Minneapolis travelogue part 1

I have been wanting to write about this entry for an year now! Somehow, things keep on coming up and blog entries seem too trivial. However, having made a major submission, I thought I should find some time to finish the task, before memories fade…so here it goes….

The Reason

I was fortunate enough to have my work selected for a major conference. So, after the results were declared, I immediately applied for funding, and promptly got rejections from the government institutions. However, I got partial funding from the institute and some more money from the organisers of the conference.
The Visa Process
Getting the visa for the USA is an interesting process, however I successfully managed to navigate through the entire process and get an interview date. I did not really like the attitude of the security people at the US embassy, though considering the crowds and the heat, they might get a bit snappy at times. Of course, the incredible idiocy of some of the people, who bring in cigarettes, cell phones and even chewing tobacco would no doubt rile tempers. However, I do have a specific grouse that the pricing of the foodstuffs inside the embassy is nothing short of robbery. Water is free but sandwiches costing 50 or 75, made me wonder if within the Embassy, American rates prevail. So, coming back to the interview, I waited for an hour or so before my number was called up. The person at the counter verified my information and wanted to know the reason for travel, which was clearly enough written. I told him that my work had been accepted at a major conference in my field, and that I naturally enough wanted to present it and also that none of the co-authors could make it. After about 15 minutes of talk of this kind, I was told that my application would be sent to the USA for further processing. I asked the person politely the reason, because several of my friends had been sanctioned visa within 5 minutes of talk. The interviewing officer told me that he was sorry but considering my area of work, this was mandatory. This surprised me because my work was as far away from any sensitive area as possible. However, these things cannot be helped. It was now about 4 weeks to the conference date. The visa officer also told me that since there was some time till the conference, he was sending my visa for this process otherwise he would have rejected it outright. I thanked him and shut it out of my mind.

Visa Arrives and I leave!

After about four weeks, I do not recall the dates exactly, I got a call on my cell phone and an email from the embassy. I do remember the day however, it was a Friday. The mail came after lunch at around 3PM. The mail informed me that my visa application had been scrutinised and I was to go with a week or 10 days at 9:30 AM. I need not stand in the general queue again but there was no assurance that my visa would be granted. I was asked to bring the relevant papers again. I was not very pleased, the visa office was located quite far from I.I.T and my friends know that I as a rule do not leave the campus. Also, to reach the embassy at the specified time, I would have to leave the campus really early if I wanted to avoid the morning hour rush. Anyone who has travelled in Mumbai/Bombay local train at around 8AM would fully sympathise with me!
Moreover, even if i got the visa on the following Monday, I would not be able to leave before Monday night and the first day of the conference would already be over. I asked my professor(who was abroad) if it was worth going and he urged me to give it a shot. I then rushed to the nearest well known travel agent to block a ticket. I also explained the situation that I would not be there at the office to make the payment but would send someone to do it. Little did I know the hassles and small but crucial details involved! Anyway, the lady at the counter being very helpful and nice, I blocked the ticket for the flight leaving India Monday night. I would bemaking a 5 hour halt at Heathrow, and would enter the USA through Chicago. Even as I was doing this, I really had no intention of travelling. I had lost the enthusiasm by then. Besides, two days(Saturday and Sunday) is really too little a time for a 1 week trip abroad. I did not even have proper luggage, clothes and other miscelleneous items.
Then I called up home sometime in the evening and told them about my tentative plans that I would be requesting a friend to be on standby to go to the travel agent while I came back with the visa in the evening. However, on Sunday afternoon, I got a call that my brother would be coming by a late night flight to Bombay to see me off. I did demur a bit at the unnecessary trouble but as the tickets were done, there was no point in fighting it. This was to be extremely crucial, because I believe that I would have been in a lot of troble without his guidance. His flight was due at 10:30 or so in the night and by the time we returned it was nearer to 12:00. It was raining as well.
The next day morning, we had to wake up early at 5:00 AM. I wanted to leave IIT by 6:00 so as to reach the train station by 6:30 to catch a relatively empty train. Of course, taking into consideration the Indian Standard Delay, I think i reached the station nearer to 7:00. However, the crowd was not too bad. Of course, getting down at Dadar is always like the cork shooting out of the champagne bottle. The rest of the trip to the embassy was uneventful. I stood in the sultry weather promptly at 9:00 AM. I went in at around 10:00 AM, got the ticket number, gave the thumb print. Then, there was nothing to do but wait. People came, people went, happy people, sad people, disappointed people and I waited. Finally at 1:00 PM or maybe it was 2:00, my turn came. The officer asked me the usual questions, I gave the usual answers. Finally he askd me about the conference dates. I told him that it began the next day. He said, “Wow! what are you doing here. You should be on the plane by now.”. I started to tell him that there was something called a visa which I needed to have first. He continued” Oh, but you dont have a visa.”, and gave me the news that I should collect mine at 5PM from the office. I wanted to ask him whether he could give it to me(stamped and all) over the counter then and there, but decided not to push my luck too much. I came out, fairly drained and gloomy at the prospect of waiting for 3 more hours under the sultry sun. I called up my brother who went to the agent and got the tickets. Then followed another irritating, apparently interminable wait. I had asked the securty guard regarding the timings for visa collection. He told me that the collections began at 5:30 PM or so. What he did not tell, despite my queries that there would be a big queue for that as well. Curse his shallow soul for that. I went here and there, had a few cups of coffee etc and luckily I strolled back at 4:30 PM to see that a queue had already started to form. There were about 10-15 persons. I may have glared at the sorry bastard of a guard but did get into the queue. Of course, it had to drizzle then and having no umbrella I got soaked like a bull tied to a cart. Anyway, we went in and I was lucky enough to be in the first batch. I collected my stamped passport and rushed out. I tool a taxi to Dadar and somehow boarded a train. When I got down at the appropriate station, it was raining. My cursings must have riled the rain god for then he really turned it on. I managed to reach IIT by 8:00 PM, tired and soaking wet. I had to pack, change into new clothes, get money. Luckily my brother had done most of these. Still I was dog tired and got irritated by the small but crucial things needed to be done. There was one major blunder, in case you have not guessed already. I had nowhere to stay in Minneapolis! However, there was nothing to be gained by telling that to my brother and causing more stress. So, I simply lied and said that I had someone with whom I could share accommodation.After a hasty dinner, we left for the airport at around 10:00 PM. I was still wearing the sodden shoes and I suspect they were smelling, but I felt that the other passengers and especially the American citizens could lump it, considering the amount of trouble. I had to face. Security checks over, finally it was boarding time.
I sat in the plane and then it sunk into me that I really was going abroad. Much cheered by the idea, I perused the menu given to me by an air hostess. I spotted Johnny Walker, JAck Daniels and other stuff. I debated having a beer or something less or non alcoholic. Also, I was worried about airpockets disturbing my equilibrium with disastrous results for the neighbours. However, I succumbed to the temptation and asked for a JW. The airhostess asked my whether I wanted Thums Up with it, probably guessing from my freak rain soaked attire and unshaven mug that I was one of the proletariat. I looked shocked and said “Soda of course!”. At this, she took heart and poured out a measure. I sipped that and immediately was transported into Nirvana.

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