This blog entry is long over-due. Since Katy’s brilliant post mid-April, we have had our hands absolutely full with plans, contingency plans, disasters, near disasters, joy, sadness, culture-shock, jetlag, and everything else in between. I’ll try to do a brief re-cap of what happened the night of April 16th (the day we were scheduled to leave India).
This week in mid-April was a long, tedious, frustrating, and unfortunate week. We had begun to steel ourselves to say our painful goodbyes, get our laundry done, pack our suitcases, and clean our apartment. We did a fairly decent job of getting it all done in good time. The drama happened after we got to the airport. Later I remarked to Katy that had all the drama involved just me or even us (Katy and me), we could have handled it. The fact that Leila and Reuben were involved got more tiring and felt more personal.
We spent the day knee deep in suitcases and packing. The kids didn’t really want to nap because they were excited too. We shrugged and said, “Oh well, we can sleep on the plane. They might as well stay awake now!” Our cars were packed, and we were soon off to the airport. After taking almost an hour (near midnight) to check in all 10 suitcases, get boarding passes ready, and steadying ourself with the hope that we can soon sleep once we buckle in…at the very last gate for immigration, the normally routine process went really bad.
The problem was that we came to India on a 5 month trip, so we applied for the normal 6 month visa. We applied a month before we left, which seemed like the “savvy-traveler” move to make. However, the geniuses at the Indian consulate in Chicago stamped the visa that was effective from when they actually received our application, not for when we would actually land! So the visas for Leila, Reuben, and Katy would expire on April 10… not april 17 when we hoped to leave India.
Note: I must be clear here. As soon as we saw the visa in our passports, I called the consulate and talked to them about my concern. The official on the line assured me that it was ok. He explained to me in clear terms that the visa would not be effective till we actually land in India, which made perfect sense to me. So I was happy, I didn’t need to check again because this was the Indian embassy that assured me of this. This, my friends, was a BIG MISTAKE as we would discover the night of the 16th! :)
The immigration officer at the gate looked at us and said in a monotone, “Sir, your visas are expired.” Confidently I replied, “Yes, I know. We were assured that it would be ok by the Indian embassy.” I even showed him our date of entry that was stamped on the passorts. He kept saying, “But your visas are expired.” I was puzzled and asked him in exasperation, “So now what? Is there a fine?” He said, “Um, you will not be able to fly tonight Sir!” I was holding myself together admirably up until that point but then I lost it. I let them face the full fury of words that I had bottled up all night. Deep down though, in all fairness, even then I knew that they were doing their job and it was ultimately our own oversight (even if we were misled by the immigration authorities).
Our flight was stopped and our luggage unloaded. We trudged slowly downstairs to the Air France desk where two valets eventually showed up with trolleys loaded with our checked bags. We had them usher us to cabs from where we made the slowest and longest trip back to our home in Bangalore. We crawled into our beds and went to sleep restlessly, disappointment writ large on our faces. Our tired bodies couldn’t rest with our minds racing relentlessly.
Early the next morning, after we narrated our stories to our families, we hunkered down to re-book tickets (earliest available ones were for the 29th, two weeks away), go to the Foreigners Registration Office (the less said about this place the better), get visas regularized and exit permits issued. It was a 5 hour ordeal to get Leila’s and Reuben’s stuff taken care of but for Katy, we needed to get a police report. This was a wonderful demonstration of incompetency on the part of the police department. They even had to send an officer to our home to verify things and interview me for an hour. Anyway… after spending even more time at the FRO next day (no joke.. close to 8 hours), we got our stuff taken care of.
We celebrated by hitting McDonalds with Leila and having delicious gelato afterwards! I am sparing you all the other details of this ordeal because it was pretty ridiculous. Through it all though, Leila and Reuben have been wonderful reminders of good things in this world. There were no temper tantrums or behavior issues that we had to be saddled with in this. While I have always been proud of my kids, I think the pride was kicked up a couple of notches to see how easily they rolled with the changes. Katy’s previous blog post was only reinforced through all this.
We are finally all back in the US as I type this. Hard to believe that it has been almost a week since we have been home. Our memories of India are now infused with sounds of laundry, the aromas of Katy’s cooking, the briskness of the Michigan air, and the comfort of our own home.
We are happy to be back.
Reuben gave us another reason to celebrate, watch and enjoy!