Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Cost Of Three Lemons - Part 1
There is much comic relief to be derived from the predicaments of other people. The sight of a guy stumbling and falling down, a drunken guy getting thrown in a lock up for knocking down a policeman while driving - having mistaken the policeman for a stray dog, a fat man being chased by a mongrel and then bitten by it and yet another boy being rewarded with a slap for sending a love letter to a girl, are all matters of jest.
You actually don’t realize it’s a tragedy until it has happened to you.
There is some such amusement for everyone in the corporate world too.
This is quite ironical since more efforts are made in the corporate world than elsewhere to protect the dirty secrets of people. There are ‘policies’ to ensure that the skeleton in the cupboard remains there. They make you take the oath of confidentiality, oath of secrecy, privacy and what not.
You are even made to sign documents stating that you will keep mum about almost everything – your salary, your appraisal, your incentive etc. etc.
Notwithstanding these efforts of the lawmakers to ensure what they call ‘confidentiality’ in the firm, eventually the only law that prevails is the law of ‘transparency’. Everybody comes to know everything about everyone. This fact in itself is very amusing.
Of all the matters worthy of gossip and entertainment, the matter of those who travel to the US of A is undoubtedly the winner – for several reasons. There are three stages of such an episode: the visit to the consulate for a VISA, the journey on the plane and the short encounter with the immigration department after landing. In each stage, there is sufficient room for accidents and untoward incidents and consequently for entertainment.
Consider the first stage. Nobody so far has been able to solve the mystery of VISA rejection. Candidates carry documents, certificates, passports, photographs, etc.
The paraphernalia varies depending on the type of VISA you wish to apply for – H1, B1, L1, and so on…
Outside the consulate office in Chennai, one can find a motley mix of people. Applicants, their parents, grandparents, cousins, friends…
Notwithstanding the detailed instruction given to the candidates – DO NOT – talk too much or too little, smile too cheerfully or too cheerlessly, be too confident or too diffident, appear too eager or too nonchalant, dress too formally or too casually, talk too softly or too loudly, too fast or too slow………, some applicants have to return dejectedly from the consulate, having been told that their VISA is rejected.
For all your speculation about what might have gone wrong, the white (or black) guy behind the counter had probably had a fight with his harlot. Or the famous Chennai weather (hot, hotter or hottest) dictated his temper that noon. Or he was still suffering the aftermath of a misadventure that followed the previous day’s meal from Saravana Bhavan, when he decided to try this South Indian dish for the first time and the restaurant waiter taking the order bungled up and committed the dangerous omission of the ‘No’ from the ‘No spicy’ instruction… and you had to bear the brunt of it all. Who knows?
The journey to the US of A itself is preceded by extensive consultation with all those people in one’s first circle and second circle, who have visited the US of A, who have set one foot in the US of A but no more (since they were returned from immigration upon landing due to suspicion, whims, fancies and caprices of the immigration officer), those who have as much as dreamt of going to the US of A, the family astrologer, backstreet palmist and so on.
One such colleague in office consulted a well wishing friend at work just a few cubicles away from him.
Now in IT offices, people communicate with the fellow occupying their neighbouring cubicle through telephone, email, chat service, tele/video conferencing – any means except the obvious and easiest method of turning around, tapping on the shoulder and exchanging sentences over a few minutes.
If this well wisher had given his valuable advice orally over a cup of coffee in the cafeteria, then our colleague’s story would have a happy ending; but then all of us in office would have been deprived of much laughter and amusement on account of what was to happen later.
So fortunately(for us gossip lovers), this well wisher wrote a detailed email to our colleague, advising him to take caution about a very specific aspect of US travel – a secret he thought no one except him knew.
Now when you land in the US, you go through immigration, the first checkpoint where occasional filtering happens. As with the VISA rejection at the consulate, the rejection at immigration too is a mystery.
It is most dreaded by all travelers who stand in the queue trembling as if they were being taken to a slaughterhouse.
Because being rejected at immigration is the worst thing that can happen to a traveler. You are put on the next plane back to India without being allowed to take as much as a peek into the US of A after 30-40 hours of long journey and you return home from the US of A having seen nothing more than one airport.
There are several lines with an immigration officer in each line. Usually you can choose which line you want to enter.
So the well wisher advised our colleague to try and avoid a line having a white immigration officer and to enter a line with a black immigration officer instead. Apparently, the chances of getting through were easier that way.
What the calculation behind the expectation of lenience was, I am not sure of.
Probably a feeling of brotherhood due to the closeness of the blacks’ skin colour to ours than to the whites’. Probably our kinship with Mahatma Gandhi who fought to salvage them in South Africa. Perhaps the commonality of the presence of elephants in both our land and theirs? Or the commonality of people having size zero figure in both Somalia and Bihar? Or perhaps a common game of cricket played in both countries?
Our colleague not only read the instructions, but printed the email and carried it with him on the plane to memorize the thing in transit.
The plane landed and he set his foot (right foot) in the US of A at last.
Sure, the guy went to a black immigration officer and along with his passport, the I-92 form, return ticket, documents and all, he submitted to the officer, the printed copy of the email as well! It remains to be found out whether he did it carelessly or intentionally in order to please the black man by letting him know how privileged he was to be the chosen one for all travelers from our part of the world.
But to his misfortune, the black man was neither amused nor impressed. He was offended by the notion of folks such as our rookie who dared assume that the blacks were liberal with suspicious immigrants. Were they insinuating that the blacks were less patriotic than the whites?
Neither our rookie nor his colleague in India had foreseen such a creative and ingenious interpretation of their simple calculation.
The rookie was put on the first plane flying back to Bangalore and whether he murdered his well wishing friend upon landing for giving him the advice that he did, is unknown. But who cares as long as we are having fun?
In yet another episode, a guy was asked by his immigration officer what his opinion on terrorism was. No one in his first or second circle had warned him of such a question before. The guy could have given one of those beauty contest winning answers and finished it off but his strategy was to be cleverer than that.
He decided to not just get away with passing marks, not even a distinction but to give an answer no one had given before and to receive a standing ovation from the entire immigration department… he wore a very innocent expression on his face just like a baby and asked the officer “What is terrorism?”
Within a few hours he was flying back to India. With the lesson ‘Playing dumb does not work!’
To be continued…