May 03, 2007

The Dream starts with a Nightmare - Travel from India to USA

The Trend
For many Indians, the United States has been (and continues to be) the most dreamt place to study/visit/work (for a myriad of reasons). Right from my engineering undergraduation days, I've heard many engineers-to-be talk about their dreams of getting an admission - into a graduation program in an engineering school in the US of A. Even at work, I've seen a lot of people wanting to work in the US of A.

The Brand
United States of America has become a 'brand' that has established itself so strongly in the minds of trillions of people around the world (and so in India). A 'brand' that has emerged so confident of attracting 'clientele' from across the world, that it doesn't take that 'extra' step to increase 'user-friendliness' to its end-users (if I may call so).

The Nightmare Experience!
I was at the Consulate General of the United States - Chennai, India a couple of weeks back for a visa a business travel that I had to do in a week's time. This is in the month of April in Chennai - which means, the thermometer read 34 degrees Celsius (approx 94 Fahrenheit). I had an appointment post-noon, and was asked to be present atleast 15minutes prior to the time I was given. I went there half an hour prior to my appointment time, and was put into a queue that spanned for atleast 50 yards from the Consulate entrance. I was joined by people from all age groups - people in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's...and also late 70's! I had a couple ahead of me who were 79 and 75 years old. We all had to wait in the line "that had NO shelter" under the 'real HOT sun' for almost 50 minutes. We were called in 10minutes after the appointment time (No, the wait doesn't end so soon!)

There were a group of security personnel who checked our documents and the appointment time, and we were asked to go past security. We were then made to stand in another queue inside the consulate premises (a winding queue that spanned another 50+ yards). It took us well over an hour to get into the visa interviewing chamber (a building which was airconditioned). During all this process, there was no place where we were offered a proper shelter - not even a temperory roofing nor a was there a place to sit! I pitied the aged couple who were ahead of me (there were many more older people in the queue).

There was a person from the consulate who came forward to ask for people who had kids, and let those people go ahead of us; but when this old gentleman ahead of me asked if he and his wife could go ahead, there was a quick question from the consulate person - "How old are you?". This person told " I'm 79 years old". The immediate reply from the consulate person was - "Only people above the age of 80 are allowed to bypass the queue. It won't apply for you". This is ridiculous! What if he had his 80th Birthday the next day???

Some tips to Go Armoured!
So, net-net, here are some tips for people who plan to visit the US Consulate at Chennai (especially during the summer):
  • Bring along a person with you - who can stand outside and help you with essentials like water, umbrella, ice pack, etc (this person has got to stand away from you - near a tree - even outside the consulate - the security demands this)
  • If you are a reader of books, magazines, please carry one with you (you can carry this inside the consulate) - this comes handy (both, to read and as a shelter) when you stand in those long queues inside the premises
  • Carry some candies with you - this comes handy inside the premises - helps you with the thirst
  • Carry a hand towel, as you will tend to perspire a lot and also this doubles as a shelter!
  • Don't book your flight tickets (incase you are flying down from outside of Chennai) anywhere close to your appointment time - give atleast 5 hours* gap between your appointment time and your flight departure time.

*
(2hours inside the consulate+ 1 hour travel time to airport+ 1 hour for checkin time + 1 hour buffer time)
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