourist visa was valid for three months but he was able to make the trip to India only just few days before it expired and he didn’t realize that the validity of the visa of three month was from the date of its issue in his country and not from the day you enter India. Every country have their own rules.
He stayed for two months. He enjoyed watching the Bollywood films, the Indian food, the culture and traditions of India. He loved colorful festivals, the warmth of the family and friends, the joy and happiness that was in the air. But like all the good things must end, his day of departure from this magic land had finally arrived.
We had a farewell lunch party in the house. Vinod zipped the last bag as he heard the beep of the car.
“Lets hurry up, we must not be late.” He said as he helped his wife, Sunita, with some more last- minute packing.
He looked at his watch, it was 5pm. He must hurry if he could reach in time for his mid-night flight. He hated late nights and the long journey from Pune to Mumbai airport was always exhausting. Sometimes it took more than four hours to reach the International airport. Vinod believed in discipline. It is always better to be early than to be late.
The speakers at the international airports announced (non-stop) the flight schedules as people dragged their trolley bags towards the check-in counters. Vinod looked up at the board that showed the flight schedule. Thank God, the flight is on time. He smiled as he arranged his tickets and passports for verification. He asked Sunita to sit and relax while he would finish all the formalities. He stood in a long queue and waited for nearly thirty minutes to reach the counter. He handed his tickets and passports to the ground hostess.
“Excuse me sir, I am afraid you have overstayed your visit” said the ground hostess as she dialed a number into her walkie-talkie, “Please step aside, you will have to talk to the officer.”
Sunita stared blankly and wondered what was wrong as she watched her husband following an officer and disappearing round the bend.
“Sir, I see you have no permit to stay in this country. Your visa had expired thirty days ago.” said the officer.
Vinod was confused. This trip to the airport from Poona had been very stressful. Too much traffic even on the Express Highway! He wished he could finish the formalities as soon as he could and board the plane and relax. He knew that he had three months visa on his Thai passport but he has stayed in India for only two months.
“Is not the visa valid from the time you enter the country?” he asked
“No sir, the visa is valid from the date it is issued in your country.” Said the officer
“I am sorry, there is some mistake. In that case, I am willing to pay the fine. In my country, people who overstay normally pay 1000 Baht per day, how much fine should I pay in Indian Rupees?” he said as he plunged his fingers into his breast pocket.
“No sir, you cannot pay the fine for over-staying here, at the airport. You have to apply for the extended tourist visa from the Office of External Affairs, in Mumbai and then you can leave the country. I am afraid there is no other solution.” said the officer as he shrugged off his shoulders.
• * *
It was 5am when he returned back home in Pune. His back hurt as he dragged the bags back into the house, He needed to stretch on the bed. He would have to go back to Mumbai, the next day to get his visa extended.
• * *
Vinod waited for more than two hours before he could meet the officer. During the span of twenty-five days, there were six trips to Mumbai. There was no proper coordination between Mumbai and Pune offices of External affairs. He preferred to make the trip personally to save the time. He realized that the documents take time to change desks. Every person had his own job to do and only one person is responsible for doing one particular type of job and if that person is not at his desk, you have to wait. They told him that it was a serious crime to over-stay in India without a valid visa and he had to pay a price, a price of harassment by law makers who knew their job well, who didn’t value people’s time, who, themselves, never reported to work on time.
How he wished he knew immigration laws of different countries. He was not aware that in India, if the visa has expired, it is important to renew it within fifteen days.
A new Visa application form had to be filled again, in Mumbai, explaining the reasons for over-staying, a police inquiry to be done to verify his presence in the city of Pune and then the registration and the verifications of documents in Mumbai and in Pune. The trips and the meetings with different persons for different documents were very time consuming. It seemed like nobody ever came to their desk on time. Everyday, he waited for several hours before he could meet the right person, and then there were always invitations to come back the next day. If he had good reading habits, he could have easily finished reading several book sellers in the corridors, or in the waiting rooms. Even plugging his ears with FM radio could have helped. But sitting there, in anticipation, facing the dirty walls and waiting for an officer to report to his desk was very frustrating.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), he finally learnt that there were agents who were ready to help you to speed the process and they knew the secret routes to reach the desk of the officers. After coordinating with this agent, the work put on the boots. With a settlement of fine of thirty dollars and Rupees ten thousand (service charges, extra for speeding the process), he finally got the visa extended, and he was asked to leave the country within two days.
• * *
Will my NRI cousin ever visit me in future? I am not sure. He is very happy in his adopted land and boasts about the warmth of his corporate world. Why is everything so difficult here? Why do we need to grease the palms of important pillars for stretching our needs in their cushioned world?
I wish to be proud of my country too. I really wish I could!
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