The journey to Mumbai
On the flight to Mumbai from Karachi were people from all walks of life – across the aisle was Javed Jabbar who was obviously on a mission vis-a-vis Ramchand Pakistani or perhaps some other film; sitting next to me was a lady who had lost her husband five years ago and had been in denial for all this time, filling her time with work and family obligations. Now she was off to visit family in Mumbai and then going on to Bangalore to a health farm to detoxify and come to terms with the reality of her position and in order to start living again. There were musicians who were possibly headed for an Aman-ki-Aasha event (which i was told Zia Mohyeddin was also flying up for). There were old people who were flying to India to meet family. There were some tourists, young honeymooners, and couples with small children who were either just out to discover Bollywood or were heading to Mumbai to catch up with family and friends.
The flight itself was a very short one – one hour and 25 minutes and although take-off was 10 minutes late due to air-traffic control, we landed in Mumbai at 12 noon. We were excited about the upcoming conference and happy that the visa had been granted. It had been a real hassle this time with Home Ministry clearance, NoCs from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Maharashtra State Government all being part of the requirements. The President and Vice President of Nasscom, and several friends within the Association, had put in a lot of effort to ensure that we got our visas at the 11th hour. Unfortunately our visas were single entry, Mumbai-only conference visas for a 10 day period, instead of the multiple-entry business visas that we had requested, which would have included cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad.
I wish that after 60+ years both our governments could get their act together and make it possible for legitimate travelers to get visas easily so that they could travel to multiple cities. I think ours must be the only countries that provide city-specific visas instead of country visas. It is so idiotic. What if I meet someone at this Nasscom conference with whom I want to explore a business relationship. He or she may be based in Bangalore or Pune or Chennai. I cannot travel to those cities because I had not foreseen that I would meet this person and would be traveling to any of these cities so I wouldn’t have a visa for that city. Can you believe that if I apply for a multiple entry visa, I need to specify which cities I will be visiting on each of these trips, where I will be staying, etc etc. Absolutely absurd! And both Pakistan and India have these requirements for each other’s nationals.
But that is not even the beginning of the absurdity. Listen intently to what happens when we land. The flight took only 1 hour and 25 mins but then, because we were Pakistani nationals, we had to form a single file at one counter where our passport particulars were manually noted down by an immigration person. The process was painfully slow. There were old people, people in wheelchairs, infants and business people who just stood there patiently as the queue inched forward. Don’t get me wrong. The officials were all very polite, very friendly and even apologetic at times for the discomfort but this process, defined by some very wise people in Delhi and Islamabad, had to be adhered to. Once we were registered, we were given resident permits which we had to fill up before we could proceed to the immigration desks.
I thought that now things would happen quickly but we were unfortunate. Mumbai airport had just installed new software that day, which most officers did not really know how to use, so as they strugged with it, the passengers waited. Their supervisors helped them but the process took time so it was only 2 hours after landing that we finally ventured out to grab a cab.
We were met by a very nice young man from Trident Hotel where we were staying who helped us get into an airconditioned cab and half an hour later we finally walked into the beautiful Trident Hotel in Bandra Kurla Complex tired but happy to have that ordeal behind us. Hopefully the rest of the trip will be free of bureaucratic hassles.
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