Archive for November, 2010

Mumbai to New York – Part 1

November 10, 2010

Mumbai to New York – Part 1

18th Oct 2010:

We had a holiday on account of Dussera, TCS could not find any other day to adjust against its mandatory number of holidays so we luckily got a Monday as a free day.

The next day was going to be, one of the most important days in my life. Guess what, my Visa interview was scheduled at 8:30 the next morning. On how I got an opportunity to go to USA and other stuff I would have to write a different blog altogether, it was something surreal.  So rather digging into the past let us proceed.

Although I knew that the visa interview would not be that big a deal and especially when you are from a reputed company (pun not intended) and going on L1 you have even less to worry. But still yaar, it is once in a lifetime kinda thing, so it was all butterflies in my stomach.

Still rubbing my eyes, and still on the bed I thought of utilizing this holiday and get some stuff to begin my packing. But again the fear of the Interview crossed my mind and I decided to buy only those stuffs that I can use in India too, in case I were to be kicked out of the consulate :). No luggage bags, no winter clothes, no food items, so I went to the Inorbit Mall to get few formal wears, trousers, shirts, and a watch (I had a digital watch and wanted a mechanical one and also the digital ones are not allowed in the US consulate :)).

After doing the shopping as soon as I left the mall, there was a huge thunder and lightning in the sky, I said to my self (this could be heaven or this could be hell) I mean this could be the last time I get a chance to get drench for this year’s monsoon. So on my bike and rain water slowly seeping through my body. The gusty wind and the light drizzle soon turned into downfall. It was a real good experience and anyway this year’s monsoon has been very good, raining almost every day.

In the night as I went to bed at around 11, (which is way too early for my standards) I could not stop thinking about the next day. Throughout the night I had nightmares about the interview and I just could not sleep for more that 20mins at a stretch, I didn’t knew what was going on in my head, but it was something that has never happened to me before, not even during the engineering exams! Anyway the three alarms that I had set in three different mobile phones were all useless coz I was always awake. So finally at around 5 in the morning I got out of the bed and switched off all the alarms and started my day. At around 6 AM I was ready; I verified all my docs, cross verified and then verified if I have cross verified them correctly or not then I left home. I was at the Malad station at around 6:20 AM, took the ticket and boarded the train.

Truly the time between 12 in the night till 7 in the morning is bliss if we compare the usual crowd and pollution during the daytime in Mumbai. The calmness of the atmosphere lightened my mood, I was bit more relaxed now. Unlike the last night, it was a clear and cloud less day. On reaching the Mahalaxmi station, I took a cab and for VFS (Visa facility service). At 7:15 I was inside VFS, paid the nominal! Fee of Rs 275. I was told that VFS is an excellent facility, it provides you the snacks, personal locker and free commute to US Consulate and back, and also helps you avoid the long queue.

After paying the fee I was given a receipt having three parts, one for bus, other for snacks and other probably for you (too keep as a memento I suppose). I had my stuff deposited with the locker room, mind you the lockers are not personal as I was told, it is just like one we see when we go to some malls and are told to keep luggage outside. So all my stuffs like cell phone, unwanted docs, keys etc went inside the locker room and we proceeded towards the waiting room. It is a comparatively a small waiting room with a CCD inside for your snacks. You were allowed to take a beverage and any one of the snacks (most of them sandwich). Since there were enough butterflies wandering inside my tummy I didn’t had anything. The only good thing about the VFS is the old songs that they play on the TV, I was trying to concentrate on the song only. In next 5mins a guy came in, (TV becomes mute) and announced that all the 7:30 and 7:45 people (appointment time) should get ready for the bus. After about 15mins or so he again came in (TV goes mute once again) and this time took 8:15 and 8:30 people with him, oooo my turn came.

We were all accommodated inside a mini bus (in pathetic condition). I was at the last seat. In next 5 mins or so we reached the consulate, there we were asked to stand in a queue (8:30 queue). When I saw the US Consulate I was really disappointed, I mean I was thinking that it might be a huge hall with enough space, great entrance and all, but it all turned out into a small office kind of structure, anyway the area seems to be costly enough for the Americans too.

The queue stretched all the way to the footpath even though there weren’t that many people as I though there would be. There were few people jumping here and there, bit of chaos but then everything settles down in the end, we too settled down. In the queue I saw around 4-5 people wearing the TCS I-Card, after sometime I came to know that there were 4-5 more people from TCS who were not wearing the I-Card. OMG kitne public hai TCS me. As far as security is concerned, there was a tank kind of “gaadi” just outside the consulate and a police car beside it. Few policemen and other security guards were just taking stroll opposite the consulate. Meanwhile I pulled out my tie from the bag and knotted it (I was asked by TCS to do that, otherwise hardly anybody else was with the tie, not even the weird looking TCS guys). After a while our group was allowed to move inside the consulate, we had to show them the appointment letter in order to enter. Inside it, we were asked to pull out the watches, belts, wallet and any other metal thing if any. After screening the docs we were given our copy of docs that we had earlier submitted with the consulate to get the appointment along with a pink slip. I was told to join the queue number one for the finger prints. Now something that really amazed me was that, during the fingerprints I was asked nothing, I mean how would they come to know whose fingers are they….really don’t know. While I was in the queue, I saw one of my TCS colleagues whose appointment time was same as mine, and she was in front of the queue. Now I was really cursing the VFS facility coz I paid that much still I was behind in the queue, she just walked in and was ahead. It turned out that the queue is according to the appointment time, so had I been to consulate directly I would have been in the front L.

Anyway, now that my finger scanning thing was done, I had a look at the pink slip with the token number on it, actually there were two of them given to you, one goes to one of the counters and other remains with you so that when they call your number you can verify it with the one you have. They don’t take names while calling so that number is of utmost important.

I was waiting for my number, and regularly there were announcements for the token numbers, all the announcements made by a female voice were audible but the ones made by the male guys were really hard to understand, one because of their accent and other coz of their pitch (low). I really hoped that some lady announces my number.

Just beside me there was a family waiting for their turn, they had this kid perhaps of the age of one or two who was like screaming all the time and it was really annoying not because he was screaming but coz of the announcements which became even harder to interpret. Now after 10mins or so two more similar kids joined the gang and it was mayhem around me, I stood up and went to the other side of the room. There were mamas trying to console their kids, it all looked like as if I were travelling in the train from Kurla to Chhapra.

While waiting I met a guy who was sitting just beside me, he too was from TCS (that I what happens when you are 1.5 lacs in strength). He too was waiting for a long time, we kicked of with our conversation, during which he told me that we should not be getting the counter number 4, coz the male guy sitting there has such a weird accent that no body understands. I calmed him down and said that probability of getting that counter is 1/24, and we should not be worrying. After waiting for about an hour, or so I heard my number or something similar to it, thankfully that was a voice of lady but guess what it was also the most dreaded counter, the counter number 4!!! As soon as I reached the counter, I saw a male guy swapping his place with a lady, yupeeeeeee :). I kept my documents to the right and stood close to the mic. She was quite young and very fair (almost red). After a pause of about 4-5 seconds, I thought I should be starting by greeting with good morning, and as I said she started too with my interview, I missed the first word that she said and what I did hear was “—– you working with TAAAATTTAAA”. I mean she stretched the word TATA so much that the time she took to say “Tata” was equal to times she took to say the other words prior to it. So I replied with, “yes, I work with Tata”. Then comes the fun part, she told me that she had actually asked me “how long” am I working with TATA and I was like, at least the word “long” could have been stretched a bit instead of stretching the word “Tata”.

Anyway, she went on to ask me other general stuffs which I knew might get asked, TCS had trained us for that :). Finally she stamped on my I94 and handed out to me saying ‘have a nice day’….I replied back with ‘same to you’ only realizing seconds after that was it ‘have a nice day OR have a nice stay’, these people and their accent OMG. It took me a minute or two to realize that my visa has been stamped, yahoooooooooo…………fianllyyyyyyyyyy….got itttttt 🙂

Now I was back to my usual self, no tension, a smile on my face and a great satisfaction in heart. The pathetic VFS bus took me back to the VFS centre, I now used my snacks coupon, had a sandwich and a coffee, took my stuff from the common locker room, cursed the VFS for charging so much and left for my office.

23rd October 2010:

3:00 PM,

I was waiting for my passport and the FOREX in the office for the past 2 hour or so. There were tons of formalities to be done. Finally I got my e-ticket through the mail, and by 5:00 PM I got my FOREX, Passport with the VISA stamp, and other documents. I was expecting my flight to be around 2 in the morning of the Saturday, but it turned out to be 12:45 AM. And now I was under real stress, since this was an international flight, I had to be there at the airport at least 3-4 hours before (that is what I was told). My biggest tension for me was first battling the traffic to reach home, then packing my stuff (yes it was only 60% done), then having some food (had skipped lunch), and them battling the traffic to reach airport. So I went around my ODC saying goodbye to all my team members, went to the basement, took my bike and left for home. I knew that this was the last time I would be riding my lovely, high mileage bike before I leave to US. One of my team members was riding the pillion, actually carrying the parcel that I had received from the family members of my friends living in US.

So for the final time this year I was through JVLR, WE Highway, SV Road, Marve Road, crossing Link road, Jankalyan Nagar and then Sweet Home. It was around 6 PM by now. First thing I did was arranged all the docs, packed my stuff with great help from my Mom, took bath, had some food and finally adieu to this place. I got into my car; with me were my Mom, Chacha ji, sister and my cousin. I took the driver seat. Just like the bike, now it was the turn with my car, engine, clutch, gear, and vroom. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic but still we reached only by 9:45 PM exactly three hours before my scheduled flight time. To the terminal 2, I didn’t waste any time and got the trolley, loaded my luggage, said a final bye to all and went inside.

Stressed and the Sad part ends here, now the funny part begins.

So here I was inside the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, waiting in the queue of AI counter. I was lucky to get a direct flight from Mumbai to NewYork. The queue in which I was standing was a big one and I was wondering if I were in the right line. Although I was directed to this queue only, I didn’t see a single ‘phirang’ in the queue so was bit surprised as to how come the flight going to NY doesn’t has a ‘phirang’. Then I asked another person about the queue, he directed me to another counter which was almost empty, just one person standing there. I hesitantly went there but to my surprise that was indeed the right counter and the other one was for other AI flights perhaps Dubai.

So from here my journey begins, let me tell you all that this was the second time ever I was going by air! And the first one was when I was a kid so it was kind of first time I was inside the airport and that too alone. Before coming I had strengthened my theory (knowledge) as in what all things happens during immigration, security, customs etc etc.

So here I was standing second in the queue and no one behind me, I was keenly observing the person ahead of me, just when this guy was done with his check-in, there was one AI staff came with 3 passports and kept on the counter, immediately followed a family of three, husband, wife and a kid. As soon as the guy ahead of me went I showed my ticket and the passport the staff asked me to wait. I was like what the hell, I was here before those people, and he was processing other’s request ahead of mine. I didn’t say anything, it was after all the first time I was in the airport, may be AI has a funda like alternately they process a random request. Anyway you don’t expect much from the government institutions, the family seem to me as frequent fliers and the guy was definitely a TATA employee and knew the staff very well, but then I am a TATA employee too! After five minutes or so my chance came, I showed my ticket, I also asked if I had a preference of choosing a seat and if they have some reserved seat for TATA employees (which they usually keep). Sadly all the reserved seats were full (three got filled in front of my eyes) and my choice of a window seat too could not be accommodated as all the window seats too were full (definitely all three were window seats). There was in fact one remaining but that was in the last row, I politely asked as what is the problem with the last row because of the way he said ‘last row’, he politely answered that the last row seats don’t incline, I politely asked him to give me any of the aisle seat. I got the ticket, L14 was the number. My luggage was checked in (just 42.6 Kgs) and I left for the……‘god knows what’ with my laptop bag on the shoulder. I knew that next was immigration, so I asked one of the airport staff the direction, I was guided correctly. Before that I had to fill an immigration form mentioning basic details. I joined the immigration queue, there were about 10-12 counters don’t know the exact count, so which ever counter gets empty you are directed to that place. My turn came, counter number X, I was asked for my passport, and the immigration form. The guy at the counter was middle aged person, with a cunning smile. I was just assuming that the guy would verify the passport and let me go, but he started my interview, unexpected! He first asked me why I was going to USA. Then he asked me who was my employer, then he asked me was I a developer or a tester, then he asked me on which platform do I work, then he asked me if I use ASP or C#, and then I wanted to answer him that I work for the International Hackers Group and would soon hack into his personal system and destroy all his data and also publish the links that he surfs in the night!

God he asked me more questions than I was asked in the VISA interview. But to be frank I was impressed that they have that kind of questions ready, they perhaps have the data flow and some fixed questions to be asked. He handed me the passport and politely said that spelling of ‘Malad’ (where I stay) is wrong in the immigration form that I had filled, and it was indeed written ‘Malab’, may be in hurry burry.

Then I moved to the security corner, it was a big queue, I was watching all the people there, from different countries, many Indians though. As my turn came, I was told to put all the metal stuff and my laptop in a tray and then pass through the metal detector. That was done, they stamped on my ticket and then I moved to the waiting area for the flight. My boarding time was 12:00 midnight, and it was just 10:50. So more that a hour more hour to go, I called my Mom who was still in the airport to make sure that everything goes well, I assured her that everything is fine and they can leave now.

Now here I was, things looking so unreal, everything happening so fast, was sitting on chair, couple of people beside me actually sleeping. I sent some SMS to my friend, whom I could not call because of the busy day and then began with what I like the most, observing people around.

So as I was just scanning the people and their behaviours, I saw a woman in mid 50’s on a wheel chair and an airport staff helping her move on the chair. The wheel chair stopped exactly a foot ahead of me, the woman asked me if I was travelling by AI-141, I nodded and then she turned to the staff and asked her to go back coz she has found a company!!!! The staff left, and aunty, turned towards me and said that as she was travelling for the first time she needed someone to help her (as if I was a frequent flier and had won 10000 miles point). But she was a nice lady; she used to refer me as ‘beta’ and was speaking in ‘hindi’. I was bit sceptical to start the conversation and that was natural, but gradually we gelled well, she turned out to be typical aunty who appears in the ‘saas bahu’ kind of soap. She started speaking about her husband, her son, her son in law, her daughter, her daughter in law, her other son, her other daughter in law everyone literally. Her husband allegedly was an owner of many mills in ‘Silvassa’, and retired from a reputed company, she was going to US to meet her son and daughter in law as her daughter in law was expecting soon. Coincidentally her daughter too who was in US was expecting, but she would not be able to make there as she was staying at the extreme end of US! By now I was well aware of all her family members, where all they stay, how they got married, where all they work, when would they come back to India, how many factories they own, where all do they have plots etc etc……During the conversation I also got to know that her problem with the leg was just a temporary one, allegedly she had hit a corner of her bed and in turn she hurt her knees.

Now she gets a call from her son, the one who would be receiving her at the NY airport, she assured him that she is fine and she has found a ‘beta’ here at the airport who would accompany her all the way to NY…I was like “what!”. She hung up and then turned towards me, asked my seat number, I replied, and then she told her seat number and asked me how far these two seats are. How on earth would I know yaar!! I just replied not that far 🙂 (mine was L her was I), ‘you don’t worry many of the people here travel alone’. Just then an announcement was made for the AI141 passengers and we were supposed to move towards the second level of security before finally boarding the plane. I helped that aunt to move ahead, but then one of the Airport staff came there and said that it is his responsibility to help her get inside the plane, all the wheelchair persons get this facility. Meanwhile the aunty was murmuring that ‘hum log saath me hain!!!!!’. She was taken ahead of all the passengers, I was not that far behind, for god know if she would have screamed “betaaaaa kahan gaye”. I was the third person in the queue. We then came to the security corner, from this corner I was able to see my plane clearly from the large windows there, the AI 141, and my god was aware that the Boeings are huge but that was a monster man!

There was some delay at the security corner, here we were asked to remove our shoes too. Actually the delay was because the conveyer belt for screening was stuck with moving in just one direction that is the opposite side in which it should be moving. One by one the security staff came to the machine and tried their hand but of no use, finally some one got it right and we moved towards the final milestone before we actually board the plane. There we were told that all the differently abled people should be in the front, my aunt was the first to be there, still with that help staff, and still looking behind asking me to come over, I wasn’t that far behind though. After that the women and the kids were to follow.

As we were just arranging, the pilots and the airhostess of the AI141 passed beside us to board the plane. I was bit disappointed at the looks of airhostesses, not exactly as I thought, only one of them was young and pretty, rest all were like aunties but decent and elegant.

Anyway after five minutes of so, we were allowed to enter the plane through some connector (I don’t know what we call that, one that is attached to the doors of the plane). There was one aunty airhostess at the entrance and greeting everyone with Namaste, I showed my ticket and was told to take the left entrance down the aisle, following the numbers written I reached my seat, it was exactly at the middle of the plane, wow!!! I said, coz the right wing of the plane was just in front of me and it was HUGE but sadly I didn’t had the window seat L. I kept my laptop bag inside the upper cabinet and took my seat. This was an aisle seat and my column was a three seater so two more to right of me. The middle column was a 5 seater and then the last column again a three seater. The business class was ahead of us. It was pretty big but from outside it looked even bigger. That aunty was to the other three seater opposite mine and two rows behind too, she said hi from that end and indicated that she was fine; there was another lady with her. Thank god!

Now here I was for the first time (I don’t remember how it was when I was a kid), inside a plane, I was excited about everything, the pilot, the airhostesses, the runways, the wings, the takeoff, the food, the loo etc. All these things were only heard of till now. On all the seats were a bed sheet kind of thing, a pillow and I small drinking water. Behind each of the seats were a TV set too with a headphone and couple of magazines and an AI passenger’s guide. As I was just observing things here and there the only young and good looking airhostess in that plane came through the aisle, stopped just ahead of my seat and asked me “can I close this cabinet (one above me)”, I was taken aback coz I didn’t expect her to say anything, I thought they only greet people and help us with food and drinks. I replied “ya, sure”. She was puzzled a bit and then asked me something that took me by complete surprise. She said “give a hand please!!”. “Mere haath me tera haath ho, sari jannate mere saath ho”. Btw looking at her expression I realized that she wanted me to help her close the cabinet, and I was thinking, omg…. :). I stood up and helped her close the cabinet, she thanked me and went ahead. She was beautiful 🙂

It was 12:40 by now, just 5 minutes to take off, I was ready with my seat belt, ya I knew that we are supposed to fasten our seat belt before the plane takes off. I was very happy for one more thing, the two seats to my right were still empty and it was already time. At this very moment we heard an announcement from our pilot (who began with ‘this is your pilot speaking’ which was kinda funny :)) that due to some emergency and some problem with the limited runway or something our plane might get delayed my sometime. Nothing new for Mumbai airport I guess. I was just praying that these two seats remain empty through out. After 15 minutes or so, again that airhostess came through the aisle, I was already ready with a question that I wanted to ask her :).

As she came next to my row, I asked her if I could take the window seat if no one comes till the end. She said that there were couple more people expected and if no one comes then I can not only take the window seat but also sleep on the three seats, with a biiiggggg smile on her lovely face :).