Sunday, March 24, 2013

How I Didn’t Get My Tunisia-WSF Visa

I could not go to the World Social Forum in Tunisia for lack of a visa.

This is the strange story of how that happened.

When I bought my Egyptair ticket from the Thomas Cook office in Goa on 8 March, it seemed a bit strange that the agent said he was “not authorized” to get my visa. Only the TC office in Mumbai could do that.

All he could do was print out the application form from the Embassy’s web site.

He also told me that as I had a stopover of more than 12 hours at Cairo, I would need a transit visa, and that I could apply for both Egyptian and Tunisian visas in Mumbai.

The Thomas Cook office in Mumbai declined to process a visa for a passenger ticketed from Goa. Also, the consulate in Mumbai did not do visas; only the Embassy in Delhi did.

In Delhi the next morning the gatekeeper at the Tunisian Embassy told me I would have to apply from the street, as there was no space for visitors inside. Another applicant, who claimed to be a World Bank consultant, confirmed that was the case.

After much tooing and froing to a nearby Internet café/Xerox shop, my passport and a fee more than double the posted figure disappeared into the Embassy.

There was no receipt or token number; and the gatekeeper said it would take five days to get the visa: some 40 passports were being sent off that day to Tunis for processing.

The gatekeeper said there was an agent familiar with the Embassy who would retrieve my passport and courier it to me in Goa. My concern at not having any receipt for the transaction he dismissed airily: “Chinta math kariye, eisay he hota hai.” (Don’t worry, This is how it happens.)

I went back to Goa and waited. When the deadline passed without any sign of my passport I called the Embassy. An Indian voice at the Visa Section said she would call when the visa was issued. It became a routine over the next few days. 

Thomas Cook in Goa refused all help: it was "against policy." The agent suggested I fly to Delhi and get my visa. Perhaps I could speak to the head of the TC visa processing section in Mumbai? He claimed not to know a soul there and could not help me contact anyone.I have never in my well-traveled life met so unhelpful a travel agent.

On 22 March I cancelled my tickets and called the person who was supposed to retrieve my passport. He said he would get my passport on Monday, the 25th.

That was the final slightly weird element of what in retrospect seems to be yet another creepy crawly episode. (See here, here, here and here.)

As I wait to see if I will get my passport back, I wonder, will someone else have used it? And to what ends?

The thought rests on another slightly weird experience.

On the morning of 21 February the person who cleans my apartment asked if I could get her a new sim card; she did not have the residence proof to get one herself.

I asked what happened to the phone she had. She still had it, but wanted another.

I offered to accompany her to the shop and attest to her address in writing, but that she declined.

Later that day, when terrorist bombs went off in Hyderabad, it struck me that I might have escaped a serious entrapment. I write this post in case my passport turns up in some incriminating context: I want my alibi in the public domain.

And anyone at the WSF who runs into a person claiming to be Bhaskar Menon is hereby authorized on behalf of all Mission Impossible fans to reach out and rip off the impersonator’s latex mask.

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