It was 9th of June 2005, if I remember it right. My manager called me to his seat, and asked me if I’d be able to travel in the near future. I assumed it was yet another Beijing travel, and since I was sick of summers in Beijing,
and also since my house construction was only half complete, I refused. He said it was for 1 week and to the UAE to provide training to the customers.
Well, this was something new and definitely my house could spare me for a week. I said OK.
What followed was a week of hectic running around to get all sorts of documents right from my birth certificate to the last IT returns filed, neither of which I knew where I had misplaced.
Finally after a lot of pillar-to-post runs, I was told the trip was postponed. I heard again in Sept that I was to travel to UAE and was even given a detailed schedule. But right from the beginning, I somehow felt this wouldn’t materialise either.
Soon, I heard it was postponed again.
Later around october I was told I was to travel on the 30th November. I was given the visa: An A4 sheet with some visa no, my passport no, the sponsor details. The customer was the sponsor.
I was to show this on arrival at the Dubai airport and get the original one before immigration control.
This time, they got all the tickets ready for me to travel on the 28th. The schedule was for 3 days: Nov 30th, Dec 4th and 5th, with 3 days of holidays in between.
But on 27th I was told its been postponed by one week, because of the holidays from Dec 1st to 3rd.
Then again, tickets were booked for the 1st, to leave Bangalore by the 6 PM flight to Hyderabad, and from there to Dubai, next morning, 2nd Dec, by Emirates at 4 AM. ( For those wondering how this would work, as 3rd and 4th fall on saturday and sunday, UAE is an Arab country where the weekends are made of thursdays and fridays)
I left Bangalore, reached Hyderabad, checked into the hotel booked for me, got up at 1 AM promptly, and was in the airport by 2.
At the check-in counter, I was told that the copy of the visa I had was a photocopy and I need to get the fax letter.
It was 2:30 AM in the morning and I called my boss. He wasn’t happy to be woken up so early ( who would be). What followed was a sequence of calls, leading to the company contact person in UAE, going to his office at 1 AM ( UAE is 1.5 hrs behind India). He reached office, gave me a call, and informed me that he had no copy to fax me!!!
And to top it all, I was asked to fax the copy to him to be re-faxed to me!! I tried explaining that there was no way I could find a fax machine at 3 AM in the airport, and the no I had given him belonged to the airport and they’ll have me chucked out if I tried to fax it to him to get it re-faxed!!
The flight finally took off without me. I told my boss that I’ll return to Bangalore. I booked tickets by Sahara and the flight was at 1 PM. I had to wait from 3:30 AM to 5:30 AM on the road waiting for the counter to open.
I went into the city and checked into a hotel to while away the time. Around 9 AM, I decided to call my boss again to check on stuff.
This time I was told of a change in plans. The visa would be faxed to me, and tickets would be re-booked to Dubai, and I should collect the tickets from the Emirates office.
I gave a fax no, an STD/ISD/XEROX/FAX shop near the hotel. I got five faxes, same document, but in different states!
I was asked to go to the airport and check with immigration if it was acceptable. Like a lamb, I followed orders, went to the airport, got a green signal from immigration, then went to Banjara hills, got my tickets and returned to my room.
The flight was at 10 AM the next morning.
Next day, I woke up early, 5 AM. I had asked for a wake up service, as my mobile was out of charge. Somehow, I managed to borrow a charger from another guest, and set my alarm to wake up at 5.
The wake up service came: at 5:45!!
I checked out at 6, went directly to the airport 4 hours before departure, mainly to avoid any unpleasant scenes like the previous day!
The immigration were true to their word, and I managed to get onto the flight. It was a good flight, and I could realise why emirates is among the best in the business.
At the dubai airport, it was a long walk to the visa collection centre – and I had 12 kgs to carry without wheels!!
I showed them the visa copy, and asked for the originals. After checking a bundle of documents, I was told bluntly with a shrug “No visa.”
It took sometime for that to register. I was in an alien country, in the airport, all alone, with no way of getting out!!
I called up the contact person ( thank God for little mercies, local calls from the airport in Dubai are free!) and he spoke to the visa guys.
The sponsor was called in and he gave some advice. It went on for close to one hour. During this time the truth slowly dawned on me. The visa I was given had expired.
This was something I had observed and brought to the notice of my contact and my boss, while I was in Bangalore itself. I was told that the visa had been renewed and I’d get the renewed copy in the airport!!
Then I managed to go to the immigration office, and on checking their records, they pronounced the visa “Dead before arrival”. The visa had actually expired on October 29th 2005!! I got the copy sometime middle of November!
I told my contact. He asked me to book tickets to Bahrain, and get a transit visa. I tried but was refused the tickets, saying the visa would be given only if the tickets were booked before the first flight itself.
I realised I had minimal choice, but to return back. I was given options like staying in the airport hotel until I was “pulled out” of there. In between, I called my manager, only to get ideas like “explain your situation to the immigration authorities there and they may let you in!”
My contact also slowly resigned to the fact that I’d have to return.He knew there was very little that could be done now.
So, after 3 hours of haggling over the phone – calls to India and local – I decided to book tickets.
It was a long walk again! and at the counter, I was told I’ll have to speak to the security as they would be curious as to why someone who arrived by the morning flight is leaving the same night without entering!!
After a long walk again, I had an interview with the security. I showed them all I had, my passport, the expired visa fax, my reason for travel before they were convinced to let me off.
I got tickets for the 10 PM flight back to hyderabad.
I reached hyderabad at 3:30 AM. I waited outside on the road close to 1.5 hours again for the sahara counter to open.
I got tickets for the bangalore flight at 7:30 AM, paying 3400 over my existing ticket.
I reached bangalore at 8:30 AM and after a long drive, I was finally home. All this time you might have noticed I didn’t mention about food. At Dubai, I had no lunch or dinner.
I had to survive one whole day on 2 meals, if you can call them that, served on the flight, one at 11 AM and the other at 11 PM (13.5 hours later considering the time difference also).
I just didn’t have the time or the inclination to go and eat the rest of the time.
And the worst part was I saw people, who had come with a one-way ticket, and were facing the same problem: the sponsor forgetting to deposit the visa at the airport. And these were people who had come to Dubai with large hopes of making money to support their families at home. I know it was sadistic of me, but it gave me strength to realise that I atleast had a return ticket, 4000 USD in my pocket, and that whatever I spend would be refunded by my company.