So, just to catch you up a bit:
Thursday, May 4: Our (first) departure date. No go. Sent to a Mumbai hotel (called Vits) for the night.
Friday, May 5: Trip to Mumbai immigration. No go. Sent back to Pune.
Even though we only stayed one night in the Mumbai hotel and got a reduced rate, they nevertheless generously allowed us to keep our big luggage bags (10 of them) in their locker/vault area until our business in Pune was done. I cannot thank the Vits people enough for how nice they were to us during this whole ordeal.
Fulbright was similarly generous in paying for our car trips from Mumbai to Pune and back again during this time. Fulbright is an incredibly awesome organization.
The drive between Mumbai and Pune can take anywhere from 2.5 – 4+ hours. The highway between the two cities is very modern – as good as any US interstate. But the traffic in each city is what really drags the trip out. It takes at least an hour just to get from the hotel to the highway in Mumbai, and another hour (at least) to go from Pune city limits to Gulistan.
We arrived back in Gulistan late Friday. After all the panic at the airport and the running around in Mumbai, it felt great to be in a familiar place with family again. The kids were happy to be back as well.
Our plan was to head to the Pune FRO (Foreigner Registration Office) right away Saturday, but when we looked at their website it said they were closed on Saturday. The immigration guy in Mumbai had assured us they were open on Saturday, so this was disappointing. That meant we wouldn’t get to see anyone until Monday. The rest of our visas (mine, Sophia’s and Eli’s) ran out that Thursday, May 11 so we didn’t have much time to spare.
When we woke up Saturday morning, though, Farhana suggested we take a trip to the FRO on Saturday anyway, just to check. We let Sukrut know we were going and he agreed to meet us there. We arrived at the FRO around 9:30 a.m. and sure enough, there were people around. Our particular office wasn’t yet open, but we were told that it would be at 10 a.m. And open it was!
Sukrut arrived soon after we did, and from that moment on, he was with us every second we were at the FRO, and he did most of the talking for us. And did all of the waiting with us. And there was a lot of waiting!
In retrospect, if we hadn’t gone to the FRO that day and got done what we did, we wouldn’t have made it out by our visa-expiration deadline.
If you go back and look at some early posts, I give a few details about how difficult the registration process was when I went through it when we first arrived. All told, it took me many weeks to complete and many trips to the FRO. I was very skeptical that we’d be able to get all that same work done for the kids in such a short time, in addition to taking care of Zak’s expired visa problem (I think I muttered “we’re screwed!” more than a few times). Sukrut was confident, though, and his confidence rubbed off a bit. By the time we left the FRO on Saturday, we weren’t anywhere near finished, but we made a good start, and it looked like perhaps we could complete things on Monday.
There were a couple things that we had to do by that Monday, though, that looked like they might be problematic. First, we had to get proof of residence in India for the kids, which meant getting signatures from our landlord – who lives near Toronto, Canada! He’s originally from India, and comes back to visit quite often, but he wasn’t in India at the time. The FRO told us we could send the relevant documents to him by email, have him print and sign and scan them, then send them back to us. However, he’s quite a traveler and so we had no idea how long it might take him to respond to emails. So that was one potential sticking point.
The other potential problem was: to take care of Zak’s problem, we had to get something called an “exit permit” for him; and to do that, we had to have plane tickets in hand. The problem with that was, we didn’t know for sure when we were going to be flying out because we didn’t know how long, exactly, the FRO was going to take to complete the rest of our business. United had allowed us to postpone the flight we missed on Thursday, but if we got tickets for a new flight and ended up missing that one, we’d have to eat the loss and buy all new tickets out-of-pocket. And tickets from India to the US are not cheap.
The people at the FRO gave us the following advice: since the rest of your visas expire on Thursday, book the tickets now for Wednesday (May 10) at 11:30 p.m. You’ll definitely be done by then.
Did we have a choice? Oh, and guess what else? Wednesday was a holiday for the FRO office – they’d be closed that day. So that meant we had Monday and Tuesday to finish all the business that had taken me weeks to complete back in July of 2016. The clock was ticking.
Next time: Not-so-fast times at the FRO.