Not everyone who likes to be an Indian likes to hold an Indian passport. Apart from the hassles that one gets involved in procuring it, the real reason has been in the poor consular relations established by Ministry of External Affairs all over the world. Many countries improved their diplomatic relations to secure on-arrival tourist visas for their citizens. The Indian passport holder rarely gets such benefits in most countries. Until recently, Sri Lanka was one of the few countries to offer on-arrival visas for Indian tourists but has stopped since as it was not reciprocated. Getting a visa involves more hassles with the agency that handles them than the consulate or embassy as such. My personal experience in getting visas (luckily not many though) has never been a pleasant one. From the specifications for the photograph to the supporting documentation (like a letter of employment for a 4-day visit), it is often a pointless bureaucratic process largely harassing ordinary individuals. Sadly, most anti-socials by-pass these requirements easily as we see in many instances.
The South African visa process wasn’t any different. It was managed by an agency working out of Mumbai and Delhi and is normally supposed to take five business days to process a tourist visa. I had booked my tickets to leave Chennai on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 by the early morning flight. I sent my visa application on May 14 to a travel agent in Chennai who would be helping me with filing the application in Delhi. I was expecting it to be filed the following day but it got delayed due some glitches relating to the support document. It looked to me that the reason for visa was fairly straightforward. I had provided adequate proofs in form of my ticket, confirmation of my entry (which carried my passport details too) and bank statements for a year. Also, my ticket was clear that I am not likely to be spending much time in South Africa except for the event.
Ideally, it would have been best for me to receive my passport (with visa stamped) at the Delhi office of my travel agent by Friday, May 25 so that I can collect them at Chennai on the following Monday before departing on Tuesday. The events leading to my actual departure was exciting as the Comrades marathon itself. It would be best for me to narrate the flow of events chronologically.
Friday, May 25, 2012
The visa was not processed and no intimation at the Delhi Office. The visa processing agency refused any other assistance and it was impossible to contact anyone else for any kind of help.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Decided to throw one final dice by changing by ticket from May 29 to May 30 giving me an extra day of comfort.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Nothing much can happen on a Sunday and hence focused on my morning run. It was my final practice run and was glad to do it well. There were plenty of good wishes from my friends keeping my hopes alive.
Monday, May 28, 2012
The passports are usually dispatched at the noon time to the agents and it was another day of disappointment. My ticket was scheduled for Wednesday morning and I wasn’t sure if I can fly, should my passport get released the following day. The travel agent assured me that they can make the arrangements for me to receive my passport in Chennai if they receive it in Delhi the following day.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Ram called me in the morning to check about my visa status. I informed him that if I don’t receive my passport that day, I am going to cancel my entire trip as I did not see any point in waiting further. He suggested that I postpone the ticket to May 31 and travel along with him. I felt that there was no point in doing that as I am only delaying the inevitable. Also, after all these excitement, if I stuff it up on the run, it would be even more embarrassing. Ram insisted that I do this one final change for him and reluctantly, I agreed to do the same. He further suggested that I can stay with him until his family arrives, which was scheduled on June 2. I had originally planned to stay with Bala, brother of another Chennai Runner Ranga in Durban. But for that call, I wouldn’t have made that trip. The ticket was postponed again to May 31 and it turned out to be another day of disappointment on the Visa front!
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
The day started with me not knowing where I would be the following day. An easy run that morning cleared my head a bit and prepared myself for any possible outcomes. At 1:00 PM, I find that my passport has been released and ready for pick-up at the Delhi office. I contacted the agent and asked them about the next steps to be taken. They instructed their Delhi office to collect the passport and immediately dispatch the same by Air Cargo. The passport was scheduled to reach the Air Cargo Office at Meenambakkam at 1:00 AM, the following morning and my flight was at 4:15 AM. I left Pondicherry late evening and reached the Old Airport at 12:30 AM to collect my passport, and yeah, the stamping was there! Proceeded towards the International Terminal to take the flight along with Ram.
Shahid enquired about my trip that evening and I informed him that I am on the way to cargo office to collect my passport. He send a text message back ‘Cutting it too close.’ Little did I know that would be case about my Comrades Marathon too a few days later!