Refresher: Thursday, May 4 – Our original departure date. Expired visa. Lack of registration for children. No go.
Friday, May 5: Visit to Mumbai immigration office. Sent back to Pune for documents, paperwork, signatures, etc.
Saturday, May 6: Back in Pune. Immigration office listed as closed, but a visit proves otherwise. We get a good start on paperwork needed to exit. Also, our landlord (who’s in Canada, remember) responded immediately to our emails and within an hour or two he had signed, scanned and returned all the documents we needed. Amazing man.
Our other task after our day at the immigration office Saturday was to actually purchase our plane tickets for Wednesday, May 10. Here we hit a bit of a snag, because while Fulbright gave us money towards some of the ticket price, we had to pay some as well, and there were some issues with who was paying what, and in what currency, etc. Plus I kept getting cut off when I would finally get a hold of someone from United. I mentioned this to Sachin, our Mumbai Fulbright connection, and he got right on it. Soon, United had emailed us something – it wasn’t the tickets themselves, but a sort of receipt – that we hoped would suffice for the immigration officials.
Sunday, May 7: Remember I said we had moved all of our stuff out of our apartment. That wasn’t 100% accurate. We moved all our clothes, books, etc. out, but all the big furniture and appliances were still there. Farhana’s family was going to take care of that after we left (obviously). But now we were there to help (yay!). Amina’s boss hooked us up with a tempo (truck) and some movers. I didn’t do much heavy lifting, because of my back. But did a lot of cleaning up as the beds, refrigerator, etc. got taken out. Sukrut came to help (he’s a glutton for punishment), and in-between tempo trips, as our stuff went between our place and Gulistan, Sukrut and I would go to a copier shop in the neighborhood and make copies of documents that we needed for the immigration office the next day. By the end of the day, most of the stuff had been moved, and we had put together nice, complete folders for each of the kids. Gulistan was a mess, because all that big stuff from our place was piled into the house. But overall, it was a pretty productive day.
Monday, May 8: Back to the Pune FRO office right at opening time (10 a.m.). We (and when I say “we” I mean “Sukrut”) got the living-arrangements stuff taken care of pretty quickly (by Pune FRO standards), which was nice. That was the stuff we needed signatures from the landlord for. I was expecting a bit more of a headache on that, since the landlord was in Canada. But no problems with any of that.
Next, we paid all the fees for the various procedures and applications. So things looked good. Around 3 p.m. though, we were told that nothing further could be done that day, because the remaining paperwork we needed had to be signed by officials who were not present. So we left. A move we would come to regret, but which seemed quite reasonable at the time.
I didn’t take many pictures from these days for obvious reasons. But there was a cute dog at the Pune FRO who seemed to be a mascot of the place, who liked Zak (and anyone who would pet him).
Tuesday, May 9: This is our last day, since the FRO office is closed on Wednesday for some sort of holiday, and we’ve now officially booked our tickets home for Wednesday, at 11:30 p.m. So we’ve got to walk out today with all the proper stamps, documentation, signatures, etc. And things looked good. It was mostly a waiting game, now, as documents went from official to official for various necessary signatures. Sukrut was doing most of the talking for us, and calling his various connections when necessary. By about 3 p.m., we had all of Zak’s stuff done – he was ready to go. And Eli’s and Sophia’s stuff just needed to be printed out.
Just then, the power went out. No big deal. The power goes out quite often in India, and we still had 2 hours to go before official closing time. So we waited. And waited. No power. 4:30 p.m. rolls around. Still no power. It would’ve been funny if it hadn’t been so excruciating. Our last day to get this stuff done, thousands of dollars worth of plane tickets on the line, visas expiring Thursday, everything done but the printing – and the power was out.
Finally, the lights come on right around 5 p.m. Success! But no. While the lights had come back on, the internet connection hadn’t. And the forms we needed to print were all online. So no dice. Sukrut was talking to people who said they’d stick around a while after closing time, because of the outage. Farhana called Gulistan and her brothers and sisters were calling the power company, which is what you do in such situations. Still, by 6 p.m. no internet. Sukrut talked to a guy who said “come tomorrow”.
“But it’s a holiday, the office is closed,” we responded.
“It’s closed to the public,” he said, “but people will be here working. Come in and we’ll get this stuff printed and you’ll be out of here by noon”.
So we left Tuesday crestfallen, but with some hope.
Wednesday, May 10: So we’re flying out of Mumbai tonight at 11:30 p.m. (or else losing our tickets and dealing with more expired visas). It’s about a 4-hour drive from Pune to Mumbai. We had to arrange for cars to leave Pune by around 1 or 2 p.m. We needed to leave that early because we still have to go back to our Mumbai hotel to pick up all our big luggage (they’ve been graciously holding it for us for almost a week, now). The FRO opened at 10 a.m. So we had a few hours to get everything done. At that point, we were making plans for different contingencies, and even talking about the possibility of splitting up, so we wouldn’t all have to buy new tickets.
We get to the FRO early and a few other people in similar situations are there as well. One guy tells us that a friend of his had twice missed flights to Afghanistan because of paperwork hold-ups here at the Pune FRO, so that didn’t exactly put us in a positive mood. And when we tried to go in, the people at the door said “no, we’re closed”. After some explaining and a trip inside by one of the security people, we were allowed in. And within an hour or two, we had successfully acquired all the documents, stamps, signatures, etc. that we needed. We were (finally) cleared to go.
We had to go through all the goodbyes a second time, which was really hard. Having the extra time in Pune was good, but most of it was spent at the FRO, or doing things that had to be done once we went back to the FRO. So we didn’t get to spend as much time with family as we would’ve liked. But our cars showed up on time, we said our goodbyes (again), and headed to Mumbai.
First, we went back to the hotel (called Vits) and ate some dinner. It’s a great place and again, let me highly recommend it. Not only did they not charge us even one rupee for keeping our bags all week, but they arranged cars for us from the hotel to the airport (which, thankfully was a short drive). We got to the airport around 8, and checked in with no problems at all. Aside from misplacing one backpack for a few minutes, the trip back to Newark went off without a hitch. Our car service had been successfully rescheduled and my parents met us with no problems. We celebrated with breakfast at a Pennsylvania Friendly’s. Here are some pics of the process – from dinner at Vits, to the airport, to the plane, to Newark airport, to Friendly’s:
So, we had finally made it! It was nice to be back in the good old USA – but bittersweet. We were already missing friends and family from India.
And speaking of friends and family in India: I’ve mentioned my (former) student Sukrut a lot in these last few posts, but it’s difficult to convey how helpful he was in the process. Not only did he do most of the work at the FRO, he did it cheerfully and optimistically, keeping our spirits up most of the time. He didn’t even have to be there! He has a whole life of his own, and there were final exams going on at the university during this time. Anyway, if I live to be 100, I’m not sure I could pay him back for his kindness. And it wasn’t just that last week. Sukrut did an independent study with me on advanced logic, and since this was while my back was hurting (making trips to campus somewhat difficult), he would often come to our apartment for “logic class”. As such, “class” would often begin with Sukrut playing a couple of games of chess against Zak and/or Eli, and might end, after a few hours struggling with multi-valued logics (or some such thing), with dinner and reruns of Friends. Doing philosophy with him was fun, and enlightening. But he also became a great friend to the family.
And of course, the Syeds were fantastic. Coming back to Pune was unexpected, and all of a sudden, here were 5 people and a still sizable amount of baggage that had to be accommodated. Then, all of the big stuff from our apartment landed in Gulistan a few days later. But no one batted an eye. People shifted from beds to floors, and from nice, cool rooms to hot ones to make room for us, but the only emotion I saw expressed was happiness to see us again. We even squeezed in a trip to see Guardians of the Galaxy II somehow:
I’ll post more about various aspects of our time in India in the coming days and weeks. It was really a great trip and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.