I had heard a lot about Chennai (mostly bad things!), but never been there before. As I reached there, I realized how true they were. If Bangalore is the 'hot and happening' city in India, Chennai was just 'hot'! Chennai looked a cool 10 years behind Bangalore - the railway station, the flyovers, the autos, the buses - everything looked so 1990ish. I checked into one of the better looking hotels in Wall Tax Road. But, the hotel room did not have any towels. "No towelz. Khatam vogaya saar. Paisa do. Main tumko laatha", was the reply I got from the receptionist. Even the lift there had a major bug. It would go from ground floor to fifth floor properly, but while coming down, I had to walk down to fourth floor and take the lift from there to ground floor!
By afternoon, I took an auto and reached the visa consulate. As I was walking towards the consulate office, a policeman near the gate asked me, "Do you have mobile or any electronic devices?"
"You cannot carry them inside. Is there anyone accompanying you?"
"No!". The visa consulate in Delhi had a locker facility inside.
As I was wondering what to do, the policeman told me, "Saar, come with me. You can keep your mobile in the tea shop. Its 100 rupees for locker charges".
Tea shop? Locker? What the hell does that mean?
I had no option but to follow him. I gave my mobile to the tea shop owner, who just wrapped it in an old tamil newspaper and kept inside. He collected 100 rupees from me and gave a token, on which was written "AR" in bad handwriting. 100 rupees per mobile is a good business, so there is no reason for him to cheat, I thought. Just hoping to get my mobile back, I entered the consulate office.
Afer the initial document verification, I proceeded to the fingerprint collection counter.
A young lady was sitting behind the closed glass window.
"Hi there. Good afternoon. How are you?". She seemed so happy in her work.
"Hello ma'm. I am fine"
"Please put your left index finger, right up there on the machine"
I did exactly as she told me.
"Aha, thats great. Perfect" She seemed impressed, as if I deserved a Nobel prize for giving the fingerprint perfectly. "Repeat the same with your right index finger. Thats good. All the best for your interview. Thenk you."
I smiled, and proceeded to the interview queue.
"Hi there. Good afternoon. Ho...", she was talking to the next person in the queue. The monotonous job did not seem to kill her enthusiasm or she must be a great actress!
The consulate supervisor arrived and started talking to the tense candidates. He was a tall man with a brown french beard.
"Let me give you a few tips before the interview. First of all, relax! Take a deep breath, do some yoga. Breathe in, Breathe out. Cool. When you reach the interviewer, say Hi and smile", showing all his 32 teeth! He was funny!
"Speak slowly and clearly. If I have an accent, so do you. Dont make the interviewer ask the same questions 4-5 times. If they ask you 'How many children do you have?', 'Yes' is not the answer. 'Computer Engineer' is not the answer. '28 years' is not the answer! Answer to the point and dont tell Mahaabaratta. If you are lying to us about anything, we may not find out and you may get your visa. But, if we find you, you will not be allowed to enter United States anytime. Is that clear?"
"Yes". People seemed to have relaxed a bit by now.
A fat guy in the next queue was having a long interview for his student visa.
The person standing in front of me was tense about his L1 visa.
An old couple behind me were visiting the consulate for the first time. The old man smiled sheepishly and asked me, "How many rounds of interview do we have?"
"This is the only interview you have. All you had till now was initial document verification and fingerprint collection"
"Ok ok, thank you. I am going for vacation to meet my daughter", he said in a typical tamil accent.
The Infy guy in the last row was fully formal, flashing his Infy badge. (Have you noticed, Infoscians never forget to wear their badges, even to restaurants and trips ;))
I finished my interview and came out. To my surprise, my mobile was safe inside that old tamil newspaper in the tea shop. I boarded the train to Bangalore that night, hoping that I would get a 10-year visa, so that I can avoid going to Chennai for another 10 years!