Thursday, April 03, 2008

From Mumbai to Chicago....

I felt the cold winds of Chicago blow into my face, while I sat in my car. It’s been two weeks since I have landed in here. I am still getting used to the idea that it can be cold in middle of March. Back in India, at this time we are already celebrating the onset of summers!! The air is crisp and cold, unlike in Mumbai where you feel you are breathing only water because of high humidity.

Up in the sky, far away I saw a plane flying cutting through the beautiful colors of the evening. Two weeks back, I was probably in that plane...waiting to fly into the arms of my husband, Ashish. The wait to reach him was long. After all we were separated by seven seas and Indian immigration people!!!!

"So, why are you flying to USA?" the immigration officer in India asked me.

"My husband is working there." I replied.

"So?", he said.

I was little taken aback at that moment. How do I reply to this "So!"? I could think of various answers and it made me smile. I didn’t know whether it was joke or that man was actually asking me this question.

"To join my husband", I said with a smile on my face.

The way that officer looked at me, I immediately knew that it’s going to be a long night. That funny question was actually a serious one!

"Show me your papers." he said.

I took out my marriage certificate and other forms to tell that my husband is legally in the golden country and I am just a wife waiting to join my husband. He looked at the photocopy of my husband’s passport.

"How did you get this photocopy of his passport?", he said.

"He gave it to me before he went", I replied. I was not sure why he was asking me this.

"How can this possible? This already has an immigration stamp on it. Do you want to tell me that he got it stamped here and then came out to give you the photocopy?” he said it with a scowl on his face.

I was lost. What was this man trying to say? I was totally confused and for a moment I felt the floor beneath my feet slip away!

"Well, my husband left on 9th Feb 2008. The stamp you see is of May, 2006. He came back to India on Nov, 2006. We got married and he left before me. I am on my way to be with him". I told him and this time I definitely didn’t smile!

"Show me your marriage certificate", he said.

I pulled out the marriage certificate given to me by the government of India. I thought this will shut him up.

"This is not valid!” he said without even looking up.

I simply lost control of what’s happening. How can a marriage certificate with the stamp of valid government seal be invalid!

"This is a district certificate. It’s from Udaipur. How is that possible?” he said again.

Is this guy really talking to me or am I an invisible element listening to the conversation of some other people.

"Well, I got married in Udaipur and hence the certificate from there. I have also got a letter from my husband's company.”I told him. I was desperately trying to convince this man that I am not a fake person!

I pulled out a letter from my husband’s company which stated that I am on my way to join my husband.

How did you get this?", he asked. Oh god! I hope he is not one crazy fan of Sherlock Homes.

"Well, the company posted it to me", I told him.

"Did it come in an envelope?", he asked.

"Yes.", I told him.

I couldn’t help but frown as I didn’t know what he was getting to.

"Why doesn’t it have folds to indicate it came in an envelope?", he said with such an authority that I couldn’t believe my ears!!

These are the people the government of India has hired to see that only eligible people go to the other countries! The most important question this guy here could ask me was why the letter doesn’t have folds!

"Well, it came in a big envelope so that the paper doesn’t need to be folded!", I told him. This time my voice was barely audible. I was afraid whether it was a trick question or a real question.

He gave me a look which said, don’t act smart lady as I have the power to let you go or not. At this point I panicked. What did I do wrong, probably smiled at his stupid question. This guy can actually refuse to let me go while terrorists get in airplanes and have managed to hijack it fly it across the buildings.

"Stand on the side", he said like a teacher tells a student to punish.

I didn’t know what it meant. I went cold. Does it mean that he is actually not letting me go...this can’t be true? I got a valid VISA from the United State of Government. They had checked all my documents. Can this guy actually refuse to let me go?

He gave my papers to some other guy. Must be a senior from the way he held his head up and moved around. I was surrounded by strangers whom I had never seen them in my life before and I am sure I won’t ever meet them again. Yet, somehow they had the power to alter my future!

"Show me your marriage certificate", the senior officer told me.

I pulled out my marriage certificate again. I also added the letter from my husband's company incase even he also has any doubt. He just gave one look at it and gave it back to the immigration officer who was handling my case. He just nodded and went away. I kept standing there not knowing what would happen next!

The officer stamped my visa and gave it back to me with such an air of importance. I could not believe that it all happened to me. I was in such a shock; I didn’t know how to react. What did actually go wrong? If everything was right, why was I stopped in the first place? I walked to the gate like a zombie! Maybe it was just a dream. I pinched myself and realized painfully that it was not!

Thankfully, the rest of my journey went peacefully. When I stood in front of the immigration at ORD, she just asked me three questions -

"Why are you here?"

"Which company does your husband work for?"

"How long do you plan to live here?"

After which she said - "Have a pleasant stay in USA. Hope you have a wonderful time here".

A strange country is ready to take me in and people of my own country had problems without any reasons. The most intelligent question they could afford to ask me was why the paper doesn’t have folds if it came in envelope!