Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Visa Verification

After we visited the FRRO last week, we knew there was a next step involving a constable visiting our apartment to verify we were who we said we were and we lived where we said we lived. Based on what our immigration people had said, we wouldn't go through that step until after we returned from the U.S. at the end of October. The immigration people were wrong.

On the way home from the gym this morning, my trusty driver Kailesh politely mentioned that he had received a call from our other driver that the police had been there to visit this morning. He said that the guards had told the policeman to come back when ma'am and sir returned, likely around 9pm. When I arrived at the apartment, the guards mentioned that the constable had gone to another unit and was likely still in the complex. Thankfully, he was able to contact the cop and that he was willing to come back. At this point, I called the wife, who was busy at the salon correcting a highlight nightmare she had been living since the weekend. Not knowing if her presence was necessary, but assuming that it was, I suggested she hurry back.

A few minutes later the doorbell rang, and unsurprisingly, it was the constable (it just sounds fancier than "cop", right?). I had no idea what documentation I was supposed to have or what exactly he was there to verify but it seemed the polite thing to do to invite him into the apartment. He motioned that I sit (always nice to be told where to sit in your own home), and he started fumbling through some paper files. His English, while still infinitely better than my Hindi, was limited (I later learned from my HR guy at work who had the pleasure to speak to him on the phone that his Hindi was somewhat garbled as well). From his first question, I understood that he wanted two copies of the lease and copies of our passports. Thankfully, we keep a copy in the safe, though only one of each. When I brought it back, I basically said, "sorry dude, only have one copy".

He seemed content for the time being and started asking some basic questions like "Nationality?" and started to write up his very official looking verification report. This official looking document started as a blank 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper and gradually was built into a fairly official looking piece of paper; that is, as official as a handwritten piece of paper can look. After he finished the first page, he looked at me and said, "Two copies of lease. Need to neighbors or Indians to verify who you are." Seeing as the only neighbors we knew moved out last week, I responded, "Can I go get the guards?" He didn't seem to like that response. He asked, "Can any colleagues or HR people from work come?" Based on this question, the light finally went on. I actually had resources that could help me with this situation.

I called my HR guy, explained the situation, and handed the phone to the constable. They spoke for a few minutes and I was handed back the phone. Ramen told me that he'd connect with someone at the office and send a couple copies of the lease over with some people that could "verify" me. He also made the astute recommendation to offer the guy a Coke or something. I hung up and turned to the constable, saying that people from the office would be there within five minutes (it is actually very close). He feigned annoyance (something tells me he was just fine sitting there for as long as it took) and we waited in silence.

Finally, Lindsay made her way back to the apartment, but I'm not sure she technically needed to be there. I decided not to let her know until after she arrived. Immediately upon her arrival, the mood changed in the room. He started asking questions about us, were we married (he wasn't sure because we had separate applications), did we have kids, etc. Upon answering "no" to the kid question, he motioned over to the pictures we have of our nieces on the entry table and Lindsay explained, gushing (of course) about how cute they were. He seemed to like this exchange and the topic quickly turned to the Commonwealth Games with Lindsay mentioning how great the opening ceremonies were and how the constable should be proud. From that point forward, I decided she would do the talking.

The doorbell then rang again and our HR contacts arrived from the office. After pleasantries, they two guys were able to sign the official looking verification papers (now actually looking somewhat official) and copies of the lease. I'm still not sure why they had to sign the lease. At that point, I thought we were done. But one of the HR guys and the constable began engaging in a discussion in Hindi. I really had no idea what was taking place, but my colleague then pulled out his wallet, drew Rs. 200 (about $4.50), and handed it to the constable.

A "donation"!

The constable, now satisfied, took one last swig of Diet Coke (it's entirely possible he disliked me simply because I didn't have regular Coke), and abruptly left the apartment. Our colleague turned to us and said, "Sometimes, in the third world, 'donations' are just the way it works. But for $4 or $5, it didn't seem too bad." Relieved the verification was over, we thanked our colleagues profusely, reimbursed the donation, and let them go about their day.

Things like this don't happen EVERY day in India, but I felt like I had been on a bit of a cold streak lately. As I embark on my first trip back to the U.S. tomorrow night, this was a great reminder that I still have a lot to experience, witness, and learn when I return at the end of October.

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