Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another visa interview- 4 years later

The morning of the visa interview didn’t really start on a good note. Things screwed up, albeit in a harmless, comical way. I always prided myself for being a sound sleeper but sleep eluded me the night before. It must have been a combination of the thoughts of my visa being rejected, me having to hunt for a job and a local groom in Kolkata, and the elephantine mosquitoes feasting on my blood that put me through a state of trance, of half wakefulness and half sleep. I woke up long before the shrill, annoying cry of my alarm went off.

“I am going to look my smartest self”, I sang to myself as I poured a fistful of shampoo in the shower. 5 minutes of vigorous head massaging later, there was no lather. I wondered was this a new shampoo that promised healthy hair without lather. A very un-bespectacled me squinted at the sachet. Darn, it wasn’t the shampoo, it was the conditioner. The shampoo sachets were all missing. I had just poured a sachet full of conditioner on my oily hair sans any shampoo. First goof up of the day.

A number of other minor goof ups followed. One actually happened 4 days before the interview, but that will make another sensational blog post soon, I promise. While waiting at the traffic signal, I saw the name of the e-stalker painted colorfully behind a truck. Not a good sign. I was reminded of the person who during a frustrated moment of male chauvinism had told me that he wished I never get my visa approved and stay back. I didn’t know whether to be alarmed, it’s not nice to be cursed at or being ill-wished upon. So even though I asked the person to “Kat le”, I got a little superstitious about it. This of course saved my Facebook friends from the boring visa updates like, “5 days to go, biting my nails in anticipation”, and “2 days to go for the visa. Counting hours”.

I was about 90 minutes early for my 8:15 am interview and decided to kill time by talking to G and hear baby Kalyani babble on the phone. Strolling on the road since the consulate wouldn’t let me in, I was deeply engaged in conversation about the most trivial stuff like Seattle weather on a visa day when the crow decided to bless my freshly laundered clothes. 3rd goof up of the day. I didn’t really know if it was a blessing sent from Heaven or a bad omen.

Anyway, before any more goof ups could happen, I was quickly summoned to the consulate where the lady on duty checked me at various ticklish places, wanting to ascertain if I would giggle and say, “Okay okay, I am here for my visa, mother promise”, or would giggle and say, “Okay okay, I am a wannabe terrorist. There are arms hidden up my armpits”. Soon I was summoned to the same open waiting area I had been to 4 years ago. I particularly noticed 2 people, one who looked exactly like my school senior who I had last seen 14 years ago, and another girl with excess facial hair, probably a first timer, who kept folding her hands, closing her eyes, moving back and forth and praying. I was half-tempted to hug her and assure her everything would be fine, but checked myself lest my sisterly intentions are misunderstood. I wondered what she was so nervous about.

Next I was called to the main lobby, which is nothing like what I remembered from the last time. The seating area had changed, the counters were all this way and that way, or maybe my brain had garbled up and was seeing mirror images. The plasma TV showed Aaj Tak on mute. Things had definitely changed in 4 years. Not to mention the fact that I was older, fatter, balder, but ironically still in the same boat, waiting for the same PhD visa interview that I had been to 4 years ago.

So I decided to wait for my turn and observe the world around me lest I fall asleep. There were students, working professionals, families, and parents visiting their children. Everyone had a story, a purpose of being there in the same room at the same time, and I wondered what each one’s story was. I saw a particular guy wearing an IIT Kanpur Techkriti tee shirt (showing off?) and arched my eyebrows when I quickly checked my sarcastic self remembering an anonymous commentator on my blog who had remarked, “But why do you hate IITians? I am from an IIT too”.

The counters where the actual interview happened were all covered, unlike the last time, so that whether you were granted or denied a visa, the world did not witness your own private moments with the visa officer where you struggled through the paperwork trying to find the document the officer asked for, or tried to convince him why you wanted to study in the US despite patriotism coursing through your veins and how you vowed to take the first flight back home the moment you were done with your course. I once again looked at the people around me, in various degrees of nervousness and expectations, all destined to fly to different parts of the US if everything went well for them today, and imagined them all scattered taking Patel shots at different places in a few months’ time, some grinning in front of the Statue of Liberty, some making a V in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in SF, some in skiing attires and snow shoes on their way to Mr. Rainier, and a group of desi men, all heavily ignored by the white girls despite their desperate attempts, rolling on their own in the beaches of Miami. Friends had strictly asked me to wear a salwar kameez to convince the officer of my patriotism, a desperate measure to tell him I was definitely getting back to India once I was done (if I hadn’t acquired a green card husband by then). I wondered if the visa officer was that stupid to not see through it. The usher droned mechanically to everyone every 5 minutes, “Please keep your documents ON your hands”. I was half tempted to correct him, but checked myself. Like he cares if the documents were on my hands or in my hands.

The room felt like a jail, where prisoners were ushered this way and that way, and spoken strictly to if they went up to the wrong counter or produced the wrong document out of nervousness. No, not a jail, maybe a school, and everyone was supposed to obey these people, follow a strict protocol, and conduct themselves well, because their dreams of visiting the US depended on these men who had the authority. The mangoes I had for breakfast irritated my throat, but I stifled a cough lest I am suspected of carrying cough germs and asked to come back later with another appointment on another day. Needless to say, I was nervous. The school senior look-alike girl had her name called in a while. She was indeed my senior from school. The name and the face was unmistakable. Another insignificant co-incidence and probabilistic game of meeting people you knew in the larger scheme of things.

The visa officers, who I could not see, called people one by one. One had a garbled voice with a thick American accent and I could barely understand the names he mumbled. The other one of course had a very clear and distinct voice, and there was something endearing about the voice. I secretly prayed the second person would call my name. Sometimes, little prayers are answered without God making much fuss. The guy soon called my name clearly and I trotted on my way. One look into his face and I received another tiny shock worth a few millivolts. For there was no white skinned American guy waiting for me. Our visa officer looked our very own Indian, in fact South Indian self. He must have been an American born of South Indian descent. I had barely entered the room when he said, “Promise me every information you have is true and you are not hiding anything”.

I looked confused.

“Just kidding”, he said after a meaningful pause.

So our visa officer had a filmy sense of humor too?, I thought.

The next 10 minutes passed with me answering a multitude of questions, thanks to my visa status changing from F1 to H1B and now back to F1. What program did I join back in 2006? Where was I working after that? What were my GRE scores? Why did I choose to come back to India for a few months and not join school directly? Was I ever out of status in the US? And so on…

Finally, “I will cancel your…… (as he said this, he scratched my last F1 visa. Did I just hear the word “cancel”? My heart sank) …….. last F1 visa and will approve your new visa. Congratulations”.

I has almost stopped breathing. I had made it. Yaay !! I was tempted to kiss his bald head, instead I jived and dived out of the interview room without so much as a thank you before he could change his mind. My day was made. I was especially skeptical about my visa this time for 2 reasons. First, I’ve had this status change from a student visa to a work visa, and am getting back to school again. Second, I am joining the PhD program in a totally different field, something I have never studied before, and it might have been difficult for me to justify my field transition.

I took the metro back home. While taking the auto in the final leg, I saw a picture of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar smiling back at me (his usual expression), as if telling me “All Iz Well”. All is well indeed.

I thought I will sleep peacefully tonight. It’s almost 4 am, and I am still too excited to sleep.

P.S. 1: If you have a visa interview scheduled, good luck. Feel free to ask me questions. And salwar kameez or no salwar kameez, wear your confidence with you. When the officer asked me for my official appointment letter, I realized to my dismay that I had forgotten to get it. One of the many goof ups of the day. Instead of apologizing, I confidently gave him my financial assistantship letter (which is different from the appointment letter). He didn’t even realize it.

P.S. 2: No, I was not asked for documents showing liquid financial assets, bank papers, or asked questions about funding. I wasn’t asked to convince them that I have ties in India and I will be back before they know.



Pankaj Tyagi said...

Itna bhi kya marna yaar US jane ko? 'It was like prison, no, it was like school', then simply refuse to be handled that way. Have some pride.

crazy said...


Anonymous said...

Congratulations !! Back to your land of dreams !! :)

dipthought said...

"and a local groom in Kolkata..."

Now a white groom in firingi land? Chi Chi...:P

P.S-2, told you so!

Anand S said...

All the best for your second coming!!!

Padmanabhan said...

So, looking back, the dots are all connected!
I for one am glad of the whole episode coz I got to read a lot of interesting posts which would have never seen the light of the day otherwise. Sorry if that sounds cold...

Doli said...

heheh :) I remember the same hopeless experience.. :)

Chaos said...

Hey congratulations on the visa sunshine, and all the best for the future.


Abhisek said...

Which school this time?

♥Ash said...

Wow, congratulations!
Though I must say, I kind of agree with Padmanabhan. Imagine if everything had gone your way on that day. Then all we'd get to read is - "I got my visa. The end."

sunshine said...

Pankaj- And who said you don't get this feeling when you are going for a visa interview to any country, or for that matter, going for a job interview, facing a selection panel, or doing something where you have to go through a set of formalities?

crazy- Thanks :)

Anonymous- I don't know if it's the land of dreams, but thanks anyways :)

dipthought- naah, now a desi groom in firingi land, an even rarer species :)

Anand- Thanks :)

Padmanabhan- hehe, why would it sound cold?

Doli- :)What happened?

Chaos- Thanks :)

Abhisek- Will shoot you an email :)

Ash- hehe... life for me is always unfolding like a suspense movie. Or maybe it's an overdose of Bollywood :)

santm said...

best of luck; we were saddened by your job loss and the whole saga .. but looks looks every thing happens for good ...