Thursday, November 27, 2008

A VISA Survival Guide ... !!

Having just received a Visa, I felt that its very important for someone who is planning to apply for one to know about the procedure of getting a Visa. Even though I had Charan for advice (since he had already gone through the procedure), I thought that it would be nice if I can explain the procedure in detail. I had applied for a H1, hence I will be writing precisely about the procedure for a H1. The procedure for the other Visa differs only slightly in the form of the documents received from the American Consulate.

Assuming that you have already applied for a Visa (I applied to a H1 via a consultant), I will not write about the procedure for application. But it isn't all that difficult. You need to have all your experience letters, academic certificates and resume to apply for a Visa. You also need to pay $1600 (I am not sure of the exact amount) if you are applying for the Visa yourself. In my case, my consultant sponsored my Visa and also applied for my H1. Hence, I will not be writing about the application process.

There are essentially 4 steps (rather 4 days) to get a Visa.

The first step (pick a random day) is to pay the Visa fees. This involves visiting a HDFC Bank branch in your city. Make sure that this branch is a well established central branch in the city. For Pune, you can opt for Bhandarkar Road, Shankarseth Road, Law College Road, etc. I opted for Bhandarkar Road. Carry your passport (actually you just need the photocopy of the passport), a pen and HDFC Bank cheque book with you. When you reach the branch, go to the Teller queue. There will be a board for one of the Teller queues which says "American Visa" or something similar. You should let the Teller know that you wish to pay the Visa fees. He will give you a form which will mostly be White in Color. Beneath this White form, there will be 2 more photocopies. These 2 will be Blue and Pink in Color. You need to enter the cheque details in this form.

There is an information board for American Visa. You can follow the steps written over there. There are 2 payments you need to make. The first one is in favor of VFS Global Services. They currently charge $131. On a given day, HDFC will have an exchange rate ready which will be a whole number. In my case it was Rs. 50. For Charan, it was Rs. 48. So the amount I needed to pay was 131 * 50 = Rs. 6550. So you will need to write a cheque in favor of US Embassy - Visa Fees for Rs. 6550. The details of this cheque should be entered in the top half of the form. The second payment is a constant in Indian currency. To be precise, it is Rs. 381 as of now. You need to write another cheque for this amount in favor of HDFC Bank A/C VFS. The details of this cheque should be entered in the bottom half of the form. Once you are done with this, you need to stand in the queue for "American Visa". The Teller will accept all 3 copies of the form along with the 2 cheques. He will keep the White form with him and give the Blue and Pink form back to you. Each of the 3 forms will have a bar code sticker. This will act as your Visa identification number for the remainder of the procedure. It will typically be a 9 digit bar code number. Before actually filling the form, you can ask the Teller if you need to provide 2 cheques. I had not asked this and basically followed the steps written on the information board of American Visa. These steps ask you to prepare 2 cheques whereas its alright if you merge both payments and provide one cheque only. In this case you will need to write just one cheque of Rs. 6931 in favor of US Embassy Visa Fees. You can ask the Teller if you are confused but its not a problem following the information board blindly.

If you don't have a HDFC savings account, you will need to carry cash or a DD. In this case, the Teller will give you another form. This is the cash/cheque deposit slip that you generally find in banks. You will need to enter the cash/DD details in this slip.

The first step (or the first day) concludes here. The output of this day is that you will get 2 stamped slips (forms). One Blue and the other Pink. As a summary, input is Passport (you don'tneed to carry the passport itself but even a photocopy of the first and last pages will do but its advisable to carry the passport too) and HDFC Cheque book/cash/DD and output is the 2 slips.

The bar code that you get in the first step needs around 2 working days to be activated. In my case, it took only 1 day. Once it is activated, you need to wait for your petition to arrive from the US. For H1, it is a petition. I am not sure if there are petitions for other Visas but there maybe similar documents. My petition had arrived at my consultant's office and he sent me the soft copy of the petition. Once you receive the soft copy of the petition, take a printout of the same.

Now comes the 2nd step (2nd day).

Its advisable that you follow this step 2 days after you have paid the Visa fees. You need to log on to and apply for the interview. Keep your passport and Blue/Pink slip with you since you are asked to enter the passport number and bar code number at various places. If the bar code has not been activated, you wont be allowed to proceed. Keep this in mind. The interview date and time are towards the fag end of this step. Before that, you need to provide some information. You need to fill 2 forms namely DS-156 and DS-157. Most of the fields in these 2 forms are similar to what you fill in your exam forms. But there are certain other fields like the Place you will be staying in the US, the address of your employer, the person with whom you will be staying, etc. For me, all these were given by my Consultant. So I blindly entered all that. DS-156 is the first form followed by DS-157. Please use Internet Explorer. I tried bothFirefox and Chrome and couldn't get through even one form. Once you are done with these 2 forms, the earliest available dates for the interview will be displayed. You can choose any date you want. Remember that you can be interviewed only on weekdays, hence apply for a leave at office/college before applying for the Visa interview. You can only choose the interview date. The interview time is auto generated and the system will tell you the interview time on the chosen date. Once the interview date is finalised, there be 2 more documents that the system will generate. These 2 will basically tell you about the Guidelines for H L and O visas and the documents you need to carry to the VFS office. So overall, you will have 5 PDF documents.

Interview letter
Guidelines for H, L and O visas
Checklist of documents that need to be carried to VFS office.

For safety, mail these 5 documents to your mailing address. Take a printout of all these documents. Affix your Visa photograph on DS-156 and also sign this form. The other forms do not need any photos or signatures.

Its advisable that you don't follow Step 2 in isolation but in conjunction with Step 3. Here comes Step 3.

Step 3 involves visiting any VFS office that is closest to you. For Pune, the closest ones are atMumbai, Ahmedabad and Pune itself. So the obvious choice will be Pune. The VFS office at Puneis situated at Sohrab Hall at the first floor. Its in the same wing as US Pizza. In case you don'tknow where Sohrab Hall is, it is the one diagonally opposite Jehangir Hospital. It is also on the left of Le Meridien and in a way, it is behind platform no 6 of the Pune Railway station. Now, why I say follow steps 2 and 3 in conjunction with each other is due to the fact that the day you visitPune VFS office should be 5 working days (or more) before your interview date. So when you follow step 2, make sure you choose a interview date that gives you ample time to visit the PuneVFS office 5 days before the interview date.

For example, if you select the interview date as Nov 7, 2008 and your are actually applying for the interview on Nov 4, 2008, it makes no sense since even if you visit Pune VFS office on Nov 4, 2008, it is not 5 days prior to your interview date. I will give you my example. I followed step 1 on Oct 21, 2008. Within a day, my bar code got activated. I applied for my Visa interview (step 2)on Oct 23, 2008. Note that I just applied on this date. It doesn't mean I chose Oct 23 as my interview date. I chose my interview date to be Nov 7, 2008 which gave me ample time to visitPune VFS office in time. I visited Pune VFS office on Oct 27, 2008. So what happens in step 3?

You need to carry your passport, Blue and Pink slips, printouts (and not photocopies) for DS-156, DS-157, your interview letter and some cash (carry 200 * no of people coming with you toMumbai for the interview including yourself). Carry photocopies for all the stamped pages of your passport along with the 1st and last pages of the passport. The VFS office is open from 8 am to 1 pm and then from 2pm to 3 pm. The earlier you go, the better. Even if you go late, youshouldn't take more than an hour over here. Whenever you are planning to visit the VFS office, please keep in mind that they don't allow you to carry bags. These include all bags except plastic bag. They will not listen to you and ask you to keep your bags somewhere else at your own risk. They allow only plastic bags. The security guard may keep your bag with him by accepting a bribe but then its up to you. So, please don't carry your documents in a college/office bag. Carry it in a plastic bag.

There are 2 ways to go to the Pune VFS office. Go through the main entrance of Sohrab Hall and take a lift/stairs to the 1st floor. DON'T DO THIS. I am glad Charan rightly told me to not to this. Instead, walk down the left side of Sohrab Hall. Thats from outside the boundary of Sohrab Hall and not inside. Remember that you have still not entered Sohrab Hall. Once you start walking from the left, you will see a huge gate on your right. Tell the security guard that you have come for the Visa. He will let you in. 10 steps down, there will another security guard. This guard belongs to the VFS office while the first one was for Sohrab Hall in general. The VFS security guard will ask you for the interview letter and passport. He will then give you a token and ask you to go to the 1st floor to the VFS office.

Once you are at the VFS office, you will be asked to stand in a queue outside the entrance of theVFS office (actually it depends on how many candidates are before you. I had gone at 8 am and I was the first candidate, so I was directly asked to go in because there was no1 before me). When its your turn, your token number will be called and you will enter the VFS office. There are 3 counters over there. You will be seated at first. Then either one of the 3 counter bearers will announce your token number. You then need to go to the appropriate counter and submit the photocopies for DS-156, DS-157, interview letter and passport pages. You also need to submit the Blue slip. Keep the Pink slip with you. After checking all the documents, the person will tell you about the address of your interview location in Mumbai and the time you are expected to be present over there. The person will also ask you if you would like to book the VFS Leather and Stripes Lounge in Mumbai for your interview. I will come to that in step 4. But you need to book that. Its worth it. Make sure you book the lounge for yourself as well as for the people who are coming with you for the interview. The charge is Rs. 200 per person. But, its OK if you don'tbook it in Pune itself. You can book it on the interview day at Mumbai itself but the charge there is Rs. 250.

Step 3 comes to an end.

Now step 4.

This is the D-Day and you are bound to be nervous on this day. Just look up your interview time. If its early in the morning (between 8-10), it implies one of the following

You leave Pune at around 2 am in the night to reach Mumbai in time for the interview.
You leave Pune the previous night and stay at some friend's/relative's place during the night

I opted for the 2nd since I wanted to be as close as possible to Mumbai in case of some travelling problem.

Carry the following:
photocopy of Interview letter
photocopy of dS-156
photocopy of DS-157
All your marksheets and convocation certificates from 10th to latest degree
All your appointment letters and experience letters
Petition original copy (you get this when your H1 is approved. My consultant sent this to me 4 days prior to leaving for Mumbai)
Payslips for last 3 months

Its important to carry these documents though they may not be checked at all on the interview day which happened with me. But they do take the passport and petition copy for sure.

Reaching the destination can also be a pain. You need to go to Worli. The VFS office in Mumbai is bang in front of Mahalaxmi temple. Actually its not but its a good landmark. The VFS office is bang in front of Swaminarayan temple but its better you tell the taxi/rik/bus that you want to go to Mahalaxmi temple coz its just next to Swaminarayan temple. But getting to the temple is much easier than getting to the closest railway station.

There are 3 railway lines in Mumbai namely Central, Western and Harbour. Depending on where you start from, you need to decide on the rail path that you need to take to reach the VFSoffice on time.

If you are on the Central line (all Pune-Mumbai trains run on this line), then you should board a local train to Byculla. Byculla is a fast train stop (a fast train stop is one where all local trains stop, no matter if the local is slow or fast). So you can get down at Byculla. Go the the West side of the station and hire a taxi to Mahalaxmi temple. It will take 10 minutes and roughly Rs. 30. I was staying at Thane the previous night and I boarded a slow local from Thane to VT. The duration of travel was 40 minutes. The stops for Central line (starting from Kalyan) are as follows:

KALYAN - Thakurli - DOMBIVLI - Diwa - Mumbra- Kalwa - THANE - Mulund - Nahur -Bhandup - KanjurMarg - Vikhroli - GHATKOPAR - Vidyavihar - KURLA - Sion - Matunga -DADAR - Parel - Curry Road - Chinchpokhli - BYCULLA. (After Byculla, the route is SandhurstRoad - Masjid - VT but you need to go till Byculla itself and not VT)

All stations marked in CAPS are the fast local stops. It means that I could have also boarded a fast local from Thane since it will take less time coz it doesn't stop at all other stops which are not in CAPS.

If you are on the Western line, you need to get down at Mahalaxmi station and hire a taxi toMahalaxmi station. Lets assume that you start from Borivali on the Western line, the stops will be as follows:

BORIVALI - Kandivali - Malad - Goregaon - Jogeshwari - ANDHERI - Vile Parle - Santacruz -Khar Road - BANDRA - Mahim - Matunga Road - DADAR - Elphinstone Road - Lower Parel -Mahalaxmi. (After Mahalaxmi, the route is MUMBAI CENTRAL - Grant Road - Charni Road - Marine Lines - CHURCHGATE but you need to travel only upto Mahalaxmi).

Note that Mahalaxmi is not a fast local stop, so don't board a fast local fromBorivali/Andheri/Bandra. The travelling time is roughly 50 minutes from Borivali to Mahalaxmi.

If you are on the Harbour line and assuming you start from Panvel (this is what Charan did), then there is a non-straightforward path that you need to take.

There are no fast locals on the Harbour line. You need to travel up to Kurla. Get down at Kurla. You will get down at Kurla (Harbour) platform. You need to walk up to Kurla (Central) platforms. Ask people for directions. Tell them you want to go to VT. Once you are at Kurla(central) platform, you can board either a slow or a fast local to VT (called CST). The remainder of the journey is same as the Central path mentioned above. So you need 2 local trains to reach the destination. One from Panvel to Kurla and the other from Kurla to Byculla.

For this, you can opt for another path for which you will need 3 trains. One from Panvel to Kurla, the next from Kurla to Dadar. You will get down at Dadar (Central) platform. Ask people for directions to Dadar (Western) platforms. Dadar station is very confusing so take care. Once you are at Dadar (Western), board a slow local to Churchgate. The remainder of the journey is same as that of the Western path. You need to get down at Mahalaxmi station.

The path on Harbour line (Panvel to Kurla) is as follows:

Panvel - Khandeshwar - Mansarovar - Kharghar - CBD Belapur - Seawoods - Nerul - Juinagar -Sanpada - Vashi - Mankhurd - Govandi - Chembur - Tilak Nagar - Kurla.

The time taken to travel from Panvel to Kurla is approximately 70 minutes.

No matter how many trains you need, make sure you buy just one ticket to avoid buying tickets at various stations. If you follows the option with 3 trains, you still need to get just 1 ticket.That's from Panvel to Mahalaxmi. You dont need 3 tickets for 3 trains. This is very important while travelling in Mumbai.

Mahalaxmi station is closer to the VFS office than Byculla station, The time difference is roughly 3 minutes and the cost difference is around Rs. 10. It will be nice if you check out Google maps once before travelling to Mumbai.

The Mumbai Suburban railway map is attached below.

Once you are the VFS office, you need to tell the security guard about your interview time. Just ask him the batch that has gone in most recently. You will get an idea about yourself. You don'tneed to stand in any queue. When the guard announces that your interview batch can go in, keep your interview letter ready. This letter will be checked and your lounge ticket will also be checked. Once this is done, you need to move towards the Lockers chamber. You need to carry only your documents and a plastic bag (if any). Everything else needs to be deposited in the Locker. This includes your other bags, cellphone, and other electronic device, etc. You will be provided with a Locker token. Keep it safely with you. The Lockers chamber also has 3 Dressing rooms. Its not necessary that you come to the VFS office in a professional attire. Instead, you can get your professional attire with you and change in the Dressing rooms.

Once this is done, you will enter the Leather and Stripes Lounge. Its a around-100 seater A/C room with a cafeteria and a giant screen. Carry your lounge ticket. You get one portion of sandwich and a glass of coffee with this token. You can always buy anything else that you need. You can relax in this lounge till the time your batch is announced again.

I entered the lounge at 8:10 am and I was there till 9:40. Once my batch was announced, I was asked to keep my interview letter and passport ready and board the bus to the American consulate. I was also asked to submit my lounge token. The bus takes you to the American consulate which is hardly a kilometre down the same road. Once you get down, you will be asked to stand in a queue outside the consulate. I was asked to keep my interview letter, passport and petition original copy ready. Once they checked all 3 of these, we were asked to enter the consulate and stand in another queue. This queue is for the security check. You are required to hand over everything other than the clothes that you are wearing at the counter. You then go through a security doorway which detects if you have anything fishy. I could not pass this check since I had not removed my Kada. But then I removed it and passed the check. All your stuff is handed back to you and you are given a pink token after submitting your passport, interview letter and petition. You are then asked to stand in yet another queue for fingerprinting.

Overall, there are around 20 counters inside the consulate. Counters 1 to 4 are purely for fingerprinting whereas the remaining are for interviews. The interview counters are like telephone booths with a glass pane dividing the booth. The Visa officer sits across the glass pane while you are supposed to stand on the other side. There are close to 200 seats inside where you can wait for your turn. Fingerprinting is done in 3 steps:

Four fingers of your left hand - thats all fingers except the thumb
Four fingers of your right hand - thats all fingers except the thumb
Both the thumbs

You have to place your fingers on a green electronic rectangular sensing device.

Once this is done, you need to occupy one of the 200 seats available and wait for your turn. The announcements are based on the token number that you have been given after entering the consulate.

Its worth to note the expressions of all the candidates. Obviously, everyone is nervous but its important to stay calm. You can either strike a conversation to someone or talk to yourself or humm a song or anything that keeps you calm. I was humming the National Anthem all along.

Its entirely possible that even though your interview is scheduled early, it may take upto 1 pm or 2 pm for your interview. For example, your interview might be at 8 am but it may actually end up being at 1 pm. This is because the token numbers (and hence the passport and petition) are processed randomly. As soon as they are processed, they are forwarded to some counter. Depending on the load of that counter, your token is called out. So its possible that someone who came after you finished his/her interview before. The speaker quality is also a bit dodgy. You may not hear properly. So its important you locate a speaker which is sounds good and sit close to it. In any case, even if you miss your token being called, they repeat it until you go to the counter.  All speakers are situated at the ceiling of the room. So as soon as fingerprinting is done, start looking upwards to locate a suitable speaker.

They will also scrutinize your photograph on DS-156. If they feel that there is even a bit of a problem on the photo, they will ask you to click new photos altogether from their In-house photographer. They charge Rs. 200 for this. So carry some cash. The photo should be 5cm * 5cm and with a white background. Its advisable that people with spects should remove their spects before clicking the Visa photo. The photo can be either a glossy or matte finish print. Your face (and not your upper body) should cover atleast 70% of the size of the photo.

My token number was announced at 11 am and I was asked to come at counter 10. I was the last of 5 candidates standing in the queue at counter 10. The first 2 candidates were out within 5 minutes collectively. The 3rd one was grilled for around 10-12 minutes and it was not at all comforting when he came out grim faced. All along, I was chatting to the person in front of me just to take my focus away from the task ahead. He was applying for a Visa renewal so I expected him to be out in a jiffy. And I was right. It was time for me to go in. This is what exactly happened.

Interviewer : Can I see you pink token please?
Me : Sure. Here you go (giving the token to him).
Interviewer : Ok. Mr. Pratik Beri. Is that right?
Me: Absolutely.
Interviewer : So which company do you work for in India?
Me : AirTight Networks Private Limited.
Interviewer : Which company are you going to work for in the US?
Me : Collabera Inc.
Interviewer : How many employees work for Collabera?
Me : Between 3500 - 4000
Interviewer : What is MCS? Is it your specialization course? What is your specialization?
Me : Yes, Its a specialization in Computer Science.
Interviewer : So its degree in computer science?
Me : NO. (he gives a confused look). its a post graduate degree in computer science.
Interviewer : (smiles). Yes, exactly. (gives me the petition). Thats all. Carry this when you are travelling.
Me : Thank You. Have a nice day ahead.

When I came out, I was a bit confused. I didnt know if my Visa was granted. The fact that he said "Carry this while you are travelling" meant that I can travel but I was still not sure. I came out of the consulate. The bus that takes us back to the VFS office was due in 20 minutes but I did not want to wait that long. You can opt to walk down the road (it will take around 20 minutes). I did that and went back walking to the VFS office and collected all my stuff from the Locker and finally everything was done.

You can collect your passport from the Consulate betwen 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm the same day although they dont guarantee that you will get it on the same day. In any case, the passport (along with the Visa) is couriered to your mailing address within 3 working days. In my case, it was couriered the next day itself at 1 pm.

This is a brief rundown on Charan's interview which was much more gruelling than mine. This chat is from Charan's point of view.

CSD = Charan
VO = Visa officer

CSD : Good afternoon ma’am!
VO: Hello!
VO: What is your qualification?
CSD : MCS i.e. Master of Computer Science
VO: From?
CSD : Pune University
VO: What is the duration of this course?
CSD : 2 years
VO: So this is a post graduation course, right?
CSD : Yes
VO: And what did you do for your graduation?
CSD : BCS i.e. Bachelor of Computer Science from Pune University
VO: What is the duration of the course?
CSD : 3 years
VO: Can I see your academic certificates?
CSD : Yes ma’am. (I gave my documents. She was looking at my Convocation certificates and other document just like we check a Rs. 500 note from various angles to confirm its authenticity. It was making me nervous.)
VO: Do you have any experience?
CSD : Yes ma’am. More than 5 years. I worked in banking sector for 15 months then for Symantec for 3 years and now I am in Calsoft for about 10 months.
VO: Which company will you be working for in US?
CSD : Collabera
VO: Ohh! Whats does this company do?
CSD : They are into banking, finance, insurance, medical and telecom. Would you like to see their profile?
VO: Yes please.
CSD : (I gave her the documents. She went through the documents carefully)
VO: Did they mail you these documents?
CSD : No Ma’am they sent it by courier.
VO: (With a Big question mark on her face) Ohh so this is a genuine document, right?
CSD : Yes ma’am. (I had the courier envelope with him.) Would you like to see the envelope they sent? (I showed it to her.)
VO: Where is the sender’s address on it?
CSD : (It had a ink stamp of Collabera with Mumbai office’s address. Ipointed it to her)
VO: It has come from Mumbai, not US, right? (Again with a big question mark)
CSD : (Iwas feeling like being interrogated in a Police Custody) Yes ma’am. (Trying to maintain my composure) As you can see in their profile, they have 4 development centers in US as well as 2 development centers in India. One is in Bangalore and the other is in Mumbai.
VO: Ok. (Starts searching something on the computer)
VO: Is this primarily a staffing company?
CSD : (by now my heart was pounding 720 times a minute instead of 72 times a minute) No ma’am. This is a services based company. They have prominent clients like Verizon, AT&T, AIG etc. They have 4 development centers in US. Would you like to see the photographs of these offices?
VO: Yes
CSD : (I showed her the photographs)
VO: OK. Which client would you be working for?
CSD : Ma’am, I’ll come to know about the client and project only when I am physically available in the US.
VO: (With one eyebrow raised, mischievously, cunningly etc whatever) See, I can’t grant you a VISA as there is no work ready for you in US. By rules, I can grant you VISA only if you have a client waiting for you over there.
CSD : (I thought I am lost now. But I took a 2-3 second pause and took a deep breath. Keeping myself calm I answered) Yes ma’am, I can understand your situation. But if Collabera confirms the client of my availability on a certain date and due to some reason I am not able to reach there on time, it becomes a bad scene for Collabera. So it’s only after I land in the US and looking at my special skill sets, I’ll be allotted a project and client. They just can’t assign me to a project before I am physically present in the US. (I don’t know if she was convinced)
VO: What have you worked on so far?
CSD : Ma’am I am a C/C++ Unix developer. Currently I am into device driver development. Before that in Symantec I was working on a big Data protection product. And before that in a bank. I built various applications for that bank.
VO: Are you currently working for Collabera?
CSD : No ma’am. I am working for Calsoft in Pune. I’ll be leaving Calsoft to join Collabera.
VO: (Again she searched something on net and then those golden words came out…) Ok I am approving your VISA. You will get your passport within two days.
CSD : (With a big smile on face) Thanks a lot ma’am. Am I done or any formality is still remaining?
VO: No. You can leave the consulate.
CSD : Ok. Thanks a lot ma’am.

One final word. Keep your answers to the point. Do not say something you are not sure of. As much as possible, answers should be one-word or one-phrase. Do not submit anything unless asked to.

I hope this helps anyone who is planning for a US Visa.

Cheers ... !!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Life is a Frisbee ... !!

I happened to conjure this phrase when I visited Kashid this weekend. We had bought a Frisbee so that we can play in the sea. With every throw, catch and dive, I felt some sort of correlation of the Frisbee with Life.

For starters, all the players need to go some way into the sea to start playing. Its not worthwhile to play on the beach itself since the Frisbee sways a lot and you need to run if it sways away from you. Instead, if you are in the water, you derive more thrill by diving or swimming till the Frisbee. This is so true about life too. For anything that you do, you know exactly the output that will drive you to perform some activity. If you start at some point and don't feel the thrill or the worth, you invariably try and do it some other way.

The next point is when all the players involved throw for the first time. The wind will not be suitable for all players. For some players, his/her throw will travel in a straight line to the next person. But for someone else, his/her throw may be against the wind and the Frisbee will not sway according to plan. In such a case, all such players who feel the wind is against them need to relocate so as to avoid the gust. Again, very similar to life. For anything that you need to do in life, you will invariably face a problem while starting off. The steps you take to avoid these problems decide how effective you would be in life.

When the Frisbee is thrown, some player needs to catch it. Being a lightweight object, it sways before settling at a point. When the Frisbee is in the air (and not settled yet), the player catching it feels that it may fall at a certain point whereas actually it sways more/less as compared to anticipated and does enough to fool the player resulting in the player being unsuccessful in catching it. Anything you do in life appears to be do-able in a certain way. Throughout its journey, you mend your ways to achieve anything. Estimates go for a toss and you may fall short.

When the wind is too much in your favor (it means that whenever you throw, the Frisbee sways dramatically), you need to throw it in such a way that when it falls, the catcher doesn't need to move a lot. For this, you should throw it in such a way that it starts very far off from the catcher but it sways so much that it lands very close to the catcher. You do in anything in life but its important that the end result is fine and to the comfort of most number of people.

When you are catching the Frisbee, sometimes you may need to jump to catch it. Sometimes you jump correctly and catch it. At other times, the Frisbee stays in the air for that extra second and you mistime your jump. Had you stayed still for another second and jumped, you would have caught it. You need to time your moves in life. One step taken before/after its time can create havoc coz its not that you cant do it. Its just that you jumped the gun. Had you not, it isn't that difficult a task.

The last one was fun. When you dive to catch the Frisbee (assuming you are neck deep in the sea. In fact, chin-deep), you may be stretched to the limit and off your feet. The dive may result in you being completely immersed in the sea. Now, this is salty water capable of spoiling your hair, irritating your eyes, etc (for people who care a lot about themselves). If you are not ready to face consequences, its better you not start off at all. The best case would be to enjoy the consequences.

Maybe there is much more to life than a Frisbee. I am certain that there exists something else too that can be correlated to Life.

Cheers ... !!

Friday, November 14, 2008

When I last rode a bicycle ... !!

When I last rode a bicycle ....

I didn't carry a wallet. Rather I didn't know what a wallet was.
I didn't carry a cellphone. Pagers were a hit then. But I didn't carry a pager as well.
My left thumb didn't try to locate the indicator switch on every turn.
Geared bicycles were not in fashion except for Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.
Mostly I was in a school uniform.
I didn't ride a bicycle to stay fit or save on pollution. I rode it coz there was no other option.
I had not started shaving.
I didn't count the number of steep-road-sections before I started.
I seldom rode for 15 km at a stretch. I was still partially-sane.
I seldom rode alone. Either it was someone on my bicycle or a friend on his/her own bicycle.
It was mostly on one route. Home to school and back.
I didn't get worked up if someone drove erratically. I had a limited "Gaali" vocab.

I am sure there are many more.

Cheers ... !!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mumbai Meri Jaan ... !!

The movie is good but I am not reviewing it here. Instead, this is going to be another of those why-does-he-write-such-long-posts posts. Yes, I visited my favorite city after a long time and as expected, I freaked out completely. Though I was not going there to freak out but for my Visa interview, this amazing city made sure that I didn't lose out on any of the fun.

It all started on Thursday. I left office early at 4 pm and reached home. I shaved and had some food before I reached Pune station. It felt so great to be back at Pune station waiting for my favorite train to depart. Yes, Intercity express. Its my favorite just coz I have had memorable experiences traveling in it. The fact that it doesn't take time reaching Thane is also a bonus. To top it all, I had booked a window seat. The party begins.

It left at its scheduled time of 5:55 pm. When I reached my seat, I found a lady with her 2 kids. Her son maybe around 12 and daughter was around 7. The daughter was sitting on my seat. The lady asked me my seat number and realized that her daughter was sitting on my seat. She asked her daughter to get up. Being a child, I know how painful it can be to give up a window seat. I scratched my head (I am absolutely fond of a window seat), grimaced and decided I am not going be Mr. Good Guy. Yeah, it will take something to give up a window seat on my part :) So I promptly made myself comfortable at my seat but the look on th little girl made me hate myself. But thats that.

As expected, it didn't take time for the train to pass Lonavala, Bhor Ghat and Karjat. Its when we passed Karjat that the feel of Mumbai started to set in. Every now and then, a local train would pass by. It was time for some Mumbaigiri. I asked the little girl to sit on my seat. She couldnt believe it. Her Mom said "Thank You mhann kakanla". And she did. Yes, I am a Kaka now. God bless the child.

I went up to the door of the compartment and stood there for the remainder of the journey. The joy of standing in the doorway combined with a high speed train zipping across suburban station platforms and the wind hitting with you with gusto is an experience. Its a great feeling hanging out of the train especially when there is no need to :). It was only after the train passed the bridge after Diva, the mountain after the bridge and finally the long tunnel that I knew I was close to Thane. The tunnel passed and the next thing I knew was that I was outside Thane station.

It was time to meet my bumchums. Pranay, Anay and Mahesh. All of them stay in Thane and I was very excited. I had called Mahesh before I left for Thane that I will meet them outside their society at 9 pm. I was surprised to see Thane station from outside. The place was dug up at lots of places and it looked like a flyover was being erected. Also, I couldn't see a lot of rikks or buses outside the station which baffled me. I walked down the road and finally the atmosphere became more like the normal atmosphere outside any Mumbai station. The crowd, the vehicles ... all jostling for space. I hired a rick to Vrindavan society and reached the bus stop of Vrindavan at 8:55. Talk about timing.

I could see Pranay and Mahesh waiting for me. It was such a thrill. To be fair, they seemed as happy as me. Well, it was almost 2 years since we all met and we really wanted to make it count. Anay was not receiving our calls so we assumed it was one of his trademark last minute ditches. Pranay is getting married in December and I hadn't met his girl friend (Devyani) in flesh so far. So the 3 of us went back to Thane station and waited for Devyani to come. She came at around 9:30 pm and we decided its time to booze. We discussed a few places but finally walked down to a place called UK.

Mahesh had turned teetotaler. So it was whisky for me and Pranay and a vodka with Red Bull for Devyani. It was the most amazing time we had. Pulling each other's legs and basically having a blast. For the time being, I forgot that I had to get up at 4:30 am the next morning coz I had come to Mumbai for a far bigger task :)

I don't know what first impression Devyani made out of me but it must be similar to what many others have. Being a girl, she needed to get back home earlier than the rest of us. She left at 10:30. Pranay, Mahesh and I lapped up everything by midnight. We spoke about a bit f everything. The more people I meet, I get to know about greater facets of problems. But thats life. Everyone wears a mask and it takes guts to remove that mask even in front of your friends. Gladly, none of us have any of such inhibitions and we talked till the cows came back.

We moved from UK to an ice cream parlor. After enjoying ice cream, we went back to Mahesh's place. We chatted till around 2:30 in the night. I briefly met Mahesh's mom but we asked her to not loose any of her sleep coz of us. Pranay went back to his place. Mahesh and I hit the bed soon after. The tough part of the trip was yet to come. I had to get up in 2 hours time. Phew ... !!

I had asked Biwi to call me up at 4:30 in case I dont get up. But I didnt need that. I got up at 4:30 and got ready by 5:15. I take my hat off to Mahesh who got up with me and made tea for me which was not required. I had tea and biscuits and left from there. I took a rik to Thane station. Throughout the week, I was asking people which one of Mahalaxmi and Mumbai Central stations is closer to Mahalaxmi temple since that was the place I needed to go to. The unanimous reply was Mahalaxmi station but for that I needed to switch at Dadar to the Western line of Mumbai's railway system. Instead, Mahesh suggested that I can remain on the Central line and travel upto Byculla. I did that. While in the local, there was a noise like that of a firecracker. Everyone looked in the direction of the sound with a sense of alarm. When everyone realised it was just another sound, they got back to what they were doing. This happens with Mumbai.

I got down at Byculla. Now I needed to hire a taxi to go to Mahalaxmi temple.

I had seen this in so many movies that a person gets into a taxi and "downs" the meter himself since the driver is sitting far away from the meter. I tried doing it myself but I was rotating the meter the wrong way. The meter is supposed to be rotated towards the driver's side. It means, if you are sitting at the seat adjacent to the driver, you rotate it clockwise.

I got down right in front of Mahalaxmi temple at 7 am and saw the VFS office in front of me. I asked the security guard about when I can go in. He asked me the interview time. Since it was at 9 am, he told me that it will take time coz the ones scheduled for 8 had just gone in. I went to Mahalaxmi temple. Then I went to the backside of the temple which is a great place to be. The temple is situated alongside the sea which also brushes past Haji Ali a little down the same road. On the opposite end of the road is the famous Worli seaface.

I got down from the temple, had a cutting and called Biwi that I have reached the destination. As soon as I went back to the VFS office, they announced that the people scheduled for 9 am can now go in. It was 8 am. I went in and deposited my bag and cellphone in the locker. For all people wanting to go for the Visa interview, its not necessary that you wear good/professional/formal clothes when you go to the VFS office. They have dressing rooms where you can change into the appropriate attire. I didn't know this.

There is a very nice lounge where you can wait till you are taken to the American consulate. They charge Rs. 200 but its worth it. You can have sandwiches from the cafeteria as well as coffee along with watching the stuff being played on the giant screen. Plus, its not necessary to book the lounge from Pune itself. You can book it at runtime from Mumbai VFS office as well.

I waited till 9:40. Then it was announced that the people scheduled for 9 am can go and board the bus to the consulate. I boarded the bus and reached the consulate in 5 minutes (its hardly a km).

At the consulate, we were asked to submit the petition copy, passport and interview letter. This was even before we entered the consulate. After entering, we stood in another queue. All our stuff was checked her. Guys were supposed to remove their wallets, rings and belts. Basically, everything other than your clothes. I could not get past the security check. I tried 3 to 4 times and later realized that I had not removed my "Kada". After that, we entered yet another queue.This one was for fingerprinting. You are given a token and then asked to provide fingerprints for all 10 fingers. I did all this and then had to sit and wait for my token number to be called.

I was done with fingerprinting by 10:30. My token number was called at 10:55. The announcement was for 5 token numbers and mine was the last in the lot. I went up to counter no. 10 and saw the 4 people waiting in front of me. The first 2 must have taken 5 minutes collectively. The 3rd one was grilled for about 10-12 minutes and he came out grim faced. The one in front of me came out within a minute I guess. It was time I went in. I saw the time. It was 11:13.

The interviewer was a stout fellow with a round face and a french beard. He asked me if he can see my token. I gave it to him. Then he asked me 4 questions, the answers to which were very short.

1). Whom do you work for in India?
2). Whom are you going to work for in the US?
3). How many employees does it have?
4). What does MCS mean?

With this, he handed me the petition paper and asked me to carry it when I travel. It took me 58 seconds to be out.

I was confused. I didn't know if the Visa was granted or not. Anyway, I came out of the consulate and decided I will walk back to the VFS office to collect my stuff from the locker. It took me 20 mins to reach the VFS office. The people at VFS told me that if they haven't given the passport back to me, it means they have granted the Visa. I collected my stuff and left the VFS office. I called Biwi, Charan, my consultant, my in-laws, Sabhtarsha, Pranay and Mahesh and told them about the Visa. But it was just 11:45. I had a ticket booked for Pragati express from VT at 4:25 pm. I needed to kill a lot of time.

I went to Haji Ali and laid a "Chaadar" at the durgah. Then I came back to the chowk and went to my favorite hotel in Mumbai - Noorani. I had Chicken tikka biryani and pepper chicken and it seemed be a little too much. I asked the person to pack the remaining stuff. It was 1 pm and I was still 3.5 hours away from my train. I had not met Anay so far. So I thought I will call him one last time. Luckily, he received my call and I told him that I will come and meet him. His office is at Vikhroli which is 10 stations away from Byculla. I hired a taxi to Byculla station. The driver was an old man with a white moustache and he must be in his 60's. While driving, I asked him the place where he hails from. He said UP and then he asked me "Aap yeh kyu puchh rahe ho?". I needed some convincing to prove that I am not from MNS and I dont intend to hurt him in anyway. I was lucky that Byculla station was not too far off.

Getting to a place in Mumbai needs concise planning about time. You need to ascertain the time you will take to reach the source station, the time to stand in the ticket queue, the time to actually board a train, the time to travel between source and destination stations, the time to get transport from destination station to destination address. When I calculated all this, it came out to be an hour or so. Assuming I started at 1:15, it would be 2:15 when I meet Anay. Thats what happened. I reached Accenture at exactly 2:15 and met Anay. We chatted in their cafeteria and I was good to leave at 2:45 pm. But this time I had to travel from Vikhroli to VT which would take more time. I reached Vikhroli station at 3:10 and got a ticket by 3:15. But there was no local for about 10 minutes which is quite unusual for Mumbai. Finally, I got one at 3:25 and I started counting stations that are remaining. I had one hour to go for my train from VT. Thankfully, I reached on time. It was 4:15 when I reached VT. I left Mumbai in 10 minutes time.

As the train passed Thane station, I started thinking about the previous night and wondered when I will be able to meet my friends again. Hopefully, it will be sooner than later. One more time in my life ... I will have to say ... Mumbai Meri Jaan ... !!

Cheers ... !!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Foot fetish ... !!

Ok. The title doesn't exactly give away the contents of this post :)

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, Biwi and I saw (I think I regret watching it with her) possibly the stupidest(in a good way) movie at home. It goes by the name of "You don't mess with the Zohan". Though I liked it (its a fully faaltu, illogical and sometimes like a Rajnikanth movie), Biwi thought it was completely rotten. Anyway, I am not going to go into the details of the movie. Its more about what happened after that.

It had been some time since we both had had a Pizza. That too from Pizza Hut. So we decided that tonight is going to be the night. Of course, to have Pizza :)

But Biwi came up with sounded-cool-at-that-moment suggestion. She said that we should walk down to Pizza Hut. Now, the nearest Pizza Hut from our place is at SGS Mall at Camp opposite Dorabjee's. It is around 5-6 kms from our place. I asked her if she was sure. She nodded. Well, not one to not walk, I obliged.

We started from home at around 7 pm. To be honest, it was the most enjoyable of all walks. We had a pretty healthy discussion about most of the stuff going on in our life. We reached MG Road by 8:15 pm. It was a festive atmosphere with the Diwali decorations still shining and the walking plaza lending some more colour.

We finally reached PH at around 8:30 pm. Our clothing was not the best. I was wearing a pyjama and T-shirt with Red toilet slippers on. Biwi was better. She wore an unironed trouser and a top. But the food was good. It was a good experience. The service was nice and we were out by 9:50. We also wanted to book the tickets for Golmaal Returns for the next morning at Inox. Inox is another km from SGS. Well, we didn't have any options. Off we went on foot to Inox. We reached at 10:20. Unfortunately, advance booking closes at 10 pm and we had to return grim faced.

We were entering the torture time of the walk now. We started from Inox at around 10:30. We reached West End by 10:50. By this time, Biwi started cribbing about her right sandal and how it was poking her and she couldn't walk. We decided we will walk till Bombay Garage on East street and go home by bus. We reached Bombay Garage at 11. We saw an ensemble of buses pass, most of them plying to Hadapsar and some to Swargate but none on the Kondhwa route. We waited till 11:35 and called it quits. We couldn't see lot of ricks around. So it was going to be on foot again.

Looking at the discomfort Biwi was facing with her sandal, we decided to switch footwear. Yes, I had my toilet slipper on my left foot and Biwi's sandal on my right while she wore the opposites. Yeah, it was one of those days ... rather nights. At least, we were walking fast now. Or so it seemed. We were 2 kms away from home at around 11:40 pm when I started cramping in my right leg due to the Oh-so-wonderful sandal. But we needed to go on. In the meanwhile, Biwi also started cramping up but we were very close now. The last 200-400 metres were dreadful.

Finally, we reached home at 12:30 and flung ourselves onto the bed. It didn't take long for slumber to set in.

Cheers ... !!