Lets begin our story on the 30th of August. I went to Kolkata from my home, and fortunately found that the place where we had booked our accomodation was right next door (literally, I mean it!) to the Kolkata US Consulate. I had been looking forward to meeting a lovely lady that evening. She had already attended her Visa interview at the consulate, and gave me some tips about where to sit, what to expect, etc. The evening seemed to melt away in a huge hurry, and I felt as if I had hardly I talked to her. So, at the parting moments, she promised to meet me before the interview at 8:00 in the morning the next day. I went to bed anticipating all the questions the VO might ask me the next day, how it might feel after I had got the Visa, what I should be doing if the Visa was denied... basically very eager for the next morning to come.
Soon, it was the next morning. I left our room all clean shaven, bathed, wearing ironed fresh clothes and with a silent prayer on my lips after touching my mother's feet. The lady was there right on time, and we took a little stroll around. There is something about a fresh vivacious face in the morning that makes you want to stare at it just like that. But it seemed to make her uncomfortable... so I thought lets return to more relevant topics at hand: the Visa Interview, namely. I asked her what documents were to be submitted where, just as a last-minute round-up. So the conversation went like this:
Her: Your passport and interview appointment letter
Me: Yup, I have 'em...
Her: Ok, then the DS Forms, all three
Me: Yes, I have them
Her: Your HDFC Bank receipt
Me: Yes of course... have both the yellow and the pink one
Her: Then the SEVIS Fee receipt
Me: Yeah that is the same as the HDFC Bank receipt, right? I have it, dear...
Her: Huh? Nope, the SEVIS fee receipt which you paid online! Those 100$
Me: Err... isn't it the same one that I paid those 4600 rupees for at the HDFC bank?
[She keeps staring at me, so I continue]
Me: You mean to say that they are different?
Her: Sudipta, I am serious!! I had to pay close to 9000 rupees for the interview. Everyone I know has done that!! How much did you cough up in total?
Me: Hmm... looks like I have not paid it. I spent only 4881 bucks...
I don't know if you have ever said the words "Holy Shit" from your heart, but that was the one time in my life I uttered them. Imagine, standing in front of the US Consulate at 7:15 a.m. in the morning, getting ready for an interview at 8:00 for which I had left my job, my life, had accepted a life of studentship and hardship... an unknown future. And there I stand, without having paid my SEVIS fees. It was so early in the morning that no cyber cafe would open in another 2-3 hours, let alone the activation time for the fees, etc. It was the perfect goof-up, the biggest blunder of my life.
The effects were more visible on the lady than on me. She started sweating, and her face perhaps represented what someone would look like if she were told that she will be executed in another couple of hours. What the heck... lets face it, I thought. I had to bid her good-bye, and moved towards the consulate when it was about 7:30. The guys at the gate told me that the interview had been re-scheduled to 8:30 and that I had to report at 8:00.
It is difficult to describe what I was feeling then. I went back to my room, told mom about what had happened, and then settled into bed for a little nap. I was quiet, because I did not have much to say either to my mom or to myself. Mom appeared panicky... almost on the verge of tears. And 7:30 melted into 8:00 in no time. I walked out again for the consulate.
The people let me in, because I had the passport and all. I went all the way in till I reached the counters where they checked all documents and stuff. I was in a queue, and when my turn came, I was almost ready to turn back and get out of the consulate --- they'd never allow me further, I thought. When I was finally at the counter, I asked, as sweetly as I could, "Are the HDFC bank fees and the SEVIS fee different?".
Surprisingly, the man at the counter was not offended or irritated about it. He said yes, and asked me if I had paid it. I was living through my moment of truth, and I said "No, I'm sorry, I was confused and I haven't". He said it was ok... and then wrote down at a corner of my application "SEVIS fee not paid" and asked me to sit on the bench and wait for my interview. "The consulate officer will tell you what to do".
So I was actually going to have the interview after all!!! I had let out a big sigh... I think there couldn't have been anyone looking more relieved there in the entire lobby. But there was still the bigger hurdle remaining: the interview itself! I don't know if you have heard these weird stories about the Kolkata consulate, but apparently there was a lady who, well, lets just say, did not like to issue visas and always looked for reasons to reject --- or so I was told. But when the time came, just one guy came in and started the interviews; no lady!! I was sure I will get the Visa then... if I had crossed this hurdle, then the interview should be a cakewalk. And surprisingly, I thought to myself, I had maintained a straight face when I knew I hadn't paid those 100$, and had a straight face even then when I knew I was in for the interview!!!I wasn't interrogated much at the interview... a couple of questions, what do my parents do, my work-experience with Accenture, etc. In the end, the officer said, "All right sir, I am approving your Visa, but cannot issue it to you right now because you haven't paid your SEVIS fees. Pay them anyday and come back with your passport and a receipt, and then we can issue you your Visa". Sure as hell I will be back, sire... I thought.
I walked out of the consulate then, with a spring in my steps and a bright sunshine on my face. If I could've got hold of a drum then, I might have played out "They don't really care about us" right then and there... It is in these moments that nothing but praises for the Lord come out of your lips... and reached my room. Mother was sitting on the bed, looking all so intense in her prayer. When I told her that I had got my Visa, I couldn't discern whether she wanted to laugh or cry. Apparently, she had spent the past hour just praying to God for me. I switched on my mobile, and called the lovely lady of the morning. I could almost sense the relief in her voice as she learnt the good news. She told that every one of her colleagues had known about this, because she had reached her office looking almost like a wreckage survivor. And I was also suitably informed (never mind the intricate details) that she wanted to wring my neck and shout at me at the top of her voice when she would meet me next. Ahh... I could have given so much just to get strangled by her right then :)
That, dear folks, is my life: adventures of my own making, incredibly lucky escapes, and a bunch of people who pray for me all the time. Lucky me!
[P.S. - have reached Austin all safe and sound. A couple of posts coming up shortly about the flight and the place as I find here. And I am trying to catch up with all your blogs and trying to comment on the 'gems' that I might have missed. You'll be lucky, don't worry!]