Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Visa shenanigans in Bangalore, a cautionary tale

Visa shenanigans in Bangalore: a cautionary tale


Before I get into the main topic of this blog, a brief primer on Indian driving etiquette:  In India one drives on the left, unless one has some reason not to.  The horn, used in emergencies in America, here  is used merely to announce one's presence.  Sort of how bats use echo location, except unlike bats the car and scooter horns are audible and annoying.  Darwinism is the norm.  Small gets out of the way for big, slow gets out of the way for fast.  Right of way, schmight of way.  Every man for himself and God against all.

So, that said, I had to go into Bangalore to try to sort out an issue with my visa.  Among India's larger cities, Bangalore  has a pretty vaunted reputation.  "It's the Silicon Valley of India," they say.  "The main hub of IT departments for all types of companies."  This is true.  Many tech companies are based in Bangalore, and when you call an 800 number and some guy with an absurdly thick Indian accent says "thank you for calling company X customer service, my name is Jonathan, how can I help you?" chances are you're calling Bangalore, and that his real name is almost certainly Prakash or Suresh or some other traditional Indian name.  However, if you think Bangalore is anything like San Jose or Palo Alto, you're in for a savagely rude awakening.  Even most travelers to Mysore who fly into Bangalore first don't see it in all of its glory because international flights to the Bangalore's airport tend to arrive and leave in the middle of the night, so the taxi ride through town is relatively pain free.  Maybe there are worse cities in India, but this place is simultaneously sprawling, densely packed, and filthy.  Driving through it is an utter nightmare.  The only analogy I can come up with would only make sense to my fellow Miamians, but it's the best I can do.  Here goes:

You know the construction they've been doing at the junction of State Roads 826 and 836?  Imagine they were doing it over 8th street.  Imagine this 8th street strewn with garbage and packs of feral dogs. Now imagine the volume of cars in a Miami rush hour on this filthy, garbage-strewn 8th street, each  one of them using the horn blasting echo location method previously described.  This is something like driving in Bangalore.  I guess you can get used to anything, but my hat's off to the good citizens of Bangalore.  Another trip like that for me and I'd certainly need therapy for PTSD.

I had to go to Bangalore to beg for a brief extension of my visa, or, barring that, get what's called an exit permit.  When I applied for my visa earlier this year I applied for a five year visa, and then bought my plane ticket.  Very bad idea.  The fine print in the application states clearly that it's at the consulate's discretion how much time they give you.  I paid for five years, and was given six months.  My return flight is nine days after my visa expires.  I figured, what the fuck, it's India, nothing works here anyway, shouldn't be too big a deal.  At the urging of a buddy here, I looked into the consequences of overstaying a visa.  Apparently, in India civic sanitation may not be a priority, but immigration is.  Consequences of overstaying a visa can be dire, up to and including arrest.  Visions of Midnight Express were swimming through my head.  They unequivocally do not extend tourist visas, barring serious illness or a flight change.  But you can pay a fine and get permission to leave even though you've overstayed.  This is what I tried to do in Bangalore yesterday.  When I got to the duty officer he said he could probably help me, but not while my visa is still valid.  That actually makes sense.  But I'm not, under any circumstances, going back to Bangalore during daylight hours for something that might not pan out anyway, and even worse, but me on some kind of blacklist.  I want to come back to India again.  So I'm going to bite the bullet, change my ticket, and come home nine days early.  Lesson learned.

If you're applying for your first visa to India, get the five year one.  The ninety more dollars you spend could spare you the penny wise, pound foolish bullshit I put myself through.  If you don't get the five year visa, don't buy your ticket until you get your visa.  And don't fuck with Indian bureacracy.

11 comments:

  1. I´m surprised you can even get a 5-year. My understanding was and is unless you have special permission and some extreme exception it is the standard 6-month. My husband travels quite often on business to India..and he only gets 6 months each time. Gone really are the days when you could probably buck the system. India, after all has always been understood as being seriously corrcupted. And you could probably BUY your way through any bad situation. However, after 9/11...those days are history. Security is much tigher, everyone is fearful and NO ONE is doing any favours. Best to play by the books on these ones! Now, mind you if you valilate any traffic rules or do not even follow them well, you might get out of those more easily.

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    1. Several of my teachers and colleagues who have been going for many years were able to score long-term visas,. From the research I did, there is a tit-for-tat going on between India and the US because we have made our tax structure less favorable to Indina companies. Or something like that. Don't ask me to elucidate international corporate tax laws and diplomacy. I can barely count to ten in Sanskrit.

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  2. Yes, Bangalore is the worst city in India! Saddens me to say this because the rest of Karnataka rocks and the people in Bangalore are great. But the city is godawful. You forgot to mention it's about as expensive as Miami (I'm guessing) for all that disorganized wreck and waste of time. Don't let your vision of this city color your impression of megapolises in India! Dehli has the annoyances of Bangalore but exciting things to balance it out, Mumbai is fantastic and my heart goes to Calcutta, one if the most magical (and emotionally challenging) places on earth! PS. Counting in Sanskrit won't help you get a 5-year visa, although now that I think of it, they gave me one! ;)

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