I was feeling a little apprehensive as I boarded the bus to Chennai. I was going for my Visa Interview. The last formality before I depart in pursuit of the American Dream. Although everyone says it is a very easy and hassle free process, I was a little tensed as I had read about a third of the applicants get rejected for various reasons. A kannada movie was screened to keep the passengers entertained. Ah, I like the energy in these movies. They can really revive drooping spirits. I began to feel calm and positive. I began thinking of the most likely questions the Visa Officer would ask me. I thought about the reply to the question of why I would want to return to India. And the answer was in front of me. I love India and its movies. Maybe I could do a few PP dance steps to prove my point to the VO.
I reached Chennai. The city of my dreams. The land of Rajnikanth. As usual the auto drivers tried to fleece us. I guess it is in their genes to be so annoying. But the moment I told him that I was a big fan of Rajnikanth and would like to see his house, he became all friendly and cheerful. I noticed all men (and some women?) had nice thick moustaches walking around with confidence. And I had shaved mine so that I looked like my photo in the passport. I missed my moustache and the confidence it gave me. But I had other confidence boosters to help me with the Visa process.
We checked in a hotel very close to the consulate. Just a tip to the readers planning to go to Chennai for Visa. Please check all the hotels and lodges on Peters Road, not just the one the auto guy takes you to. Our hotel, the orchid inn, wasn’t very good and the receptionist behaved as though he owned the world. I switched on the TV and flipped through the channels. Every channel was Tamil, Telugu, or Kannada. What a city! No English or Hindi channels? Then the 31st channel changed everything. There was Shaktimaan fighting the bad guys with his awesome powers. I took it as a good omen. The first Hindi channel I came across in Chennai had Shaktiman. I also felt more confident about the interview. If Mukesh Khanna can wear tight clothes and fight the baddies, surely I could tackle a visa interview, with loose clothes! For the record the channel was Star Utsav at 6:30 on Sunday evening.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, hot and humid. Typical Chennai weather I guess. As I was walking to the consulate I kept thinking if I had done everything and taken all my documents needed for the visa interview. Oh no! I had forgotten to use deodorant. Oh crap, now I would ‘make sweat’ in front of the first American I would meet. I joined the long queue outside the consulate. There were people from all walks of life waiting to be permitted to live the American dream. I stood in the line thinking, not about what lay ahead of me inside the consulate, but how I was a sitting duck for terrorists wanting to attack the consulate. Any drive by shooting or grenade attack would have had me! Finally I reached inside. Safe! There was a security check, much more thorough than the ones we have at the malls and railway stations. I went to a document submission counter. The guy there was a pain. He kept asking me different documents and then by the time I had fished them out from my enormous file, he used to say he doesn’t need them. I guess he was checking how efficiently I had arranged my papers.
And then the climax, the interview. I was happy it was a lady as I could turn on the Charm de Daniel! Don’t know if that exists though.
Me: Good morning ma’am.
VO: Good morning. Documents and passport please.
[I handed them over and she began reading something on the computer. ]
VO: Is your father still in Kuwait? (On reading I was born in Kuwait I guess.)
Me: No ma’am he retired a few years back.
VO: Where are your brothers working?
Me: One is working ............ and the other is working ...........
VO: Could I see your GRE score card please?
[I handed it over. My GRE score sheet is in a bad condition.]
VO: Why is it in such a condition?
Me: (with a bright smile) It had got wet in the mail.
VO: How come?
Me: My score card had arrived during the rainy season when it rains heavily in Goa.
VO: Oh, you are fro Goa! Why did you come here then?
Me: I was in Bangalore for the past year and a half and the VFS site had mentioned that we have to choose the consulate depending on the last 6 months residency.
VO: OK Daniel, you are approved for the US visa
ME: Thank you ma’am!
So that was the end of the visa process. The whole thing lasted less than an hour, 30 min in the line outside, 2 min security check, 10 min document check, 5 min interview line, 3 min interview. I went out and hugged my mom. All the other parents there began asking me questions like reporters. I felt like a star. After taking a few quick questions we hailed a limousine, those yellow 3 wheelers, and went to our hotel room. I thank God for making the whole process so easy and tension free.
Questions are welcome in the comments section.
Full process in brief
1) Receive I-20 from university
2) Pay money at HDFC bank (Rs 7300/-)
3) Book visa date
4) Pay sevis fee ($ 200/-)
5) Fill all DS forms
6) Get financial documents ready
7) Visa interview
Chennai sight seeing
St George's Cathedral