Traditionally, obtaining an Indian visa has been fairly straightforward, if time consuming. You downloaded the form, or picked one up if you were lucky enough to live near a consular facility, filled it in, attached two photographs and went to the High Commission at India House. There, you were given a number which entitled you to wait in a scene from bedlam with hundreds of others, hoping that you didn't miss your number and, eventually, handing over the form, some cash (no cheques or credit cards accepted) and your photographs. You would then wait for your number to be called again, at which point your passport, containing a one page visa, could be collected before you made your escape. An early start was essential, before the queues built up too far but, if all went well, you could be out in three, maybe four hours.
Now, the task of processing applications has been contracted out, to a company called VFS Global. What this means is that you can complete your application online, and book an appointment to visit at a pre-arranged time. Or so I thought...
I had gone on line and filled out the very long, sometimes seemingly irrelevant, form, pressed submit, and then... not very much actually. You are asked to print out the form, and then led towards an appointment, where you pick a time and a location, subject to availability. There are three locations in London - one in Victoria, one on Goswell Road, on the fringes of the City of London, and the last in Southall.
So, I arrived in Victoria in good time for my noon appointment, forewarned by Ros, who had gone through the whole experience three hours earlier that I needed photographs that were two inches square rather than standard passport photograph size, ready with the right change for the handily located photo booth. The pictures taken, I joined the throng waiting for service.
There were three sets of numbers being called, one for those with appointments, one for those without, and one for those with specific requirements. Given that I had an appointment, I assumed that I would have priority. Well, not really, but I was only there for about an hour before the ten people with appointments ahead of me were dealt with.
When do I get my passport back with its new shiny visa? Don't know, but they'll e-mail me to let me know that it's available for collection. Progress...
Lunch with Ros followed. Our lifestyle keeps us apart more often than I would like, but given Ros's responsibilities, I can't grumble. They've got a new cafeteria on the Parliamentary Estate, and the food is pretty good. Not exactly cheap, but fair value and well prepared.
Next, some time with my kid brother, Kirk (the tall, dark handsome one). I try to get down to London to see my family as time permits, especially as I couldn't reasonably have been described as a dutiful son in the past. I took him to the Red Lion, just off St James's Square, and we chewed the fat for a while.
I was then left with a little time on my hands, so I went shopping, looking for some music. I also picked up a thermal long-sleeved vest, which will be handy in Finland in February.
Finally, in what turned out to be quite a busy day, I headed to Islington for a meeting of the Management Board of 'Unlock Democracy'. I have to admit that I wasn't properly prepared, to the point of being uncertain as to whether there was going to be a meeting at all. It went alright though, and I was able to make what I thought were salient contributions.
And now I'm on my way home to the country... too much London can be stressful...
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