(Disclaimer: Views expressed in this narration have come out of Writer’s witty observations. Read & act at your own risk. Author doesn’t try to preach or comment on anything!!)
Three things are inevitable in the life of IT Professional – Acidity, Late working & Visa Interview. Having tasted first two in ample proportion, it was a time to face much touted beast for me – B1 visa interview.
When I think silently, the whole process designed and followed for US business visa looks subtly humiliating in my accord. Been suppressed for many years under colonial rule, we Indians tend to give that extra footage to westerns as if they are doing some favor by granting us the entry. That inferiority complex in our sub-conscious hampers the performance of applicants. More true and natural the person is, less chances of flunking in so called “visa interview”. Back to my tale……
One fine morning, my company had a stark realization that I am the guy who can turn a magic wound in the land of Obama. Mails started flowing. Sessions citing the unavoidable work cause and my absolute suitability for the task were as overwhelming as politician speeches during voting time: P.
Finally, as a disciplined soldier, I undertook the assignment and started preparations. There was no dearth of suggestions for visa. Needless to say everyone had an own interesting story to share with me.
Digging up the documents (most of them had turned yellow…. who would preserve the marklists for entire academics, your ration card & appointment letter of your first employer ???? ) was one such soul-cleansing experience. I felt nostalgic, lost, annoyed, tired and finally frustrated while arranging hip of documents required (but seldom checked) by US consulate for allowing me to put foot in their motherland. (Photocopies costed me 64 Rs per set…. Never mind, that mention was just deliberate, being blue-blooded Puneri:))
The D-Day arrived! At wee hours of chilly Monday, I had to sacrify leisure of my deep slumber and get up for my maiden visa voyage. Cab driver had already picked up one of my colleague and dashed into our colony in no time.
The cursory look at the vehicle relived much of my stress. It was plush ‘Hyundai i10’ rather than normally provided dreadful indicas. Having travelled for 2 years in Indicas from one end of city to another, I had developed a strong detest towards this fit-for-call-center vehicle. So the present arrangement looked quite pleasant & comfortable to me.
Dodging the unfriendly barking dogs and ear freezing cold breeze, I hopped into the cab. Soon we were off to sub-urban in PCMC to pick up the third guy.
When we crossed the city limits it was 4.15 AM in the morning – we were on schedule! However, this joy was short-lived as soon as we hit the highway. There was dense & heavy fog all around, reducing the visibility to minimum. Driver – who claimed to be veteran – was too uncertain in his driving. There were sufficient convincing incidents to doubt that he had absolute no clue about the terrain and contours.
The scene from front window was ditto like that from any Ramse brothers (and now Ram Gopal Varma’s) horror movies. (Why all the creators of such ghost films have “Ram” in their name? – a splendid question to divert the mind in such situations!!) Other vehicles were also crawling at snail pace. The plans to reach early and have sumptuous snacks were shot down by this rather unusual weather.
Recalling numbers of LIC policies possessed and forgiving all those who had hurt me in past, I kept wide awake till we cross Panavel. Journey thereon was in faster lane and soon we were dislodged at US Consulate.
Prima Facie, the entire ambience outside the consulate didn’t look very fancy. It was lukewarm set up – over secured and sans any good public welfare facility. People from all caste, creed, position and class were asked to stand in queue on typical Mumbai footpath. That was perhaps the American way of treating everybody equally.
After customary scrutiny we were allowed to enter the main hall. Here they handed over a small wooden piece to everybody. I curiously examined the plank for any number or identification. But much to my amazement, there was no secret code written on it anywhere. Contemplating hard on this – yet another- weird American process, I turned back to view the waiting area.
It was a very large hall with number of chairs arranged in systematic manner. Everybody was facing west and the place was bustling with anxious applicants and relatively cool staff. Soon I found myself getting my both hands scanned on green colored machine for fingerprints. Thankfully, the lady behind the counter let me go in first attempt itself. And then I joined a group of nearly 300 people having their ears glued on to announcements being made.
I took a vantage position with all documents neatly arranged. One by one people were invited to different interviewing sections. The scene was not very panoramic. 15 different modular cabins were ready to cater herds of Indians longing to visit United States. It was a mixed breed of applicants for L1, B1, H1B and what not.
Special instructions were being given in Guajarati and if I am not wrong, 3 counters were dedicated serving the Gujarat speaking immigrants. I am always astonished with the runaway progress & radical all-round development the state of Gujarat has done in past few years. It is one such landmark example of constructive politics backed up by strong long-term vision. May Mr Pawar and his ‘good-for-nothing’ ministers take some cue from it and save Maharashtra from continuous downfall in every aspect of governance!! Why can’t our rulers follow Gujarat model rather than creating communal rifts and fail to control souring food prices?
I patiently waited for my turn. Soon I heard a gentleman calling out series of token number that included mine. We were asked to report at counter number 14. Though I was not in hurry, people from same lot shown characteristic enthusiasm to reach the counter as fast as possible. We formed a mini queue bang opposite to Mr Visa Officer’s cabin. This gentleman was very young, smart, tall and handsome fellow making sure that his face remains blank & expressionless throughout the process.
There were 5 guys in this batch – 2 people ahead and 2 after me. Interview of first candidate has already begun. Perhaps that had made the next person so nervous that I could clearly hear his increased heart-beats in such noisy ambience. I was enjoying the reactions of people either going in or coming out of VO cave on other counters.
After approximately 10 minutes, I went inside the cabin for my maiden visa interview. It was very compact space – underlit & confined! There resides Mr Visa Officer – beyond a thick glass partition. Set of microphone and speaker was provided for the cordial dialogue between us. This reminded me hundreds of Hollywood movie still I watched where interrogating officer questions the criminal from behind glass wall.
Our Demi-God was not ready to look up. Typing something very fast on his computer (I could clearly mark that his PC was a very old piece – Hey US, how come you guys have not upgraded it yet?.. strange…. Strange… ), he waved me with one hand to take position.
With mellowed heart, I greeted the officer and our conversation began…… Following wonderful transcript is the gist of what happened in that tiny, stuffy room.
Me: Hello Sir, Good Morning.
VO: Good morning. What’s your name?
Me: Vikrant Deshmukh
VO: Where are you coming from?
Me: Sir, I am coming from XXX Ltd. Pune
VO: XXXX ? What does it stand for?
Me: Its…. (blah…. blah… blah…..)
VO: Is it a US company?
Me: Our Parent Company is in US. We have global presence. One such off-shore location is Pune. (The last word induced some goose-bumps…. After all its our Pune dear!!)
VO: Why you want to go to US?
Me: (What a stupid question, dude…) we have recently been rewarded with one Oracle Apps project from our client XXX. I am planning to visit US to hold series of meetings with them to understand their key business processes and how they have mapped it in system.
VO: Are you visiting client? Are you going to work onsite?
Me: No Sir, we have arranged meetings at our head office. I will be meeting client there.
VO: How long are you planning to stay there?
Me: Maximum of 4 weeks.
VO: What does this client does? Where is it located?
Me: Sir, XXX is into handheld computers. They have many locations. One I know is in Atlanta.
VO: What you will do going there?
Me: (This was the most stupid question. What a techie would do visiting your country?) I will see XXX’s key business processes and how they are been set up in different modules. There would be knowledge transition from existing team on niche modules. This will basically to deal with various customizations and configurations. (I wanted to drag on but expressions on his face were not very encouraging…)
VO: Show me your tax returns.
(I was suddenly taken aback by this and asked what exactly he wants. He preferred to see original. I handed over 3 bulky documents called “Saral” but are indeed very complex for comprehension of any layman. He browsed through it as if one is reading UK tabloids!!)
VO: How long you are with this company?
Me: I joined XXX one month back, on 22nd November.
VO: Before that?
Me: I was working with XXXX. (I was getting bored, to be honest…)
VO: Your association with present employer is too short.
(I kept silence. He was typing something in the computer without looking at me. I presumed it as Mr VO’s self-talk and conveniently ignored.)
VO: Are you married?
Me: No (ufff…….. rubbing salt on the wound, you moron: X)
VO: Show me your invitation letter.
(I handed over invitation letter. He glanced and gave it back. I doubted whether he read anything in it.)
VO: Who gave it to you?
Me: My Company
VO: (Pulling out some form and handing over my passport back) I am sorry, I can’t issue the visa.
(I was not sure of what kind of face I should be making so finally settled for my strong-hold i.e. archetypical innocent face: P)
Me: When can I re-apply?
VO: When there is significant change in the circumstances in which your visa is rejected.
Me: Thank you. Have a nice day!
(I collected my passport and came out – back in the world of my fellow countrymen!!!)
Epilogue: Getting business visa is like getting married. Efforts play only 10% role and rest is left to your fate 🙂 One should not get overworked and hence appear over anxious while appearing for this interview.
My advice to all aspiring state-flyers: Stick to your basics and keep calm. Rehearsing may not help always 🙂