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Thanks again to Geoff Le Pard for the fabulous review on his TanGental blog here.

According to the US State Department, only about a third of Americans have passports. So please excuse us if we think a visa is something you use where they won’t take Mastercard. The concept of having to submit a passport and all kinds of other documentation just to travel somewhere seems vaguely Big Brotherish. So much easier to go to Orlando again…

I was, therefore, absolutely delighted to discover that the government of India—probably moved by the purest of human emotions (pity)—instituted a tourist visa which even Americans could get online in a matter of hours.

But my friend and traveling companion Janine didn’t get that memo. Instead, she proudly informed me, she was going to get a visa that would be good for several years of hassle-free trips to India. After all, she had plenty of time—almost a month and a half before her scheduled flight. All she had to do was fill out a boatload of paperwork from an agency claiming to represent the Indian government, fork over an even bigger boatload (we’re talking the Titanic here…) of money, and sit back to wait for her visa.

eTV (electronic tourist visa).

And wait.

And wait.

As a public service to any reader foolish enough to attempt this same visa process—and to further torture Janine, because that’s what friends are for, right?—here is a brief excerpt** of the next six weeks’ communication.

**[NOTE: Of course, I couldn’t begin to reproduce the hours of phone calls with Kenny G’s Songbird as their on-hold music track (on endless loop), not to mention the messaging, various texts, random tears, medicinal alcoholic beverage and/or ice cream consumption, and occasional profanity-laced screaming rants. Here instead is a distillation of the next six weeks. The painfully semi-literate bureaucratese remains—only the names have been changed to protect me from litigation the innocent.]

Mumbai Airport. (No, I don’t know why that glowing giant is holding up a giant tire. Perhaps he overdosed on Kenny G and now is fighting an overpowering urge to get a mullet?)


6 weeks until trip:

TEXT: 

JANINE: I’m about to apply for visa. It costs a lot, but it will be good for 10 years.

BARB: I’m just doing the online one. They call it eTV, which sounds like a new form of inflight entertainment. It’s only good for 30 days, but it’s cheap and fast, and I think lets you watch the latest inflight Bollywood movies as well.

JANINE: Just applied for visa. Should be ready in 7-10 days. Only one worry. I forgot to put “Canada” as one of my foreign countries visited.

BARB: I got my eTV. Woot! India here we come.


5 Weeks until trip

From: noreply.usa@IndianVisasRUs.com

To: Janine Smith

Subject: Payment acknowledgement

Note : All payments made to IVRU is not Refundable.

IMPORTANT: Processing your application will ONLY commence once your physical ‘Complete’ application package(all mandatory forms, documents as per the document checklist, letters and full payments) is received by the Application Centre, failing which the application cannot be processed. We have, however, already taken all your money and we won’t be giving it back.


4 Weeks until trip

From: noreply.usa@IndianVisasRUs.com

To: Janine Smith

Subject: Visa – Application Submitted To Embassy

Dear JANINE SMITH,

Your Application has been ‘Processed’ at the IVRU Application Centre and ‘In Transit’ to the Embassy for decision making. We’ve taken all your money already, and used it to buy more Kenny G tapes.


[Two, three, four, and five DAYS LATER]

From: noreply.usa@IndianVisasRUs.com

To: Janine Smith

Subject: Re: Your customer service inquiry

Thank you for contacting IVRU.

To register your inquiry with us, please click on Contact / Feedback onhttps://www.in.IVRU.us/feedback/ and enter your query.

Our Customer Service Team will respond to you within 24hours.


[Six days later]

From: noreply.usa@IndianVisasRUs.com

To: Janine Smith

Subject: Re: Your customer service inquiry

Thank you for your customer service inquiry.

We can not tell you the exact amount of time your visa processing will take.

Please read our Disclaimer and Terms & Conditions available at http://www.in.IVRU.us .

With Regards,

The IVRU Team

Customer Service Department


[later same day]

From: noreply.usa@IndianVisasRUs.com

To: Janine Smith

Subject: Re: Re: Your customer service inquiry

Thank you for your customer service inquiry.

The call centre team is only trained to give general information about how to obtain an Indian Visa,  the services provided by IVRU for processing of an Indian Visa in US, and of course, how to take your money. We’re particularly expert at that last bit.

Note that if you have any special requirements that need individual interpretation (such as actually obtaining a visa), you should visit our Application Centre in person.

With Regards,

The IVRU Team

Customer Service Department


3 Weeks until trip

From: noreply.usa@IndianVisasRUs.com

To: Janine Smith

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Your customer service inquiry

Thank you for your customer service inquiry. Our Customer Service Team will respond to you within 24hours.

With Regards,

The IVRU Team

Customer Service Department


[same day]

FB MESSENGER  

JANINE: WTF?? Just  got this email (below). I called IVRU in the morning, sat on hold for an eternity listening to their Kenny G tape loop from hell (Songbird, of course) and was finally told it was taking so long because of the snowstorm. Then 30 minutes later I got this!!

[attached file]

**********

Dear JANINE SMITH,

Your application has been ‘Returned Unprocessed’ by the Embassy and the processing is ‘On Hold’ due to ‘Pending Additional Documents’. 

Reason: Missing/Incomplete Document

Document Name: Other

Remarks: Submit journalist undertaking letter.

On receiving the correct document (s), your Application will be ‘Resubmitted’ to the Indian Embassy for further processing, post verification of the documents sent.


[later that day]

FB MESSENGER:

JANINE: On hold with them now. MORE KennyG. Still Songbird.

JANINE: Hour later. Still on hold. Songbird is 5 minutes 2 seconds. I’ve counted 12 loops. Oops… starting lucky #13.

JANINE: Another hour. Another dozen KennyGs. And I was worried about forgetting to mention Canada! FREAKING OUT!!!

JANINE: Called back & was told I need to fill out the journalist form on their website. I said, “BUT I’m NOT a journalist!!” They said, “Oh. Well somehow they think you are.”

BARB: This is SO not good. Better not tell Jaya.


[NEXT day]

FB MESSENGER:

BARB:  What if they make you file forms for other professions you don’t have? Do they make you swear you’re not a serial rapist, presidential candidate, accordionist, or street mime?

JANINE: You’re right. Jaya’s going to kill us.

BARB: Not me. I have my eTV.

JANINE: If I have to listen to any more Kenny G, Jaya won’t have to kill me. I’ll do it myself. Gladly.


[NEXT day]

FB MESSENGER:

BARB: Go to IVRU & tell them you want to retrieve your passport. Then hire one of those pricey expediters who personally fondle your documents until the visa is approved. Explain that it’s a life or death situation here.

JANINE: It’s Sunday. They’re closed.

BARB: Do it first thing Monday, or I’m telling Jaya.


2 Weeks until trip

EMAIL

From: Janine Smith

To:  Barb Taub

Subject: Visa expediter

Expediter says they cannot intervene while documents are at IVRU. She also took the opportunity to say IVRU were a horrible company and that they never answer their phone, etc… And they probably kick puppies… (Actually, I said that part. But she didn’t argue with me.)

XOOXOOXOX,

—J9


[Next day]

EMAIL

From: Janine Smith

To: Barb Taub

Subject: Re: Visa expediter

On hold with IVRU for the third time today… Much KennyG misery inflicted. Per their stinking website it looks like there is even a three-days period to get my effing passport back!!

The guy on the phone at IVRU is now telling me I should just submit the journalist undertaking letter anyway… JESUS WEPT!!

Cranky and frustrated…

—J9 (who does NOT XOXOXO the IVRU)


EMAIL

From: Janine Smith

To: documents.wdc@IVRU.com

Subject: Visa PENDING ADDITIONAL DOCUMENT

Dear Sir or Madam,

Please find attached the additional document requested for case #123456. Please note: I am not a journalist—I can barely type, and I have no opinion about the use of the Oxford comma. In fact, I’m a medical professional who works in a cardiac unit.

I am asking, no I am BEGGING, you to kindly process and grant my Visa as soon as possible. I have a flight leaving in ten days and would like very much to be on the flight. If I am not on that flight, my friend Jaya will probably get on a flight to the US (she seems to have NO trouble getting visas, BTW) and kill me. My life is in your hands.

Sincerely,

Janine Smith


[later same day]

EMAIL

From: noreply.usa@IndianVisasRUs.com

To: Janine Smith

Subject: Re: Your customer service inquiry

Thank you for contacting IVRU.

To register your inquiry with us, please click on Contact / Feedback onhttps://www.in.IVRU.us/feedback/ and enter your query.

Our Customer Service Team will respond to you within 24hours.


One Week until trip

EMAIL

From: Janine Smith

To: Barb Taub

Subject: Kill me now.

I got NOTHING! I was not able to call THOSE SCUM BUCKETS back at 8PM Friday (as the Scum Buckets recommended at 10AM) because I was at work. You know, that whole day job… saving lives and all. No answer from my lawyer friend when I tried to contact him and left a message, and no movement or anything different on the website…

I’m driving to NC now and driving back tomorrow. I’ll call the Scum Buckets when they open at 9 am and then I’m driving straight to their office to demand they return my passport and documents.

That is all.

—J9

PS: We probably need to tell Jaya soon. I think you should tell her. She won’t kill you. Probably.


[later same day]

EMAIL

From: Barb Taub

To: Janine Smith

Subject: Re: Kill me now.

Are you self-medicating again? I’m not telling Jaya a damn thing.

—Barb

PS:When you come to the “Purpose of Trip” section on the eTV application, be sure you put “Journalist sent by CNN and/or unfriendly neighboring countries to take lots of pictures of sensitive stuff”. I’m sure they will get a good chuckle out of that.


4 Days before trip

FB MESSENGER  

JANINE: Desperate times call for something or other. I’m on way to Scum Buckets’ offices to demand my passport and documents.


[later same day]

FB MESSENGER  

JANINE: I’m sitting in ScumBucket Central. I told them I would keep telling every customer who comes through their doors EXACTLY why I’m here until they give me back my passport.


[later same day]

FB MESSENGER

JANINE: They gave me back my passport. I didn’t get my money back, but at least I don’t have to listen to any more Kenny G. I’m calling this a win.


3 Days before trip

FB MESSENGER  

JANINE: eTV application filed.


1 Day before trip

TEXT

JANINE: eTV came through! NOW, WHAT the heck do we pack?? For cold hot sand wind and camels??? (Jaya doesn’t ever need to know, right?)

BARB: She’ll never know. Until I blog it.


Now that we have visas, we’re off to India next week to meet up with Jaya for adventures, feasting, and the kindness of Indian strangers. And yes Mary Smith… Guilty as charged. I’m behind in writing up the last two trips. I promise to get right on that as soon as I get back. Right now though, lonely parathas are calling my name.

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