Enjoy the picture. The ten minute walk along the canal from Paddington Station to VFS (the company which now runs India’s visa services) was the most calming thing about the whole experience. The VFS building isn’t called Battleship House for nothing.
The first ‘visa torpedo’ came the second I got in the doors. I found myself face to face with the same Cerberus who turned me away a week ago for not having a copy of the girls’ birth certificates. Fair enough, I should have had them, but anyone who takes such a perverse joy in pointing out the mistakes of others ought not to have a job checking whether people have met VFS’s draconian requirements – which are hidden on about page 35 of the website.
So nervous was I that I had not fulfilled my duties that I was shaking as I handed over my applications this time. “Application for a minor?” he barked..”You must have the birth certificate”. I handed it over. “The consent form?” I had it. “The photos?” I showed them. Since it had clearly made the chap’s day turning me away last week, I feel I really spoilt his morning with my careful preparation. Even though I rather ruined my moment of triumph by dropping all of the passport photos on the floor, and having them picked up by sympathetic fellow queuers.
I am sure the Indian Visa Office is the only one in the world that has an Arts & Crafts stand. Once you’ve shown your documents you have to cut out and stick your passport photos onto your application, so VFS handily provides a table with gluesticks and scissors.
“Just like playgroup” I quipped to the security guard. He didn’t smile. Note to self – must stop making jokes to people in uniforms when nervous. I’m the sort of person who, when asked “did you pack your bags yourself?” is likely to reply “No, this foreign-looking gentleman offered to do it for me. I hate packing, so I was delighted”. I can see that, at some point in the next year, this is only going to get me into trouble.
After the gluing came the waiting. VFS operates a ticketing system, rather like the one they have at Waitrose when you’d like to buy a few slices of ham and a scotch egg. Only at number 744 and with 720 on the screen, it was clear I wasn’t going to get to the deli counter any time soon.
While waiting, I watched the other applicants. The woman who had come from far away and was told that she needed a ten year old passport with a former visa in for her application to be processed; the lady who had really cracked motherhood, with her baby slumbering peacefully in a sling throughout the whole interminable waiting period, and the ‘professional visa applicants’ with five or six carefully filled out applications for those who would rather not wait in line.
Finally getting to the counter was rather an anticlimax. Twenty minutes of nervous smalltalk later (during which I thankfully failed to say anything that would get me arrested as a potential terrorist), I came out feeling lighter (over £200 lighter, as it happens) and with three really ancient-looking receipts instead of mine and the girls’ passports. I’d have preferred a block of mature cheddar and a slice of gala pie to be honest, but apparently in three days I’ll have the passports back, and hopefully with the visas in them. If I’ve done it right. Still not completely convinced.